Hillary Clinton on Friday defended her 2016 campaign strategy after 2020 Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg criticized his party’s previous nominee for being too hopeful and not understanding the struggles of everyday Americans.
“I really do believe that we always have to appeal to our better selves because the wolf is at the door, my friends,” Clinton said during an appearance at the 10th Annual Women in the World New York Summit. “Negativity, despair, anxiety, resentment, anger, prejudice, that’s part of human nature and the job of the leader is to appeal to us to be more than we can be on our own, to join hands in common effort.”
“I was well aware that we had problems that we had to solve, but it’s been my experience that anger, resent, prejudice are not strategies,” the former first lady, secretary of state and senator from New York added. “They stop people from thinking. They don’t enlist people in the common effort to try to find solutions.”
Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., told the Washington Post in a profile published January that President Trump connected with the concerns of ordinary Americans in a way Clinton did not.
“Donald Trump got elected because, in his twisted way, he pointed out the huge troubles in our economy and our democracy,” he said. “At least he didn’t go around saying that America was already great, like Hillary did.”
A senior Clinton adviser blasted Buttigieg’s comments last month via Twitter as “indefensible.”
“[Hillary Clinton] ran on a belief in this country & the most progressive platform in modern political history. Trump ran on pessimism, racism, false promises, & vitriol. Interpret that how you want, but there are 66,000,000 people who disagree. Good luck,” Nick Merrill tweeted.
“It’s pretty simple. Slam HRC…lose my vote,” and another who chimed in: “It is unfortunate when people as smart as @PeteButtigieg engage in this fantasy fiction about 2016. And as a gay American it is disappointing because @HillaryClinton ran a campaign which amongst its many values championed our community,” Merrill also wrote.
FILE PHOTO: NFL Football – Super Bowl LIII – New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. – February 3, 2019. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl LIII. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo
April 12, 2019
(Reuters) – A lawyer for New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Friday asked a Florida judge not to make public a video that led to the billionaire being charged in a prostitution sting at a massage parlor, calling the evidence “basically pornography.”
Media companies including ABC and ESPN clashed with Kraft’s defenders, saying the judge would violate Florida’s public records laws by suppressing the video of Kraft receiving sexual services at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida.
The owner of one of the National Football League’s most successful franchises and winner of this year’s Super Bowl was one of hundreds of people charged in February after an investigation unveiled widespread trafficking of young women at Florida day spas and massage parlors.
The 77-year-old billionaire businessman has pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor charges of soliciting sex and requested a jury trial in March.
William Burck, Kraft’s attorney, argued in Palm Beach County Court that surveillance footage from the spa should not be released to the media because it would violate Kraft’s privacy rights, compromise his right to a fair trial, and interfere in an active criminal investigation.
“It’s basically pornography,” Burck told Judge Leonard Hanser. “There’s no interest in actually seeing the video unless you have a prurient interest in seeing the video.”
Kraft’s attorneys filed a motion to suppress the video in March, further suggesting that police did not have a valid search warrant to collect the video as evidence.
Dana McElroy, an attorney representing the media outlets, argued that sealing the video would violate the state’s public records law.
Kraft apologized for his actions in a written statement issued last month.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday she is trying to get in touch with Rep. Ilhan Omar to discuss her latest attention-getting tweet about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that has drawn new backlash to the freshman Minnesota Democrat.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with her,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said Friday when asked about Omar’s tweet, which has attracted strong criticism. “We tried to reach her, she was in transit.”
Pelosi said she wants to speak to Omar about her tweet questioning then-President George W. Bush’s New York City address to rescue workers at Ground Zero, days after the worst terror attack in American history, in which he declared “The people who knocked down there towers will hear all of us soon.”
Omar tweeted “Was Bush downplaying the terrorist attack? What if he was a Muslim,” under the Bush quote delivered at Ground Zero.
The tweet quickly drew criticism and came just a day after Omar was the subject of a New York Post cover depicting the flaming twin towers and the lawmaker’s comments before a Muslim advocacy group that “some people did something,” on Sept. 11, 2001. The commentwas widely seen as downplaying the significant and horror of a tragedy that claimed nearly 3,000 lives. Omar claimed in the aftermoth of 9/11 Muslim civil liberties had suffered.
