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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

The accumulating facts are damning.

President Trump is under investigation. Special prosecutor Robert Mueller has indicted four of his former aides, including his campaign manager, for making false statements related to the FBI’s ongoing investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Two of the defendants have pleaded guilty.

Former adviser Steve Bannon has devastated the White House claim that the Russia investigation is fake news, by saying a meeting between the Trump campaign and Russian agents in June 2016 was “unpatriotic” and “treasonous.”

What’s a good Republican to do? Once upon a time, conservatives might have said conservative things like, “Let’s wait for all the facts.” Or, “Let law enforcement do its job.” Or, “The president is a good man.”

No more. Pro-Trump Republicans prefer “alternative facts” to real ones. They know showing respect for law enforcement will only endanger Trump and his entourage. And no one seeking to be credible dares to say the porn-star loving president is a decent human being, at least not to the 63 percent of Americans who disapprove of how he’s doing his job

Instead, the Republican response to Trump’s deepening legal predicament is #ReleaseTheMemo, a disingenuous social media campaign that falsely insinuates the government is suppressing a memo that supposedly exposes a “Deep State” plot against the president.

The claims of the memo, written by House Republicans, are narrow: They allege that Christopher Steele, a senior British intelligence official, lied to FBI agents who interviewed him as part of an investigation into the 2016 election, telling them he had not spoken to reporters about collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, before revealing in a separate lawsuit that he had in fact spoken to them prior to the election.

The memo reportedly claims Steele’s information was then used in the FBI’s application to surveil Trump associate Carter Page through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

So the allegation is that the investigation of one lower-ranking Trump aide—Page—who has not been indicted, somehow discredits the investigation and indictment of more senior aides. And even this narrow charge is unfounded.

The testimony of Glenn Simpson, the private investigator who hired Steele to investigate Trump’s Russia connections, refutes the claims in the memo, which is why Republicans opposed its release.

In fact, the investigation of Page had begun in July 2015 and the FISA surveillance followed shortly thereafter, before Steele spoke to the FBI. Steele’s information did not launch the government’s case; it strengthened it.

Steele went to the Bureau because he had accumulated a great deal of evidence about possible illegal activities involving a dozen members of the Trump entourage, not just Page (who has not been indicted). And as a retired senior British intelligence official, Steele was (and is) regarded by the FBI as a credible source.

The implication that the bogus memo is being kept secret is also bogus. President Trump could order declassification of the memo at any time. But sharing new information about the investigation of Trump’s dealings with the Russians is not the goal here. The aim is to create the conditions in which Trump can fire Mueller.

The plot to undermine the special prosecutor got underway last fall with the hyping of the Uranium One story. This Benghazi-style smear claimed Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, “gave away” 20 percent of America’s uranium by approving the sale of a Canadian mining company to Russia’s atomic energy commission in return for donations to the Clinton Foundation.

The story, as framed, is essentially misleading, if not false, as Politifact notes. Clinton wasn’t involved in the decision, which was approved by 12 U.S. government agencies. In any case, no uranium left the United States.

Without any factual basis for its allegations of wrongdoing, the story has been ignored by law enforcement and forgotten by pro-Trump media.

#ReleaseTheMemo, now trending on Twitter, is the same sort of gambit: a collection of factoids framed with partisan intent to distract attention from the investigation of Trump.

Even Tiffany Cross, a talking head on Fox News, pointed out the obvious: “This is a memo drafted by the Republican Party.”

 

“I think that it is a shadow investigation to undermine the actual investigation into the collusion… the good patriots that watch this network, we can agree, this is something that is drafted with a slant, with an opinion. Imagine how the rest of the country sees this. All of a sudden, people who champion Blue Lives Matters and law enforcement [now champion] a memo that undermines… law enforcement….”

While the memo accuses the FBI of politicizing law enforcement, House Republicans did not even give the Bureau the opportunity to comment on its charges, according to the Daily Beast.

“The FBI has requested to receive a copy of the memo in order to evaluate the information and take appropriate steps if necessary. To date, the request has been declined,” said Andrew Ames, a spokesperson for the FBI.

Which is actually good news. The House Republicans’ refusal to share the information with the FBI indicates they are well aware that the memo will not be credible with law enforcement or with the non-Fox media.

So by all means, #ReleaseTheMemo. So everybody can see that this is a set of partisan talking points to smear the prosecutors closing in on the lawbreakers in the Trump entourage.

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet’s Washington correspondent. He is the author of The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin’s Press).

PHOTO: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) talks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 15, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst