Posts Tagged ‘Kimberley Strassel’

Basis for FBI Probe On Trump? Slim to None (That we know of)

June 1, 2018

His story about the Papadopoulos meeting calls the FBI’s into question.

The Curious Case of Mr. Downer

High Commissioner of Australia to the United Kingdom Alexander Downer arrives at Downing Street in central London on March 22, 2017.
High Commissioner of Australia to the United Kingdom Alexander Downer arrives at Downing Street in central London on March 22, 2017.PHOTO: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

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To hear the Federal Bureau of Investigation tell it, its decision to launch a counterintelligence probe into a major-party presidential campaign comes down to a foreign tip about a 28-year-old fourth-tier Trump adviser, George Papadopoulos.

The FBI’s media scribes have dutifully reported the bare facts of that “intel.” We are told the infamous tip came from Alexander Downer, at the time the Australian ambassador to the U.K. Mr. Downer invited Mr. Papadopoulos for a drink in early May 2016, where the aide told the ambassador the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Word of this encounter at some point reached the FBI, inspiring it to launch its counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign on July 31.

Notably (nay, suspiciously) absent or muddled are the details of how and when that information made its way to the FBI, and what exactly was transmitted. A December 2017 New York Times story vaguely explains that the Australians passed the info to “American counterparts” about “two months later,” and that once it “reached the FBI,” the bureau acted. Even the Times admits it’s “not clear” why it took the Aussies so long to flip such a supposedly smoking tip. The story meanwhile slyly leads readers to believe that Mr. Papadopoulos told Mr. Downer that Moscow had “thousands of emails,” but read it closely and the Times in fact never specifies what the Trump aide said, beyond “dirt.”

When Mr. Downer ended his service in the U.K. this April, he sat for an interview with the Australian, a national newspaper, and “spoke for the first time” about the Papadopoulos event. Mr. Downer said he officially reported the Papadopoulos meeting back to Australia “the following day or a day or two after,” as it “seemed quite interesting.” The story nonchalantly notes that “after a period of time, Australia’s ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey, passed the information on to Washington.”

My reporting indicates otherwise. A diplomatic source tells me Mr. Hockey neither transmitted any information to the FBI nor was approached by the U.S. about the tip. Rather, it was Mr. Downer who at some point decided to convey his information—to the U.S. Embassy in London.

That matters because it is not how things are normally done. The U.S. is part of Five Eyes, an intelligence network that includes the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Five Eyes agreement provides that any intelligence goes through the intelligence system of the country that gathered it. This helps guarantee information is securely handled, subjected to quality control, and not made prey to political manipulation. Mr. Downer’s job was to report his meeting back to Canberra, and leave it to Australian intelligence. We also know that it wasn’t Australian intelligence that alerted the FBI. The document that launched the FBI probe contains no foreign intelligence whatsoever. So if Australian intelligence did receive the Downer info, it didn’t feel compelled to act on it.

But the Obama State Department did—and its involvement is news. The Downer details landed with the embassy’s then-chargé d’affaires, Elizabeth Dibble, who previously served as a principal deputy assistant secretary in Mrs. Clinton’s State Department.

When did all this happen, and what came next? Did the info go straight to U.S. intelligence? Or did it instead filter to the wider State Department team, who we already know were helping foment Russia-Trump conspiracy theories? Jonathan Winer, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, has publicly admitted to communicating in the summer of 2016 with his friend Christopher Steele, author of the infamous dossier.

I was unable to reach Mr. Downer for comment and do not know why he chose to go to the embassy. A conservative politician, he was Australia’s longest-serving foreign minister (1996-2007). Sources speculate that he might have felt his many contacts justified reaching out himself.

Meanwhile, something doesn’t gel between Mr. Downer’s account of the conversation and the FBI’s. In his Australian interview, Mr. Downer said Mr. Papadopolous didn’t give specifics. “He didn’t say dirt, he said material that could be damaging to her,” said Mr. Downer. “He didn’t say what it was.” Also: “Nothing he said in that conversation indicated Trump himself had been conspiring with the Russians to collect information on Hillary Clinton.”

For months we’ve been told the FBI acted because it was alarmed that Mr. Papadopoulos knew about those hacked Democratic emails in May, before they became public in June. But according to the tipster himself, Mr. Papadopoulos said nothing about emails. The FBI instead received a report that a far-removed campaign adviser, over drinks, said the Russians had something that might be “damaging” to Hillary. Did this vague statement justify a counterintelligence probe into a presidential campaign, featuring a spy and secret surveillance warrants?

Unlikely. Which leads us back to what did inspire the FBI to act, and when? The Papadopoulos pretext is getting thinner.

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Congressional leaders get briefings on Russia probe

May 25, 2018

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have gotten classified briefings about the origins of the FBI investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, a highly unusual series of meetings prompted by partisan allegations that the bureau spied on Donald Trump’s campaign.

Democrats emerged from the meetings saying they saw no evidence to support Republican allegations that the FBI acted inappropriately, although they did express grave concern about the presence of a White House lawyer at Thursday’s briefings. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News he had learned “nothing particularly surprising,” but declined to go into detail.

Still, the extraordinary briefings drew attention to the unproved claims of FBI misconduct and political bias. The meetings were sought by Trump’s GOP allies and arranged by the White House, as the president has tried to sow suspicions about the legitimacy of the FBI investigation that spawned a special counsel probe. Initially offered only to Republicans, the briefings were the latest piece of stagecraft meant to publicize and bolster the allegations. But they also highlighted the degree to which the president and his allies have used the levers of the federal government — in this case, intelligence agencies — to aide in Trump’s personal and political defense.

President Donald Trump says he wants transparency from everyone involved in the investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. Trump insisted Wednesday, “what I want is total transparency.” (May 23)

Video:

https://apnews.com/fc99009f9f0b42aba27a87ee0b2d19f2/Congressional-leaders-get-briefings-on-Russia-probe

Under direct pressure from the president, Justice Department officials agreed to grant Republicans a briefing, and only later opened it up to Democrats. The invite list evolved up until hours before the meeting — a reflection of the partisan distrust and the political wrangling. A White House lawyer, Emmet Flood, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly showed up for both briefings, although the White House had earlier said it would keep a distance, drawing criticism from Democrats.