Pelosi has yet to comment on Omar’s recent comments and tweets, but plans to respond at some point, she said.
“As is my custom with my colleagues, I call them in before I call them out,” Pelosi said. “I’ll have some comment after I do speak to her.”
A back-and-forth over Twitter about whether Rep. Ilhan Omar had downplayed the significance and horror of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks sparked debate on Capitol Hill this week.
On Friday, she suggested that President George W. Bush would have faced more scrutiny for his comments in the aftermath of the attacks if he were Muslim.
“Was Bush downplaying the terrorist attack?” Omar asked in a tweet sharing an article to the Washington Post. “What if he was a Muslim?”
The Post story included a fact check on Omar’s remarks and said they were reminiscent of President George W. Bush’s “bullhorn speech.”
“The people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” Omar said, quoting Bush’s speech.
A video surfaced over the weekend showing Omar referring to the 9/11 hijackers as “some people who did something.”
That speech was met with instant criticism from Republicans and conservative media.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, condemned Omar for trivializing the deadliest terror attack in American history.
“You described an act of terrorism on American soil that killed thousands of innocent lives as ‘some people did something,’” Crenshaw said of Omar in a tweet. “It’s still unbelievable, as is your response here.”
1. I never called you un-American.
2. I did not incite any violence against you.
3. You described an act of terrorism on American soil that killed thousands of innocent lives as “some people did something.”
It’s still unbelievable, as is your response here. https://t.co/SsfWYepOS1
— Dan Crenshaw (@DanCrenshawTX) April 10, 2019
The right-leaning New York Post published a dramatic front page Thursday with the screaming headline “ Here’s your something.”
Former FBI Investigator and now CNN Legal Analyst James Gagliano called Omar’s tweet a “false equivalence”
“President Bush made this statement days after World Trade Center was reduced to rubble, as he stood atop the smoking pile. I was there,” Gagliano said. “We, in FBI, were working to determine involvement in conspiracy, following evidence.”
Omar and other Democratic freshman lawmakers have said that criticizing her for speaking about her experiences as a Muslim American puts her in danger.
Authorities charged a New York man last week with threatening to assassinate Omar.
“I’m not going to quote the NY Post’s horrifying, hateful cover,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. “She‘s done more for 9/11 families than the GOP who won’t even support healthcare for 1st responders- yet are happy to weaponize her faith.”
FILE PHOTO: Tesla CEO Elon Musk leaves Manhattan federal court after a hearing on his fraud settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in New York City, U.S., April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
April 12, 2019
By Lawrence Delevingne
NEW YORK (Reuters) – David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital renewed criticism of Elon Musk and his Tesla Inc, saying the electric car company again appeared to be on the “brink” of failure, according to a letter sent to clients of the hedge fund on Friday.
The letter cited a lack of demand, “desperate” price cuts, layoffs, “closing-and-then-not-closing” stores, closing service centers, slashing capital expenditures, rushed product announcements and “a new effort to distract investors from the demand problem with hyperbole over TSLA’s autonomous driving capabilities.”
“We believe that right here, right now, the company appears to again be on the brink,” the letter said. Greenlight is short Tesla stock, recently a profitable bet.
Tesla did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Greenlight said its funds gained 11 percent over the first three months of 2019, slightly below the gain of the S&P 500 Index. Despite the gains so far this year, “it continued to be a challenging environment for our investment style with growth stocks performing much better than value stocks,” the letter said. “In the context of this headwind and a sizable short portfolio, we are pleased with the quarterly result.”
Greenlight noted that last summer, Musk promised Tesla would be profitable and cash flow positive in every quarter going forward. “He repeated that forecast as recently as the end of January,” Greenlight pointed out. “That promise has failed to materialize. The question at hand is: in a few months will Musk be again bragging that he saved the company from the brink of failure, or will TSLA in fact fail this time?”
