I think I need a lesson in how US political justice is supposed to work. Would some US legal expert tell me what I am missing in the story on the Nunes’ FISA memorandum?
The first surprise is that Mr Trump in his State of the Nation address called for unity, yet on the way out of the auditorium the President told a lawmaker he would be supporting the release of the Nunes memo. It is hard to believe Mr Trump was unaware that the Democrats had already signalled they could not condone the release of the Nunes memo on the grounds that it appeared to deliberately leave out key details that would distort its conclusions.
But there were some other puzzles.
In this instance I thought the memorandum purports to be authorised by the chair of a Republican Intelligence committee who as far as I can see has a clear interest in the outcome of the committee’s investigation. According to my sources Nunes was a member of the Trump transition team, and for some reason accepted the position of having oversight of the committee which was intended to check on whether the Trump team had developed inappropriate ties to Russia during the run-up to the US election. Either Nunes had been a member of the transition team, in which case he should have recused himself from an investigation into the conduct of the team, or he was not. Well? Was he?
The memo claimed that the FBI had no right to ask for surveillance on Carter Page and only did so as a consequence of the 2016 Clinton campaign. Surely as is relatively well known, (and well before the Nunes memo was released) the story of how Carter Page and the Russia connections came to the attention of the FBI going back well before 2016. For example a few years back, according to a recent Time report, Page had significant and in some cases suspicious Russian contacts.
Page, at least according to Time, even bragged in a 2013 letter that he acted as an adviser to the Kremlin. The letter, sent by Page to an academic press (letter dated Aug. 25, 2013) to support an unpublished manuscript he had submitted for publication. According to the editor who was corresponding with Page a quote lifted from the letter states “Over the past half year, I have had the privilege to serve as an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin in preparation for their Presidency of the G-20 Summit next month, where energy issues will be a prominent point on the agenda,”
The same year, Page had admitted a relationship with Victor Podobnyy, who was later charged with working as a Russian intelligence agent under diplomatic cover. In response to reports about Podobnyy’s activities Page defended the alleged Russian spy and criticized President Obama for prosecuting him. I would have thought that if someone is defending an apparent spy there is justified sufficient reason for having him further investigated without waiting for a politician to give further instruction.
After all, as soon became apparent, Page had argued for sympathy towards Podobnyy, the spy— whom he described as a “junior Russian diplomat.” In an email to the Guardian, Page complained that Obama had persecuted Podobnyy… and him “in accordance with Cold War traditions.”
In short, the FBI surveillance of Page began, on and off, in 2013 — long before the Steele dossier and the 2016 presidential campaign.
The main thrust of the Nunes memo is that the only way one could justify surveillance of Page is through partisan manipulation. Sorry, but since the FBI already knew about at least some of the connections between Russia and Page, which were supported by Page himself there is no reason to insist that unjustified accusations were levelled again Page by the Clinton team when this had been well before the Clinton team had been assembled.
A further puzzle to me was why the Steele information should have been disregarded because Steele had claimed to know enough to disqualify Mr Trump from becoming a candidate. Surely if someone claims that they know enough to believe a candidate should be totally inappropriate in their bid to become a President, the claim is sufficiently dramatic to require evidence to be made available to authorities (FBI?)for independent assessment.
The immediate apparent parallel is with the President Nixon impeachment. Surely there the challenge was to establish if the charges were valid – and if the evidence supported the charge. I cannot believe that the US system requires that any assessor or key critic had to be identified as a supporter of the President before becoming involved in an assessment of the honesty of the President’s team regarding their involvement with a foreign power. To ask a key player which way they voted implying this was a prerequisite before allowing him to continue would be totally wrong in my nation’s system which prizes the secret ballot. My question is: should such a public declaration of voting be made public according to the US political expectations?