Belmont Club

The High-Stakes Game of Turnabout Playing Out in the Aftermath of the Mueller Investigation

The High-Stakes Game of Turnabout Playing Out in the Aftermath of the Mueller Investigation
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Two years ago I predicted the attempt to nullify the 2016 election with the Russian collusion investigation would threaten both Trump and Obama:

The most singular thing about Donald Trump’s wiretap accusation against Barack Obama is how he’s refusing to play the game of extremities — losing a Flynn here and getting a Sessions paralyzed there — and getting right into lethal range. Trump’s gone right past Schumer, ignored the surrogates and gone straight for the former president himself.

This escalation represents a real threat to Obama. Suddenly everything is out of control. Nobody would have minded much if Trump had gone after one of Obama’s henchmen — which is probably what was expected — but none can foresee how an exchange of blades between principals will end. It is safe to say, however, that unless the combatants disengage, someone will get hurt. It will be a terrible moment for American political civility when a king lies on the political floor. The whole point of a peaceful transition of power is to prevent a clash between kings. Yet the very tragedy the electoral process is intended to prevent is happening before our eyes.

Unfortunately, the prediction has now come true. “Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Breitbart News exclusively on Tuesday that President Donald Trump told senators at the weekly GOP luncheon that he backs his call for an investigation into the origins of the Russia scandal “hoax” that Trump has now been cleared of by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.” In this scenario, the conspiracy was a plot to frame Trump and having failed, the next act is to hunt the conspirators.

When asked specifically if former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former National Security Adviser Susan Rice should be called to testify about their role in the matter—and be subpoenaed to force their testimony if they refuse to voluntarily comply—Paul said: “Absolutely.”

“We have John Brennan, who lied to us, who spied on the Senate and tapped into Senate computers,” Paul said. “We have James Clapper who came before the Intelligence Committee and said they weren’t collecting all of our phone data. So both Brennan and Clapper have been known to lie in official testimony. They should be brought forward and asked what was their part? What was their role in ginning up this dossier? Amazingly, most media outlets wouldn’t even print the dossier because they thought it was so unsubstantiated. And then all of a sudden, the FBI gives it credence. There’s one interesting story out today that says still no one would print it, so then Comey gives it to President Trump and that’s when it’s been leaked and then we have a news story saying that this dossier had been given to the president and that became the hook or the story.”

Not all investigations are conspiracies and Mueller’s probe might well have been a good faith attempt to investigate a credible charge. However, despite the media hoopla, legal observers saw signs it had been a dry hole for a long time. As Andy McCarthy put it: “Now that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has concluded that there was no criminal collusion, the question arises: When during their exhaustive 22-month investigation did prosecutors realize they had no case?” McCarthy says:

I put it at no later than the end of 2017. I suspect it was in the early autumn. … Notably, in June 2017, about a month after Mueller took over the investigation, while he was still getting his bearings, the Justice Department and the FBI went on to obtain a fourth FISA warrant. …

You know what’s most telling about this fourth FISA warrant? The fact that it was never renewed. The 90-day authorization lapsed in September 2017. When it did, Mueller did not seek to extend it with a new warrant. …

Once the fourth warrant lapsed in September, investigators made no new claims of a Trump-Russia conspiracy to the court. The collusion case was the Clinton campaign’s Steele dossier, and by autumn 2017, the investigators now in charge of the Trump-Russia investigation were unwilling to stand behind it.

In order to get the FISA warrants, the Justice Department and the FBI had had to allege that there was probable cause to believe former Trump adviser Carter Page was an agent of Russia. Under FISA law, that requires alleging that he was knowingly involved in clandestine activity on behalf of Russia, and that this clandestine activity involved probable violations of American criminal law – offenses such as espionage. Yet, despite the fact that this representation was made four times in sworn “verified” applications, Mueller never charged Page with a crime – not espionage, not false statements, nothing.

Now that the shoe is on the other foot, one can make the equivalent argument that a probe against Obama officials would be just as much “a good faith attempt to investigate a credible charge” as the Mueller investigation. But one should not deceive oneself into not realizing that the ultimate targets of such a course would be Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Such a turnabout would not end the crisis which began in the waning days of the Obama administration, it would only change its direction. And then some other king would lie on the political floor and the whole point of a peaceful transition of power which “is to prevent a clash between kings” would still be in ruins. Perhaps this is why Karl Rove is urging Trump, having won the round, to move on; for by considering the affair closed, Trump could restore the tradition of comity, which has been damaged.

Or could he? In the current political culture, magnanimity is unlikely to be met with gratitude, unless the words are spat out with irony. Passions are high and neither side appears willing to give an inch. It may take time before an extended hand is not met by a punch. The fever must still run its course. One can only hope the fever breaks before the patient does.

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Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, by Joseph J. Ellis. How during the 1790s, which Ellis calls the most decisive decade in the American nation’s history, the greatest statesmen of their generation came together to define the new republic and direct its course for the coming centuries.

Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson, by William Langewiesche. How much of the success of Chesley Sullenberger’s dramatic landing can actually be credited to his genius? Or is the “miracle” on the Hudson the result of extraordinary — but not widely known, and in some cases quite controversial — advances in aviation and computer technology over the past twenty years? In this book, Langewiesche takes readers on a strange and unexpected journey into the world of advanced aviation.

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Endurance, by Frank Arthur Worsley. The inspiring first-hand account of Ernest Shackleton’s doomed Antarctic adventure by Frank Worsley, Captain of HMS Endurance – the expedition ship crushed to pieces after becoming icebound. A must-read.

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel C. Dennett. This book examines religion scientifically: to ask why — and how — it has shaped so many lives so strongly.

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The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
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