Greenlight Capital and its founder Einhorn first rose to prominence for making a prescient call on Lehman Brothers’ accounting troubles before the firm’s collapse. Late last year, Greenlight compared Tesla to Lehman.
(Reporting by Jennifer Ablan and Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Susan Thomas)
Outrage by liberals and Democrats over Attorney General William Barr noting that “spying did occur” on the 2016 Trump campaign is a sorry example of moving the goal posts. Last year, the active debate was not over whether spying occurred — which it did by a reasonable use of the word — but whether it was justified. Barr was careful not to weigh in on that debate. Yet Democrats, spurred on by their liberal base and supported by the media, have been out to portray Barr’s statement as some sort of shocking betrayal of his role as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
“Perpetuating conspiracy theories is beneath the office of the Attorney General,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., fumed in calling for Barr to retract his statement. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Barr’s statement, “strikes another destructive blow to our democratic institutions.”
Yet last year, it wasn’t being disputed that among other things, that the FBI conducted surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign official, that included wiretapping after obtaining a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant. In a 2018 memo by none other than Schiff, minority Democrats on the intelligence committee argued, “DOJ and FBI would have been remiss in their duty to protect the country had they not sought a FISA warrant and repeated renewals to conduct temporary surveillance of Carter Page, someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government.”
At the time, Republicans had been arguing that the FBI launched the investigation into Russian interference on the basis of a dossier that was based on research funded by the DNC and Clinton campaign. Democrats were arguing that “Christopher Steele’s raw intelligence reporting did not inform the FBI’s decision to initiate its counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016.” Instead, they argued that it began with information the FBI received that Russians were wooing a different Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos.
Outside Congress, the debate also focused on whether there was “probable cause” for the FISA warrant, which those pushing back against Trump and Republicans argued that there was.
“Commentators like National Review’s Andrew McCarthy try to discredit the Mueller investigation by sliming the process to spy on a former Trump advisor,” argued an op-ed from the liberal Brennan Center for Justice. “Here’s why they’re wrong.”
So, the issue they were taking with conservative McCarthy was that he was attacking “the process” that was used “to spy on a former Trump advisor” — rather than arguing about whether the spying occurred.
Indeed, the article itself is a case that the FISA warrant was totally justified.
“Now that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application for an order to surveil former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page has been released in heavily redacted form, the attacks on the FBI’s application have been predictably loud yet incorrect,” the op-ed read. “They miss the critical question related to such an application: Was there probable cause to believe that Page was an agent of a foreign power?”
So, the “critical question” concerned not whether there was surveillance, but whether there was probable cause, to which the Brennan Center argued, “the unredacted portions easily meet this probable cause standard and support the FISA court’s multiple orders.”
The surveillance and wiretapping was thus indisputable, as was the fact that it allowed investigators to go back to when Page did work on the Trump campaign. It also doesn’t even get into the fact that, according to the New York Times, “Agents involved in the Russia investigation asked [Stefan] Halper, an American academic who teaches in Britain, to gather information on Mr. Page and George Papadopoulos, another Trump campaign foreign policy adviser.”
This is all perfectly consistent with what Barr said.
“I think spying did occur. But the question is whether it was predicated — adequately predicated,” Barr testified before Congress. “I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that. I think it’s my obligation. Congress is usually very concerned about intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies staying in their proper lane.”
The only part he’s stating unequivocally is that there was spying. He is not making a claim that the FISA warrant was illegally obtained on the basis of a Clinton-funded discredited dossier. He just said it was worthy of looking into to make sure the process was proper.
So then the only real argument is if Barr was wrong to use the word “spying” rather than saying “surveillance did occur” or “wiretapping did occur.”
But, even if people want to litigate this issue, it should be seen as a reasonable use of the word. My colleague Byron York noted several examples of the New York Times describing wiretapping as spying.
After the House voted to reauthorize FISA last year, the Brennan Center issued a press release headlined, “U.S. House Votes to Authorize Warrantless Domestic Spying on Americans.” The bill, it warned, would “endorse warrantless searches of millions of Americans’ online and phone communications.” The release quoted co-director of the Brennan Center, Elizabeth Goitein, as saying, “The House just voted to turn the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act into a tool for domestic spying on Americans.”
