ON MONDAY, James Comey, the Director of the FBI, is expected to appear at a public hearing as part of the House Intelligence Committee’s probe into Russian interference in the US election. This is a day those of us following the Trump/Russia Story have circled on our calendars, hopeful that the hearing will serve as the perfect forum for Comey to drop the hammer on our compromised president.
That there is a hammer, and that it will ultimately be dropped, is something we are taking on faith right now: faith in our sources and in the available evidence. The US Intelligence Community (IC) seems pretty convinced that the Russians meddled in the election, that they did so to install Donald Trump and torpedo Hillary Clinton, and that they did so at the personal behest of Vladimir Putin. Whatever evidence the IC may have to support this idea is classified, of course, but I’m inclined to believe the “17 agencies” over the Breitbart notion of a “deep state” coup attempt masterminded by Barack Obama—the same Obama who couldn’t stop Trump from happening while he was president. John Schindler, who covers national security for the Observer, has maintained the IC consensus opinion unwaveringly. Posts at The Cipher Brief take it as a given that the Russians interfered. Indeed, at a salon at Georgetown University last week, former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell said: “I think that the Russian interference in the election is a much bigger issue than the attention it has gotten—the attention it has gotten from the media, the attention it has gotten from Congress, the attention it got from the Obama White House, and obviously, the attention it is getting from this White House.” And:
He said the CIA placed “high confidence” that Russia did three things during the election: hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and then subsequently leaked materials damaging to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton; used social media to “create and amplify fake news;” and attempted – but failed – to access American voting machines.
“This is a huge deal,” Morell said. “Somebody tampering with our democracy. Somebody tampering with our very way of life.”
And while mainstream publications have been (frustratingly) slow to accept Louise Mensch as a credible source, the so-called “Conspiracy Queen” broke the story for Heat St. the day before the election that the FBI was granted a FISA warrant to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. I wrote about this on these pages in January, citing that initial report and her subsequent take on the situation. Mensch’s account, like that of Christopher Steele, author of the notorious intelligence reports documenting Team Trump’s Kremlin complicity, gains credibility with each passing day. Sean Spicer mentioned Mensch at yesterday’s press briefing, which can only mean the White House seeks to discredit her. Why bother, unless she’s onto something?
Meanwhile, the reporting in mainstream outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN do little to throw water on the Russia Story. Mike Flynn’s shady dealings appear more egregious every week. The Russian ambassador seems to have held meetings with just about every Trump campaign insider prior to Inauguration, and even shook hands with Trump himself. Roger Stone exchanged billets-doux via Twitter with the notorious Russian hacker Guccifer 2.0. Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Jeff Sessions were up their eyeballs in the goings-on, as was Jared Kushner. The timeline for the Russia Story is compelling without any need for speculation or editorializing. In addition, the denials from the Trump team (and, it must be said, from Moscow!) have grown louder and more desperate of late, as opportunistic scolds like Snowden BFF Glenn Greenwald suggest that the notion of Trump/Russia collusion is “a claim for which absolutely no evidence has thus far been presented,” despite a preponderance of circumstantial evidence that is, frankly, damning. (In Greenwald’s view, I am an “online charlatan” who is “personally benefiting from feeding the base increasingly unhinged, fact-free conspiracies”—as if sites like The Weeklings were veritable cash cows, or I couldn’t benefit more by ignoring Trumpromat completely and writing another novel, or if, for that matter, my timeline was as fictive as Trump’s claims of Obama tapping his phones.)
So who’s right?
At the end of the day, none of us have any special insight into what went on. We can only go by the sources available to us, and healthy skepticism is what separates us from Alex Jones.
Is it conspiracy theory to connect the dots? Or is it just good detective work?
Comey is the linchpin in all of this. In Scandal parlance, and pace Mensch, he’s the White Hat who will come to our collective rescue, while Hillary hides in the woods and Obama repairs to the remote Pacific [1. To avoid nuclear fallout from the looming altercation with North Korea?]. He’s been holding top secret meetings with members of Congress, presumably about Trump/Russia, and said members of Congress have left those meetings distraught. This week, it was Judiciary’s turn, with Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Grassley leaving the meeting looking like they’d watched Hostel twice in a row:
So what can we expect of Comey on Monday? There are three possibilities:
First, he can say that they did an investigation, and that the findings were not enough to indict Trump or his campaign. This would in fact echo what others have suggested, namely former DNI James Clapper, as well as Morell himself, at the same Georgetown salon mentioned earlier, as Greenwald so delightedly reports. Comey’s abandonment of the case would effectively cast the whole enterprise into the realm of 9/11 Trutherism and the Grassy Knoll. But it’s important to note that the FBI, unlike the CIA, is in the business of criminal investigation, and Comey almost certainly knows more than Clapper and Morell. Furthermore, if this were the case, why wouldn’t he have said so already?
Second, Comey can GLOMAR. Because a Trump/Russia on-going investigation is a national security issue, it is as classified as it gets, and legally, the only response Comey can give to any question related to it is, “I can neither confirm nor deny”—a “GLOMAR” defense. This is the most likely scenario for Monday:
In public he will GLOMAR the hell out of it. Sorry https://t.co/C8KwMkJ4GC
— Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch) March 16, 2017
GLOMAR, however, only applies to the specific natsec investigation, so Comey may well inveigh against Trump’s preposterous claim of Obama wiretapping his eponymous Tower.
Third, Comey may begin to present the case against Trump. This is what we’re all waiting for, pro- and anti-Trumpers alike. Is, for example, this assertion by a former White House staffer true?
Not hinting. Stating. Comey/NSA has recorded incontrovertible evidence of Trump's collusion. Have I ever lied to you? Stay tuned. https://t.co/IjOerMyxCn
— Claude Taylor (@TrueFactsStated) March 16, 2017
If so, Comey must move with careful deliberation. This is no trifle. A crime of this magnitude could tear the country apart, and may well bring on another civil war. However dismal Trump’s approval ratings, a vast segment of the country—and the one most heavily armed—believes every word the man says. Will they believe the “fake news” of Trump’s Kremlin complicity?
Happily, Comey, whose infamous letter provided Trump with an October Surprise and, probably, the White House, is uniquely qualified to present the case. No one can plausibly say he’s anti-Trump. Even Trump thinks, idiotically, that Comey likes him. Still, the evidence must be “incontrovertible,” and the case airtight, or all hell will break loose.
If there exists a recording, say, of Donald Trump speaking to the Russian ambassador about lifting the sanctions in, say, September, what would the president do? Deny it? Call it a fake? Would he fight? Would be pull a Nixon and resign, hoping that Pence pardons him? Or would he perpetuate a world crisis, to throw us off the scent? Rex Tillerson is right now in Asia, with only one notably feckless member of the press in tow, rattling ominous sabers with the North Koreans. The stakes could not be higher; real life has proved more outrageous than anything encountered by Olivia Pope, Frank Underwood, or Carrie Mathison.
As Emerson said, if you’re going to shoot at a king, you must kill him. Comey has one shot to do this, and he has to get it right. The fate of the nation may well hinge on it.