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investigations

Same Story, Opposite Reactions, in America vs. America

This is about a story that three New York Times reporters broke on May 16th and the very different interpretations that greeted their findings, an exhibit of how impossibly and irrationally divided we have become in the age of Trump.

They reported that immediately after the FBI launched an investigation into the Trump campaign almost two years ago on July 31, the Bureau sent two agents to
London on a mission that has been kept secret until now. The assignment was to interview Australia's ambassador to the U.K., Alexander Downer. The FBI had learned of his encounter with a Trump campaign aide named George Papadopoulos who, during a night of drinking, had told Downer that he knew — and this was before the Wikileaks release of the Clinton emails — that Russia had a trove of damaging material on her.

The Clinton investigation had just ended, and explosively, with FBI Director James Comey announcing in a press conference the highly controversial conclusion that, while her email use outside the State Department on her own server was "extremely careless", it did not rise to a level justifying prosecution. That would lead to months of Republican-led hearings in Congress, with Comey defending the reasons for his actions, and Trump followers shouting "lock her up" ever since.

In contrast, the explorations into the Trump campaign reverted to the Bureau's standard modus operandi of silence. What they might find looked to FBI agent Peter Strzok be too "tasty" and thus susceptible to leaks, so the early steps taken by the agency were kept close, known by only five people in the Justice Department, far below the count of personnel usually "read in" to a case. (Strzok was the one exposed this year for exchanging anti-Trump e-mail with his paramour at the agency during the campaign.) With so little time left before the election, the agency even postponed interviewing key people, wary that, were it to become known that the agency was now investigating the Trump campaign after exonerating Clinton, the FBI would be accused of doubly tipping the scales of the election. Wouldn't that only feed into Trump's claims at the time that the election was "rigged"? That the Bureau gave their probe the codename Crossfire Hurricane suggests that they knew that they could be heading into rough weather and had best batten the hatches.

In those early months, the FBI was investigating Gen. Michael Flynn, who would become Trump's first national security adviser; Paul Manafort, his campaign manager; Carter Page, whom the FBI suspected in 2013 of being a possible Russian agent — Russian spies had tried to recruit him 2013 in New York City and here he was now headed for Russia; and a fourth, Papadopoulos, who evidently had Russian contacts according to what he told the Australian ambassador in London. If this activity had been revealed or leaked, it could have been devastating to Trump's chances for election, and the FBI would be irremediably scarred as politically corrupted. Hence the lock down.

different strokes

How was this disclosure received? We'll take a couple of examples. In the 9:00 pm time slot, Sean Hannity gets the most viewers at Fox News. For him,

"This is an amazing story…The New York Times is inadvertently confirming everything that we have been telling you about all of this, the massive abuse of power and corruption… the biggest abuse scandal in the history of the country".

Hannity is a strident backer of President Trump. The "scandal" is what Trump calls the "witch hunt" of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and transition and Russia. In the Times piece, Hannity finds the genesis story. "Only days after they rigged the investigation into Hillary", giving her a free pass while "knowing she committed felonies and obstruction of justice", the FBI had gone on the attack after Donald Trump in a "completely unconventional operation". There was no justification for the FBI to undertake the inquiry because of

"some guy, and I thought I knew everybody in the Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos, never heard of him. the Trump adviser nobody heard of and during that night out while they're drinking they apparently gossip like, I guess, mean girls about so-called dirt of Hillary Clinton. Downer then alerted the Australian intelligence agency who then told their U.S. counterparts: 1, 2, 3, 4-way hearsay. This is massive. The Times is confirming that the FBI used 4-way hearsay to launch an investigation".

The Times has all along been "trying to cover up for their deep state friends and making excuses", says Mr. Hannity, but in this story, "they're actually exposing them". Hannity assures his viewers that

"the facts, the truth, the evidence is finally coming out and we have been promising you this and so far what we've uncovered is only the beginning. This is going to get a lot worse for all of these deep state actors. This deep state is one huge, giant, incestuous, corrupt swamp."

counterpoint

The next morning, "Morning Joe" on MSNBC brought up the Times story and had one of its reporters, Matt Apuzzo, on the show. Their reaction was quite different. "This flies in the face of the Trump accusations that the FBI has always been out to get him", said co-host Mika Brzezinski. But in those early months, so as not to affect the election, the FBI kept a tight seal on its activities. Apuzzo said it was…

"just days after the FBI had closed down the Clinton case, and if agents were really eager to be investigating another presidential candidate and his campaign, we didn't see evidence of it. Our reporting shows that this was a real anxious moment at the FBI. The code name Crossfire Hurricane kind of speaks to the storm they were going into".

The very same FBI agents who were evincing their dislike of Trump in internal e-mail were going to great lengths to clamp down on the number of people informed of the new investigation, even going slow so as not to alert anyone of what they were up to before the election. The FBI expected Trump to lose and didn't want to be accused of having a hand in that loss by anyone leaking about its scrutiny of Trump campaign figures.

The panel on "Morning Joe", no friends of Trump, were rather stunned to realize that the FBI, by returning to its standard level of professional silence after the harm of its very public treatment of Clinton, had effectively helped Trump by going to great lengths to not expose the shady characters of the Trump campaign and their strange and unexplained dealings with Russians. The "Morning Joe" participants that morning lamented that, far from Hannity's deep state plot to destroy Trump, the Bureau might have made the difference in the narrowly decided three states that put Trump over the top in the electoral college had it at least said something. They took note that the Times article had even faulted the Times itself for downplaying the investigation in an October 2016 story, evidently cowed by an FBI that had "cautioned against drawing any conclusions".

Far from a plot, the FBI had found just cause to investigate four members of the Trump campaign. Proof lies in that eventually Papadopoulos would enter a guilty plea and cooperate with the Mueller investigation, Flynn would admit guilt in lying to the FBI and agree to cooperate, Manafort and partner Rick Gates would be indicted for bank fraud, money laundering, tax violations — a combined total for the pair of 32 counts in all.

With the Justice Department's inspector general's report on the Clinton investigation about to be released, one question sure to be asked is, why the FBI publicly announced that they had found further emails on Anthony Weiner's computer when they could have just examined them covertly to find they amounted to nothing, while saying nothing about their simultaneously investigating suspect parties in the Trump campaign?

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