This isn’t to say it’s hypocritical, as in this case, the discussion was about allowing warrantless access, whereas in the previous case, the argument was that there was probable cause for a warrant. But again, a debate over whether a warrant is justified on the basis of probable cause is different than whether the underlying government activity can be described as spying. It’s reasonable to argue that yes it can.
Does Vice President Mike Pence care about your sexuality? And will the Left and the media ever get over it if the answer is no?
During a speech a few days ago to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said “If me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade. And that’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand. That if you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me — your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”
Buttigieg was lauded for really taking the argument to Pence.
The comments were made in response to Pence’s recent comments … oh, that’s right, there were no Pence comments. In fact, the two seemed to have a very pleasant relationship while both served the people of Indiana, Buttigieg as mayor of South Bend and Pence as governor.
The Daily Caller points out that “In 2014, for example, Pence called Buttigieg on the day of his deployment to Afghanistan — USA Today described Pence as “noticeably moved” during the call. Pence responded with support in 2015 when he heard Buttigieg had come out as gay, asserting, “I hold Mayor Buttigieg in the highest personal regard. I see him as a dedicated public servant and a patriot.”
Buttigieg’s answer to an argument Mike Pence didn’t make is a good one. But if you have to build up straw-men with which to argue, perhaps it’s because Mike Pence isn’t the guy you think he is.
There so much common wisdom about Mike Pence that has so little basis in reality. At the top of that list is that “Mike Pence believes in gay conversion therapy.” But there is no evidence that Pence supports or has ever supported the odious practice, which purports to “electro-shock” away the gay.
The Snopes website states “Pence never stated that he supported the use of electric shocks or ‘gay conversion therapy.'” The rumor is based on a clause Pence wanted added to a AIDS funding bill which read, “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” That can mean institutions that promote safer sex, that can mean institutions that work against promiscuity. That people took that line and decided it meant “gay conversion therapy” is, frankly, insane. That this idea continues to go unchallenged is a failure of our media.
When Joe Biden got in trouble a few weeks ago for calling Pence “a decent guy,” actress Cynthia Nixon took to Twitter to call Pence “America’s most anti-LGBT elected leader.” She didn’t explain what made him so LGBT and no one called her on it. Instead, Biden apologized for complimenting Pence.
The obsession over gayness isn’t Pence’s, it belongs to his critics.
Last year, “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver put out a book A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, a parody of the children’s book Marlon Bundo’s A Day in the Life of the Vice President, written by Pence’s wife and daughter. In the Oliver book, the bunny is, wait for it, gay. How daring. The book, of course, got fawning write-ups in places like the New York Times.
Last month, the media was obsessed with the Irish prime minister bringing his boyfriend to meet Pence. Article after article chronicled Pence’s reaction, which was to treat the prime minister and his boyfriend exactly as he treats anyone else.
In January, sites got their clicks by urging you to “Watch Mike Pence swear in the first openly bisexual Senator, Kyrsten Sinema.” If you watched you’d find that the vice president swore her in without incident or any marked discomfort.
And in 2018, the media wanted you to know that “Pence swears in Trump’s most prominent openly gay official” at the ceremony for Richard Grenell, U.S. ambassador to Germany.
Pence either has the world’s best poker face or else he doesn’t actually have an issue with gay people. In fact, one of Pence’s very few tweets mentioning the word “gay” is one where he notes “If I saw a restaurant owner refuse to serve a gay couple, I wouldn’t eat there anymore.” He simply doesn’t live up to his caricature.
Pence is a private person. He’s not a tweeting machine like President Trump. This lets people project their intense anti-administration feelings onto him. The problem is that these people never get any pushback from the media, who only claim to care deeply about facts. The facts have shown Mike Pence not to be the homophobe his foes imagine him to be.
Karol Markowicz is a columnist for the New York Post.
Democrats in the New York state Assembly recently voted down a bill that would have allowed hundreds of thousands of dollars in college tuition aid to family members of Gold Star families after passing a measure earlier last week to give $27 million in the same benefits to illegal immigrants.
