Why is the FBI stonewalling congressional subpoenas on the Fusion GPS 'Trump dossier'?
Could the story behind the "Trump dossier" be the Rosetta Stone of Russian manipulation of our electoral process in 2016? There is a strong and justifiable suspicion that the dossier was the critical bit of evidence that persuaded the FISA Court to reverse itself and permit monitoring of American associates of Donald Trump. The dossier was originally begun as an opposition research project for Republican rivals of Trump, then funded by Democrats, and allegedly finally funded by the FBI. We already know that some of the wild accusations in it were demonstrably false.
The House Intelligence Committee long has been looking into allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and so far, it has come up with nothing. As in zero specific evidence. This was admitted by no less than Rep. Jackie Spier, a veteran Democrat member of the House of Representatives.
It is obviously worth investigating, then, how that dossier came to be created in the first place, and how it was used by various organs of the United States government, if there is interest in getting to the truth behind Russia's attempts to affect our elections. Yet the FBI is refusing to hand over documents that have been subpoenaed by the House. Kimberly Strassel explains in the Wall Street Journal:
Witness how hard the Federal Bureau of Investigation is fighting to avoid divulging any information about the dossier. More than a month ago the House Intelligence Committee issued subpoenas to the FBI and the Justice Department, asking for dossier-related documents. Lawmakers were told to go swivel.
A little more than a week ago, the committee's frustrated chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, took the case all the way to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who finally offered to make an FBI official available for a briefing. But the bureau is still withholding all documents. To date, Sen. Chuck Grassley's Judiciary Committee has not received any paper from the FBI on Russia matters, despite numerous requests, some countersigned by the Democratic ranking member, Dianne Feinstein.
As my friend Mike Nadler emailed:
It's hard to believe with a Republican president, House and Senate, that the FBI (with a Director appointed by Trump) is still able to stonewall Congressional investigating committees on information on the dossier. Why won't the new FBI Director just order his subordinates to cough up the documents? Or the Attorney General order him to do it. No one could claim that ordering release of this would be interfering in any investigation[.]
Indeed, Strassel avers, "[Senator] Grassley recently announced that Mr. Mueller's separate inquiry would no longer be considered a legitimate reason for the FBI to withhold information from Congress."
Ms. Strassel guides our attention toward an intriguing figure:
Increasingly, one name is popping up: Gregory Brower, who leads the FBI's Office of Congressional Affairs. Mr. Brower is an odd man for the job. These gigs tend to go to more-junior people, since they involve the drudgery of answering calls from grumpy congressional staffers. Yet Mr. Brower is a former U.S. attorney – a job that requires Senate confirmation – and a former Nevada state senator.
Before his latest role, he was the deputy general counsel of the FBI. In that post he was described as a confidant of former FBI Director James Comey. It was Mr. Comey who installed Mr. Brower in the congressional affairs job, just a few days before President Trump fired the director.
Mr. Brower has been shutting down congressional requests and stonewalling ever since. He has even tried appealing directly to House Speaker Paul Ryan's office to squelch committee demands for documents.
And it looks very much as if a tag-team cover-up may be underway, with Special Counsel Robert Mueller taking the key role in keeping inquiring eyes away from the FBI's role in the Trump dossier's utility on smearing the man who was to become POTUS:
Reuters reported Wednesday that Mr. Mueller "has taken over FBI inquiries into a former British spy's dossier" against Mr. Trump. How very convenient. The Mueller team has leaked all manner of details from its probe, even as it had avoided the dossier. But just as Congress is ratcheting up pressure on the FBI, anonymous sources say that it's out of the bureau's hands.
Some Republicans might be tempted to cheer news that the special counsel is looking into the dossier. They shouldn't. A Mueller takeover will make it even harder for Congress to conduct an independent investigation – which may well have been the reason for the move. Mr. Mueller has had months to look into the document, and his lack of curiosity so far speaks volumes. As a friend of Mr. Comey and a former FBI director himself, Mr. Mueller cannot be counted on to examine impartially whether the FBI was duped.
Indeed, there may be evidence of Russian collusion – not with President Trump's campaign, but with those who seek to discredit him:
Sen. Richard Burr, who leads his chamber's Intelligence Committee, noted on Wednesday that his dossier investigation has "hit a wall." Mr. Steele has gone underground. Mr. Simpson won't hand over relevant documents or say who paid him. The FBI is stiff-arming lawmakers. No one wants to talk about a dossier that Paul Roderick Gregory, a Russia expert at the Hoover Institution, found to read like something "compiled by a Russian, whose command of English is far from perfect and who follows the KGB (now FSB) practice of writing intelligence reports." No one wants to discuss an array of Russian lawyers, lobbyists and Kremlin officials who may have been involved in its creation.
Mike Nadler's question remains: why not use the power of the executive to require the FBI to comply with congressional subpoenas? In fact, why not start playing hardball, and calculate the cost to date of the Mueller inquiry that has produced no hard evidence? The legal team he has assembled is of a standing where $500 an hour is a fair guess of their cost. Multiply that times at least eight hours a day, times more than twenty attorneys, and we get a meter ticking at the rate of at least eighty thousand dollars a day, probably substantially more if we count non-attorney staff costs.
And remember that as POTUS, Trump can declassify anything he wants.
I hope the reason Congress and the president are allowing themselves to be stonewalled is a matter of strategy and timing, not a matter of being intimidated.