There’s a reason why President Trump has not unilaterally declassified the documents exposing perfidy against him: leverage. As the whole Russia hoax is beginning to come into some sort of global perspective – quite literally, as we’ll see – the extent of the advantage he now maintains by holding back declassification as a threat outweighs the benefits of transparency. Recent posts by observers who write from widely varying perspectives give us the ability to discern the current state of play.
Let’s start with the domestic front of the Russia hoax. Sundance at Conservative Tree House has an excellent post up: “President Trump and DAG Rod Rosenstein – “No Collusion”, No Immediate Worries…” The overall theme is one that’s dear to Sundance’s heart: leverage. The state of play is this: the congressional investigation has progressed to the point that it’s clear beyond cavil that the entire Russia narrative is, in fact, a hoax and fraud – both on the American people in general and on our legal system. This is to say real criminal liability exists for the key players who developed the plot against Trump. John Solomon summarizes what Congress has discovered in succinct fashion:
There is now a concrete storyline backed by irrefutable evidence: The FBI allowed itself to take political opposition research created by one party to defeat another in an election, treated it like actionable intelligence, presented it to the court as substantiated, and then used it to justify spying on an adviser for the campaign of that party’s duly chosen nominee for president in the final days of a presidential election.
And when, nine months later, the FBI could not prove the allegation of collusion between Trump and Russia, unverified evidence was leaked to the media to try to sustain public support for a continued investigation.
But Sundance spells out very specifically where the greatest risk – and therefore the greatest leverage – lies:
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein created the special counsel under fraudulent pretense. That origination material (Ohr 302’s, FISA pages, origination EC, and Page/Strzok messages) is now a risk to the Deputy AG.
There are many other players, in addition to Rosenstein, who are at serious risk. But from the perspective of leverage, Rosenstein is the key because he created the special counsel part of the hoax and because – as a result of A.G. Sessions’s recusal – he remains in charge of the special counsel operation. Rosenstein can exercise as much or as little control over Mueller as he wants. Trump’s threat of declassification of the “origination material” gives Trump complete leverage over Rosenstein and therefore over Mueller.
Trump’s leverage ensures that Rosenstein will very much want to restrain Mueller. If Rosenstein wants to restrain Mueller, Mueller will be restrained. This may explain why we are now seeing key members of Mueller’s team leaving and returning to their old jobs. The importance of this is that Mueller has posed the greatest threat to the Trump administration, the greatest annoyance. That threat is now defanged for the immediate future. If Mueller steps out of line, boom! Declassification. By putting declassification on hold, Trump maintains his leverage. And Congress continues to investigate and slowly reveal the truth.
The benefits of this leverage via threat-of-declassification extend well beyond the Russia hoax to other practical political matters. I believe we saw that at play in the Kavanaugh nomination battle. Rod Rosenstein, as DAG, directly supervises the FBI director, Christopher Wray. To say the FBI acted with alacrity and efficiency in exposing the machinations behind the accusations leveled at Kavanaugh would be an understatement. But consider: Sundance himself was distinctly alarmist during the Kavanaugh hearings, alleging a plot of Deep State FBI-DOJ insiders to torpedo the nomination. As we’ve seen, however, exactly the opposite occurred. The FBI leaped to Kavanaugh’s defense, and I attribute that to Trump’s leverage over the DOJ-FBI through Rosenstein.
How will this play out for the midterm elections? Will Trump at some point declassify that crucial “origination material”? While Trump stressed that his hold on declassification doesn’t change his commitment for transparency sooner rather than later, I believe that the Kavanaugh nomination has given Trump and his newly committed GOP allies the issue they need for the midterms. Polling has repeatedly shown that Supreme Court nominations are a hot-button issue for Republican voters, and it has the advantage of being readily comprehensible. Trump used his leverage to get his nominee confirmed while energizing “normals” for the midterms. After the election, declassification could play a significant role in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.
Let’s turn to that global perspective now.
Justin Raimondo at Anti-War.com has a blog post up that complements Sundance’s “leverage” perspective quite nicely: “The Final Truth of Russia-gate: As the hoax unravels, the real story of ‘foreign collusion’ comes out.” Raimondo focuses on the role of foreign “allies” in the plot against Trump. As on the domestic front, there were multiple players: Australia, Ukraine, Estonia, Israel. The key player was undoubtedly the U.K. Without massive intelligence involvement by the U.K., the entire Russia hoax would likely never have gotten off the ground. Here, Raimondo encapsulates that involvement sufficiently for our purposes (much more could be said):
This entire episode has Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s fingerprints all over it. Steele’s key role is plain enough: here was a British spook who was not only hired by the Clinton campaign to dig up dirt on Trump but was unusually passionate about his work – almost as if he’d have done it for free. And then there was the earliest approach to the Trump campaign, made by Cambridge professor and longtime spook Stefan Halper to Carter Page. And then there’s the mysterious alleged “link” to Russian intelligence, Professor Joseph Mifsud, whose murky British-based thinktank managed to operate openly despite later claims it was a Russian covert operation.
It was Mifsud who orchestrated the Russia-gate hoax, first suggesting that the Russians had Hillary Clinton’s emails, and then disappearing into thin air as soon as the story he had planted percolated into plain view. Some “Russian agent”!
Leverage, anyone? Declassification would expose all these foreign players, but the heaviest hit by far would be against the U.K. and its Australian poodle. And so we learn that “key allies” “begged” Trump not to declassify that “origination material.” Raimondo notes:
Trump’s decision to walk back his announcement that the key Russia-gate intelligence would be declassified tells us almost as much as if he’d tweeted it out, unredacted. For what it tells us is that public knowledge of the contents would constitute a major break in relations with at least one key ally.
Yes, Trump smoked them out and got them begging for mercy, as reported by the major media in all too transparent detail. Trump ends up with all the leverage he needs over “Her Majesty’s Government” for as long as that leverage is useful.
Well played, Mr. President!
Mark Wauck is a retired FBI agent who blogs on religion, philosophy, and FISA at Meaning in History.
Rich Higgins is an expert on the nexus between theological doctrines and information age unconventional warfare, and has spent 20 years combating terrorism in a variety of senior positions within the Department of Defenses.