“We set aside $27 million dollars for college for people that are here illegally … Apparently, $2.7 million is all that the families of soldiers who are killed, get. If you’re a child of a fallen soldier, you do not rank as high and you know that by the money,” said State Sen. Robert Ortt, a Republican from Niagara, on Thursday.
The bill proposed would have expanded a program that currently serves 145 students, who are relatives or dependents of military members served in combat zones. The bill would have expanded the program by allocating more funds for those military families that qualify.
Gov, Andrew Cuomo weighed in Wednesday saying he supported the bill his fellow Democrats blocked in the Assembly in a 15-11 committee vote.
Assemblywoman Debroah Glick, a Democrat from Manhattan, responded to Cuomo’s criticism Friday.
“Wonder of the Gov is aware of the existing program providing up to $24K a year to cover tuition, room & board & ancillary costs for the spouse & children of veterans killed or severely disabled in combat zones,” she said.
Wonder of the Gov is aware of the existing program providing up to $24K a year to cover tuition, room & board & ancillary costs for the spouse & children of veterans killed or severely disabled in combat zones.
— (((Deborah Glick))) (@DeborahJGlick) April 12, 2019
A spokesperson for the Assembly Democrats, Mike Whyland, said the vote led by Republicans was “purely political and it’s unfortunate that they are using children as pawns.”
Bill Priestap, left, with Michael Horowitz, DoJ inspector general.
By Eric Felten, RealClearInvestigations
April 12, 2019
Attorney General William Barr shocked official Washington Wednesday by saying what previously couldn’t be said: That the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign in 2016 involved “spying.”
The spying, which Barr vowed to investigate, is not the only significant possible violation of investigative rules and ethics committed by agents, lawyers, managers, and officials at the FBI and the Department of Justice. A catalogue of those abuses can be found in recently released testimony that Edward William Priestap provided to Congress in a closed-door interview last summer. From the end of 2015 to the end of 2018 Bill Priestap was assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, which meant he oversaw the FBI’s global counterintelligence efforts.
In that role, he managed both of the bureau’s most politically sensitive investigations: the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information and the probe into whether Donald Trump or his campaign conspired with Russia to steal the 2016 presidential election. His testimony provides rare insight into the attitudes and thoughts of officials who launched the Russia probe and the probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose final report is expected to be released very soon.
More important, his testimony contains extensive indications of wrongdoing, including that the FBI and DoJ targeted Trump and did so with information it made no effort to verify. It paints a portrait of the Obama-era bureau as one that was unconcerned with political interference in investigations and was willing to enlist the help of close foreign allies to bring down its target. And, perhaps presaging a defense to Barr’s claim that American officials had spied on the Trump campaign, it showcases the euphemisms that can be used to disguise “spying.”
Filling In the Blanks
Priestap’s testimony took place on June 5, 2018, in Room 2226 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The questioning, by congressmen and House committee staff, focused on whether the FBI had applied the same rigor to the Clinton investigation that it had to the Trump probe.
The transcript the public can read today contains not only those questions and Priestap’s responses, but also the tell-tale redactions of anxious bureaucrats. One thing that is very clear is that the Sharpie brigades at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice really, really didn’t want anyone to know where Bill Priestap was a week into May 2016.
Rep. Jim Jordan: Where in the world was Bill Priestap?
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Not long into the questioning that Tuesday morning last summer, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) asked, “Do you ever travel oversees?”
“Yes,” said Priestap.
“As little as possible.”
The seeming comedy routine notwithstanding, Jordan later asked how many times in his 2½ years running the counter-intelligence shop Priestap had traveled abroad.
“I want to say three times,” he said.
“And can you tell me where you went?” Jordan asked.
“The ones I’m remembering are the [REDACTED].”
Jordan drilled in: “All three times to [REDACTED]?
Priestap said the trips he remembered “off the top of my head were all [REDACTED].”
Jordan asked whether Priestap remembered when he went to this place. Priestap said “No.”
Jordan was back at it in later rounds of questioning, asking whether Priestap had traveled to a given location at a given time in 2016. Over and again, censors from the FBI and DoJ have redacted the location and the time.