“For the record, the president’s chief of staff and his attorney in an ongoing criminal investigation into the president’s campaign have no business showing up to a classified intelligence briefing,” Sen. Mark Warner tweeted after the briefing.

The White House said the officials didn’t attend the full briefings, but instead delivered brief remarks communicating the “president’s desire for as much openness as possible under the law” and relaying “the president’s understanding of the need to protect human intelligence services and the importance of communication between the branches of government,” according to a statement.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats attended both meetings — the first at the Department of Justice and the second on Capitol Hill.

Trump has zeroed in on, and at times embellished, reports that a longtime U.S. government informant approached members of his campaign in a possible bid to glean intelligence on Russian efforts to sway the election. The president intensified his attacks this week, calling it “spygate” and tweeting Thursday that it was “Starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history.”

It was unclear how much information was given to lawmakers. According to a U.S. official familiar with the meeting, the briefers did not reveal the name of an informant. They brought documents but did not share them, and made several remarks about the importance of protecting intelligence sources and methods. The person declined to be identified because the briefing was classified.

In a statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan wouldn’t say what he learned, but said he looked forward to the “prompt completion” of the House Intelligence Committee’s work now that they are “getting the cooperation necessary.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, an ardent Trump supporter, had originally requested the information on an FBI source in the Russia investigation. The original meeting was scheduled for just Nunes and Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, but the Justice Department relented and allowed additional lawmakers to come after Democrats strongly objected.

Nunes and other Republicans already eager to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation used Trump’s complaints to obtain the briefing from the Justice Department, whose leaders have tried for months to balance demands from congressional overseers against their stated obligation to protect Mueller’s ongoing investigation into ties between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.

Nunes attended both briefings Thursday. According to the U.S. official and another person briefed on the Capitol Hill meeting, Nunes did not speak at all during the briefing. The second person also declined to be named because the meeting was classified.

Democratic lawmakers declined to comment on the substance of the briefing, but gave a joint statement afterward saying their view had not changed that “there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a ‘spy’ in the Trump Campaign, or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols.”

The statement was issued by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and the top Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence panels, Warner and Rep. Adam Schiff.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr also attended the briefing but did not comment afterward.

The back and forth between Congress and the Justice Department has simmered for weeks.

The Justice Department had rejected Nunes’ original request, writing in a letter in April that his request for information could put lives in danger.

Negotiations over release of the information stalled but restarted when Trump demanded, via tweet, on Sunday that the Justice Department investigate.

In response to the tweet, the Justice Department immediately asked its inspector general to expand its ongoing investigation to look into whether there was any politically motivated surveillance of the campaign and agreed to hold the classified briefings.

It remained unclear what, if any, spying was done. The White House gave no evidence to support Trump’s claim that President Barack Obama’s administration was trying to spy on his 2016 campaign for political reasons.

It’s long been known that the FBI was looking into Russian meddling during the campaign and that part of that inquiry touched on the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian figures. Mueller took over the investigation when he was appointed special counsel in May 2017.

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Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Jonathan Lemire, Lisa Mascaro, Chad Day and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

AP

https://apnews.com/fc99009f9f0b42aba27a87ee0b2d19f2/Congressional-leaders-get-briefings-on-Russia-probe

The Real Constitutional Crisis

May 25, 2018

The FBI and Justice Department continue evading congressional oversight.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaks at the Bloomberg Law Leadership Forum, New York City, May 23.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaks at the Bloomberg Law Leadership Forum, New York City, May 23. PHOTO: VICTOR J. BLUE/BLOOMBERG NEWS

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Democrats and their media allies are again shouting “constitutional crisis,” this time claiming President Trump has waded too far into the Russia investigation. The howls are a diversion from the actual crisis: the Justice Department’s unprecedented contempt for duly elected representatives, and the lasting harm it is doing to law enforcement and to the department’s relationship with Congress.

The conceit of those claiming Mr. Trump has crossed some line in ordering the Justice Department to comply with oversight is that “investigators” are beyond question. We are meant to take them at their word that they did everything appropriately. Never mind that the revelations of warrants and spies and dirty dossiers and biased text messages already show otherwise.

We are told that Mr. Trump cannot be allowed to have any say over the Justice Department’s actions, since this might make him privy to sensitive details about an investigation into himself. We are also told that Congress—a separate branch of government, a primary duty of which is oversight—cannot be allowed to access Justice Department material. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes can’t be trusted to view classified information—something every intelligence chairman has done—since he might blow a source or method, or tip off the president.

That’s a political judgment, but it holds no authority. The Constitution set up Congress to act as a check on the executive branch—and it’s got more than enough cause to do some checking here. Yet the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation have spent a year disrespecting Congress—flouting subpoenas, ignoring requests, hiding witnesses, blacking out information, and leaking accusations.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has not been allowed to question a single current or former Justice or FBI official involved in this affair. Not one. He’s also more than a year into his demand for the transcript of former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s infamous call with the Russian ambassador, as well as reports from the FBI agents who interviewed Mr. Flynn. And still nothing.

Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, is being stonewalled on at least three inquiries. The House Judiciary and Oversight committee chairmen required a full-blown summit in April with Justice Department officials to get movement on their own subpoena. The FBI continues to block a fuller release of the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia report.

Not that the documents that Justice sends over are of much use. Mr. Grassley this week excoriated the department for its routine practice of redacting key information, and for similarly refusing to provide a “privilege log” that details the legal basis for withholding information. His team recently discovered that one of the items Justice had scrubbed from the Peter Strzok-Lisa Page texts was the duo’s concern that former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe had a $70,000 conference table. (Was it lacquered with unicorn tears?) A separate text refers to an investigation that the White House is “running,” but conveniently blacks out which one. The FBI won’t answer Mr. Johnson’s questions about who is doing the redacting.

This intransigence is creating an unprecedented toxicity between law enforcement and Congress, undermining what has long been a cooperative and vital relationship. It is also pushing lawmakers ever closer to holding Justice Department officials in contempt or impeaching them. Congress hasn’t impeached a member of the executive branch (presidents excepted) since the 19th century. Let’s agree such a step would amount to a real crisis. And the pressure to use these tools to get disclosure is growing, as congressional Republicans worry about losing their oversight authority in the midterms, and suspect the Justice Department is stringing them along for that very reason.