Higgins, an early supporter of President Trump, served as director for strategic planning in President Trump’s National Security Council (NSC).
That all changed when a memo that he had produced for President Trump on the political warfare that he was to face internally from the Deep State, and externally from the media and like-minded interest groups in collusion with the administrative state, leaked out to the public.
Higgins’ memo was dismissed as conspiratorial, and he was fired from the NSC.
What he foretold has risen to the forefront again in the wake of the unsigned New York Times op-ed detailing measures taken by Trump administration officials to “Resist” the president, and seek to sabotage his agenda.
I had Higgins on the podcast to discuss the “Deep State’s” efforts to subvert the president’s agenda, whether there was an effort to purge like-minded individuals from Trump’s national security and foreign policy team — and why, what can be done to reform the administrative state, the ramifications of the politicization and weaponization of our national security and intelligence apparatus and much more.
What We Discussed
Higgins’ reaction to the anonymous New York Times op-ed about the brazen Resistance within the Trump White House which seemed to confirm precisely what he warned of in his memo
How the litany of allegations being raised against Judge Brett Kavanaugh in his Supreme Court confirmation hearings plays into Higgins’ thesis
Whether there was a concerted effort to purge national security and foreign policy officials in the Trump administration who sought to advance Trump’s agenda, and what Higgins believes the establishment felt so threatened by that it would require such a purging
Why Higgins believes it isn’t the Deep State or Obama holdovers that are to blame for the sabotage of President Trump’s policies, but rather the Republican Party itself
Higgins’ believe that Resistance to Trump was largely driven by vested financial interests — specifically centered on China — and the belief Trump would upend the major investments of the last 30 years in restructuring the global financial architecture and economy, hurting said vested interests
How to reform the “Deep State”
The “whiff of tyranny” in the air over the ability for the intelligence community to use its surveillance powers against American citizens, up to and including spying on and seeking to undermine and bring down the president
Higgins’ view on protecting liberty in the face of powerful surveillance tools and the need to counter our adversaries
The imperative to bring back civics and reunite the country on the basis of shared values, principles and knowledge of and reverence for our Founding
What Higgins would add to his memo to the president if he had the chance today
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ben’s Opening Monologue
We’ve talked at length on this podcast about the determination of the national security and foreign policy establishment to thwart those who threaten their Wilsonian progressive agenda, and more importantly their self-interest and power, whether in crushing whistleblowers like Adam Lovinger or seeking to subvert the agenda of the president.
Another loyalist of this administration who was devoted to advancing President Trump’s vision in national security and foreign affairs – and was outspoken in sharing his views on countering “The Resistance” – was a Director for Strategic Planning at the National Security Council.
His name was Rich Higgins, and a memo he wrote to the president about the political warfare he was facing – seeking to destroy his presidency – was leaked out, precipitating his being booted from the National Security Council, along with many other like-minded colleagues.
That memo has proven particularly prescient in outlining the goals, tactics and strategies of those actors seeking to sabotage and collapse a presidency – actors who hail from both political parties.
The onslaught against President Trump from individual federal judges overruling lawful policies clearly within his power, to the limitless Mueller investigation – itself the fruit largely of a salacious and unverified dossier gleaned from second and third-hand Russian sources, used it seems to perpetrate a fraud on the FISA court – to the endless leaks of the most sensitive conversations, to insubordination among staffers and general resistance by Trump administration officials — in name only — has been unprecedented.
At the very least our visibility into them has been unprecedented.
Regardless of your views on the president, if you’re intellectually honest you should be gravely concerned about the long-term ramifications of these actions because they threaten the very core of our political system.
Here’s what Higgins wrote in his infamous memo dated May 2017:
Attacks on President Trump are not just about destroying him, but also about destroying the vision of America that lead to his election. Those individuals and groups seeking the destruction of President Trump actually seek to suffocate the vision of America that made him president. Hence, the end state is not just a delegitimized, destabilized, immobilized and possibly destroyed presidency; but also a demoralized movement composed of a large enough bloc to elect a president that subsequently become self-aware of its own disenfranchisement.
The recent turn of events give rise to the observation that the defense of President Trump is the defense of America. In the same way President Lincoln was surrounded by political opposition both inside and outside of his wire, in both overt and covert forms, so too is President Trump. Had Lincoln failed, so too would have the Republic.
Even if you disagree with Higgins’ take, if you care about “the institutions” – no, not the bureaucracies themselves and the political leaders at the top of them, but the values and principles they are supposed to exist to further – then you have to defend not just this president, but the presidency itself against attacks on the real fundamental institutions: Separation of powers, checks and balances, consent of the governed and popular sovereignty, law and order and federalism.
The attacks on this administration are not politics as usual. They are antithetical to our system of government, and they are eviscerating these institutions.
And that’s why I believe and have long asserted that the real story of the Trump presidency is the exposure of the fact that our political establishment, our administrative state, in collusion with our media, are doing more to damage America than any foreign power could ever dream of – they are revealing the utterly corrupt and rotten nature of our political betters.
The consequences of the measures they’ve taken because they lost in 2016 – and never anticipated that their efforts might be exposed and their designs threatened — are going to last for decades.
In the wake of just in recent weeks the anonymous New York Times op-ed about the sabotaging of presidential policy by people supposed to serve him, and the revelations about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein talking about wearing a wire to expose the president, and invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him in an effective coup, on top of the mountain of other egregious words and actions, in this episode, I talk with the man who foretold all of this – former director at the National Security Council Rich Higgins.
Ben Weingarten: Rich, earlier in September first there were revelations that came out from Bob Woodward’s book, and then seemingly coordinated following that was an unsigned New York Times op-ed, very unprecedented, laying out all the various ways that essentially members of the Trump administration — his subordinates — were doing things to make decisions on the president’s behalf, sabotaging him if you will. These revelations were followed with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who supposedly commented about potentially wearing a wire with the president, and talked about invocation of the 25th Amendment and on, and on and on.
All of these things seem to confirm a thesis that you wrote while you were in the National Security Council.
But first, I just wanna get your initial reaction…to what was revealed in that New York Times op-ed.
