Indeed it is time to get to the bottom of the Carter Page FISA warrant, since Robert Mueller apparently left the catalyst that started the Russiagate nonsense hanging for everyone. But just how do we get to the bottom of the FBI’s decision to seek a surveillance warrant on a tangential figure on a presidential campaign over what turned out to be a dossier funded by that candidate’s political opponents? Lindsey Graham, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, prescribes the hair of the dog that just bit us for almost two years:
"What makes no sense to me is that all the abuse by the Department of Justice, in the FBI the unprofessional conduct, the shady behavior — nobody seems think that's much important," Graham said of the "double standard" of alleged pro-Clinton and anti-Trump bias by officials pic.twitter.com/q3AgZbev2m
— POLITICO (@politico) March 25, 2019
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham on Monday vowed to investigate the origins of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe in order to expose possible anti-Trump bias on the part of the Department of Justice officials who opened the investigation.
During a press conference marking the release of Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Mueller report, Graham called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate whether DOJ officials overreached in investigating Trump due to their personal and political hostility to him.
“By any reasonable standard, Mr. Mueller thoroughly investigated the Trump campaign. You cannot say that about the other side of the story. And what I hope Mr. Barr will do is understand: for the country’s sake appoint somebody outside the current system to look into these allegations, somebody we all trust, and let them do what Mr. Mueller did,” Graham said.
All true, except for the need to get a special counsel to do the work. Graham did pledge to pursue the issue through his committee too, especially in how Department of Justice officials used the uncorroborated Steele dossier to convince a FISA judge to issue the Page warrant:
“What role did the dossier play? Was it the primary source of the information given to the court, was it supplemental, was its outcome determinative? I want to hear from Mr. [Bruce] Ohr why he warned people that you might not want to rely on Christopher Steele,” Graham told reporters when asked what specific events his committee plans to investigate. “I want to know the role James Comey played in this process. I want to find out: Was the only reason you recused yourself was because of the tarmac meeting with Loretta Lynch?”
With that in mind, Graham singled out Comey on Twitter after the former FBI director offered an oblique comment on the letter from William Barr:
Could not agree more.
See you soon. https://t.co/KNGzyDizdq
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) March 25, 2019
Comey didn’t exactly get the kid-gloves treatment on his last visit to Capitol Hill, but there was some restraint over the open nature of Mueller’s probe. Now that it’s complete, the next rounds should be vastly more contentious. Comey presided over the FISA warrant application, so if it’s bogus — and it certainly seems that way, with Page not getting charged with any wrongdoing at all — Comey will have hell to pay for it.
This comes down to the difference between law enforcement and intelligence operations in the US. A warrant for counterintelligence surveillance against any American is supposed to meet or exceed a very high threshold of suspicion that the person is in the service of a foreign intelligence service. The FISA statutes only allow for intelligence surveillance when critically necessary for national security, as opposed to law-enforcement surveillance on suspected criminals. Mueller’s categorical declaration that collusion never took place makes it look as though a few agents in the FBI spun something less than substantial that came from another candidate in order to target the candidate they didn’t prefer. If that’s the case, then the counterintelligence and law-enforcement organizations in the US got corrupted in 2016 by someone, or a group of someones.
That’s the only basis on which to seek a special counsel, though, and it’s still not quite convincing. This falls within Congress’ mandate to provide a check and balance to the executive, especially since Congress itself established those FISA statutes and have watched as they have been violated in the past (see James Clapper’s perjury, for instance). Graham’s committee can smoke out the corruption if it exists, although as Graham notes, it might carry too much of a partisan air. The Senate could instead establish a select committee with an evenly split membership, with both parties selecting members for their integrity over their social-media followings.
If it has to come from the executive branch, why not allow Inspector General Michael Horowitz to broaden the scope of his present investigation instead? Horowitz is already working with US Attorney John Huber, who has been given some independence in pursuing Horowitz’ findings. That leaves the investigation within the normal boundaries of the DoJ, which is under new leadership from the Page-Steele days.
Special counsels come with baggage of their own. Combined with a lack of effective oversight, these roving prosecutors should be the option of last resort.