What could this exotic destination be? How is the timing of Priestap’s trip there a matter of national security? What secrets were the redactors trying to protect?
Peter Strzok: “Bill” was in London.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Turns out the Sharpie brigades weren’t nearly as thorough as they thought. A long-available transcript of text messages between FBI agent Strzok and lawyer Page – the paramours who worked on both the Clinton and Trump investigations – provide the answer. It’s right there on the page detailing texts between Strzok and Page on May 4, 2016. At around 9:31 that Wednesday evening, Strzok writes to say he is worried about getting a memo into shape that is expected that night or the next morning. He feels pressured even though “I don’t know that Bill will read it before he gets back from London next week.” Go to a text from the next Monday morning, May 9, and Strzok is wondering who will be receiving the daily report on the Clinton investigation, what “with Bill out.”
So there we have it. Bill Priestap was in London on or around May 9. Which strongly suggests that all three of the international trips taken by him during his tenure as FBI counterintelligence chief were to London.
Still, there is a reason the censors had out their Sharpies. It has to do with another question Jordan asked Priestap: “Okay. So what were you doing in [REDACTED] in the [REDACTED] of 2016?”
“So,” Priestap replied, “I went to meet with a foreign partner, foreign government partner.” In other words, almost certainly British intelligence. Not exposing our British partners has been the Justice Department’s justification for locking up secrets about the beginnings of the Trump investigation. The redactions try and fail to hide that Priestap met repeatedly with his British counterparts in 2016.
Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos was also in London. So was the FBI, around the same time.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File
Students of the Russia-collusion saga will recall that some of the earliest and most significant events cited as leading to the FBI’s investigation of Team Trump took place in a certain REDACTED country during a REDACTED season in 2016. It was over breakfast on April 26 in London that the mysterious Maltese professor, Joseph Mifsud, told young Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Five days later, on May 1, Papadopoulos had drinks with Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in a London bar where he shared this piece of gossip/intel. And, of course, London is home to the author of the anti-Trump “dossier,” Christopher Steele.
According to the official story laid out in the New York Times, Australian officials did not pass on this new information for two months. And while Steele was retained by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS in the spring to dig up dirt on Trump for the Clinton campaign, the official story is that he did not start working with U.S. officials until the summer.
And so it is more than passingly curious that Priestap kept going to London when these significant events were occurring. Jordan asked Priestap about his second trip there: “What did it have to do with?”
Priestap demurred: “I’m not at liberty to discuss that today.”
After some dodging and weaving, Jordan came back to the question, but this time with an uncomfortable specificity: “Was your second trip then concerning the Trump-Russia investigation?” he asked.
“Sir, again, I’m just not at liberty to go into the purpose of my second trip.”
Priestap could have answered “no” without perjuring himself, he could have quickly put this matter to bed. His “I’m not at liberty” answers strongly suggest that the Trump-Russia investigation was exactly what his second trip to London was about.
Attorney General Barr’s statement that “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign makes another part of Priestap’s testimony – about why an FBI asset in London named Stefan Halper reached out to Papadopoulos and to another Trump foreign policy adviser, Carter Page — even more significant.
Stefan Halper: also in London.
Weeks before Priestap’s testimony was taken last summer, the efforts of Halper, an American scholar who works in Britain, had been exposed. Republicans had been spluttering with outrage that the FBI would deploy a spy against an American presidential campaign. Democrats had been countering that while the bureau used informants, only the ignorant and uninitiated would call them spies.
Democratic staff counsel Valerie Shen tried to use her questioning of Priestap to put the spying issue to bed. “Does the FBI use spies?” she asked the assistant director for counterintelligence (who would be in a position to know).
“What do you mean?” Priestap responded. “I guess, what is your definition of a spy?”
“Good question,” said Shen. “What is your definition of a spy?”
Before Priestap answered, his lawyer, Mitch Ettinger, intervened. “Just one second,” he said. Then Ettinger – who was one of President Bill Clinton’s attorneys during the Paula Jones/Monica Lewinsky scandal – conferred with his client.
Back on the record, Priestap presented what smacks of pre-approved testimony: “I’ve not heard of nor have I referred to FBI personnel or the people we engage with as – meaning who are working in assistance to us – as spies. We do evidence and intelligence collection in furtherance of our investigations.”
Shen was happy with the answer, and so she asked Priestap to confirm it: “So in your experience the FBI doesn’t use the term ‘spy’ in any of its investigative techniques?” Priestap assured her the word is never spoken by law-enforcement professionals – except, he said (wandering dangerously off-script), when referring to “foreign spies.”
“But in terms of one of its own techniques,” Shen said, determined to get Priestap back on track, “the FBI does not refer to one of its own techniques as spying?”
“That is correct, yes.”
“With that definition in mind, would the FBI internally ever describe themselves as spying on American citizens?”
So there we have it with all the decisive logic of a Socratic dialogue: The FBI could not possibly have spied on the Trump campaign because bureau lingo includes neither the noun “spy” nor the verb “to spy.” Whatever informants may have been employed, whatever tools of surveillance may have been utilized, the FBI did not spy on the Trump campaign – didn’t spy by definition, as the bureau doesn’t use the term (except, of course, to describe the very same activities when undertaken by foreigners).
What’s telling about this line of questioning is that it inadvertently confirms Republican suspicions — and Attorney General Barr’s assertion. If House Democrats believed there had been no spying on the Trump campaign, they could have asked Priestap whether the FBI ever spies on Americans, given the common meaning of the verb “to spy.” They could have flat-out asked whether the FBI had spied on Trump World. Instead, Democratic counsel asked whether, given the FBI’s definition of spying, the bureau would “internally ever describe themselves as spying on American citizens.” It would seem that Democrats were every bit as convinced as Republicans that the FBI spied on Trump’s people.
Interpreting ‘Political Interference’
Democratic lawyer Shen also seemed to be engaged in damage control when she asked Priestap whether “political interference in the Department of Justice or FBI investigation [is] ever proper?”
Surprisingly, Priestap said it was: “In my opinion, I can imagine situations where it would be proper.” He explained that the political appointees in an administration might determine “that the national security interests of the country outweigh the law enforcement/prosecutive interest of the FBI and Department of Justice.”
Shen then appeared to push him to clean up his answer, suggesting that what Priestap was describing wasn’t “a political determination” but “a policy interpretation balancing national security and law enforcement.”
“Yeah. I guess,” Priestap said. “And maybe I misunderstood your question.” Then what does he do but repeat his belief that political appointees — and “by political, I could imagine, for example, the National Security Council” — might act on the notion that national security outweighs other considerations.”
“Right. Yeah. Right,” Shen said. “Let me rephrase.” She explained she wasn’t asking about decisions political officials make, but rather, decisions officials make for political reasons. Then came the rephrased question: “Is interference in a Department of Justice or FBI investigation ever proper when motivated by purely political considerations?” [Emphasis added]
“Not in my opinion,” responded Priestap.
What Shen was laboring to establish was that the only sort of investigative behavior that could be called political interference was when someone at DoJ or FBI acted out of “purely political considerations.” That’s a standard that leaves plenty of room for politics.
But does it leave room enough for the “dossier”? The political abuse foremost in Republican minds was, and remains, that collection of howlers and hearsay allegedly compiled by Christopher Steele, who was sold to the public as a high-minded former British spy instead of a man being paid by the Clinton campaign to dirty up Trump. Steele’s efforts were lapped up by the FBI and DoJ even though the lawmen knew Steele was peddling political work-product — opposition research paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Carter Page: Was he the real quarry, or was Donald Trump?
In particular, Republicans have charged that Steele’s dossier was presented to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court without full disclosure of its partisan origins, thus perpetrating a fraud on the FISA court. The accusation was formalized in May 2018, when Republicans demanded the appointment of a second special counsel because, they claimed, “the FBI and DOJ used politically biased, unverified sources to obtain warrants issued by the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISA Court) that aided in the surveillance of U.S. citizens, including Carter Page.”