Rich Higgins: I think what the Times op-ed speaks to is just that we seem to be incapable of finding a bottom to the behavior of the bureaucracy. We just go lower, and lower and lower. And bureaucratic infighting — there’s nothing really new to that. Everybody who’s ever worked at the Pentagon or in any of the government agencies recognizes the old “pocket veto,” and other techniques like that — removing stuff from your boss’s desk. What’s not recognizable is the public flouting of it, and the public flouting of it is a sort of a reflection on the leadership capability of the president himself. That’s unprecedented.
And I think between that and the comments by Rosenstein and others, what we see is it’s a pattern of behavior emerging — not just by elements within the bureaucracy, but by the media itself — that is just hell-bent on destroying this president.
Ben Weingarten: Yeah and you speak about, in the memo that you wrote — and we’ll delve into some specifics on that in a minute — you speak about the fact that what is unprecedented, and what is fundamentally different, is that we are not witnessing politics as usual here. This is about actually not only trying to delegitimize, destroy and take down a presidency, but also completely eviscerate the vision, and really the constituency that that president spoke for. Does the last-minute blitz of allegations, accusations that we’ve seen thrown at Judge Kavanaugh fit into your thesis? So in other words, is this fundamentally different from what we’ve seen, say, in the case of “Borking,” or the Anita Hill smears against Justice Clarence Thomas?
Rich Higgins: My personal opinion is that what’s driving the allegations against Kavanaugh is a more concerted effort on the part of the establishment to bury the lede, if you will, on the potential revelations that have to do with the FISA abuses, and the FISA abuses specifically targeting the president.
Kavanaugh just seemed to fly right on through things until the president started inkling towards removing Rosenstein and releasing some of the FISA application documents, or declassifying at least portions of them. And instantly this sort of ambush crops up where it just dominates every single news cycle, every single talk radio show. The American public isn’t stupid. When you see every channel, 24/7, covering the same thing, you have to ask yourself “What is going on here, and what is being protected?”
My personal opinion on the Kavanaugh thing is, sure, it’s another instance where the Left gets to look like it’s opposing the president, but in reality, I think it is more a defensive action on their part to try and keep the headlines from the real story, which is the FISA abuses and the unprecedented weaponization of our intelligence community against the seated president, and really against the constituents, the 60 million people who voted for him.
Ben Weingarten: Early on in this presidency we saw that many of the folks in particular in the national security and foreign policy space who agreed with the president’s views as articulated during the 2016 election on a whole number of issues — the global jihad, Iran and its place in that jihad, Israel, China, Russia, any number of other issues were all summarily either sidelined or demoted, or thrown out of the administration altogether. And that includes yourself, someone who we interviewed previously Adam Lovinger, Monica Crowley, obviously General Flynn and many others as well. Do you believe that there was a concerted effort to purge people who sought to advance the president’s views? And if so, why?
Rich Higgins: Well, I mean, I think there are myriad reasons why. But remember, the president is… He’s not a politician…He’s not from the “Old Boy’s Club.” He came in as a businessman, a real estate developer, a production capitalist and he ran on issues that the establishment, both Republican and Democrat, was loath to address. And these constituents first form in the Tea Party in opposition to the socialist drift that was taking place in the country. And so the president comes forward, he puts forward some foreign policy positions — and I would prioritize the China angle to everything that we’re discussing because it really was the China angle that I think freaked out the financial masters of the universe, if you will, because so much of our foreign policy for the past 30 years has been governed by the peaceful rise of China. Well, the intelligence community was asleep at the switch on that, the Defense Department asleep at the switch on that, and now we finally have a president who recognizes that these aren’t just benign intentions, and that there is some threat there — to go along with just the abject disasters of the Obama administration. What can you say about his just pandering to the jihad, pandering to Iran, it was just, it was an embarrassment.
So when the president comes in with people who want to support his position, immediately the establishment which brought us to this position in the first place takes over his personnel shop. And I think Steve Bannon said it best — and I keep quoting this, but it’s true — in the “60 Minutes” interview he called it the “original sin” of the administration was believing that they could work with the Republican Party. And I think that’s the real issue is that the establishment Republican party decided that anybody who supported Trump during the campaign was fair game. And they took out Monica [Crowley], and they took out Mike Flynn and they took out Steve [Bannon] and all of the folks who actually were true Trump supporters throughout the campaign were off-ramped. Most of them never even made it into the administration. Some of us who struggled mightily made it in, but only to last for a few months, and it was absolutely a concerted effort.
But yeah, I don’t just blame the Obama holdovers, albeit they’re part of it. That type of stuff goes on in any administration turnover. What I couldn’t get past is the Republican Party’s betrayal of Trump who’d just won them the presidency, ensured the Supreme Court and prevented the Hillary Clinton disaster from taking place. The very people who supported him were the ones that were betrayed.
Ben Weingarten: In your memo, which was a memo essentially addressed to the president and those who actually believed in advancing his agenda, you talked about the fact that those opposed to him in the political establishment — and that covers any number of people with varying views at least ostensibly…And you said that they were going to wage political warfare in any number of different areas, primarily through advancing narratives that would ultimately delegitimize and again take down the president.
You said that the president came in as a businessman, not as a politician. He was cast by the media during the election, and of course to this day, as someone who is incompetent, someone who was not a self-identified Tea Party conservative, so presumably someone that the establishment might have thought they could have co-opted. What was it about the President that made him be perceived as such a threat to their prerogatives, that it requires an unprecedented level of political warfare that you predicted?
Rich Higgins: I think the underlying threat that he represents is to the financial capitalist system. The president is a production capitalist guy, and at the international finance level, he is seen as a return to America’s manufacturing core. And in so being, he represents something that is anathema to every investment that these international financiers have made for the past 30 years, where you were going to have an ascended manufacturing base in China, a consumer market economy in North America. And Trump, driving around, or flying over or visiting places like in Ohio and Pennsylvania, he spoke to the working class of America, and said “We’re not just gonna die a slow, quiet death while China takes over our production capacity.
And we can get deep into the ideological aspects of it, although it’s probably beyond the scope of this interview, but it really dives into the control of the means of production. What were the Marxists always about? And I think Trump’s seen as somebody who wanted to return America to its essence, and that is not where the international money has been for the past 25, 30 years.
