“Strip out the middlemen,” the Wall Street Journal’s editors argue this morning, “and it appears that Democrats paid for Russians to compile wild allegations about a US presidential candidate.” The editorial demands a “full investigation” into the FBI’s activities during the previous presidential cycle, saying that collusion may have taken place — only in a completely different direction than previously thought. And that puts the special counsel in an impossible position, the editorial concludes:
The more troubling question is whether the FBI played a role, even if inadvertently, in assisting a Russian disinformation campaign. We know the agency possessed the dossier in 2016, and according to media reports it debated paying Mr. Steele to continue his work in the runup to the election. This occurred while former FBI Director James Comey was ramping up his probe into supposed ties between the Trump campaign and Russians.
Two pertinent questions: Did the dossier trigger the FBI probe of the Trump campaign, and did Mr. Comey or his agents use it as evidence to seek wiretapping approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Trump campaign aides?
Congressional investigators need to focus on the FBI’s role, and House Speaker Paul Ryan was correct Wednesday to insist that the bureau comply with Congress’s document demands “immediately.” Mr. Sessions has recused himself from the Justice Department’s Russia probe, but he and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein can still insist on transparency. Mr. Ryan should also reinstall Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes as lead on the Russia investigation, since it appears the Democratic accusations against him were aimed in part at throwing him off the Fusion trail.
Also, WSJ editors note, this impacts on the supposed independence of special counsel Robert Mueller. Even aside from the Uranium One issue that took place while Mueller ran the FBI, the dossier case will directly reflect on James Comey, his friend and protege. And unlike the initial conception of the collusion probe, in which the FBI was presumed to be merely a collector of evidence, it now appears that the agency he led will have to get scrutinized as well — which, the WSJ concludes, makes Mueller’s position untenable:
Mr. Mueller is a former FBI director, and for years he worked closely with Mr. Comey. It is no slur against Mr. Mueller’s integrity to say that he lacks the critical distance to conduct a credible probe of the bureau he ran for a dozen years. He could best serve the country by resigning to prevent further political turmoil over that conflict of interest.
The editors are correct that the exposure of the funding of the dossier changes the entire context of the probe. There is a small but non-zero chance that the FBI picked up this thread as a result of direct contact with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the DNC, or its contractors, and if so it happened on Comey’s watch. That would at least raise the suspicion of political corruption at the nation’s top law-enforcement and domestic counterintelligence agency. At some point, the special counsel will have to probe those possibilities, and can that be done in a credible manner by a man who commanded the same people just a few years ago?
It will also mean probing Team Hillary and the DNC, who have suddenly contracted a case of laryngitis, as the Washington Post discovered when asking about the funding of the dossier:
Hillary Clinton and top officials of her presidential campaign were largely silent Wednesday in response to the revelation that the campaign and the Democratic National Committee had paid for research that resulted in a dossier alleging Russian interference on behalf of Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
Neither Clinton nor her campaign manager, Robby Mook, responded to requests for comment Wednesday. Campaign chair John Podesta declined to comment beyond referring reporters to a statement issued the previous day by the campaign’s law firm saying officials had not been aware of the arrangement. …
DNC officials were muted in their response to the report that party funds had been used to underwrite Steele’s research.
A spokesman for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), who was DNC chairwoman at the time Perkins Coie contracted with Fusion, said Wednesday the former chair was “not aware” of the law firm’s arrangement with Fusion.
We’ll see how unaware she was after the subpoenas go out … or rather if. Once collusion turns toward Democrats, how soon will it be before everyone decides to bury the whole question?