You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time. So said Abraham Lincoln – maybe. But whoever it was forgot to mention an important corollary: fun as it may be to pull the wool over people’s eyes, you’ll writhe in agony for an equal period once the truth emerges and the fraud is exposed.
This is the significance of Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s devastating report on the FBI investigation of Russiagate suspect Carter Page.
For years, the FBI and its allies in the Democratic Party have had a grand time pillorying Page as the centerpiece of a gigantic Kremlin conspiracy to help Trump win the White House and bend America to its will. Thousands of headlines about this or that bombshell revelation, scores of talking heads proclaiming that “the walls are closing in” – it was all so much fun that revelers barely paused when Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s announced last March that he was unable to “establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.”
Sure, a few Democrats perked up. But they quickly decided that even though Mueller didn’t come up with enough evidence to prove collusion, that didn’t mean that he came up with no evidence at all. So the myth continued unabated.
But payback time is now upon us. The Horowitz report is not some ordinary rebuke, but an epic assault that has left the FBI reeling. After fawning over the bureau for years, the New York Times tried to salvage a shred of self-respect by declaring that even though it “painted a bleak portrait of the FBI as a dysfunctional agency,” all was not lost because the inspector general uncovered “no evidence that the mistakes were intentional or undertaken out of political bias.”
This was incorrect. Horowitz made it clear in his Dec. 11 appearance before the Senate judiciary committee that while there was “no evidence that the initiation of the investigation was motivated by political bias,” the question gets “murkier” when it comes to subsequent FBI actions like withholding or doctoring evidence. Considering that FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith, the man who allegedly falsified evidence against Page, is a never-Trumper who once texted “viva le resistance,” it’s hard to see how bias could not have been a factor.
The inspector general lists seventeen “significant errors” the bureau made in applying for a secret surveillance warrant. It failed to inform the court that Page had been a CIA informant for years and had been found to have been truthful throughout; that he told an undercover agent that he “literally never met” or “said one word to” Paul Manafort, his alleged co-conspirator, and that Manafort had never responded to any of his emails; that a source for ex-MI6 agent Christopher Steele’s famous “golden showers” dossier was known to be a “boaster” and an “egoist” who may “engage in some embellishment”; and that professional associates of Steele said he “[d]emonstrates lack of self-awareness [and] poor judgment” and “pursued people with political risk but no intelligence value.”
Steele, the man who turned US politics upside down, was a flake in other words while Page was more likely on the up and up. Yet the FBI assumed the opposite. Perhaps the most amazing section in Horowitz’s report concerns a Steele informant who confessed that reports of Trump’s sexual escapades in the Moscow Ritz Carlton were “just talk,” conversations he or she “had with friends over beers,” and statements made in “jest.” Yet the Steele dossier reported them as a real, and a credulous press lapped them all up. Steele’s supposed high-level Kremlin contacts, the source added, were individuals “who may have had access” – and, then again, may not have. Corroboration of Steele’s findings was meanwhile “zero.”
Yet this is the document that the FBI continued using to pursue Page and Trump and convince the public that collusion was genuine.
As devastating as all this is, US Attorney John Durham’s long-awaited report on the origins of Russiagate promises to be broader and even harder-hitting. On Dec. 9, he issued an unusual statement saying that he disagreed with Horowitz’s finding that the FBI was legally warranted in launching an investigation. This implies that maybe – just maybe – he’s come up with evidence that the intelligence agencies concocted the whole episode from the outset as skeptics have long suspected.
If so, the agony of those responsible for the Russiagate fiasco can only intensify while, for the rest of us, the fun has just begun. So lean back and enjoy the show. It going to be a doozy.