Coming this fall: Show trials for U.S. intelligence agents who investigated Russian interference in 2016

0
539

Donald Trump and his propaganda network Fox News aka Trump TV have long promoted the conspiracy theory that a “deep state” within the intelligence community plotted a “coup” against his presidency. They have long promoted the idea of “investigate the investigators” who conducted the Russia investigation.

Shortly after taking office, Trump compared the U.S. intelligence community to Nazi Germany and has since repeatedly accused the intelligence community of treason. The 24 times Trump has accused somebody of “treason” (and counting).

It bears repeating that every individual who was involved in overseeing the initial investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 campaign and cooperation (and possible coordination) with the Trump campaign has either been fired or forced to retire, and had their reputations trashed nightly by the conspiracy mongers on Trump TV. It was a slow-motion Saturday night massacre by the Trump administration, for which no one has yet been held accountable.

There are currently two investigations into the origins of the intelligence community’s Russia investigation, in addition to the “personal” review by Trump’s new “fixer,” Attorney General William “Coverup” Barr. Trump Gives Attorney General Sweeping Power in Review of 2016 Campaign Inquiry:

In a directive, Mr. Trump ordered the C.I.A. and the country’s 15 other intelligence agencies to cooperate with the review and granted Mr. Barr the authority to unilaterally declassify their documents. The move — which occurred just hours after the president again declared that those who led the investigation committed treason — gave Mr. Barr immense leverage over the intelligence community and enormous power over what the public learns about the roots of the Russia investigation.

Mr. Barr, who has used the word “spying” to describe how the Trump campaign was investigated, has been deeply involved in the department’s review of how intelligence was collected on the campaign. Mr. Barr has told Congress that he personally authorized the review. While he has asked John H. Durham, the United States attorney in Connecticut, to spearhead it, a Justice Department official said that Mr. Barr has personally met with the heads of the intelligence agencies to discuss the review and that the project was a top priority after the release last month of the special counsel’s report.

One official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters, said previously that Mr. Barr wanted to know more about what foreign assets the C.I.A. had in Russia in 2016 and what those informants were telling the agency about how President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sought to meddle in the 2016 election.

William “Coverup” Barr thus is in a position to cherry-pick and selectively declassify information that can be leaked to Trump TV to promote its “deep state” conspiracy theory, while keeping information classified that would put the Trump campaign in a bad light.

Then there is the inspector general investigation. A new timeline has emerged in recent days for Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz‘s investigation into alleged surveillance abuses by the DOJ and the FBI. New timeline emerges for DOJ inspector general report on FISA abuse:

Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, told Maria Bartiromo on Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures that he “expects that report later this fall.”

His colleague Rep. John Ratcliffe, who has spoken to Horowitz, gave a more specific target. The Texas congressman told Fox News’ Bret Baier on Wednesday, “I think that we will get the IG’s report probably sometime right after Labor Day.” Labor Day is Sept. 2.

Further solidifying the prediction was a RealClearInvestigations report about former FBI Director James Comey having an inside man at the White House, feeding the bureau information about President Trump and his aides in 2017. That report also set a release date sometime in September.

The delay in Horowitz’s work was reportedly due to his team’s two-day meeting with Steele in person in London in early June, during President Trump’s state visit to the United Kingdom. Investigators found Steele’s information credible enough to warrant extending their investigation.

Whaaa? Steele was credible? Horowitz’s assigned task was to discredit the Steele report, but he could not. No fear, William Barr will suppress any negative information.

Meanwhile Barr’s “investigation into the investigators” is underway, and the attorney general has said he is working very closely with Horowitz. The inspector general can recommend prosecutions, and U.S. Attorney John Durham, whom Barr tasked to lead the review, has the ability to convene a grand jury and subpoena people outside of the government. Beyond that, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, has promised a “deep dive” into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation after Horowitz completes his work.

Fair warning: this is developing into “prosecute the investigators” with Stalinist show trials this fall as Trump has long demanded. And that may include members of the Obama administration, including President Obama himself, as Trump has frequently suggested. This is the stuff of authoritarian banana republics and dictatorships.

Trump has already captured the Department of Justice with the corrupt William Barr who has turned the department into Trump’s personal law firm to defend Trump, and to pursue his political enemies.

Now Trump is tying up loose ends by getting rid of his Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coates, and trying to replace him with a Trump loyalist and conspiracy monger, the aforementioned Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX). Trump’s nominee to lead America’s intelligence agencies has an unusually thin résumé:

Over the weekend, President Trump announced that Coats was leaving the position. In his stead, Trump will nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.), who’s been in Congress since 2015. Ratcliffe attracted Trump’s attention by vigorously defending the president as the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has unfolded.

Beyond that important-to-Trump qualification? Ratcliffe’s résumé is unusually thin.

* * *

Much of his professional career has been spent as an attorney, including service with the Justice Department for about five years, first focusing on anti-terrorism work in East Texas* and, later, as U.S. attorney for that region. During that time, he also served as mayor of Heath, Tex., a town of about 7,000 just east of Dallas. In 2014, he was elected to the House. When the current Congress began in January, he took a position on the House Intelligence Committee.

* Not so much. BUSTED: Trump nominee caught lying about his qualifications as he faces Senate confirmation:

President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the Director of National Intelligence is facing a stolen valor situation after claiming to have put terrorists in jail, NBC News reported Monday.“

Although Ratcliffe’s website says he ‘put terrorists in prison,’ there is no evidence he ever prosecuted a terrorism case,” NBC reported.

“He convicted individuals who were funneling money to Hamas behind the front of a charitable organization,” the congressman’s office claimed in a 2015 press release.

