Justice Department Watchdog Crushes Trumpworld’s Deep State Dreams

We were told Russia was a hoax, the president was persecuted by Obama, and the real traitors would be locked up. So much for all that.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

FFor months, President Trump and his allies have been salivating over a report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, outlining what they expected would be a tale worthy of a John le Carré novel. Taking a cue from Trump, Fox News and a constellation of right-wing media have promised us that the report would reveal the smoking guns in the deep state’s plot to destroy the president. The report, a product of Trump’s insistence that his servile Department of Justice investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, would unleash the hounds of hell on the Democrats, the Obama administration, and the intelligence community.

Well, the report has finally been released, and the results are underwhelming, to put it mildly. Burn this phrase, lifted directly from the report, into your mind: “No evidence political bias influenced the decision to open the Russia probe.”

As has happened time and again, Trump’s ludicrously overwrought promise — that this was to be a tentpole of his ongoing (and entirely imaginary) war against the deep state — was followed by an utterly underwhelming outcome.

The vast enterprise of formerly conservative media outlets now dedicated to trafficking in baroque QAnon-adjacent conspiracy theories in defense of Trump will try their best to polish this turd into a diamond. The chances are slim, however, that they’ll be able to convince even their own audience of credulous Trump rubes and conspiracy nuts that this report means all that much.

Like a fart in a hurricane, the Horowitz report will soon be lost in the roiling chaos of a Washington, D.C., in the midst of serial and parallel crises all caused by the hand of Donald Trump. The Ukraine scandal has exploded into a full-fledged emergency as witness after witness confirms Trump extorted a political hit job on his domestic rivals from a foreign power. Republican elected officials are now effectively mouthpieces of the Kremlin, repeating word for word talking points written by Vladimir Putin’s propagandists. To top it all off, poll numbers show rising support for not just the impeachment of Donald Trump, but for his removal from office.

The lamentations, wailing, and rending of garments on the part of Trump’s most eager media toadies should be a glory to behold. They committed two vital errors in making this report central to their defense strategy.

First, they oversold the hell out of it.

We were promised an earthshaking, absolutely cataclysmic political bomb that would destroy the deep state forever and trace a line of political malfeasance from the bowels of the intelligence community right to Barack Obama’s desk. The QAnon set promised arrests, prosecutions, and proof of widespread conspiracy to destroy Trump’s campaign. From Breitbart News to its gentry cousins at the Federalist to a scabrous host of other sites, Horowitz was a god-tier final boss against the deep state.

We were promised a shocking set of revelations that would shatter the abuse of the FISA process and prove, once and for all, that Trump’s innocent, clean, totally aboveboard campaign of professional and dedicated patriots who would never, ever even contemplate any kind of contact with Russian spies, mobsters, and oligarchs. We would finally learn the truth about the informants and sources the FBI placed inside the campaign. (Spoiler: There weren’t any.)

For two years, we were told that Trump foreign policy aide Carter Page, campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and bestie General Mike Flynn were as clean as the driven snow, mere targets of a monstrous, out-of-control conspiracy directed from the Oval Office.

Wait, we were told. It’s coming. Trust Horowitz. Trust William Barr.

Far from being a sweeping attack on their entire Trump-Russia investigation, Trump fluffers will be disappointed to find that the Carter Page FISA operation was — wait for it — entirely justified.

FISA abuse — a term most often used by people with exactly zero familiarity with or even knowledge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court — seems to be almost entirely a fiction generated by the lavish, paranoid fantasies of the Trump gang. The phony “FISA abuse” trope is the central pillar on which so many of their denials rest.

One of the most common claims of Trump’s “FISA abuse” screech squad is that the famed Steele dossier was the origin point of the investigation. The Horowitz report puts to bed that spurious claim.

It wasn’t Obama. It wasn’t a DOJ or FBI cabal of secret liberals out to destroy Trump. It was U.S. ally Australia blowing in a warning that someone was dangling Hillary Clinton’s emails to Papadopoulos in London.

