Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Leaks" Vs. Collusion Redux: Senate Intel Committee Hearing Shows Why Independent Investigation Is Needed

Lindsey Graham Is Lying Up A Storm At The Sally Yates Hearing On Trump And Russia
Porcine eyes dim with bluster, Lindsey Graham lies at yesterday's Senate Intel Committee hearing by asserting intelligence agencies found "no evidence of collusion" with Russians. Numerous Dems had to correct him on that, but it opened the door to GOOP stonewalling and why an independent investigation is needed.

Sadly, as in the case of the House Intelligence Committee Hearings in March, the Senate Intel Committee counterpart also devolved into a war of memes: "leaks" vs. collusions. The obdurate GOP bunch, including Lindsey Graham, Chuck Grassley, Joe Cornyn and Ted Cruz - determined to stonewall on the collusion aspect - kept a common refrain of question aimed at Sally Yates and former DNI James Clapper: "Have you ever forwarded or approved of the release of classified files and information to non-governmental sources?"

Another clodhopper numskull with the actual name of  "John Kennedy" - if you can believe it - had the temerity to ask Sally Yates if she felt like she "belonged on the Supreme Court" because she challenged Trump's illegal travel ban "executive order". An order, I might add, that possessed all the heft and legally consistent substance of a torn page from a child's coloring book.

This gaggle of Repuke clowns tried to make hay out of this deflecting BS, as well as the "unmasking" of Michael Flynn as a compromised stooge of the Russkies.  By contrast to these turkeys, former acting US attorney general Sally Yates was totally professional in her bearing and answers.  Though provoked numerous times by the mostly irrelevant "who's the leakers" drivel of the GOP side, she never lost her cool. Testifying for the first time about her knowledge of contacts between the Trump camp and Moscow, Ms. Yates said that she requested an urgent meeting with the White House counsel, Don McGahn, after she became aware that the White House had made false public statements about Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak.

White House officials including the vice-president, Mike Pence, had stated that Flynn and Kislyak had simply exchanged pleasantries and talked about arranging a future meeting between Trump and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.  It later emerged that the conversations were more extensive and included discussion of sanctions imposed on Russia by the Obama administration. Ms. Yates said that she telephoned McGahn on the morning of 26 January, two days after the FBI interviewed Flynn about the contacts and had given her a detailed readout of the interview. She told McGahn she needed to meet him in person because what she had to say was so sensitive.

Yates and a senior justice department colleague met McGahn the same afternoon in a secure room in the White House and told him that statements made by Pence and other administration officials about Flynn’s behavior were untrue, and that “Flynn’s underlying conduct was problematic in and of itself”.

McGahn called Yates back to the White House on 27 January and put further questions to her about Flynn. According to her Senate testimony, the White House counsel asked her: “Why does it matter to the Department of Justice whether one White House official lies to another White House official?”
“We explained to him that it’s a lot more than that,” Yates said. “We also said that we weren’t the only ones who knew this. The Russians also knew what General Flynn had done and that what Pence said was not true. The Russians not only knew this but they also likely had proof.”

Yates said she could not speak about statutes under which Flynn might be prosecuted without revealing classified information about the investigation, but she told McGahn that any White House action on Flynn would not interfere with the FBI investigation as he had already been interviewed.
Subsequently, McGahn asked Yates whether he or his staff could come to the justice department to review classified evidence of Flynn’s conduct. Yates consulted the FBI over the weekend and called McGahn back on Monday, January 30th, and said White House officials could come to the department to review the material.

She added that she did not know if McGahn or his staff took up her offer, as that was her last day at the department: Trump fired her on the night of January 30th, ostensibly because she had refused to defend his executive order to do with the travel ban. But more likely because Ms. Yates brought the Flynn matter to attention.

All that ought to have gotten through the skull of any person of normal intelligence, but not the "leaks first"  Reepo brigade. Every time it was one of their Committee members turn they beat the "leaks" drum into insensibility.  This despite the fact - as former Nixon WH counsel John Dean observed in several interviews the past few months:  "leaks to the press are vital to democracy".  Indeed they have the same import and value as whistle blowing on the power mongers, especially when they are acting without any transparency.  There are then, some laws that trump immediate "security" laws because they pay homage to the Constitution above all else

This was underscored in a recent piece in the Columbia Journalism Review  entitled 'Flynn Resignation Shows Leaks Under Trump Are Working - Keep 'Em Coming"  The author argued, and I totally agree - that it is not unlawful for journalists to receive and publish leaked information from anonymous sources.  Those sources can also include intelligence officers if their leaks provide insight into national security transgressions with an import than trumps the USC or other legalistic violations themselves. Hence, the exposure of Flynn - then national security adviser to Trump- was more important than him possibly being compromised in his position. The law "breakage" therefore was done under the aegis of a national security that trumped the national security associated with classified info leakage.