Which is why Mr. Trump was right to order that Justice comply with Mr. Nunes’s demands for documents about the alleged FBI spy Stefan Halper and other information related to the catalyst of this investigation. As president, he has a duty to protect the reputation and integrity of the Justice Department—even from its own leaders. Forcing officials to comply with legitimate congressional oversight is far better than sitting back to watch those same officials singe the institution and its relationship with Congress in a flame of impeachment resolutions.

Mr. Trump has an even quicker way to bring the hostility to an end. He can—and should—declassify everything possible, letting Congress and the public see the truth. That would put an end to the daily spin and conspiracy theories. It would puncture Democratic arguments that the administration is seeking to gain this information only for itself, to “undermine” an investigation. And it would end the Justice Department’s campaign of secrecy, which has done such harm to its reputation with the public and with Congress.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

Appeared in the May 25, 2018, print edition.

The FBI Informant Who Wasn’t Spying

May 21, 2018

A secret source insinuated himself with Trump campaign officials. Ho hum.

The FBI Informant Who Wasn’t Spying
PHOTO: JIM LO SCALZO/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Well, what do you know. The Federal Bureau of Investigation really did task an “informant” to insinuate himself with Trump campaign advisers in 2016. Our Kimberley Strassel reported this two weeks ago without disclosing a name.

We now have all but official confirmation thanks to “current and former government officials” who contributed to apologias last week in the New York Times and Washington Post. And please don’t call the informant a “spy.” A headline on one of the Times’ stories says the “F.B.I. Used Informant to Investigate Russia Ties to Campaign, Not to Spy, as Trump Claims.”

We’ll let readers parse that casuistic distinction, which is part of a campaign by the FBI and Justice Department to justify their refusal to turn over to the House Intelligence Committee documents related to the informant. Justice and the FBI claim this Capitol Hill oversight would blow the cover of this non-spy and even endanger his life. Yet these same stories have disclosed so many specific details about the informant whom we dare not call a spy that you can discover the name of the likeliest suspect in a single Google search.

We now know, for example, that the informant is “an American academic who teaches in Britain” who “served in previous Republican administrations.” He has worked as a “longtime U.S. intelligence source” for the FBI and the CIA.

The stories provide the names of the three Trump campaign officials who the informant sought to court— Carter Page, Sam Clovis and George Papadopoulos —as well as specific dates and details of the encounters. He met with Mr. Page at a symposium at a “British university” in “mid-July,” and stayed in touch with him for more than year. He met with Mr. Clovis at a “hotel café in Crystal City,” Virginia, on “either Aug. 31 or Sept. 1.”

The informant didn’t previously know the three men but offered to help with the campaign. He also threw money at Mr. Papadopoulos, and the stories even report the exact language of the message the informant sent to Mr. Papadopoulos offering him a $3,000 honorarium to write a research paper and a paid trip to London. Media accounts differ about whether the informant asked the three men what they knew about Russia. But this sure sounds like a classic attempt to make friends for intelligence-gathering purposes.

This ought to disturb anyone who wants law enforcement and U.S. intelligence services to stay out of partisan politics. We can’t recall a similar case, even in the J. Edgar Hoover days, when the FBI decided it needed to snoop on a presidential campaign. Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Chairman, is seeking documents to learn exactly what happened, what triggered this FBI action, and how it was justified. This is precisely the kind of oversight that Congress should provide to assure Americans that their government isn’t spying illegally.

Yet now the same people who lionized Edward Snowden for stealing secrets about metadata—which collected phone numbers, not names—claim the FBI informant is no big deal. James Clapper, Barack Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, claims it was even a “good thing” that the FBI was monitoring the campaign for Russian influence.

Forgive us if we don’t trust Mr. Clapper, who leaked details related to the notorious Steele dossier to the press, as a proper judge of such snooping. Would he and the press corps be so blasé if the FBI under George W. Bush had sought to insinuate sources with Obama supporters like Rev. Jeremiah Wright or radical Bill Ayers during the 2008 campaign?

Incredibly, Democrats and their media friends are painting Mr. Nunes as the villain for daring even to ask about all this. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, is making the rounds warning that “the first thing any new” committee member “learns is the critical importance of protecting sources and methods.”

Sure, but as far as we know Mr. Nunes hasn’t disclosed the source’s name—certainly not to us—even as anonymous Justice officials all but paint a neon path of details to the informant’s door. Justice and the FBI have disclosed more to their media Boswells than they have to the people’s representatives in Congress.

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As is his habit, President Trump belly-flopped into this debate over the weekend with demands that Justice investigate whether his campaign was spied on. Justice officials quickly asked the Inspector General to investigate, and this will polarize the political debate even further.

But the stakes here go beyond Mr. Trump’s political future. The public deserves to know who tasked the informant to seek out Trump campaign officials, what his orders were, what the justification was for doing so, and who was aware of it. Was the knowledge limited to the FBI, or did it run into the Obama White House?

As important, what are the standards for the future? Could a Trump FBI task agents to look into the foreign ties of advisers to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in 2020? Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein need to clear the air by sharing what they and the FBI know with the House. This is bigger than blowing a source whose identity Justice leakers have already blown. This is about public trust in the FBI and Justice.

Appeared in the May 21, 2018, print edition as ‘The Informant Who Wasn’t Spying.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-fbi-informant-who-wasnt-spying-1526854417

WSJ: The FBI Hid A Mole In The Trump Campaign

May 11, 2018

On Wednesday we reported on an intense battle playing out between House Intel Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (D-CA), the Department of Justice, and the Mueller investigation concerning a cache of intelligence that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein refuses to hand over – a request he equated to “extortion.”

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, closeup

On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that Nunes was denied access to the information on the grounds that it “could risk lives by potentially exposing the source, a U.S. citizen who has provided intelligence to the CIA and FBI.

After the White House caved to Rosenstein and Nunes was barred from seeing the documents, it also emerged that this same intelligence had already been shared with Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 US election.

On Wednesday afternoon, however, news emerged that Nunes and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) would receive a classified Thursday briefing at the DOJ on the documents. This is, to put it lightly, incredibly significant.

Why? Because it appears that the FBI may have had a mole embedded in the Trump campaign.