Trump fluffers will be disappointed to find that the Carter Page FISA operation was — wait for it — entirely justified.

While the report scolds Peter Strozk and Lisa Page for their text-message exchanges, it doesn’t find that their dislike of Trump had any material effect on the investigation. This finding puts the lie to Trump — and his defenders’ — assertions that they were the point persons in a conspiracy against him: “In this review, we found that, while Lisa Page attended some of the discussions regarding the opening of the investigations, she did not play a role in the decision to open Crossfire Hurricane or the four individual cases. We further found that while Strzok was directly involved in the decisions to open Crossfire Hurricane and the four individual cases, he was not the sole, or even the highest-level, decision maker as to any of those matters.”

Oopsie.

Worse for Trump’s narrative, the misconduct was overshadowed entirely by the crucial determinations that the FISA applications for the surveillance of Page were proper and that the renewals of the surveillance warrants were justified. (Horowitz did find 17 “significant errors or omissions” in the application process for Page’s warrants. But — more importantly — no evidence that “political bias or improper motivation” was opening the investigation.) Page wasn’t a target because he was a member of Trump’s campaign; he was a target because he kept popping up in the company of Russian intelligence officers.

This was happening, of course, as the rest of the U.S. intelligence community was sounding the alarm over a sweeping Russian information warfare and propaganda campaign directed at the 2016 election—and in favor of one candidate: Donald Trump.

While those red flags (or red banners, if you’ll pardon a Soviet-era joke) also extended to Trump aides, allies, friends, and Trump himself, the report also detonates another Trump lie: that the FISA coverage was broadly targeting his entire senior campaign staff. Mike Flynn’s move from Defense Intelligence Agency director to Putin dinner guest just may have been a legitimate cause for concern. Paul Manafort’s longtime role as oligarch fluffer for pro-Kremlin forces just might have been a reason to raise alarms. George Papadopolous might have been the loosest of cannons. But in all those cases, despite Trump’s many claims, the IG reports that none of them were under FISA warrants.

“FBI and [National Security Division] officials told us that the Crossfire Hurricane team ultimately did not seek FISA surveillance of Papadopoulos, and we are aware of no information indicating that the team requested or seriously considered FISA surveillance of Manafort or Flynn,” the report reads.

For some time, the report has been in the hands of Attorney General Bill Barr, who could weaponize a grocery list for Donald Trump, and still, there’s no sign that Team Trump is holding more than a pair of twos. If Bill Barr can’t turn this chicken shit into chicken salad, no one can. It comes as no surprise to read Barr’s spin of the report — spin that, as expected, reflects a Trumpian distortion of the facts: “The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,” he said.

Formerly conservative publications now dedicated in varying degrees to serving Trump and trafficking in lurid conspiracy nonsense spent a year breathlessly awaiting this nothingburger. They expected it would be laden with a heavy cargo of ammunition against the hated deep state, full of smoking-gun proof that the targeting of Trump’s associates was a political hit directed from the Oval Office of a certain Kenyan Muslim socialist sleeper-agent president with a suspicious middle name.

Of course, Trump supporters are moving on to the next showstopper, made-up investigation by U.S. Attorney John Durham. That’s the real killer. Dunham will finally bring the wrongdoers to justice. Uh-huh.

The Horowitz report, far from fulfilling the fantasies of the Trump squad, fell flat, showing that the deep state wasn’t trying to do Trump in, but rather were merely doing their jobs. Trump’s attacks on the FBI officials turned out to be — like most of Trump’s attacks — lies, smears, and distractions.

The intelligence community, the FBI, the FISA courts, and the DOJ weren’t attacking Trump.

They were protecting us.

Apostate GOP Media Guy, Dad, Pilot, Hunter, Amateur Epistemologist, Cognitive Engineer. Writer.

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