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How Republicans Will Try (And Fail) To Upstage Comey

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How Republicans Will Try (And Fail) To Upstage Comey


Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Breathless news coverage of the revitalized congressional investigations is generating excitement about coming revelations in the reality-based community that remains in Washington, consisting mostly of Democrats in Congress and some reporters at mainstream news organizations. The expectation is that James Comey, the former FBI director who has been cleared by special prosecutor Robert Mueller to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, will testify in detail about his meetings in which the president asked him to call off the FBI investigation into Trump’s Russia connections, in a possible obstruction of justice.

Comey’s testimony, based on detailed memos that he wrote after his meetings with Trump, will likely confirm some of the key details of Trump’s decision to fire him amid the Russia inquiry. Says Politico: “It’s a dangerous prospect for the White House, which has already seen the controversy impede Trump’s agenda, sap his political capital and command inordinate attention from the West Wing.”

In addition, Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, will testify on Wednesday about what the NSA knew of allegations that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials to sway the results of the 2016 election. After the FBI opened its investigation in July 2016, the NSA was tasked with surveilling the Russian officials involved.

Among Trump loyalists in Congress and right-wing “news” organizations, what you might call the deluded and paranoia-based community, the dream theme of this week is “unmasking,” the procedure by which senior officials can view the names of Americans who come under National Security Agency surveillance. “Unmasking” is also the name of the GOP strategy for changing the subject.

Trump’s supporters are hoping for revelations about how Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, or a new target, Samantha Powers, the former UN ambassador, “unmasked” classified information during the course of the investigation, supposedly for nefarious purposes. As Fox News framed the story: “Obama-Era Surveillance Focus in Russia Probe.”

Failing Narratives

The Republicans’ problem is that the last two narratives they have offered in response to the Russia investigations have failed to change the subject or stanch the stream of damaging revelations driving them.

The first GOP defense strategy focused on leaks. At a House Intelligence Committee hearing in March, every Republican focused on the leaks that had revealed the details of the multi-agency investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The leaks had exposed undisclosed contacts between Russian officials and national security adviser Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Leaks, the Republicans insisted, were criminal deeds and an intolerable danger to national security.

But committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) proceeded to fatally damage the “leaks” strategy when he tried to bolster a second line of defense offered by President Trump: the “Obama wiretaps.”

In a March 4 tweet, Trump alleged that Obama had “tapp [sic] my phones” during the campaign, adding, “This is Nixon/Watergate.” Nunes then paid a curious late-night visit to the White House and went public with the claim that he had seen classified NSA intercepts that confirmed the president’s claim.

Not only was Nunes effectively doing what he had just denounced—leaking the contents of classified documents—but his statements about them were, in the words of the New Yorker, “wildly inaccurate.”

A spokesman for Obama rejected the charge as “simply false.” Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper denied the charge. Rather more carefully, Comey said he had “no information” to support it.

What the documents seen by Nunes apparently showed was that NSA surveillance, requested by the FBI, had targeted Russian officials. This surveillance, authorized by the courts, had picked up conversations with members of the Trump entourage.

No, President Obama had not personally ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower. But the NSA had delivered wiretap information about Trump Tower conversations to the Obama White House. The facts could be twisted to support Trump’s case, but not everyone cared to do so.

When even Vice President Mike Pence and press secretary Sean Spicer declined to endorse the Obama wiretap allegation, Trump dropped it. Republicans then moved to talking about “unmasking,” the process by which Obama White House officials learned the details of the NSA surveillance.

The Republicans didn’t have a lot of choice. The firing of Comey left Capitol Hill Republicans unable to credibly resist the demands of Democrats for his testimony as well as subpoenas of Michael Flynn and his business records. To remain relevant, the Republicans had to add their own demands for “unmasking” documents to sustain their new narrative.

As Fox New reported:

The CIA, NSA and FBI were served with subpoenas Wednesday afternoon for documents relating to former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice, ex-CIA director John Brennan and former U.N. ambassador Samantha Power. The subpoenas, signed by House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Ca., explicitly referenced the “unmasking” of U.S. citizens.

Trump weighed in to bolster the new narrative, without reference to his defunct wiretapping charges.

New She-Devil

One component of the new GOP strategy, it seems, is to target Power. As a former UN ambassador, she is another influential woman who served President Obama. Unable to drag Hillary Clinton into the current controversy and largely unsuccessful in impugning Susan Rice, the Republicans may be hoping Power can serve as the she-devil du jour.

Any number of male Obama advisers could be implicated in the Russia story with equal plausibility, but for right-wing media metrics, a bogeywoman seems most effective in mobilizing resentment, reaction and trolls.

There’s no evidence that Power is involved in the Russia investigation, not yet, at least. Watch as the National Review breathing heavily on the tiniest sparks generated by the House subpoena, hoping they might turn to flame:

Were there to be information indicating that Ms. Power was involved in unmasking American identities in intelligence reports, significant questions would be raised. As ambassador to the U.N., Power, a long-time Obama adviser, held a diplomatic position. She was not an intelligence analyst. It is not immediately clear why the U.N. ambassador would be involved in the disclosure of American identities in intelligence reports — after the agencies that collected and analyzed the intelligence had decided such identities should be masked.