In a bombshell op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Kimberly Strassel shares a few key insights about recent developments. Perhaps we should start with the ending and let you take it from there. Needless to say Strassel’s claims, if true, would have wide ranging implications for the CIA, FBI, DOJ and former Obama administration officials.

Strassel concludes: 

“I believe I know the name of the informant, but my intelligence sources did not provide it to me and refuse to confirm it. It would therefore be irresponsible to publish it.”

Authored by Kimberley Strassel, op-ed via The Wall Street Journal,

About That FBI ‘Source’

Did the bureau engage in outright spying against the 2016 Trump campaign?

The Department of Justice lost its latest battle with Congress Thursday when it allowed House Intelligence Committee members to view classified documents about a top-secret intelligence source that was part of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign. Even without official confirmation of that source’s name, the news so far holds some stunning implications.

Among them is that the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation outright hid critical information from a congressional investigation. In a Thursday press conference, Speaker Paul Ryan bluntly noted that Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’s request for details on this secret source was “wholly appropriate,” “completely within the scope” of the committee’s long-running FBI investigation, and “something that probably should have been answered a while ago.” Translation: The department knew full well it should have turned this material over to congressional investigators last year, but instead deliberately concealed it.

House investigators nonetheless sniffed out a name, and Mr. Nunes in recent weeks issued a letter and a subpoena demanding more details. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s response was to double down—accusing the House of “extortion” and delivering a speech in which he claimed that “declining to open the FBI’s files to review” is a constitutional “duty.” Justice asked the White House to back its stonewall. And it even began spinning that daddy of all superspook arguments—that revealing any detail about this particular asset could result in “loss of human lives.”

This is desperation, and it strongly suggests that whatever is in these files is going to prove very uncomfortable to the FBI.

The bureau already has some explaining to do. Thanks to the Washington Post’s unnamed law-enforcement leakers, we know Mr. Nunes’s request deals with a “top secret intelligence source” of the FBI and CIA, who is a U.S. citizen and who was involved in the Russia collusion probe. When government agencies refer to sources, they mean people who appear to be average citizens but use their profession or contacts to spy for the agency. Ergo, we might take this to mean that the FBI secretly had a person on the payroll who used his or her non-FBI credentials to interact in some capacity with the Trump campaign.

This would amount to spying, and it is hugely disconcerting. It would also be a major escalation from the electronic surveillance we already knew about, which was bad enough. Obama political appointees rampantly “unmasked” Trump campaign officials to monitor their conversations, while the FBI played dirty with its surveillance warrant against Carter Page, failing to tell the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that its supporting information came from the Hillary Clinton campaign. Now we find it may have also been rolling out human intelligence, John Le Carré style, to infiltrate the Trump campaign.

Which would lead to another big question for the FBI: When? The bureau has been doggedly sticking with its story that a tip in July 2016 about the drunken ramblings of George Papadopoulos launched its counterintelligence probe. Still, the players in this affair—the FBI, former Director Jim Comey, the Steele dossier authors—have been suspiciously vague on the key moments leading up to that launch date. When precisely was the Steele dossier delivered to the FBI? When precisely did the Papadopoulos information come in?
And to the point, when precisely was this human source operating? Because if it was prior to that infamous Papadopoulos tip, then the FBI isn’t being straight. It would mean the bureau was spying on the Trump campaign prior to that moment. And that in turn would mean that the FBI had been spurred to act on the basis of something other than a junior campaign aide’s loose lips.

We also know that among the Justice Department’s stated reasons for not complying with the Nunes subpoena was its worry that to do so might damage international relationships. This suggests the “source” may be overseas, have ties to foreign intelligence, or both. That’s notable, given the highly suspicious role foreigners have played in this escapade. It was an Australian diplomat who reported the Papadopoulos conversation. Dossier author Christopher Steele is British, used to work for MI6, and retains ties to that spy agency as well as to a network of former spooks. It was a former British diplomat who tipped off Sen. John McCain to the dossier. How this “top secret” source fits into this puzzle could matter deeply.

I believe I know the name of the informant, but my intelligence sources did not provide it to me and refuse to confirm it. It would therefore be irresponsible to publish it. But what is clear is that we’ve barely scratched the surface of the FBI’s 2016 behavior, and the country will never get the straight story until President Trump moves to declassify everything possible. It’s time to rip off the Band-Aid.

https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-05-10/wsj-fbi-hid-mole-trump-campaign

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Related (Wall Street Journal):

A Broken FBI Promise — A week after the bureau promised cooperation, it’s back to obstruction.

April 7, 2018

Stonewalling….

Image result for J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building, photos

Just last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray released a statement saying he was unhappy with how the bureau was responding to “legitimate congressional requests” for information—and promised a “transparent and responsive” FBI. But already both the FBI and the Justice Department are back to their old tricks.

At issue is a memo related to the opening of a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties with Russia in 2016. Such information is crucial for Congress to get an accurate picture of how Justice and the FBI handled this investigation. House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) has written to both Director Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein asking for an unredacted version for all committee members to see. The bureau says it will not provide the material because it is too sensitive.

FBI Director Christopher Wray leaves the stage after speaking at the 2018 Boston Conference on Cyber Security at Boston College in Boston, March 7.
FBI Director Christopher Wray leaves the stage after speaking at the 2018 Boston Conference on Cyber Security at Boston College in Boston, March 7. PHOTO: FAITH NINIVAGGI/REUTERS
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Mr. Nunes notes this is ridiculous, given that the document “is not highly classified.” More to the point, if an Intelligence Committee made up of elected representatives of the American people is not qualified to see such material, no one is.

Mr. Nunes says he’s willing to go to federal court to enforce his subpoena. We are further told that the House leadership supports this and other efforts to compel cooperation from Justice and the FBI.

In a better world Mr. Wray and Mr. Rosenstein would have worked out a good faith solution. In the apparent absence of that good faith, we hope Congress is willing to use all its powers, including contempt and impeachment if necessary, to persuade Mr. Wray and Mr. Rosenstein it is in their interests to make good on the FBI’s promise of transparency and responsiveness.

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 https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-broken-fbi-promise-1523054019
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What Is the FBI Hiding? — FBI still has not complied with an 8 month old subpoena from Congress

April 6, 2018

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) at the Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor, Md., Feb. 24, 2018.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) at the Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor, Md., Feb. 24, 2018. PHOTO: JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS

Bit by bit, congressional investigators have wrested important truths from a recalcitrant Federal Bureau of Investigation about its suspect 2016 election dealings. But there’s one secret the G-men jealously guard: how central that Steele dossier was from the start.

