The Washington Post's Shoddy Defense Of The Russiagate Investigation
An editorial in the February 2nd Washington Post headlines “The Nunes memo shows the opposite of what Trump hoped it would prove”, and its first argument is that “the memo reveals that there were preexisting [i.e., prior to the FBI’s investigation into the DNC's infamous Steele dossier, which even Steele himself acknowledged was probably 10% to 30% false] grounds to investigate, based on information about a different Trump associate. So the president cannot construe this memo as offering evidence that the Russia probe began corruptly.”
However, the Nunes Memo isn’t alleging “that the Russia probe began corruptly.”
It is instead arguing that when the FBI’s follow-on investigation reached the point where they would need permission from the FISA (or “FISC”) court in order to obtain evidence that might possibly implicate US President Trump in impeachable offenses, the FBI resorted to an ilegal tactic to win the court’s okay: hiding crucial material information from the FISA court. That’s the case the Nunes Memo is actually summarizing.
The FBI began its investigation into the Steele dossier after it had already begun its investigation — based upon then-credible grounds to investigate — regarding George Papadopoulos (a supporter of Trump and aspirant for a position in his Administration if Trump would win).
There is no question that the initial FBI investigation began in July 2016 and had nothing to do with the Steele dossier; this is acknowledged even by National Review, a Republican publication that seeks Trump’s impeachment and replacement by Mike Pence. NR notes that, “The investigation isn’t the fruit of the poisonous dossier (though the dossier did play a role); it existed before the dossier.” But the Nunes Memo doesn’t deny this, either.
However, unlike the Washington Post, even NR had the journalistic integrity to make clear that “if the evidence upon which the investigation was opened is sound, then the investigation is appropriate.” The Washington Post, obviously, did not. The Post simply started with the false assumption that the Nunes Memo argues “that the Russia probe began corruptly.”
Then, NR says, “Ironically enough, the memo in fact confirms the necessity of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller,” and NR then ignores the legal conditions under which a Special Counsel may be appointed to remove a given investigation from the domain of the US Justice Department. These legal reuirements are extremely vague, but they do include "•(b) That under the circumstances, it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter.” President Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions yielded to political pressures — both from Democrats and from far-right Republicans (reminiscent of the close bonds that existed in the 1950s between the far-right Republican Joe McCarthy and his strong Democratic supporters Henry ’Scoop’ Jackson and Bobby Kennedy) — to start that anti-Russia and anti-Trump process; and there would likely have been considerable flak from those same political quarters if Sessions had not yielded to them on this matter, but there was no requirement for Sessions to do so. If he had not done so, then their attempt to replace Trump by Pence would have proceeded more slowly. The Nunes Memo alleges that even the possibility of the appointment of a Special Counsel wouldn’t have existed if the FISA court had not (unknowingly) allowed US national-security and intelligence-gathering laws to be broken.