The danger, once again, seems to be an ambitious woman who exceeds her proper role. Whether this will work politically remains to be seen.

New Problems

Another Republican problem is that investigation of unmasking may well show that Obama officials acted appropriately.

One congressional intelligence source told CNN in April that the unmasking requests Rice made were “normal and appropriate” for officials who serve  the president. Another source said there was “absolutely” no smoking gun in the reports, and urged the White House to declassify them. Former CIA director Michael Hayden defended Rice in a piece for The Hill.

Of course, Trump supporters and Republican congress members can claim these sources are biased. Those who believe that Obama personally wiretapped Trump Tower are not going to be dissuaded by the nuances of bureaucratic procedure.

The biggest problem for Republicans remains the facts of the investigation into Trump’s Russia connections. When Nunes and other Republicans start walking through the unmasking process in televised hearings, they will revisit and reveal the emerging facts of the case and no doubt allege dirty deeds by Obama and his coven. But in the process, they will also unmask the names of the Trump family members and officials who were targeted for surveillance by the NSA, acting on requests from the FBI. They will be highlighting the details of the investigation that Trump sought—and seeks—to kill.

In other words, the coming hearings about the unmasking process will most likely yield more details about who in the Trump entourage was under criminal investigation and why. In the end, the most important misdeeds to be unmasked will be Trump’s.

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet’s Washington correspondent. He is the author of the forthcoming biography The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin’s Press, October 2017) and the 2016 Kindle ebook CIA and JFK: The Secret Assassination Files.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.



  1. plc97477 June 7, 2017

    trump is doing a very good job of exposing and hurting the republican party. I wonder when they are going to do something about it. He is doing a great job of killing the gotp.

    1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth June 7, 2017

      You and I, and others, saw this coming. The GOP has been trying to have its cake and eat it too, but with Trump in the mix, thanks to Trump loyalists, the GOP is in such deep doo–doo that there’s no place to hide. They’re accustomed to the stench while apprehensive and worried about their fate.

    2. FireBaron June 8, 2017

      Ironically, he is doing the Freedom Caucus’ job for them and they hate him for it!

  2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth June 7, 2017

    nd the

  3. Dominick Vila June 7, 2017

    Our intelligence agencies have an obligation to follow up on anything that they believe represents a threat to our national security. If they become aware of an American citizen participating or cooperating with adversaries of the USA, it is their duty to find out who those individuals are to determine motive and the extent of their involvement in actions against our security or interests. The real issue is not “unmasking” who cooperated with our foes or adversaries, but the extent of the Russian meddling in our election, whether or not any Americans colluded and facilitated their activities, and whether or not the President made statements that amount to obstruction of justice in a deliberate manner. There is enough evidence available already to justify impeachment proceedings, but there may not be enough evidence yet to meet the high standard established to remove a President from Office. We may have to wait until the conclusion of Special Counsel Mueller to ascertain the latter.

    1. FireBaron June 8, 2017

      Ah, Dom old friend, you miss the point the GOPers are trying to force – will this “unmasking” prove the leakers revealed classified information? That’s why they are spending so much energy trying to go after people they don’t like hoping one of them will trip up. Unfortunately for them, it makes them look like a pack of baboons arguing over an eland carcass, not realizing a pack of hyenas are ready to jump on them and take not only the carcass but the pack, too!

  4. Stuart June 7, 2017

    As Art Buchwald said when Nixon resigned: “What about Chappaquiddick?”

    1. FireBaron June 8, 2017

      Chappaquiddick was one of the most investigated criminal instances in the 70s. It was the first example of “misdirection” by saying “You are investigating us! Why aren’t you investigating him?” Actually, a complete criminal investigation was led by the Massachusetts State Police, and Ted Kennedy was found culpable but due to his history of alcoholism and blackouts there was not sufficient evidence to bring charges against him BASED ON THE LAWS AS THEY WERE ON THE BOOKS! Some states tried to enact laws allowing individuals to be charged retroactively based on the “if the law had been on the books when they did it they would have been charged”. Laws like that have been repeatedly struck down.
      The Russian connection, on the other hand, is a valid investigation and could prove to be worse to Teflon Donnie’s administration than Watergate, Iran-Contra, Whitewater (and Paula Jones and Monica Lewinski), Dubya’s FEMA, and Fast-and-Furious combined!

  5. Thoughtopsy June 7, 2017

    Ahhh the stench of Republican desperation.

    They don’t seem to understand that, unlike Nixon, Trump is rotten to the core from politics, to charities, to rape allegations, to mob connections, to his sprawling corrupt business.
    The more investigations, the worse it’s going to get.

    No “new narrative” is going to be enough.