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes on Wednesday sent another letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray to demand yet again that they comply with an August 2017 subpoena and hand over, among other things, the electronic communication—“EC” in investigative jargon—that officially kicked off the counterintelligence investigation into alleged Trump-Russia collusion.

That EC has taken on a central importance thanks to the FBI’s own leaks. The bureau exploded it on the country at the end of last year after the news broke that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National had paid for the infamous dossier. The public still doesn’t know how much the FBI used it. Critics started asking: Was it part of the application for a surveillance warrant against Carter Page ? Could it even have launched the investigation?

Thus the FBI’s scramble to minimize the dossier. And sure enough, the New York Times in December ran what became the “origin” story, titled “How the Russia Inquiry Began.” The story asserted definitively that the cause of the investigation “was not, as Mr. Trump and other politicians have alleged, a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired by a rival campaign.” It was rather information from an Australian diplomat claiming to have heard a drunk Trump junior aide, George Papadopoulos, talking about Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Yet despite that claim being out there, the FBI and Justice Department have refused to verify it. The Nunes letter says the FBI has provided only a “heavily redacted” version of the EC and indicated on March 23 that it would “refuse to further unredact” the document.

The only plausible reason the FBI might have for denying House Intelligence access to an unredacted EC is that it contains intelligence from foreign sources. Intelligence-sharing agreements between allies sometimes include restrictions on dissemination. But it was precisely that intelligence that was already leaked to the press. We know the Papadopoulos story came via Australia, and we know what was said.

The media only recently reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was fed up with the FBI’s spurning Congress and ordered it to be more cooperative. Yet here it is again inviting a contempt citation, and that says something about how badly the FBI wants this EC kept out of sight.

So what’s in it that matters so much? One possibility is that the EC also contains a reference to the dossier. A better theory is that the EC gets to the heart of the legitimacy—or illegitimacy—of the Papadopoulos investigation. The FBI would have needed solid intelligence to justify a full-blown counterintelligence probe—especially of a presidential candidate. Yet the Papadopoulos intelligence was thin gruel—a random comment by a drunk guy making a vague claim. So by what precise means, and via whom, did the details make their way to the FBI? Did it come from actual intelligence sources? Were Obama or Clinton friends or political operatives involved? Did the FBI play a role in plumping up the evidence to transform a political product into official intel?

These are all important questions, as they go to a piece of the FBI’s action. They also divert from the bigger story, in which it is important to keep the EC in perspective. The FBI always needs something on which to hang an investigation. As that Times story put it, it was the combination of “many strands coming in” that spurred the FBI to act, though the bureau chose to put Mr. Papadopoulos on the official paper. What matters more is what direction the investigation ultimately went—which thread the FBI chose to pull. Because while Mr. Papadopoulos might have served as a justification, it is clear he didn’t prove a subsequent preoccupation. After all, the agency didn’t bother to get a surveillance warrant on him. It didn’t even bother to interview him until late January 2017.

What it did was tug at that other strand—the dossier—which even the Times story acknowledges was in the mix by the summer of 2016. The FBI nurtured its relationship with Mr. Steele, dispatched agents to meet him, and debriefed him. The allegations in the dossier against Carter Page served as the basis for the significant task of obtaining a FISA court eavesdropping warrant and three subsequent renewals. The FBI’s every action in recent months has appeared designed to fuzz up that reality—from planting the “origin” story to denying Congress any access to the eavesdropping documents for months to continuing to limit severely the number of people who can look at them.

Here’s what has become very clear: The FBI relied significantly on a Clinton opposition-research document in pursuing its Trump investigation. No amount of diversionary talk over other evidence can now change that.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

Appeared in the April 6, 2018, print edition.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-is-the-fbi-hiding-1522970740

Obstruction of Congress — Justice Department, FBI and the “Deep State”

December 8, 2017
 Mueller, the Justice Department and the FBI aren’t helping the lawmakers’ probe.
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Former FBI Director Robert Mueller departing Capitol Hill on June 21.
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller departing Capitol Hill on June 21. PHOTO: ANDREW HARNIK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The media echo chamber spent the week speculating about whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller can or will nab President Trump on obstruction-of-justice charges. All the while it continues to ignore Washington’s most obvious obstruction—the coordinated effort to thwart congressional probes of the role law enforcement played in the 2016 election.

The news that senior FBI agent Peter Strzok exchanged anti-Trump, pro-Hillary text messages with another FBI official matters—though we’ve yet to see the content. The bigger scandal is that the Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Mr. Mueller have known about those texts for months and deliberately kept their existence from Congress. The House Intelligence Committee sent document subpoenas and demanded an interview with Mr. Strzok. The Justice Department dodged, and then leaked.

The department also withheld from Congress that another top official, Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, was in contact with ex-spook Christopher Steele and the opposition-research firm Fusion GPS. It has refused to say what role the Steele dossier—Clinton-commissioned oppo research—played in its Trump investigation. It won’t turn over files about its wiretapping.

And Mr. Mueller—who is well aware the House is probing all this, and considered the Strzok texts relevant enough to earn the agent a demotion—nonetheless did not inform Congress about the matter. Why? Perhaps Mr. Mueller feels he’s above being bothered with any other investigation. Or perhaps his team is covering for the FBI and the Justice Department.

When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mr. Mueller, he stressed that he wanted a probe with “independence from the normal chain of command.” Yet the Mueller team is made up of the same commanders who were previously running the Trump show at the Justice Department and the FBI, and hardly distant from their old office.

Andrew Weissmann, Mr. Mueller’s deputy, is chief of the Justice Department’s criminal fraud section and was once FBI general counsel. Until Mr. Strzok’s demotion, he was a top FBI counterintelligence officer, lead on the Trump probe. Michael Dreeben is a deputy solicitor general. Elizabeth Prelogar, Brandon Van Grack, Kyle Freeny, Adam Jed, Andrew Goldstein —every one is a highly placed, influential lawyer on loan from the Justice Department. Lisa Page —Mr. Strzok’s mistress, with whom he exchanged those texts—was on loan from the FBI general counsel’s office.

Does anyone think this crowd intends to investigate Justice Department or FBI misdeeds? To put it another way, does anyone think they intend to investigate themselves? Or that they’d investigate their longtime colleagues— Andrew McCabe, or Mr. Ohr or Mr. Strzok? Or could we instead just acknowledge the Mueller team has enormous personal and institutional interests in justifying the actions their agencies took in 2016—and therefore in stonewalling Congress?

The Strzok texts raise the additional question of whether those interests extend to taking down the president. Mr. Strzok was ejected from Team Mueller for exhibiting anti-Trump, pro-Clinton behavior. By that standard, one has to wonder how Mr. Mueller has any attorneys left.

Judicial Watch this week released an email in which Mr. Weissmann gushed about how “proud and in awe” he was of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates for staging a mutiny against the Trump travel ban. Of 15 publicly identified Mueller lawyers, nine are Democratic donors—including several who gave money to Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Jeannie Rhee defended the Clinton Foundation against racketeering charges, and represented Mrs. Clinton personally in the question of her emails. Aaron Zebley represented Justin Cooper, the Clinton aide who helped manage her server. Mr. Goldstein worked for Preet Bharara, whom Mr. Trump fired and who is now a vigorous Trump critic. The question isn’t whether these people are legally allowed (under the Hatch Act) to investigate Mr. Trump—as the left keeps insisting. The question is whether a team of declared Democrats is capable of impartially investigating a Republican president.

Some want Attorney General Jeff Sessions to clean house, although this would require firing a huge number of career Justice Department lawyers. Some want Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Mueller—which would be counterproductive. Some have called for a special counsel to investigate the special counsel, but that way lies infinite regress.

There is a better, more transparent way. Mr. Sessions (or maybe even Mr. Trump) is within rights to create a short-term position for an official whose only job is to ensure Justice Department and FBI compliance with congressional oversight. This person needs to be a straight shooter and versed in law enforcement, but with no history at or substantial ties to the Justice Department or FBI.

It would be a first, but we are in an era of firsts. Congress is the only body with an interest and ability to get the full story of 2016 to the public, thereby ending this drama quickly. But that requires putting an end to the obstruction.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

Appeared in the December 8, 2017, print edition.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/obstruction-of-congress-1512691791

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The Threat of a Deep State Is Real. No, Really.

POLITICS FEATURES DEEP STATE

The Threat of a Deep State Is Real. No, Really.

It wasn’t too long ago that if you saw something like this, you could write it off, because it came out of the mouth of someone like Alex Jones or G. Gordon Liddy—someone you’d have to make an active effort to discover and follow. Such rhetoric was so far underground that odds were you’d never come across it in the first place, but here we have it in primetime:

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To be clear, the FBI isn’t “out of control.” And the FBI isn’t “a threat to you, and every American.” What Mr. Tucker Carlson means is the FBI is a threat to the Trump administration.

So that’s the one hand: The FBI is a dark-handed, deep-state political op being run by [this part not made clear but I assume it involves Schumer, Podesta, Soros, and Hillary Clinton] in order to dismantle the Trump agenda at any cost. Not only that, but in Mr. Carlson’s world, the FBI has also already broken the law in its investigation of Trump.

(At this time, I’d like to point out to Mr. Carlson that the FBI isn’t actually investigating Donald Trump; Special Counsel Robert Mueller is, as an independent agent of the Department of Justice outside the FBI.)

A major news network that millions of people take as gospel is saying our existing federal law enforcement apparatus is a secret police force. And if we can’t trust the people in charge of administering the law, then we can’t trust those administrations. Everything the FBI (DOJ) does (against Trump) should be not merely questioned, but rejected outright with great urgency: The agency is out of control.

I don’t think we should accept everything a law enforcement official says as gospel, but I also don’t advocate peddling ego meth in the form of batshit conspiracies not so subtly intended to sow the seeds of legitimizing future violence against the state. The rhetoric might not lead to disastrous consequences, but there’s a good chance it might.

This is one of the consequences of electing a birther. Conspiracy theories have made it into the news. We’ve already seen a conspiratorial fascination with the “deep state,” which has branched this latest volley of insanity. That phrase, “deep state,” still sounds ridiculous to me, something a guy wearing a loupe says to you while he slides an inspirational poster off his basement wall to show off his safe full of commemorative moon landing coins, which he says he can sell you cheap because the moon landing was fake.

Or something this guy says to you.

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Free speech in the digital age: Prager University sues YouTube in free-speech case

October 24, 2017

Conservative nonprofit says site is restricting its content and infringing First Amendment rights

Prager University argues in its lawsuit that Google’s YouTube should be treated as a public forum.
Prager University argues in its lawsuit that Google’s YouTube should be treated as a public forum. PHOTO: MICHAEL SHORT/BLOOMBERG NEWS

LOS ANGELES—Prager University, a nonprofit that produces short, educational videos from conservative perspectives, is suing YouTube and its parent company, Google, claiming the tech giant is illegally censoring some of its content as part of a wider effort to silence conservative voices.

A lawsuit filed Monday evening in federal court in San Francisco says YouTube’s more than 30 million visitors a day make the site so elemental to free speech in the digital age that it should be treated as a public forum. The suit argues the site must use the “laws governing free speech,” not its own discretion, to make decisions about what to censor.

The nonprofit, known as PragerU, alleges that by limiting access to some of its videos without clear criteria YouTube is infringing on PragerU’s First Amendment rights.

YouTube said it didn’t have immediate comment because it hadn’t yet reviewed the suit. The site is owned by Google, part of Alphabet Inc. GOOGL -1.94%

The suit heightens a debate over tech companies’ increasing influence on public opinion and how they should police content on their sites. With the internet enabling the spread of misinformation, hate speech and foreign propaganda—especially around the 2016 U.S. election—politicians, academics and the media are increasing scrutiny on the role a handful of tech giants play in modern society.

Since last year, more than three dozen PragerU videos—on subjects including the Korean War and Israel and Palestine—have been restricted by YouTube. As a result, those who use YouTube in “restricted mode,” including students at some universities and children whose parents have put parental control filters in place, are prevented from seeing the videos; all potential ad revenue from the videos is also cut off.

YouTube hasn’t pulled the videos from the default version of its website or mobile app, which are how the vast majority of users access videos.

YouTube has long championed itself as an open platform for ideas and is more often criticized for its reluctance or delay in removing objectionable content. “We believe everyone should have a voice,” YouTube said in a blog post in March. “Since our founding, free expression has been one of our core values.”

PragerU’s suit fits into more recent criticism from YouTube-video creators of the site’s push to remove ads from certain videos—prompted by a backlash from advertisers.

“There’s a difference between the free expression that lives on YouTube and the content that brands have told us they want to advertise against,” YouTube said in the March post.

PragerU was founded by conservative radio host Dennis Prager in 2011.

In email exchanges with PragerU, which were reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, YouTube declined to offer specific explanations about why most of the videos were restricted, saying that they “aren’t appropriate for younger audiences.”

In those emails, a YouTube representative told PragerU officials that some of the videos that were censored were reviewed “manually” by humans, not solely by an automated system.

One of the videos that was initially restricted by YouTube featured Kimberley Strassel, a Wall Street Journal columnist who writes for the Journal’s opinion pages. The restriction of the video was later lifted.

The lawsuit lists videos on similar subjects by other content creators—including Al Jazeera and The Daily Show—which weren’t restricted, and argues that PragerU was targeted solely for its conservative views.

“Google/YouTube uses their restricted mode filtering not to protect younger or sensitive viewers from ‘inappropriate’ video content, but as a political gag mechanism to silence PragerU,” the complaint says.

The suit escalates a battle between YouTube and content creators over how much control the tech giant should exercise over what is posted on the site.

YouTube faced a firestorm earlier this year when news reports revealed the site was running ads on extremist and racist videos, causing a series of big brands to pull spending from the site.

The backlash prompted YouTube to better police content on its sites, pull more ads from “hateful, offensive and derogatory” videos and give advertisers more control over where their ads appear. Those changes include technology to automatically screen videos as well as more human reviewers to pull ads from objectionable videos.

Some advertisers still remained off the site even months after the changes.

As a result, many of YouTube’s most popular video creators have complained of a drop in their ad revenues.

There are also signs that YouTube is trying to move away from the fringe content that attracts many of its viewers—but also creates headaches with advertisers. After searches on YouTube about the mass shooting this month in Las Vegas surfaced videos peddling conspiracy theories, the site said it was tweaking its search algorithm to promote more authoritative news sources.

The lawsuit alleges that the criteria YouTube uses to restrict videos is so broad that it effectively allows the company unfettered discretion, with no objective standard at all.

In addition, the suit says that the standards the company does use are being applied unfairly to PragerU.

Pete Wilson, a former governor of California who is representing PragerU in the suit, said the restrictions on the nonprofit’s videos were part of a wider effort to limit conservative speech.

“Just as on many college campuses, there has been a refusal to allow conservatives to speak,” Mr. Wilson said. He added of YouTube, “They have incredible reach, and that really sets them apart from almost any other entity.”

Write to Ian Lovett at Ian.Lovett@wsj.com and Jack Nicas at jack.nicas@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/prageru-sues-youtube-in-free-speech-case-1508811856

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Image result for hands tied by computer cord, photos

Google/YouTube vs. Conservative Speech 

By Dennis Prager

Will Google and YouTube do to the Internet what the Left has done to our universities?

Last week, the Wall Street Journal wrote the following editorial about YouTube restricting access to 16 videos — down from 21 — created and posted online by my non-profit educational organization, Prager University: “YouTube thinks Dennis Prager’s videos may be dangerous.”

Tech giants like Google and Facebook always deny that their platforms favor some viewpoints over others, but then they don’t do much to avoid looking censorious. . . .  Dennis Prager’s “PragerU” puts out free short videos on subjects “important to understanding American values” — ranging from the high cost of higher education to the motivations of Islamic State. The channel has more than 130 million views. . . . As you might guess, the mini-seminars do not include violence or sexual content.

But more than 15 videos are “restricted” on YouTube. . . . This means the clips don’t show up for those who have turned on filtering — say, a parent shielding their children from explicit videos. A YouTube spokesperson told us that the setting is optional and “based on algorithms that look at a number of factors, including community flagging on videos.” . . .  PragerU started a petition calling for YouTube to remove the restriction, and more than 66,000 people have signed.

“YouTube is free to set its own standards,” the editorial concluded, “but the company is undercutting its claim to be a platform for ‘free expression.’” It is a good sign that Google/YouTube’s censorship of respectful, utterly non-violent and non-sexual videos made it to the Wall Street Journal editorial page. It is very bad sign that it had to.

And it is a very bad sign that it made the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, but not the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, or any other mainstream newspaper that still purports to support the classic liberal value of free speech.

To understand what Google/YouTube has done, it is necessary to briefly describe what it has restricted access to. Every week, PragerU (the generally used name for Prager University) posts at least one five-minute video presentation online.

These presentations are on just about every subject and are given by important thinkers — some very well-known, some not. The list includes dozens of professors at, among other universities, MIT, Notre Dame, Princeton, Dayton, Boston College, Stanford, UCLA, Harvard, and West Point; a black member of the South African Parliament; comedians Adam Carolla and Yakov Smirnoff; two former prime ministers (Spain and Denmark); three Pulitzer Prize winners (George Will, Bret Stephens, and Judith Miller); Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs; Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Arthur Brooks, Jonah Goldberg, Alan Dershowitz, Nicholas Eberstadt, Larry Elder, Steve Forbes, Walter Williams, Christina Hoff Sommers, George Gilder, Victor Davis Hanson; Bjørn Lomborg, Heather Mac Donald, Eric Metaxas, Amity Shlaes, and the commander of British troops in Afghanistan, among many others. I also present some videos.

Any responsible person, left or right, would have to acknowledge that this is a profoundly respectable, non-bomb-throwing list of presenters — hardly conducive to censorship.

What videos did YouTube place restrictions on?

On Race (2): “Are the Police Racist?” “Don’t Judge Blacks Differently”

On Islam (6): “What ISIS Wants” “Why Don’t Feminists Fight for Muslim Women?” “Islamic Terror: What Muslim Americans Can Do” “Pakistan: Can Sharia and Freedom Coexist?” “Radical Islam: The Most Dangerous Ideology” “Why Do People Become Islamic Extremists?”

