|YURI KADOBNOV / AFP-GETTY IMAGES|
In mid-May 2017, a few days after Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey because the burgeoning Russia scandal investigation had become a threat to his presidency, acting Director Andrew McCabe became so concerned about the president's nutty behavior -- as well as whether he was working for Russia -- that he quietly ordered the FBI to begin obstruction of justice and counterintelligence investigations.
A few days later, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel and inherited those investigations, but when he delivered his breathlessly awaited final report, nowhere in its dense 448 pages were the fruits of the counterintelligence aspect of his 22-month investigation.
To what extent had Trump been compromised by Russia, undermining his constitutional duties as president? What were his financial obligations to Russia? What was to be made of his failure to even acknowledge Russian election interference and criticize Vladimir Putin even when the Russian leader ordered his agents to poison people on foreign soil? How about Trump's opposition to sanctions against Russia? Or his disinterest in addressing Russian threats to the American electoral system in 2020 and beyond?
And was Trump trying to undercut the Comey and Mueller investigations as a favor to Putin?
A redacted version of Mueller's final report states that Russia wanted to help the Trump campaign, the Trump campaign was willing to take that help because it expected to benefit electorally, Trump himself repeatedly pushed for obtaining Hillary Clinton's private emails and his campaign was in touch with allies in addition to Russia who were pursuing them; Trump himself was well in the loop, including knowing when WikiLeaks would release more damaging information in the form of Russian-hacked emails, and Trump's repeated efforts to obstruct justice sometimes failed only because his staffers refused to carry out his orders. Or to be more precise, Trump did obstruct in at least 10 instances, but as president he can't be indicted, a hugely important but widely misunderstood conclusion.
Yet Maximum Bob Mueller, it seems, had been less than maximum when it came to proffering a counterintelligence assessment.
Mueller conducted a counterintelligence investigation, which is cited in a single paragraph (Volume 1, Page 13) in his final report that describes how the special counsel's office met regularly with the FBI Counterintelligence Division and embedded counterintelligence agents for the express purpose of ensuring that the FBI captured the foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information uncovered during the investigation.
The work of those agents and their findings are not detailed in the report and will not be made public because of the methods and highly classified sources used, but the Gang of Eight should be briefed on Mueller's counterintelligence findings.
It has not.
The Gang of Eight is a colloquialism for the eight congressional leaders who by law are briefed on the most sensitive classified intelligence matters. It grew out of the NSA warrantless surveillance program in the mid-2000s, which the Bush administration kept secret except for the Gang of Eight, which was forbidden to inform Congress or the public.
The current gang includes the leaders of each of the two parties from both Senate and House (Republicans Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy and Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi) and the chairs and ranking minority members of the Senate and House Committees on Intelligence (Republicans Richard Burr and Devin Nunes and Democrats Mark Warner and Adam Schiff).
The Bush administration asserted that the briefings it gave the Gang of Eight sufficed to provide congressional oversight of the NSA program and preserve the checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches, but that is highly questionable in the context of the Russia scandal and failed utterly in the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign.
That is when CIA Director John Brennan briefed the then-Gang of Eight about Russia election interference and President Obama pleaded with the gang to forge a bipartisan alliance to fight back against the Kremlin and work with state and local election officials to thwart Election Day threats. McConnell, Senate majority leader then and now, refused. He accused Obama of politicizing the matter and issued a threat: If Obama went public about the interference, he would use it as a political hammer on Hillary Clinton, whose campaign at that very moment was being cybersabotaged.
In May 2017, McCabe notified the Gang of Eight that a counterintelligence investigation into Trump was underway and there were no objections. So McConnell and other Republicans who buy into Trump's fever swamp-informed view that the entire Russia investigation was a deep-state plot are being even more hypocritical than usual.
Like I said, by law the Gang of Eight should be briefed on Mueller's counterintelligence findings.
But Schiff, a Gang of Eight member and House Intelligence Committee chairman, indicates that has not happened in a Washington Post op-ed piece on Tuesday in which he notes that the work of counterintelligence agents and their findings are not detailed in the Mueller report.
Schiff asks:What did these counterintelligence agents under Mueller's supervision uncover? What national security vulnerabilities did Russia’s covert campaign expose? Did any Americans present an acute counterintelligence risk? And what steps, if any, have been taken to address these threats? . . .
The National Security Act requires that the House and Senate Intelligence committees be kept "fully and currently informed" of significant intelligence and counterintelligence activities. There is no activity more significant than an investigation to determine whether a foreign power exercises leverage over the president or his inner circle.Schiff and Nunes, also a Gang of Eight member and the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, are unlikely bedfellows who never agree on anything, but they have jointly petitioned Attorney General William Barr for the counterintelligence findings.
Trump, of course, believes himself above the law.
He also is so allergic to any negative mention of Russia that, according to a report in The New York Times on Wednesday, in the months before Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign, when she tried to focus the White House on one of her highest priorities as homeland security secretary -- preparing for new and different Russian forms of interference in the 2020 election -- she was told by Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, that Trump equated any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory and said she was not to bring it up in front of the president.
The Gang of Eight is likely to be stonewalled and eventual subpoenas ignored because those counterintelligence findings are sure to explosive and run counter to Trump's "complete and total exoneration" script for the Mueller report, as well as Barr's ongoing efforts to whitewash it.
But Trump is feeling the heat and his script changed on Wednesday as "complete and total exoneration" became a "hit job." If the Gang of Eight stonewall continues, it should be the basis for an article of impeachment (contempt of Congress) against Putin's best friend.
And it is time to get cracking on impeachment.
Click HERE for a searchable version of the Mueller report.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.