  6. ivory69690@yahoo.com June 9, 2017

    so if be it who would say was lying DONNY or COMEY ? who has more credibility ? all the DUMPSTER knows about the word or meaning of the word of Loyalty is for ones that give it to him only . for he has no knowledge of the word or meaning if its him that has to give it from himself . so be it who was in contact with Russia DONNY DUMP or his cult KLAN staff ? his brain washed staff are just the DUMPSTERS sheep he throws to slater to save his own evil corrupt skin . the DUMPSTER has 2 or more faces . one he fools so many with thinking he is a nice guy . he talks nice to you only to fool you he BULLSHIfT;S any and every one . talks nice to one face and behind their back rest assure it is his hand holding the knife in your back .

  7. ivory69690@yahoo.com June 9, 2017

    as for the DUMPSTER loser lawyer stating that COMEY leaked out thing ! well what COMEY did wasn’t as much of a leaking as it is in the form and understanding of that statement today . . leaks in that sense of the word is letting out classified information that has to do with the government . one has to look at what could of made COMEY’s memo’s classified ? thy couldn’t of and had not went to any government that would put his memos to a classified mode . wasn’t classified memo so not a leak in the sense or frame of the word . so not classified not LEAKABLE ! this whole DONNY DUMP thing should come down to ones character and to look at the pass and the history of the people here . today who would one put their life on the line for if thy hade to DONNY DUMP or COMEY ? (not including the DONNY DUMP brain dead followers of course )

  8. ivory69690@yahoo.com June 9, 2017

    tell me if be it there was a democrat in his place now do you really thing the GOP gang of pinheads would have even let them get as far in to the term as the clown is today ? the pinheads would already have the impeachment papers signed by all of them by now if not sooner. thy are saying that COMEY wasn’t doing things by the rules with the DUMPSTER . first off he did things the way he felt had to be done . with the sneaky snake DUMPSTER and the dirty way he always plays one has to do things a way to catch the DUMPSTER CLOWN . to play the roll of trying to catch the DUMPSTER of protect and have a defense for one self this isn’t a regular clown and has to be dealt with a different way to get the truth and justice ! .as for one that may say COMEY didn’t play by the rules ! as compared to who playing by the rules THE DONNY DUMP CLOW SHOW ? the only rules the DUMPSTER knows are the ones he makes up for him self and feels only he can use them . if be anyone that has no respect for rule (only his own home made rules ) its the DUMPSTER that lack any type of respect .. and the sneaky snake DUMPSTER takes in the brain washed and brain dead cult KLAN of his and fools them into doing his dirty work .. pretty much like making them drink the cool-aid . one has to wonder who is paying for the DUMPSTERS lawyers today .?(seeing that 4 lawyer firms told the dumpster he can go to hell that thy would not represent him ) one reason for sure is fear of not getting paid . and more reason im sure is the don’t want a reputation of being a LIAR lover firm

  9. ivory69690@yahoo.com June 9, 2017

    BULLSHIfTED here from the DON DUMPSTER side of it . and also from the DUMPSTER’s side so much behind the scene of BULLSHIfT . anyone with the littlest of common sense can see through his home made wall of BULLSHIft . now the dumpster has his good old buddy lawyer from his bankrupts and any other bull case’s he had . all knowing the DUMPSTER is a pathological LIAR and a snake scum bag . its said of the DUMPSTER when one is in his presents he is fooling the people by talking nice to them his weasel trick and that is an insult for the weasel family to compare the DUMPSTER with them . the DUMPSTER makes of ones feeling’s (if fooling them works. pretty much works from the brainwashed and brain dead ) like he is taking them under his wing . that the worse place in the world to be for it then a better chance of the evil DUMPSTER to eat and destroy you . being the evil sneaky snake it is truly his real life hallmark . that and corruption is and always will be the biggest part of the DUMPSTER’s life

  10. ivory69690@yahoo.com June 9, 2017

    seems the only way to catch a evil snake is to not let them have enough info about you knowing about them . for the more you tell them about what you know is only more of a chance the snake will use what you know and change it shift it and turn it around to get them out of trouble . if be it the snake (DONNY DUMP ) has done nothing wrong then there’s nothing to worry about !. its like a drug dealer (yes the DUMPSTER is up there with one of them if not worse ) the law or people trying to stop the illegal dealing of the drug dealer thy want to know all thy can about them if one reason to protect them self and other people that could get harmed . so its done carefully . wanting to make sure to get the most knowledge one can get . again there’s more things here . one has to also defend and protect themselves from the evil snake . weather it be the DEALER or worse THE DUMPSTER is it the way things should be done ? who knows one can know to not do all thy can to catch or stop all the BULLSHIfT from all the negative sides of things going on there should be ways of making things right as fast as thy can . and not give the wrong ones more chances of keep their wrong doing chances of being able to going on . yes its a dirty and nasty game . and the DUMPSTER knows this the most . for his own doings of playing the dirty and nasty game all his life . one cant be fooled by a Satan soft and fooling nice talking . for that’s the game plan of the evil as for character the DUMPSTERS is one that is better served flushed down the toilet all of one he has is just plan Satan evil


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