The second thing, I think, and it’s not too often spoken about, but it probably is worthy of some research is, the media helped create President Trump, particularly in the Republican primary, where I think they thought that Trump would be the easiest target for Hillary, right?
And if you remember, he was getting billions of dollars in earned media. Billions of dollars. And he basically became the nominee on the back of the media — he’s the media’s own creation, who then turned and consumed their darling in Hillary. And I think that’s part of the reason you see this just vitriolic hatred coming out of the media. It’s almost personal at a level where they feel responsible for having made him in the first place.
Ben Weingarten: How can what’s been termed the Deep State — and we can view it as a part of the administrative state, it just so happens that it’s perhaps been most brazen in law enforcement and national security and foreign policy — how can it ever be cleaned out, reformed, put back into a box essentially, when people at the top, the political leaders within each of these bureaucracies, are so committed to perpetuating their self-interest, their power, their jobs, their livelihoods?
Rich Higgins: I think that the Deep State can be brought to heal very quickly. The speaker, Speaker Ryan, if he would stop bungling these budgets and just hold these agencies and departments to account for their individual budgets instead of these omnibus bills where he pushes through the funding for ten, or 11 or 12 different departments and agencies at once, you could basically say, “Justice Department — we are not funding you, or the FBI, until…The House of Representatives has one real power: That is the power of the purse. And so far, they’ve chosen not to use that power.
And I think I’ve said this in the past, everything that we see happening to President Trump and to Kavanaugh is happening under Republican leadership, right? It’s not Democrats that are doing this. It’s not the Deep State. It is the Republican leadership that is allowing this stuff to happen, and they need to be called to task for allowing it.
When Clarence Thomas was beat to death over his nomination process back in the early ’90s, it was a Democrat-controlled Senate. It was not what we have today, which is Mitch McConnell and the theater that we have.
When the intelligence community got out of control, in the past, you didn’t have senators like [Sen. Richard] Burr standing around and watching it happen.
And I think until Congress decides to fulfill the mandate that its voters have given to it, and it’s Article One responsibilities, the Deep State is gonna continue to do what it does. I don’t think it’s doing anything that any bureaucracy doesn’t do.
I think that the politicized utilization of our intelligence capabilities during the last election cycle, and going into this presidency, was a reflection of the Obama administration’s just utter lawlessness and post-Constitutional order, which the president’s candidly been elected to fix, and has had very little help from the Justice Department or Congress in doing so.
Ben Weingarten: One of the silver linings of the drip-drip of revelations on any number of issues, whether it’s just unprecedented leaks that themselves threaten national security, whether it is potentially the perpetuation of a fraud on the FISA court, the double standard in the treatment of the Clinton email investigation versus Trump-Russia — which is then used as a pretext to investigate everything essentially related to Trump is that this just vitriolic, overwhelming counter-reaction by those who really loathe the president has exposed that they’re willing to take actions well beyond what is even remotely legal in order to protect their power. And that’s a silver lining that the president himself has even alluded to in a recent interview — he talked about the fact that he thinks one of his crowning achievements may be revealing the corruption, the deep rot within our system. So it’s being exposed. Do you believe there will be any justice?
Rich Higgins: Without getting too spiritual on you, I think the American people can reclaim their government.
Will we ever see justice? I don’t know what that is. I think we will see some people held to account for their actions, and their decisions.
What I worry more about, and this…This is the long-term damage that’s done, right, is when the next turnover occurs between administrations, are Trump administration employees, is the Trump intelligence community, gonna do this to its opponents? I mean, the danger here is that we’ve created this cyclical disrespect, and this polarization inside of the country that’s very hard to fix. And the confidence of the American public in their government, in their intelligence community with these massively powerful surveillance tools, and the possibility for the abuse of those tools…And candidly, if they’re willing to abuse their power and authority to oppose the president, then how’s a regular, everyday “Joe Citizen” supposed to feel safe? And that’s the trendline I think that I find most alarming in all of this is that…There’s a whiff of tyranny in the air, and we see that with John McCain’s staff guy and the IRS targeting of the Tea Party groups, we see it in Fast and Furious, we see it in the denials of the truth regarding Benghazi, we saw it in the extra-Constitutional treaty creations with countries like Iran that the Obama administration tried to do where it was basically a presidency or administration by executive order.
And we’re at real danger of moving into a post-Constitutional phase of our country. And the country will not survive that.
So I…as far as justice goes, I guess that the “small j” justice — we’ll find out when they bring in Comey and these others, and finally get them to start talking in front of a grand jury, hopefully. As far as the longer-term concerns though, the country’s hurting, and I hope we take it with a level of seriousness and reverence, candor that it’s gonna take to fix it.
Ben Weingarten: You talk about the abuse of things like surveillance tools, and all the sophisticated technologies that we have, and it’s a very scary thing to the average citizen to think that essentially, we could be living in something that is trending towards something like the kind of intelligence dictatorship that we’re seeing more and more reveal itself in a place like China. On the other hand, those tools, if they’re put in the hands of the right people, can be used to infiltrate terrorists, jihadist networks and other criminal networks as well, to actually help keep us safe. And you’ve spent the bulk of your career focusing on keeping the American people safe. So how do you think about — and I think that it is sort of a strawman argument — but the idea of liberty versus security? How are we going to balance the idea that you need certain tools to keep the homeland safe, but on the other end, if those tools are turned against their citizens, it’s game over for Constitutional liberties?
Rich Higgins: Yeah, I guess in that one respect in terms of my national security portfolio I’m more of a libertarian. I don’t believe we get as much utility from using those surveillance tools domestically as we may believe. Maybe there are incidents that I’m not aware of. I doubt that. The thing that concerns me most is that we’ve only really had these capabilities in place since post-September 11th attack, and only 10 or 15 years into having these capabilities in place — and they are improving every year — we’re already seeing them being abused on a massive scale for political reasons. Where will we be in 50 years?
I have no confidence in man. I’m a student of Hobbes. And I think the Founding Fathers recognized that a standing army was the greatest threat to the Republic. I think they probably agree with me that a standing intelligence community spying on its own citizens is a huge threat to the Republic. The Founding Fathers would not support it at all.
So yeah, that’s one libertarian perspective on it. I guess that’s probably my only libertarian thread, but it’s just, I think it’s just too tempting, it’s too powerful to be left unchecked.
