Saturday, June 10, 2017

The unanswered question in the Russia investigation: Were any Americans helping the Russians?

Beyond what I (and many others) have already posted, another remark by former FBI Director James Comey in the Thursday hearing has been bothering me.

Here is part of the exchange between Sen. Jack Reed and Comey (from the NY Times transcript).

REED : … the Russian investigation, as you have pointed out, and as all my colleagues have reflected, is one of the most serious hostile acts against this country in our history.

Undermining the very core of our democracy and our elections is not a discrete event. It will likely occur — it’s probably being prepared now for ’18 and ’20 and beyond. And yet the president of the United States fires you because, in your own words — some relation to this investigation.

And then he shows up in the Oval Office with the Russian foreign minister, first, after classifying you as crazy and a real nut job, which I think you’ve effectively disproved this morning. He said, “I face great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Your conclusion would be that the president, I would think, is downplaying the seriousness of this threat.

In fact, took specific steps to stop a thorough investigation of the Russian — Russian influence. And also, from what you’ve said, or what was — been said this morning, doesn’t seem particularly interested in these hostile threats by the Russians? Is that fair?

COMEY : I don’t know that I can agree to that level of detail. There’s no doubt that it’s a fair judgment — it’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. I was fired, in some way, to change — or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.

That is a — that is a very big deal, and not just because it involves me. The nature of the FBI and the nature of its work requires that it not be the subject of political consideration.

And on top of that you have — the Russia investigation itself is vital, because of the threat. And I know I should’ve said this earlier, but it’s obvious — if any Americans were part of helping the Russians do that to us, that is a very big deal. And I’m confident that, if that is the case, Director Mueller will find that evidence.

There are two themes here that should be of great concern to Americans regardless of their political persuasions. First, in Sen. Reed’s remarks, there is the apparent lack of concern by President Trump over the “most serious hostile acts against this country in our history” perpetrated by Russia. The President appears to be “downplaying the seriousness of this threat.” Second, in Comey’s response, he notes that “if any Americans were part of helping the Russians do that to us, that is a very big deal.”

With respect to the first theme, an ex-FBI agent responds: I was an FBI agent. Trump’s lack of concern about Russian hacking shocks me. Here are concluding snippets.

For any president to ignore the situation is shocking. My former colleagues at the FBI who are working on this case and have uncovered the full scale of Russia’s efforts must be incredulous at Trump’s cavalier attitude.

To understand their perspective, consider this happening in the context we normally think of as a national security threat: Imagine that during the 2016 presidential election, a candidate publicly invited the Islamic State to bomb the Democratic Party headquarters. And then imagine that such a bombing in fact took place, resulting in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. Now further imagine that the new president not only had no interest in learning more about who caused the attack or bringing them to justice, but in fact went out of his way to make nice with the Islamic State and offer them political and diplomatic concessions. Finally, imagine that there may be evidence that members of the president’s campaign or other American citizens were actively or passively involved in facilitating such an attack.

The fact pattern of the Russia investigation so far is similar — and that’s an investigation Comey says Trump had no interest in following closely.

Regardless of which story line you believe about Comey’s testimony, it is, in the end, a sideshow. The real issue is Russia’s assault on our democracy and how we respond to it. If the president intends to stay true to his oath, both he and all Americans, regardless of political affiliation, will support the FBI in getting to the bottom of the Russian threat and making sure that it never happens again.

So far this President has shown more concern for Russia than he has for his own country.

With respect to the second theme, Trump has already made clear his wish that Russia would interfere in our political process. Remember this one? Trump urges Russia to hack Clinton’s email. Now to be fair I should add that the Trump campaign tried to reinterpret Trump’s words as reported in the New Republic Was Trump being sarcastic when he asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton? The author of that story thinks not.

This is almost a pretty good defense for Trump, who is quite possibly the most sarcastic presidential candidate in this country’s history. The only problem is that, because Trump is sarcastic so often, we have a pretty good idea of what he sounds like when he’s being sarcastic. And he certainly didn’t sound sarcastic on Wednesday, and there’s nothing sarcastic about the follow-up tweet he sent shortly after the press conference. But sure, who knows, maybe Trump is getting really into deadpan anti-comedy this summer.

The problem with that defense is that it doesn’t really matter if he was being sarcastic—it was an incredibly stupid thing for a presidential candidate to say, even if he was making a joke. Which he wasn’t.

Then add to that Trump’s conference with the Russian ambassador the day after he fired Comey. As Sen. Reed put it,

… he shows up in the Oval Office with the Russian foreign minister … He said, “I face great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” …

So, the question hanging over the investigation of the Russian cyber attack on our election that is yet unanswered is: were any Americans helping the Russians in that attack?

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