“While he was U.S. attorney in East Texas, Ratcliffe was appointed as a special prosecutor in a terrorism funding case in Dallas, U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation, in which a Muslim charity was found guilty of funneling money to the Palestinian terror group,” NBC reported. “But Ratcliffe’s name does not appear in the Holy Land trial record.”

Again, Trump’s interest in Ratcliffe reportedly stems not from his robust background in intelligence operations and organizations but, at least in part, from his willingness to advocate Trump-friendly rhetoric about the Russia investigation. Ratcliffe’s questioning of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III earlier this month was hailed by Trump’s allies and unquestionably had an effect on Trump’s decision.

It’s not clear how closely Ratcliffe might hew to Trump’s line if confirmed as DNI. When we reviewed the various warnings offered by administration officials about Russian interference in upcoming elections, Coats’s name came up frequently. Trump has regularly pushed back against determinations made by the intelligence community, most notably including its determination that Russia interfered at all in 2016. Will Ratcliffe champion that point?

He already has. The Daily Beast reports, Trump Intel Pick John Ratcliffe Started Theory of FBI Anti-Trump ‘Secret Society’:

Donald Trump’s new pick for director of national intelligence played a role last year in popularizing what briefly became one of the right’s most easily debunked conspiracy theories about the investigation into the president and Russia, offering what he presented as evidence of an anti-Trump “secret society” operating within the FBI.

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, has been an outspoken critic of the FBI’s investigation into contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia before the 2016 election. Like other Republicans, he seized on text messages between FBI officials Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, who were having an affair, as proof that the FBI had been biased against Trump in the run-up to the election.

One of Ratcliffe’s biggest contributions to the Republican pushback on the investigation came in January 2018, when he claimed he had seen text messages between Page and Strzok that suggested the existence of a “secret society” working against Trump. But Ratcliffe’s claims, which were subsequently amplified by pro-Trump media outlets, fell apart when the fuller text exchanges became public.

Ratcliffe, who was tapped by Trump to succeed the departing Dan Coats, first made the FBI “secret society” claim during a Jan. 22, 2018, appearance on Fox News.

“We learned today about information that in the immediate aftermath of his election, there may have been a ‘secret society’ of folks within the Department of Justice and the FBI, to include Page and Strzok, working against him,” Ratcliffe said. “I’m not saying that actually happened, but when folks speak in those terms, they need to come forward to explain the context.”

According to then-Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who appeared alongside Ratcliffe on Fox News that day, it was Ratcliffe himself who was responsible for discovering the supposedly incriminating text messages. Ratcliffe followed that cable-news appearance by promoting his claim on Twitter, saying the text messages were proof of “manifest bias” at the top of the FBI.

“The texts between Strzok and Page referenced a ‘secret society,” Ratcliffe tweeted.

While he was making these claims, Ratcliffe never described the full text message he was quoting from. Still, right-wing media picked up on his explosive notion of an anti-Trump cabal inside the FBI. The Daily Caller declared that Ratcliffe had found proof of an “Anti-Trump ‘Secret Society’ at FBI.”

“FBI CONSPIRACY?” tweeted Fox News host and Trump confidant Sean Hannity, who later deleted the tweet.

A day after Ratcliffe’s initial claim on Fox, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) moved the conspiracy further, claiming that Republican investigators had learned of meetings of an off-site “secret society” from an “informant.” Johnson eventually had to back down from his proclamation, saying he had only heard the term from the Strzok-Page text messages.

Despite the excitement that greeted Ratcliffe’s claims among Trump supporters, the actual “secret society” text message turned out to be less sinister than initially suggested. ABC News published the full text message two days after Ratcliffe made his viral Fox appearance, revealing that the “secret society” text referenced calendars of a “beefcake” Vladimir Putin that Strzok was giving out as gifts to people who worked on the Russia investigation.

“Are you even going to give out your calendars?” Page wrote. “Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society.”

Shortly after the ABC story broke, discussion about an anti-Trump “secret society” largely disappeared from right-wing media.

Even Johnson, one of the “secret society’s” most enthusiastic promoters, conceded there was a “real possibility” that Page’s text message was a joke. Ratcliffe himself appears to have abandoned the claim, at least publicly. He hasn’t tweeted about it since he first pushed it in January 2018.

UPDATE: Rep. Ratcliffe was on Fox News on Sunday, making the case that there was a criminal conspiracy involving U.S. officials investigating the Russia scandal. “[I]t does appear that there were crimes committed during the Obama administration,” the far-right congressman said, pointing to “crimes” that don’t exist in reality. Ratcliffe, naturally, offered no proof and pointed to nothing in the public record that would bolster his provocative claims. (h/t Steve Benen).

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) is entirely unqualified and unfit to serve as Director of National Intelligence. Trump wants this conspiracy mongering Trump loyalist in this position for the Stalinist show trials of current and former intelligence community agents that he and his “fixer,” William “Coverup” Barr are planning for this fall, as Michael Tomasky warned. You Think It’s Bad Now? Wait for Next Year’s Show Trials (h/t above graphic).

This is the stuff of authoritarian banana republics and dictatorships. If this is where Donald Trump and his “fixer” William Barr are taking this nation this fall, we have already crossed the Rubicon into authoritarianism, and our democracy is in grave peril.

The goal is to chill any intelligence efforts into ongoing Russian interference in the 2020 election, leaving our elections vulnerable to Russian attacks to “reelect” Trump.

Contact your senators and demand that they oppose the nomination of Rep. John Ratcliffe.