There you have it. Have competing bombshells ever had quite so synergistic an effect?
MSNBC tried to make it a bombshell, at any rate, that Special Counsel Robert Mueller now wants to testify to Rep. Jerry Nadler’s House Judiciary Committee, a disclosure Nadler showed up to make on the Rachel Maddow show on Thursday evening.
Mueller wants to testify, but he wants to do it in private.
Nadler and Maddow had this helpful exchange:
Nadler: Mueller…uh, I think I can say at this point that he wants to testify in private.
Nadler: I don’t know why. I’m…it’s – he’s willing to make an opening statement, but he wants to testify in private…
Nadler suggested a few seconds later that Mueller “doesn’t want to be public in what some people would see as a political spectacle.” Uh-huh. One can see Mueller’s point.
Later in the discussion, Nadler emphasized his determination to force whatever witnesses Trump doesn’t want testifying to testify. Those witnesses, of course, are people whose activities were intensively scrutinized by Robert Mueller for 22 months without any indictments being brought. Mueller also catalogued exhaustively in his report a list of actions by or involving those people, none of which is indictable, and in fact virtually none of which he had any business including in the report, because they are not indictable.
It was quite clear from Nadler’s statements that his committee wants to pursue a political agenda, and – if you consider this news – that Mueller would prefer to participate in it only if he can do it with no cameras around.
The Trump counter-boom
The bigger story – the lurking meta-narrative – is that Maddow basically had to introduce her segment with Nadler by breaking the same news that was being broken on evening broadcasts across Networkland.
President Trump signed a memo on Thursday authorizing declassification of any material relating to the genesis and conduct of the multi-agency operation against the Trump campaign – and for that matter the first two years of the Trump presidency – known to the public as the “Russia-Trump investigation.”
Trump did two important things in the memo (below). He delegated to Attorney General William Barr the authority to make declassification decisions. And he directed the other federal agencies addressed in the memo to cooperate with Barr in this endeavor.
The agencies addressed are the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence and CIA.
Sarah Sanders issued a statement about the memo on Thursday evening.
Statement on Presidential Memorandum signed tonight pic.twitter.com/wHx6l2lL5c
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) May 24, 2019
Trump’s move, then, which effectively preempted the bombshell about Mueller being willing to testify (but only in private), is to ensure that there is testimony to the American people about the origins of Spygate that is not “private.”
This is the text of the memo, courtesy of Townhall (the memo has been displayed visually on the TV broadcasts but I haven’t found it as a text document online yet):
May 23, 2019
MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE
THE SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY
THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
THE SECRETARY OF ENERGY
THE SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY
THE DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE
THE DIRECTOR OF THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY
SUBJECT: Agency Cooperation with Attorney General’s Review of Intelligence Activities Relating to the 2016 Presidential Campaigns
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby direct the following:
Section 1. Agency Cooperation. The Attorney General is currently conducting a review of intelligence activities relating to the campaigns in the 2016 Presidential election and certain related matters. The heads of elements of the intelligence community, as defined in 50 U.S.C. 3003(4), and the heads of each department or agency that includes an element of the intelligence community shall promptly provide such assistance and information as the Attorney General may request in connection with that review.
Sec. 2. Declassification and Downgrading. With respect to any matter classified under Executive Order 13526 of December 29, 2009 (Classified National Security Information), the Attorney General may, by applying the standard set forth in either section 3.1(a) or section 3.1(d) of Executive Order 13526, declassify, downgrade, or direct the declassification or downgrading of information or intelligence that relates to the Attorney General’s review referred to in section 1 of this memorandum. Before exercising this authority, the Attorney General should, to the extent he deems it practicable, consult with the head of the originating intelligence community element or department. This authority is not delegable and applies notwithstanding any other authorization or limitation set forth in Executive Order 13526.
Sec. 3. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(b) This memorandum shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
(c) The authority in this memorandum shall terminate upon a vacancy in the office of Attorney General, unless expressly extended by the President.
(d) This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
(e) The Attorney General is authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.
DONALD J. TRUMP
A few comments about the contents and intent of the Trump memo. One, the memo indicates, in my view, that applicable law will require Barr to protect sources where specific source information is not relevant to understanding the motives and/or origins of the operation. A good analogy comes from the charging and plea documents we’ve seen so many of over the last year, in which individuals are identified in terms of their role or function in the case, but not by name or other readily and specifically identifying attributes.
If Barr discovers, for example, that information came, no-kidding, from the Brits, he can choose to declassify that fact but not cite names. That’s how I would read the scope of his authority. He will have to take into account any objections on that head from the other agencies.
