In my earlier analysis of the latest dossier/collusion developments -- which have taken an abrupt turn in the last week, to the dismay of many liberals -- I wrote that newly-revealed and -confirmed details raise serious and uncomfortable questions for both the Democratic Party and the FBI. In a house editorial published today, the Wall Street Journal's editors explicate several of those questions that demand a full accounting. First, on the Democrats:
The Washington Post revealed Tuesday that the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee jointly paid for that infamous “dossier” full of Russian disinformation against Donald Trump. They filtered the payments through a U.S. law firm (Perkins Coie), which hired the opposition-research hit men at Fusion GPS. Fusion in turn tapped a former British spook, Christopher Steele, to compile the allegations, which are based largely on anonymous, Kremlin-connected sources. Strip out the middlemen, and it appears that Democrats paid for Russians to compile wild allegations about a U.S. presidential candidate. Did someone say “collusion”? This news is all the more explosive because the DNC and Clinton campaign hid their role, even amid the media furor after BuzzFeed published the Steele dossier in January. Reporters are now saying that Clinton campaign officials lied to them about their role in the dossier. Current DNC Chair Tom Perez and former Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz deny knowing about the dossier arrangement, but someone must have known. Perhaps this explains why Congressional Democrats have been keen to protect Fusion from answering dossier questions—disrupting hearings, protesting subpoenas and deriding Republican investigators.
Are Perez and Wasserman Schultz's denials credible? As a New York Times reporter notes, Democratic dollars that flowed to Fusion GPS and Steele were effectively laundered through a law firm -- but they were still coming out of DNC coffers:
Democrats furtively funding dubious opposition research, then misleading journalists about is a minor scandal. Democrats furtively funding dubious opposition research that allegedly enlisted senior Russian sources to spread salacious disinformation about the Republican presidential nominee, however, is deeply ironic, given the Great Russian Scare they've been pumping for months. It appears as though some officials at the highest reaches of the party were at least indirectly facilitating Russian interference in the 2016 election. How intentional or conscious was this loose, once-removed potential collusion? That should be rigorously investigated. Nevertheless, the element of this whole saga that most concerns me is the Federal Bureau of Investigation's hazy and bizarre role. Back to the Journal editors:
The more troubling question is whether the FBI played a role, even if inadvertently, in assisting a Russian disinformation campaign. We know the agency possessed the dossier in 2016, and according to media reports it debated paying Mr. Steele to continue his work in the runup to the election. This occurred while former FBI Director James Comey was ramping up his probe into supposed ties between the Trump campaign and Russians. Two pertinent questions: Did the dossier trigger the FBI probe of the Trump campaign, and did Mr. Comey or his agents use it as evidence to seek wiretapping approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Trump campaign aides?
Mr. Comey should already be asked to return to Capitol Hill to testify on his premature decision to draft a memo (controversially) exonerating Hillary Clinton of legal wrongdoing in connection with her email scandal -- which he reportedly wrote prior to key witnesses being interviewed, including Clinton herself. He should be compelled to answer questions on this subject, too. Also, if anything, this editorial understates the strangeness of the FBI's activity here; the Washington Post story confirmed that the Bureau went beyond merely "debating" whether to pay Steele to continue his Democrat-initiated, anti-Trump opposition research. They actually did it. And they only stopped when the media reported this information publicly. In what way was that a sound, politics-free investigative practice? Because these loaded questions are now a major focus of the Russia interference matter, the FBI itself is now a subject of important scrutiny. For that reason, the editorial concludes, Robert Mueller must go:
The Fusion news means the FBI’s role in Russia’s election interference must now be investigated—even as the FBI and Justice insist that Mr. Mueller’s probe prevents them from cooperating with Congressional investigators. Mr. Mueller is a former FBI director, and for years he worked closely with Mr. Comey. It is no slur against Mr. Mueller’s integrity to say that he lacks the critical distance to conduct a credible probe of the bureau he ran for a dozen years. He could best serve the country by resigning to prevent further political turmoil over that conflict of interest.
They're wise not to impugn Mueller's integrity; his outstanding reputation was earned over decades of service. I still retain confidence that he'll be able to chase down the facts, no matter where they lead -- and Republicans concerned over the Democratic tilt of his investigative team should be at least somewhat reassured by this week's news that a Clinton-connceted Democratic firm is now in Mueller's crosshairs. Still, he should engage in some long, hard soul searching to determine he can overcome his loyalty to his agency and his friendship with Comey to examine the Bureau with clear, critical eyes. I'll leave you with two nuggets from today. First, after months of, shall we say, "lack of cooperation," the FBI has finally responded to Congressional Republicans' demands for documents:
.@SpeakerRyan says DOJ has informed him that the FBI will comply with long-standing House GOp doc requests on Russia dossier— Phil Mattingly (@Phil_Mattingly) October 26, 2017
The Bureau has apparently promised the files by next week. Finally, I've been pretty consistent about pointing out both incriminating-looking Russia revelations related to Trump, as well as mitigating or exculpatory ones. Here's a Buzzfeed story tracing a Russian-linked Facebook page stirring up American popular sentiment against the Trump administration:
This is perhaps the strongest clear evidence to challenge the widespread idea that Russia simply “backs Trump” https://t.co/b9Ytfw3k6C— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) October 26, 2017
It's almost as if the Russians meddled in the election not because they loved Donald Trump and knew he'd do their bidding (even if he was their tactical preference), but because they're systematically undermining faith in American democracy as a much broader destabilization project.