Shen, the House Oversight Committee minority counsel, brushed that accusation aside with what appeared to be an unambiguous and definitive question: “Mr. Priestap,” she asked, “are you aware of any instances of the FBI and DOJ ever using politically biased, unverified sources in order to obtain a FISA warrant?”
Priestap gave the most unambiguous and definitive of answers: “No.” One might be tempted to think that was an endorsement of the dossier, a confirmation that the FISA warrant applications were largely based on information that was neither politically biased nor unverified. But that would be taking the question and the answer on face value, when something rather less straightforward was going on.
Shen followed with another broad, all-encompassing question about the propriety of the FBI and DoJ’s behavior: “Are you aware,” she asked Priestap, “of any instances where the FBI or DOJ did not present what constituted credible and sufficient evidence to justify a FISA warrant?”
Priestap’s response is a textbook case of circular logic: “If it’s not justified, the court doesn’t approve it. So, like, if we’re not meeting the standard required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the requests are turned down.”
“So, in other words,” said the Democratic counsel, “by definition, if you presented information and a FISA court approved it, that would constitute credible sufficient information?”
“In my opinion,” said Priestap, “yes.”
Sit back and savor that exchange for a moment. One of the most senior officials in the Federal Bureau of Investigation – an organization that regularly refers for prosecution people who don’t tell the full truth – champions this peculiar standard of credibility: If you can snooker a FISA court judge, the information used to traduce the court is rendered by definition “credible sufficient information.” What is the condition of the FBI if its leaders think whatever you can get past a judge is good enough?
This strange concept of legal alchemy aside, the question remains whether the dossier was used merely as a vehicle to get information on Carter Page, or whether the real quarry was Donald Trump himself. As before, Shen was unintentionally helpful at winkling inadvertent truths out of her cooperative witness. It started with the softest of softballs: “Are you aware of any FBI investigations motivated by political bias?”
“I am not.”
“Are you aware of any Justice Department investigations motivated by political bias?”
And a little later: “Are you aware of any actions ever taken to damage the Trump campaign at the highest levels of the Department of Justice or the FBI?”
And there Shen might have left it, having elicited basic denials that the FBI and Justice had abused their power. But then she pushed her luck, asking a question that wasn’t worded quite carefully enough: “Are you aware of any actions ever taken to personally target Donald Trump at the highest levels of the Department of Justice or the FBI?”
Priestap must have pulled quite the face because Shen immediately declared, “I’ll rephrase.” Here’s how she tried it the second time: “Are you aware of any actions ever taken against Donald Trump at the highest levels of the Department of Justice or the FBI?”
Before Priestap can answer, his lawyer, Mitch Ettinger, interjected: “I think you need to rephrase your question.”
At which point Shen’s Democratic colleague Janet Kim jumped in to help: “Are you aware of any actions ever taken against Donald Trump at the highest levels of the Department of Justice or the FBI for the purpose of politically undercutting him?”
At last, Priestap was able to say, “No.”
That long road to “no” strong suggests that the highest levels of Justice and the FBI personally targeted Trump and took action against him. The only caveat is that Priestap believes none of that targeted action was done to undercut Trump politically. That may be so (however much the savvy observer may think otherwise). But it doesn’t blunt the main takeaway — that the bureau and DoJ targeted Trump.
So what did we learn from Bill Priestap’s compendious and revealing testimony?
- We learned that the FBI and Justice targeted and took action against Trump.
- We learned that the FBI, according to Priestap, is incapable of securing a FISA warrant with information that isn’t credible, although the judge’s approval of the warrant means by definition that the information is credible.
- We learned that the FBI believes political interference in an investigation can be proper as long as the bureau isn’t acting purely politically.
- We learned that the FBI did send at least one asset to do to the Trump campaign an activity that even the bureau would call “spying” — if it were done by foreign operatives.
- We learned that the origins of the Trump-Russia tale will never be fully understood until the part played by British intelligence is made clear.
That’s an awful lot to take away from one largely neglected transcript. But it suggests just how much remains unknown about the Trump-Russia investigation while providing a glimpse at the people that want to keep it that way.
Source: Real Clear Politics