On abortion (2 — the only two offered): “Who’s More Pro-Choice: Europe or America?” “The Most Important Question about Abortion”

On Israel (2): “Israel: The World’s Most Moral Army” “Israel’s Legal Founding” (Alan Dershowitz’s video was reinstated after much publicity) On America (3): “Why Did America Fight the Korean War?” “Did Bush Lie about Iraq?” “What is the University Diversity Scam?”

On politics (1): “Who NOT to Vote For”

On men and women (1): “He Wants You” (a video I present about men and women) Obviously, then, the explanation is not algorithms’​ that catch violence and sex. Think of these topics and consider the list of presenters. Do you see any violent or sexual content? Do you see anything you wouldn’t want your minor child to view?

The only possible “yes” might be to the video titled “He Wants You.” Though void of any explicit content, it deals with the subject of men looking at other women yet still most wanting their own wives. It has almost 4 million views and has helped a lot of couples. Obviously, then, the explanation is not algorithms that catch violence and sex.

Rather, Google/YouTube doesn’t want effective (each video has at least 1 million views) conservative videos. Does that mean that it has left-wing censors looking for every widely viewed conservative video? They don’t have to. Left-wing viewers simply “flag” our and others’ videos as inappropriate, and YouTube does the rest. I have never devoted a column to PragerU. I have done so here because if YouTube gets away with censoring as big a website as PragerU — after a major editorial in the Wall Street Journal and coverage in the New York Post, Boston Globe, Fortune, National Review, and many other places, and a petition signed by over 70,000 people (the petition is at prageru.com) — what will happen to other conservative institutions?

For the probable answer, see your local university.

The question, then, is this: Will Google and YouTube do to the Internet what the Left has done to the university?

— Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist. His latest book, The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code, was published by Regnery. He is the founder of Prager University and may be contacted at dennisprager.com. © 2016 Creators.com Editor’s Note: This article has been emended since its original publication.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/441400/google-youtubes-prageru-censorship-prager-universitys-conservative-videos-censored

Scalias All the Way Down

October 13, 2017

While the press goes wild over tweets, Trump is remaking the federal judiciary.

Image result for justice is blind with scales, photos

Ask most Republicans to identify Donald Trump’s biggest triumph to date, and the answer comes quick: Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. That’s the cramped view.

The media remains so caught up with the president’s tweets that it has missed Mr. Trump’s project to transform the rest of the federal judiciary. The president is stocking the courts with a class of brilliant young textualists bearing little relation to even their Reagan or Bush predecessors. Mr. Trump’s nastygrams to Bob Corker will be a distant memory next week. Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett’s influence on the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could still be going strong 40 years from now.

Mr. Trump has now nominated nearly 60 judges, filling more vacancies than Barack Obama did in his entire first year. There are another 160 court openings, allowing Mr. Trump to flip or further consolidate conservative majorities on the circuit courts that have the final say on 99% of federal legal disputes.

This project is the work of Mr. Trump, White House Counsel Don McGahn and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Every new president cares about the judiciary, but no administration in memory has approached appointments with more purpose than this team.

Mr. Trump makes the decisions, though he’s taking cues from Mr. McGahn and his team. The Bushies preferred a committee approach: Dozens of advisers hunted for the least controversial nominee with the smallest paper trail. That helped get picks past a Senate filibuster, but it led to bland choices, or to ideological surprises like retired Justice David Souter.

Harry Reid’s 2013 decision to blow up the filibuster for judicial nominees has freed the Trump White House from having to worry about a Democratic veto during confirmation. Mr. McGahn’s team (loaded with former Clarence Thomas clerks) has carte blanche to work with outside groups like the Federalist Society to tap the most conservative judges.

Mr. McGahn has long been obsessed with constitutional law and the risks of an all-powerful administrative state. His crew isn’t subjecting candidates to 1980s-style litmus tests on issues like abortion. Instead the focus is on promoting jurists who understand the unique challenges of our big-government times. Can the prospective nominee read a statute? Does he or she defer to the government’s view of its own authority? The result has been a band of young rock stars and Scalia-style textualists like Ms. Barrett, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett and Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice David Stras.

Senate Republicans have so far blown their major agenda items, but they’ve remained unified on judges. They agreed to kill the Senate filibuster for Supreme Court nominees so as to confirm Justice Gorsuch; have confirmed six other judicial nominees; and stand ready to greenlight dozens more. This is a big shift from divisions the party had over the Bush 41 and Bush 43 nominees.

Because Mr. Trump’s picks have largely spent their careers focused on administrative law and constitutional questions, few have gotten bogged down by controversial cultural rulings. They do have paper trails, but mostly on serious and technical issues. This helps reassure Republicans even as it deprives Democrats of the fodder they’d need to stage dramatic opposition.

Conservatives praised Mr. McConnell last year for refusing to consider Judge Merrick Garland, whom Mr. Obama had nominated to the Supreme Court. Less well known is the sheer number of federal judgeships Mr. McConnell sat on as the Obama administration wound down. Mr. Trump took office with 107 lower-court vacancies, more than any of the past five presidents save Bill Clinton. The GOP challenge now is to break Democratic obstruction and get those posts filled.

Former Trump aide Steve Bannon is vowing to primary at least six GOP senators next year, saying he will support only candidates who refuse to back Mr. McConnell for another stint as leader. But Mr. Bannon’s claim that Mr. McConnell represents the “swamp” is lazy scapegoating. Yes, health-care reform failed—thanks to three showboating Republican senators. And yes, the House gets more done. But only the Senate is in the long-term personnel business.

The Trump judicial reset was never guaranteed. Mr. McConnell just happens to have a steely passion for remaking the judiciary. Previous majority leaders Trent Lott (best friends with trial lawyers) and Bill Frist (nice, nice) would never have gotten Justice Gorsuch confirmed. Those guys were the “establishment.”

Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Jodi Ernst, Deb Fischer, Dan Sullivan, Cory Gardner, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton —this is the new generation of Republican senators. They were all elected in recent cycles. They are reformers, far removed from the earmarking, logrolling, crony, backroom days of washed-out Republicans who inspired the tea party.

The country has moved, as has Congress. The proof is in the extraordinary class of judicial nominees now coming through. Mr. Trump will keep baiting the media with shiny objects. In the background, government is being redone.

Write to kim@wsj.com.