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FBI’s Russiagate strategy: Stonewall until next year’s Congressional elections

FBI plays for time as credibility of Trump Dossier on which Russiagate investigation based collapses

The news that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe plans to retire next year comes as no surprise following his disastrous showing in his testimony to Congress a week ago.

The FBI’s problem – and the key problem of the whole Russiagate probe – is that the evidence on which it was launched and upon which it continues to be based – Christopher Steele’s Trump Dossier – cannot be verified because it is untrue.

However admitting this fact would be tantamount to admitting that there is no case for Special Counsel to investigate – which would lead to calls for Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation to be terminated – and would lead to questions about the FBI’s conduct during the 2016 election.

Not only would that be disastrous in itself – with questions being asked about why the FBI undertook surveillance of Hillary Clinton’s opponents on the strength of a Trump Dossier paid for by the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign which the FBI cannot verify – but it would lead to questions about the FBI’s attitude not just towards Donald Trump but towards Hillary Clinton as well.

Not only did the FBI clear Hillary Clinton of charges relating to her misuse of a private email server whilst Secretary of State – a serious matter in itself and one made worse by the admission that the first draft of FBI Director James Comey’s statement into the matter referred to her “gross negligence”, wording which actually meets the legal threshold for bringing a prosecution – but the FBI failed to undertake its own investigation of the alleged hacking of the DNC’s and John Podesta’s computers, relying instead on the opinions of an expert – Crowdstrike – who was paid by the Hillary Clinton funded DNC.

Coming on top of the revelations of FBI lead investigator Peter Strzok’s anti Trump text messages to his lover Lisa Page – text messages which together with Strzok’s sacking Mueller kept secret for six months – this conduct during the 2016 election by the FBI does suggest bias on the part of the FBI in favour of Hillary Clinton and against Donald Trump.

Though it has taken them many months to grasp this, Republicans in the Congress and the media have now started to do so, though it should be said that there continue to be a small number of Republican Senators whose personal antagonism towards Donald Trump is so intense that it blinds them to the truth.

The result of the broader Republican realisation of the grossly partisan nature of Russiagate scandal  – and that Donald Trump is not therefore a Kremlin stooge – is however a rallying behind Donald Trump by Republicans in Congress and in the media, of which the recent tax reform bill is the first product.

Not only does this make an impeachment of Donald Trump now extremely unlikely – even if the Democrats win control of Congress a successful impeachment will require the support of Republican Senators – but with the Republicans for the moment still in control of the committees of the House and Senate which are investigating Russiagate, all the indications are that 2018 could see the Republicans going on the offensive, and the Democrats and the FBI being thrown onto the defensive, as the focus of the Russiagate scandal shifts away from the collusion allegations to the things the Hillary Clinton campaign and FBI were doing.

The driving force behind the Republican counter attack is the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Devin Nunes.  The Washington Times reports the sort of investigations he is now setting in train

What is unfolding for the House intelligence committee is an investigation that has broadened from supposed collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Driven by Chairman Devin Nunes, California Republican, the committee is examining the following:

• Who funded the dossier and how its information was spread by paymaster Fusion GPS and then used by the FBI.

• The Obama administration’s “unmasking” of the identities of private citizens caught up in surveillance of foreigners.

• Recent misconduct inside the Department of Justice and the FBI.

It is unsurprising that in the face of this counter attack FBI officials deeply implicated in the Russiagate probe like FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe are choosing to retire.

It is also unsurprising that FBI General Counsel James Baker – a Comey friend and loyalist – has been transferred to other duties now that it has become known that he was in contact with the Mother Jones reporter who interviewed the Trump Dossier’s compiler Christopher Steele and who gave credence to Steele’s work.

In passing, the lawyers of Alexey Gubarev – the Russian businessman who has brought a libel claim against Buzzfeed because it published the Trump Dossier in which he is named – say that they have ascertained the identity of the official who leaked the Trump Dossier to Buzzfeed, even though a US judge recently refused Gubarev’s request for an order that Buzzfeed disclose his or her identity.

If Gubarev’s lawyers are right and they have correctly identified this person then it is only a matter of time before his or her identity is made public, with potentially very embarrassing consequences, and not just for the individual in question.

The Washington Times sets out the FBI’s problem

Sources speculated to The Washington Times that it would be embarrassing for Mr. McCabe to condemn a political opposition research paper on which his agents based decisions to open a counterintelligence investigation and interview witnesses. Some press reports said the FBI cited the dossier’s information in requests for court-approved wiretaps…..

“This is really problematic for the FBI and DOJ right now,” said the source familiar with the congressional investigations. “They realize stonewalling is not going to work anymore, but they haven’t decided on a new strategy to manage the deluge of information spilling out about top officials’ conflicts of interest, their use of the Steele dossier and their own connections to Fusion GPS.”

In fact it is not difficult to see what the FBI’s – and the Democrats’ – strategy now is.

It is to stonewall until the Congressional elections in the fall of 2018, in the hope that these will give control of Congress – and by extension of the Congressional committees looking into Russiagate – to the Democrats,  thereby enabling the Democrats to close down the Congressional probes the Republicans are now launching into the actions of the FBI.

In the meantime Mueller, having draw a blank on the collusion allegations, will continue to fish around for anything else he can use in order to justify keeping his investigation going.

Recent reports speak of Mueller rummaging though bank records in Cyprus shortly after he asked for similar information from Deutsche Bank, despite these enquiries with foreign banks appearing to have little or no bearing on the collusion allegations between the Trump campaign and the Russians which Mueller is supposed to be investigating.

The main emphasis of Mueller’s inquiry – and of the Democrats in Congress and in the media – however now looks to be the contacts which took place – in the main after the election and apparently on Donald Trump’s personal orders – between Russian ambassador Kislyak and General Flynn, with Mueller seemingly looking for ways to cobble together some charge against some senior official in the Trump administration on the strength of them.

The 2016 election shows that in the present volatile and highly polarised atmosphere in the US it is not easy to predict the outcome of US elections.

Donald Trump’s Republican base is said to be firmly behind him, something even Roy Moore’s failure in Alabama appears to show.

If so then expectations of a Democratic landslide in the Congressional elections in 2018 may turn out to be wrong.

However the usual trend in the US is for Congressional elections held midway through a President’s first term to show a big swing towards the opposition party.

Most expect this pattern to recur in 2018, in which case the possibility that the Democrats could gain control of Congress following the elections next year is a real one.

If so then the time available for Congressional Republicans like Devin Nunes to take the battle to the FBI may be short.

Whilst the incentive to do so is strong – it is difficult to imagine anything that might hurt the Democrats more in advance of the Congressional elections than a revelation of the sort of things which were actually happening during the 2016 election – the time window to do so will soon begin to close.

For the sake of their party as well as for the sake of the proper functioning of the political system of the United States it is to be hoped that Congressional Republicans like Congressman Nunes use the short time which may be available to them wisely.

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