Ben Weingarten: And you talk about, in a sense, the challenges that we have in terms of polarization, and really at its core social cohesion — do we as a country, share the same set of values and principles, or not? And the memo that you wrote where you lay it out, essentially, all of the goals tactics and strategies of those engaged in political warfare against this presidency is really the practical application of the broader idea of at its highest level using narratives and meta-narratives to cause dissent within the body politic and then essentially capitalize on the chaos that will follow. How do we as a nation grapple with these poisonous narratives that are tearing us apart?
Rich Higgins: I think the number one thing we can do, and I’ll say some stuff that I don’t normally talk about: I think we need to recognize, number one, that the conservative movement as it’s understood in America today has failed. And I think it, it’s accepting the fact that whether Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” or the Bush years…it has failed.
And we need to recognize that the Left in this country is currently unopposed. What we see happening in the Democratic Party right now is…they’re becoming the Bolsheviks in front of our eyes. Seated U.S. senators can’t go out to dinner in Washington, D.C. Seated cabinet secretaries can’t go out to dinner in Washington, D.C. without being fully harassed and threatened.
And I think we are in a pre-violent phase, which could very likely drift into violence. And I think that we’re not seeing this because…Again, the Republicans have been the target of a hundred years of Marxist-Leninist if you will, multiculturalist indoctrination. And because the Republicans adhere to these politically correct narratives, they are far more concerned about being labeled a sexist — for example, with this Dr. Ford-Kavanaugh allegation — they’re far more concerned about being labeled a sexist than they are about fidelity to the Constitution, or executing the responsibility as a senator to the point where they’ve allowed…Judge Kavanaugh to be dragged through the mud with his family, his two small children, and just smeared ferociously by what are just cheap, salacious allegations by a person who admits having been intoxicated at the time they ginned them up. I mean it’s insane.
And so…looking forward what do we do about it? I think it’s time to reconstitute the conservative movement that is inclusive of an educational component where we bring back civics; where we begin to teach people about the founding of America. We removed the Bible from the classroom in the 1950s. We removed civics from the classroom in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and replaced them with social studies. And you now see generations — what the former KGB officer Bezmenov would’ve called “demoralization” — we now have generational demoralization, where we have an entire generation of people under the age of 40 who are not versed in the American founding political philosophy, and that’s a really, really dangerous place to be.
And Reagan faced these same issues back in the ’80s, but he was dealing with folks like Tip O’Neill, and the World War II Greatest Generation guys who were still serving, who all saw themselves as Americans, and part of the same country. And we’re reaching the point right now where we’re not just one country. We’re two countries, and we’re two countries in conflict with one another.
Ben Weingarten: Lastly, if you were to write an addendum to your memo to the president today, having witnessed what we’ve witnessed over about the last year and a half since you put that memo out, what would your message be to the president?
Rich Higgins: Number one with a bullet would be get control of this personnel shop. Personnel is policy. And number two would be, I think…even in the campaign, the president is a fantastic student. He makes some mistakes here and there, it is true, but as somebody who was an early supporter of his, supported him all through the campaign, and then have continued to support him, I think…He’s learning how to operate at the international political level. And we saw in his speech at the United Nations, the most full-throated defense of America, and the idea of America, since probably Ronald Reagan. And it was a…It’s an amazing speech. If your listeners haven’t seen it, they should go and they should really sit down and take in and listen to what he’s talking about because he’s casting a vision for the future of America, that I’m proud to share with my children.
After months of keeping his powder dry, President Trump has fired the first shot in his war on the unaccountable, unelected “fourth branch” of government, otherwise known as the deep state. By firing off his declassification and transparency order, the president has set up an imminent showdown with the federal bureaucracy that wants to maintain its grip on the levers of power in Washington D.C.
On Monday evening, President Trump ordered the “immediate declassification” of materials related to the Russia investigation and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications used to spy on former campaign aide Carter Page. He has also directed the Department of Justice “to publicly release all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr.”
INBOX: President Trump has authorized the "immediate declassification" of several materials in connection with the Russia investigation, FBI interviews and Carter Page FISA apps. pic.twitter.com/jdcSdVIpx6
Transparency advocates and supporters of the president celebrated the order as an important step in restoring the chief executive’s duly elected mandate, which has been endlessly challenged, threatened, and blocked by Justice Department bureaucrats and special counsel Robert Mueller’s endless Russia investigation. Mueller’s probe, which has yet to uncover a single piece of evidence related to “Trump-Russia collusion,” continues to advance Moscow’s goal of sowing discord in the United States, while undermining the president’s capabilities.
The president’s directive followed months of lobbying from top conservative congressional leaders and some of his most influential supporters. They urged President Trump to declassify the FISA applications and Russia investigation materials, arguing that these radical transparency measures will show the public that the Russia investigation is a farce and that the Department of Justice and the FBI are in desperate need of immediate reform.
Democrats and their media allies go full anti-transparency
Democratic leaders and their allies in the legacy media are pulling out all the stops to convince the public that the president should not be allowed to use his declassification authority. Immediately following the president’s statement, they moved in lockstep, arguing that declassifying information and making it available to the public somehow interferes in active investigations.
This is hogwash. This isn't selective; it's a sweeping disclosure, of most important docs related to Page FISA. Tho if Schiff wants to point to specific other docs that he says should be declassified, sure we'd all love to hear. Though don't anybody hold their breath. https://t.co/3ta4pMMnVR
Then Warner should enter the rest of the documents into the Congressional Record, an activity which is wholly protected under the Speech and Debate clause in the Constitution. Unless he's just playing games and doesn't really want transparency, that is. https://t.co/MWliDQRUcU
But as many have pointed out, declassification is the opposite of interference, and the president, as the leader of the executive branch, has command over decision-making at the Department of Justice. The spin coming from CNN, MSNBC, and Democrat leaders simply does not hold much intellectual weight.
I know. You would think everyone would be clamoring for the information -instead some are pushing back. The problem is some were duped by sources they have trusted for a long time. But once the facts come out it’s the job of a journalist to confront it and ask tough questions https://t.co/s7LrTn6hZ1
On @IngrahamAngle, House Intel chair Devin Nunes on Dem claim that declassifying Trump-Russia documents poses great danger: 'I don't know how many times they're going to run that play, but it's laughable that they're saying this is going to somehow endanger national security.'