Two: the list of agencies addressed in the memo was no doubt supplied by Barr and his investigator, U.S. Attorney John Durham. That’s actually very significant when you look at the list. It includes the Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security. Trump didn’t just pull those agencies out of a hat. They’re addressed in the memo because Barr and Durham think they’re relevant to what Durham is doing.*
It could be that the other ongoing investigators, U.S. Attorney John Huber and DOJ IG Michael Horowitz, teed up one or both of those agencies. We have very little idea at this point of what Huber, in particular, has been doing. So I don’t mean to focus exclusively on Durham. But the rapid movement here indicates that he and Barr are getting a lot done fast, and that the scope of what they’re looking at is wide.
Before addressing that as point three, we should note that including the Department of Defense means NSA (a Defense Department agency) will be fully covered by the terms of the memo. (So will DIA – the Defense Intelligence Agency – which may have records relevant to the overall thread of surveillance against Michael Flynn. Note that I do not mean by this that DIA had Flynn under surveillance. Some of DIA’s records of interaction with Flynn in the 2014-15 timeframe, both before and after his retirement, are probably relevant to assessing any decisions to use the assets of other agencies to put him under surveillance.)
And that brings us neatly to point three, which is that Trump’s memo makes it clear the intelligence agencies will be required to cooperate, and their conduct will be subject to the scrutiny Barr is having Durham levy on everyone else.
Calls for probing the intelligence agencies have finally grown as loud as they should have been from the beginning. Jerry Nadler (see video) and David Laufman, former chief of the DOJ Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, both denounced the idea of such a probe in no uncertain terms Thursday evening, which really just serves to highlight how badly it needs to be done.
NEWS: David Laufman, former chief of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section at the DOJ calls Trump's new directive "a grotesque abuse of the intelligence community." pic.twitter.com/iTVpl4DnKD
— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) May 24, 2019
Besides the instigating moves of John Brennan, hundreds of improper unmaskings were done in 2016 (and reportedly in 2015 as well) using an infrastructure that was available basically because the intel community, which was supposed to exercise vigilance over it, was behaving at the very least complacently. It’s quite possible some in the community were behaving complicitly in the misuse of national assets.
All of that needs to come out, and Congress needs to do the right things about it. It is very much the people’s business, when surveillance assets are being used against the people, and Trump apparently intends to ensure that it isn’t hidden from us, so that the pressure can be kept on.
Point four, for me, is that there is one important entity that isn’t addressed. Presumably it’s not addressed because it’s part of the Executive Office of the President, and Trump has no need to include it in this memo. He himself is the only proper decision-maker for its actions.
It’s the National Security Council. Of all the federal executive entities, the NSC is the one we most need to hear from.
Trump is right to reserve decisions about declassification for NSC records to his office. But I suggest everyone think about that, and the reason for it, if you want to understand why the NSC’s records are the ones we most need to know about.
It’s because, by design, the only effective oversight the NSC has comes from the Oval Office.
That is going to have a great deal of explanatory value for Spygate.
* We haven’t heard up to now of many officially-addressed activities in the Russiagate saga to which these agencies seem very relevant. But there are some possibilities from the information already uncovered. One would be that both George Papadopoulos and Carter Page were shoehorned into the Trump campaign based on their backgrounds in energy-industry analysis. Approaches to them by shadowy characters in the drama were made through conference and institutional venues directly connected to the energy industry.
Another would be the persistence of odd, one-off connections in the Russiagate saga to the uranium trade and nuclear energy. Joseph Mifsud’s Swiss associate Stephan Roh, for example, owned a small UK company that dealt in uranium between 2006 and 2013 (exceptionally interesting dates when you lay them out on a timeline, in fact), and had a remarkable spike in revenues with that company for about two years in the late 2000s.
An out-of-the-blue donor to the Trump inaugural fund – who turned out to be a decades-long crony of the Gore family in Tennessee – was also uniquely involved in the nuclear industry, seeking to become the world’s only private owner of a nuclear power plant in Hollywood, Alabama. For no apparent reason, he hired Michael Cohen in 2018 to help him make that dream a reality.
As for the Department of Homeland Security, one distinct possibility is its role in securing national infrastructure, and the records it would have of what was done by the Obama administration about the purported threat to the 2016 election from Russia. Such records should include how the threat was assessed at the time; i.e., what sources there really were, and what conclusions were drawn. This may make an illuminating contrast to the very single-framed picture we have of the matter from Mueller’s Russian indictments and the exertions of Facebook, Twitter, and virtually anonymous, Soros-funded social-media-analysis organizations.
Information from DHS could also clarify for us why voter-data servers in Georgia (and possibly other states) were hacked into in 2016 by someone operating from a DHS IP address.