Even conservative Joe Scarborough on his Feb. 15  show commended whoever leaked the information on Flynn, noting:

"The only reason we're finding out about it now is because a patriot did leak this to the Washington Post. Did get this information out there or else we wouldn't even have known about it."

Then there was John Cornyn trying to grandstand by making hay out of national security adviser Susan E. Rice  "refusing to appear before the committee to answer our questions about unmaksing". But why should she have? There were no questions that merited her wasting time stroking Reepo egos and stonewalling by an appearance.  Ms. Rice’s actions were not unusual or unlawful as numerous security officials have pointed out. Whenever Americans are swept up in surveillance of foreign officials by intelligence agencies, their identities are supposed to be obscured, but they can be revealed  ("unmasked") for national security reasons, and intelligence officials say it is a regular occurrence.

Former CIA Assistant Director John McLaughlin, interviewed on MSNBC April 4, said:

"Susan Rice was merely doing her job. Occasionally these reports refer to foreigners contacting Americans about something so the national security adviser has the option of asking the FBI, or the National Security Agency if it can be justified to let her know who those people are- and often to protect them. Sometimes you want to go to an American and say, 'you should know who you've been I contact with'.   This is done quietly and not spread around the government, And people that make decisions for unmasking someone have a very high bar for doing it, it isn't done casually,  So I think she was basically just doing her job as she should have been doing it."

So again we behold the GOP  paranoia - without a whit of evidence - getting the better of them, as well as of Trump when he accused Ms. Rice of a "crime". Thus, no surprise that a spokeswoman for Ms. Rice, Erin Pelton, said in an email, “I’m not going to dignify the president’s ludicrous charge with a comment.”  As well she shouldn't, because we have run amok Reepos - like Corynyn and Lindsey Graham- who have no sense or shame, attempting to make hay out of nothing. After all, look how they went after Ms. Rice in the Benghazi spectacle - when real security norms were transgressed - by the REEPOS! (Trey Gowdy inadvertently blowing the cover of a CIA source. With goons like these who needs enemies?)

The most aggravating aspect of yesterday's hearings was the way the REEP clowns continually tried to dismiss or diminish the collusion aspect with Lindsey Graham at one point even off-handedly referring to the "claims of some guy in England".   That was none other than Christopher Steele and he wasn't just "some guy" but a former MI6 agent - the UK equivalent of the CIA.  Over a year ago, Steele had uncovered  a  plot to torpedo the 2016 U.S. general election using disinformation as well as outright hacking of both parties' computers, although only using the gathered material against one. In addition, an annex to the released intelligence report disclosed high level conspiratorial shenanigans involving the Trump team and Russian counterparts as well as compromising material collected on Trump when he was in Moscow in 2013 for a "Miss Universe" beauty pageant.

As revealed by Mr. Steele in his last interview (with David Corn, published in 'Mother Jones'  4 months ago) before going underground, the material gathered in memos was considered so explosive that he turned it over to contacts he had in the FBI last summer. This was without informing the opposition research group for which he'd initially begun his project. The FBI, despite this explosive stuff sitting on its shelves, chose instead to go after Hillary Clinton with damning insinuations of guilt over her email server, as opposed to parsing and exposing the Steele material.

While the intelligence community (including former DNI Clapper yesterday)  has been playing it coy saying they can't substantiate what's in the Steele dossier. or that it is "raw intelligence" and doesn't "prove" anything, others have recognized that where there's smoke there's fire. In particular, contrary to a dopey Trump tweet months ago that Steele is a "failed spy" he was actually one of the UK's best on Russian matters. A highly regarded and respective intelligence operative who doesn't make shit up like Trump, or pull it out of his ass.

According to an earlier March AP report in the Denver Post ( 'Ex Spy Regarded as Dependable') :

"Three British intelligence agents interviewed by the Associated Press described Steele as well regarded in the intelligence community, with excellent Russian skills and high level sources."

According to one Financial Times account, Steele was the "UK intelligence expert on Russia".  James Nixey, the head of Chatham House's Russia and Eurasia program, informed the AP that sections of the dossier document created by Steele "read exactly as reports from the secret services"

In other words, professional through and through, no exaggerations and no fillers that hadn't been  sourced.  
All of which tells me the only way we will get to the bottom of this morass is to enable Steele to testify - preferably before an independent commission. The reason is that the Repukes are too tied to Trump at the hip and will never become serious about any investigation. They desperately need him as the vehicle to push through their radical agenda on health care and tax cuts. So it would be a waste of time to invite Christopher Steele to testify unless Steele himself became convinced it wouldn't become a Repuke dog and pony show.

As long as the hearings are split along the lines of leaks vs. collusion, this is about all we can expect and I'm not even sure an independent prosecutor or investigation will make a definite difference. But it might. What we have sure isn't working.

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