Expect Rosenstein and the deep state to rebel against the order
There are concerns that the FBI and other intelligence agencies will attempt to slow-walk or completely rebel against the order to declassify and unredact the documents and text messages, given their consistent tendencies to rebel against administration orders. In the past, the FBI has used “national security” as an excuse to redact important facts about the Bureau’s conduct during the Russia investigation.
It’s also important to remember that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who will inevitably play a major role in the declassification process, was responsible for appointing Robert Mueller. His investigation has yet to find any evidence of collusion, while costing U.S. taxpayers a small fortune. Rosenstein also signed off on several controversial FISA applications, which appear to have used the salacious and unverified Trump-Russia dossier as evidence against Trump campaign and transition officials. Rosenstein has every reason to continue to thwart these transparency efforts, because the end result will undoubtedly expose his reckless actions.
Yes, the president ordered “immediate declassification,” but knowing how things work in Washington, the resulting stream of information may not come so quickly. While the order concerning the Carter Page FISA application is relatively cut and dried, declassifying text messages related to the Russia investigation will likely take some time. Given that the Justice Department may have to sort through materials that could deal with national security sources and methods, one can expect this often used excuse for classification and redaction to considerably delay the timeline of released materials. In order for the declassification process to succeed, the president may need to devote substantial resources to the process, even if that means personally overseeing it.
Judicial Watch Director of Investigations Chris Farrell reacts to the Department of Justice’s response to President Trump’s FISA declassification request.
On Thursday, the Justice Department’s inspector general released a long-anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server that handled classified information. Here are some quick takeaways from the report.
1. Learn How To Interpret An IG Report
The best way to understand an inspector general (IG) report is less as a fiercely independent investigation that seeks justice and more like what you’d expect from a company’s human resources department. Employees frequently think that a company’s human resources department exists to serve employees. There’s some truth in that, but it’s more true that the human resources department exists to serve the corporation.
At the end of the day, the HR department wants what’s best for the company. The FBI’s IG Michael Horowitz has a good reputation for good reason. But his report is in support of the FBI and its policies and procedures. As such, the findings will be focused on helping the FBI improve its adherence to those policies and procedures. Those who expected demands for justice in the face of widespread evidence of political bias and poor judgment by immature agents and executives were people unfamiliar with the purpose of IG reports.
The IG is also a government bureaucrat producing government products that are supposed to be calm and boring. In the previous report that led to Andrew McCabe’s firing as deputy director of the FBI and referral for criminal prosecution, his serial lying under oath was dryly phrased as “lack of candor.” In this report detailing widespread problems riddled throughout the Clinton email probe, the language is similarly downplayed. That’s particularly true in the executive summary, which attempts to downplay the actual details that fill the report with evidence of poor decision-making, extreme political bias, and problematic patterns of behavior.
2. FBI Agent Who Led Both The Clinton and Trump Probes Promised He’d Prevent Trump’s Election
Such as this one! On page 420, the IG says that the conduct of five FBI employees who were caught talking about their extreme political bias in the context of their duties “has brought discredit to themselves, sowed doubt about the FBI’s handling of the Midyear investigation, and impacted the reputation of the FBI.” The Midyear investigation was the code for the Clinton probe. Or note this blistering passage:
[W]hen one senior FBI official, [Peter] Strzok, who was helping to lead the Russia investigation at the time, conveys in a text message to another senior FBI official, [Lisa] Page, that ‘we’ll stop’ candidate Trump from being elected—after other extensive text messages between the two disparaging candidate Trump—it is not only indicative of a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects. This is antithetical to the core values of the FBI and the Department of Justice.
The report goes on to say that the text messages and Strzok’s decision to prioritize the counterintelligence probe of the Trump campaign over the Clinton email criminal investigation “led us to conclude that we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision was free from bias.”
This text is not just interesting because the FBI’s deputy head of the counterintelligence division who was investigating a major-party candidate told the woman he was cheating on his wife with that “we” would stop the candidate from becoming president. It’s also interesting because this text was hidden from congressional committees performing oversight of the FBI.
3. Comey Mishandled The Clinton Probe In Multiple Ways
It’s worth re-reading Acting Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s May 9, 2017, recommendation that James Comey be fired as FBI director. He cited Comey’s usurpation of the attorney general’s authority in his press conference announcing that Clinton’s case would be closed without prosecution, the release of derogatory information about Clinton despite the decision to not indict her, and Comey’s letter to Congress announcing the FBI had reopened a probe against Clinton.
The IG backs up each and every one of those critiques, and adds much more detail to them.
We concluded that Comey’s unilateral announcement was inconsistent with Department policy and violated long-standing Department practice and protocol by, among other things, criticizing Clinton’s uncharged conduct. We also found that Comey usurped the authority of the Attorney General, and inadequately and incompletely described the legal position of Department prosecutors.
The IG said Comey violated longstanding department practice to avoid “trashing people we’re not charging.” He also inadequately and incompletely explained how Justice prosecutors came to make decisions. “Many of the problems with the statement resulted from Comey’s failure to coordinate with Department officials,” the IG wrote. Had he talked with them, they would have warned him about the problems his statement posed. What’s more, the prosecutors had a very different understanding of why they were declining to charge Clinton than the one Comey claimed they had in his public press conference.
Comey also violated departmental practice in announcing publicly he reopened the probe after additional relevant emails were found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Both of these decisions were controversial inside and outside the agency.
4. Comey Is Slippery And Weird
The 568-page report includes many examples of Comey being duplicitous and sneaky during his handling of the Clinton email probe. For instance, he asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch how to handle questions regarding the criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information on a secret server. She told him to call it a “matter.” He didn’t object and even complied.
But a year later, the conversation was leaked to The New York Times in a story that painted Comey as a non-partisan truth-teller beset by both Democrats and Republicans. Daniel Richman, the same man who was used to leak Comey’s anti-Trump memos, was a source for the anti-Lynch story.
