Monthly Archives: February 2018

What’s Normal, What’s Abnormal

When things are normal…  Indeed, I open a lot of sentences with those words these days.  When things are normal, it’s not uncommon for there to be some conflicts between different presidential appointees, sometimes a matter of policy disagreements, other times a matter of turf wars.  It’s also not unheard of for there to be a rupture between a president and one of those appointees. But when there is such a rupture, the appointee typically resigns.  That brings me to what’s very abnormal: it’s very abnormal for the president to be openly complaining about the actions of a cabinet officer and for that cabinet officer to remain on the job.  That’s what we’re seeing now.

The gist of the famous memo by congressional Republicans is that the FBI acted improperly in its surveillance of one particular Trump associate during the campaigns (and before), Carter Page. So Jeff Sessions, attorney general and thus the FBI’s boss, is calling for an investigation.  So far so good, but what has Trump riled up is who Sessions is trusting with the investigation: the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz.  Horowitz is an Obama appointee, but the position is not political (that is, it doesn’t automatically change when there’s a new president), and was also appointed to other posts by Republican president George W. Bush.

Trump sent out a tweet calling Sessions’ actions disgraceful.

Why hasn’t Sessions resigned long ago?  What I’m about to say is not to be confused with implying that I like Jeff Sessions.  But I think he has the orientation of being a responsible public servant, and like other Trump appointees, I think he inevitably sees the management of his department as a matter of damage control, that is, making sure it has a responsible public servant running it even though there’s the polar opposite of a responsible public servant running the country.  (Quick review question: Does that mean that I like Jeff Sessions?  Quick review answer:  no sir and no ma’am.)

For a sitting president to be publicly calling his own attorney general’s actions disgraceful is extremely abnormal.  But then again, we’re talking Trump.  What’s abnormal for presidents in general is just another routine day at the office when you have Donald J. Trump for a president.

Article at, February 28, 2018

The Memo

On Friday, February 2, 2018, President Trump authorized the declassification and release of a memo drafted by Republicans in Congress criticizing the FBI for its handling of a specific aspect of the investigation of the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the election: the obtaining of a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to spy on Carter Page.  That court is where the executive branch goes to ask permission to spy on American citizens and their interactions with foreign countries and foreign nationals.  Carter Page was on Trump’s campaign team.

The point of the Republican memo is that key parts of the information that the FBI presented to the FISA court came from an operative who was on the payroll of the Hillary Clinton campaign.  From the Republicans’ point of view, this discredits the investigation itself.  From the Democrats’ point of view, the Republican memo means nothing because it selects some facts and ignores others.  The Democrats have drafted their own counter memo.  But here’s the problem: both memos draw on classified information, and therefore both memos need official approval for release.  Trump said yes to release of the Republicans’ memo; he’s saying no to release of the Democrats’ memo.

The House Select Committee on Intelligence is at the center of the Congressional investigations.  The lead author of the Republican memo is committee chairman Devin Nunes (who recused himself from the investigation itself after some interactions with the Trump team had been disclosed).  The lead author of the Democratic memo is committee ranking Democrat Adam Schiff.  While at first those two appeared to represent bipartisan cooperation, all they represent now is the total partisan split.

And both parties are playing to their ideological constituency bases.  Americans today are living in two different realities, one in which Trump is making American great again and being persecuted by those who don’t want America made great again, the other in which Trump is a crook who needs to be brought down.

And now, here are some important links.

First, the Memo itself

Article in Politico, February 1, 2018

Sharply critical commentary on the Memo by a former investigator on Politico site, February 2, 2018

Story on NPR, Friday evening, February 2, 2018

More discussion on NPR, Sunday morning, February 4, 2018

(And there’s much more.  I encourage you to look at the links in the news feed connected to this page on OpenLab, and see how one link leads to another.)

Just to amplify one point that’s been made:  The number of times that the FBI was successful in getting the warrant to spy on Carter Page renewed indicates that they were apparently getting significant information by spying on him, because that is part of what they would have had to report to the FISA court.  Thus, the point has been made that the Republican memo may work as much against Trump as for him.  However, there’s a key point that needs to be remembered: in the general population, a lot of people are going to believe what they want to believe and see what they want to see, so the conflicting interpretations of the memo and its significance will be as much a product of that as of anything real or logical.