Memo that Ate Washington
the memo that has transfixed close political observers for weeks is finally out
and it reveals, perhaps, questionable behavior by some government officials. I
say “perhaps” because while we know what the memo says, we do not know what
it doesn’t say. We know it says a secret warrant was sought by the government
at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in October 2016 against a
one-time Trump campaign associate using information compiled by a source hostile
to Trump who was in the pay of the Clinton campaign (or, more precisely, a
campaign cut-out). We are told that the FISA court was not informed of the
ideological and political provenance of the information it was being supplied by
the government. We are also told that after it was secured, the warrant was
renewed several times, including by Justice Department officials now working
under the Trump administration. And we are told that a senior FBI official who
has now been cashiered said the “dossier” featuring the hostile information
was the primary source for the warrant.
might indeed be seeing a case in which the process for securing a FISA warrant
was somehow corrupted. And that is bad, and worth exploring, and if the process
was indeed corrupted, heads should roll. But come on. In the end, whether the
civil rights of Carter Page were violated is not a question you would expect the
front page or even the back page or practically any page between to be concerned
with. Those who are screaming about these abuses don’t care about the abuses;
they care that the abuses signal to them a desperate effort to get Donald Trump.
And those who are pooh-poohing the notion that Carter Page’s civil rights are
of concern would be perfectly happy to scream abuse if he were on their team.
don’t know what the memo doesn’t say—the “omissions of fact” about
which the FBI complained before its release. We don’t know what else the FISA
court might have seen to suggest Page needed to be watched. We don’t know what
else the Justice Department officials who seem from the text of the memo to
corroborate its conclusions might have said that would go against that. And we
may never know.
every fight in American politics today, this whole business is about legitimacy.
Anti-Trump forces have been working to find him illegitimate since he won the
election. Pro-Trump forces have responded to this by delegitimating anyone and
everyone who opposes him. Thus, the ludicrous idea that the Russians got Trump
elected; and the equally ludicrous idea that Trump is under unprecedented
assault by a “deep state” at the Department of Justice.
“deep state” caused Trump campaign officials to take a meeting with a Putin
agent at Trump Tower and then to lie about it to the press a year later after an
independent counsel had been appointed to look into Russian ties to the
election. Nobody told Trump to fire James Comey of the FBI after Trump himself
asked Comey to go easy on Michael Flynn, a man who has since pled guilty. No
deep state caused Trump to claim falsely he had tapes proving Comey lied, a
claim that led directly to the almost automatic appointment of an
independent counsel. These were all Trump’s errors. He committed them as the
legitimate president of the United States.
the idea that the release of the memo was a horrendous threat to national
security is belied by the text of the memo itself. War, Clausewitz said, is a
continuation of politics by other means. The case for war is made by rallying
each side with rah-rah slogans that dehumanize your combatants. Here we are.
This is war, 21st Century Washington style.