Comey threatened to appoint a special counsel in the Clinton probe if Justice officials didn’t help him get what he wanted. He bizarrely claimed he was going to announce he’d make no recommendation on the Clinton email probe. He decided he was going to make a solo announcement trashing Clinton while announcing she was not being charged, but let the Justice Department think they would be making a statement together:
Comey admitted that he concealed his intentions from the Department until the morning of his press conference on July 5, and instructed his staff to do the same, to make it impracticable for Department leadership to prevent him from delivering his statement. We found that it was extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to do so, and we found none of his reasons to be a persuasive basis for deviating from well-established Department policies in a way intentionally designed to avoid supervision by Department leadership over his actions.
He claimed that he didn’t grasp the significance of the hundreds of thousands of Clinton emails being found on Weiner’s computer because he didn’t know that Weiner was married to Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Beyond being too ridiculous to believe, the claim is hardly exonerating. It would mean he was not interested to learn that hundreds of thousands of Clinton emails relevant to a highly charged criminal investigation were found on the laptop of an unrelated man.
Comey asked Justice officials for feedback on his decisions but did so through assistants, suggesting he viewed any feedback as a dangerous encroachment on his decision-making.
“We asked Comey why he asked for the Department’s feedback and then ignored the feedback that he received,” the IG wrote. Later, “Both Lynch and [Deputy Attorney General Sally] Yates explained that they were concerned that any direct discussion with Comey—particularly any discussion in which they told him not to send the letter—would be perceived as an attempt to prevent him from fulfilling his ‘personal ethical obligation’ to notify Congress. Both stated that they were concerned that the fact of any such direct discussions would leak and would be portrayed as Department leadership attempting to ‘prevent information damaging to a candidate from coming out’ (Lynch) or ‘strong-arming’ Comey (Yates).”
5. FBI Has A Massive Leak Problem And Is Doing Nothing About It
As mentioned, both Lynch and Yates were worried that performing legitimate oversight of Comey would be leaked against them to the media. Fear of leaks was also mentioned by many top FBI officials as a major reason that the Southern District of New York was able to force the FBI to reopen the Clinton probe.
“We have profound concerns about the volume and extent of unauthorized media contacts by FBI personnel that we have uncovered during our review,” the report stated. Two attachments were included showing rampant discussions with reportersby people not authorized to be talking to reporters. One FBI executive was caught having had 26 conversations with one reporter and seven conversations with another reporter. They even created charts to help show how rampant the conversations were:
The report showed myriad FBI employees violating FBI policy and department ethics rules.
FBI employees received tickets to sporting events from journalists, went on golfing outings with media representatives, were treated to drinks and meals after work by reporters, and were the guests of journalists at nonpublic social events.
The IG said the leaks were difficult to track down because of how many people had access to classified and non-public information. The IG also said the culture of widespread leaking made it difficult to crack down:
Second, although FBI policy strictly limits the employees who are authorized to speak to the media, we found that this policy appeared to be widely ignored during the period we reviewed. We identified numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media, who were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters. The large number of FBI employees who were in contact with journalists during this time period impacted our ability to identify the sources of leaks.
6. FBI Almost Got Away With Ignoring Clinton Emails On Weiner Laptop
In September 2016, when an investigator in the Southern District of New York found hundreds of thousands of Clinton emails and Blackberry messages on a laptop being searched in relation to an investigation of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, he immediately alerted his supervisors. They alerted the FBI, who sat on the information for weeks, only acting after the New York office complained repeatedly.
By October 3, the case agent assigned to the Weiner investigation expressed concern that the FBI appeared to be sitting on what he’d told them. Later he told the IG:
The crickets I was hearing was really making me uncomfortable because something was going to come crashing down…. And my understanding, which is uninformed because…I didn’t work the Hillary Clinton matter. My understanding at the time was I am telling you people I have private Hillary Clinton emails, number one, and BlackBerry messages, number two. I’m telling you that we have potentially 10 times the volume that Director Comey said we had on the record. Why isn’t anybody here? Like, if I’m the supervisor of any CI squad in Seattle and I hear about this, I’m getting on with headquarters and saying, hey, some agent working child porn here may have [Hillary Clinton] emails. Get your -ss on the phone, call [the case agent], and get a copy of that drive, because that’s how you should be. And that nobody reached out to me within, like, that night, I still to this day I don’t understand what the hell went wrong.
And I told her, I’m a little scared here. I don’t know what to do because I’m not political. Like I don’t care who wins this election, but this is going to make us look really, really horrible. And it could ruin this case, too. And…I said the thing that also bothers me is that Comey’s testimony is inaccurate. And as a big admirer of the guy, and I think he’s a straight shooter, I wanted to, I felt like he needed to know, like, we got this. And I didn’t know if he did.
Although all the relevant information was given to the FBI by September 29, they came back to the agent weeks later to ask questions he’d repeatedly answered. But the FBI agents claimed that the information they learned in late October was new to them. The IG says this is not true: “By no later than September 29, the FBI had learned virtually every fact that was cited by the FBI in late October as justification for obtaining the search warrant for the Weiner laptop.”
The FBI claimed that they didn’t take action on the laptop because “1. The FBI Midyear team was waiting for additional information about the contents of the laptop from NYO, which was not provided until late October. 2. The FBI Midyear team could not review the emails without additional legal authority, such as consent or a new search warrant. 3. The FBI Midyear team and senior FBI officials did not believe that the information on the laptop was likely to be significant. 4. Key members of the FBI Midyear team had been reassigned to the investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. election, which was a higher priority.”
The IG said these excuses were hogwash, saying that the first was “unpersuasive,” the second “illogical,” the third “inconsistent” and “insufficient,” and the fourth “unpersuasive and concerning.” The overarching feeling of the report is that the FBI leaders who handled both the Clinton and Trump probes worked very hard to pretend the Weiner incident didn’t happen, only being forced by the New York office’s insistence that protocol be followed.
7. Breathtaking Bias
Some FBI defenders latched onto the IG’s claim that he “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific
investigative decisions we reviewed.” All that means is that none of the politically biased texts specifically said political bias was leading them to make certain decisions. Of course, that would be a weird thing to find in any case.
What the investigators found, however, was breathtaking anti-Trump and pro-Clinton bias from five of the key employees handling the Clinton email probe. No evidence was found of pro-Trump bias. And this evidence of profound bias is only for those who were foolish enough to record their extreme views. The IG also apparently had no texts from Justice Department officials, perhaps because Justice didn’t preserve them.
The texts range from vile insults of Trump and his supporters to fears about how awful a Trump presidency would be and the need to prevent it. One employee said Trump voters were “all poor to middle class, uneducated, lazy POS.” One FBI lawyer discussed feeling “numb” by Trump’s November 2016 election win, later proclaiming “Viva le Resistance” when asked about Trump.
Strzok wrote in July 2016, “Trump is a disaster. I have no idea how destabilizing his Presidency would be.” After the election, Page wrote that she’d bought “All the President’s Men,” adding, “Figure I needed to brush up on watergate.” The two openly fantasize about impeachment.
In the preparation to interview Clinton as part of the criminal probe, Page tells a handful of her colleagues to take it easy on Clinton. “One more thing: she might be our next president. The last thing you need us going in there loaded for bear.”
After each text exchange, the IG report includes defenses from the agents, some even harder to believe than the previous:
August 8, 2016: In a text message on August 8, 2016, Page stated, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok responded, ‘No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.’ When asked about this text message, Strzok stated that he did not specifically recall sending it, but that he believed that it was intended to reassure Page that Trump would not be elected, not to suggest that he would do something to impact the investigation.
All five of the FBI employees were referred back to the FBI for disciplinary action.
8. Clinton Got Breaks, But Some Backfired
While Comey harmed Clinton with how he handled his public announcements about her case, the IG report paints an investigation that was overall quite favorable toward her and her associates. During the Robert Mueller investigation, the federal government has played hardball with Trump associates, ringing them up on false statement charges, raiding their offices, arresting them without warning, and encroaching on attorney-client relationships. For Clinton, a much different approach was taken.
To take just one example, look at the case of Paul Combetta, an employee who handled the migration of Clinton’s email accounts across servers then later deleted the emails. Clinton probe members were sure he was lying about the deletion of the emails in violation of a congressional preservation order. In repeated interviews, he claimed he didn’t delete her emails.
The agents had an email where he talked about the “Hilary coverup operation.” They decided that wasn’t a big deal. One agent said he believed Combetta should have been charged with “false statements for lying multiple times.” But overall they decided it was just so confusing, that the failure to tell the truth was “largely due to a lack of sophistication and poor legal representation.” They gave him immunity, and he started singing. He admitted deleting the emails “despite his awareness of Congress’s preservation order and his understanding that the order meant that ‘he should not disturb Clinton’s email data on the PRN server.’” Sounds nice.
It seems likely that Clinton’s handling of classified information on a secret server, and the FBI’s investigation of it, caused her problems during the 2016 election. But it’s also interesting how the efforts by many to help Clinton kept backfiring. More than anything, there is a lack of confidence that political considerations were absent from the decision to let Clinton skate.
President Obama gave interviews where he stated that Clinton didn’t have intent to harm national security, a talking point later carried by Comey himself. Even before Comey followed Obama’s lead, observers worried that Obama was giving guidance as opposed to offering his opinion. An Obama White House spokesman said he knew Clinton was not a “target” of the investigation, suggesting he had insider knowledge. The FBI claimed he didn’t have insider knowledge.
When the New York office told the FBI about Weiner’s laptop, it appears that the FBI tried to run out the election clock before dealing with it. It would have worked, too, if the New York office hadn’t pushed the matter right before the election — the absolute worst time to deal with a reopening of the investigation.
9. Obama Lied When He Said He Knew Nothing About Hillary’s Secret E-mail Scheme
The IG found that Obama was “one of the 13 individuals with whom Clinton had direct contact using her clintonemail[.]com account.”
In fact, Clinton used her private email for “an exchange with then President Obama while in the territory of a foreign adversary,” a move that led investigators to believe hostile actors had likely gained access to her server. But a paragraph in a draft of Comey’s exoneration of Clinton was changed from Obama to “another senior government official,” and later deleted.
FBI Employee: ‘boom…how did the [witness] go’
Agent 1: ‘Awesome. Lied his -ss off. Went from never inside the scif [sensitive compartmented information facility] at res, to looked in when it was being constructed, to removed the trash twice, to troubleshot the secure fax with HRC a couple times, to everytime there was a secure fax i did it with HRC. Ridic,’
FBI Employee: ‘would be funny if he was the only guy charged n this deal’
Agent 1: ‘I know. For 1001. Even if he said the truth and didnt have a clearance when handling the secure fax – aint noone gonna do sh-t’
That same agent also openly discussed political considerations affecting the Clinton probe. The IG gave a few examples:
January 15, 2016: Responding to a question of when the investigation would be finished, Agent 1 stated, ‘[M]y guess is March. Doesnt matter what we have, political winds will want to beat the Primarys.’
January 28, 2016: ‘…The case is the same is all of them. Alot of work and bullsh-t for a political exercise.’
February 1, 2016: ‘…Its primary season – so we’re being dictated to now….’
February 1, 2016: ‘This is the biggest political sh-t show of them all. No substance. Up at dawn – pride swallowing seige. No headset and hermetically sealed in SIOC.’
February 2, 2016: Responding to a question about how the investigation was going, ‘Going well…. Busy, and sometimes I feel for naught (political exercise), but I feel good….’
May 6, 2016, to Agent 5: ‘pretty bad news today…someone has breathed some political urgency into this…. Everyday DD brief and once a week D brief from now on.’
11. FBI’s Insulting Response
FBI Director Christopher Wray gave a press conference in front of a compliant press corps where he said, “nothing in this report impugns the integrity of our workforce as a whole or the FBI as an institution.” In fact, the report paints a picture of an FBI with a problematic culture.
It’s not just Comey’s usurpation of authority and failure to comply with practices. Multiple people were involved in his condemned decisions. Others were cited for bad judgement in recusal decisions or failure to adhere to recusals. Political bias was rampant in the team of people who handled both the Clinton and Trump email probes. So were leaks, accepting gifts from reporters, incompetence, and other problems.
Instead, Wray issued a strawman defense of employees, bragged about the high number of applicants to the agency, and talked about the low percentage of recruits who were accepted.
Mollie Ziegler Hemingway is a senior editor at The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter at @mzhemingway