Republican Attempts to Discredit Investigators Backfires

The new Democratic majority in the House made their intentions clear recently with this news from Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler.

But while many of us were taking note of that development, House Republicans came up with a plan to keep their supporters focused on the conspiracies they developed while in the majority over the last two years. Leading the charge is Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) who, in the past week, released transcripts of congressional testimony from Justice Department official Bruce Ohr and ex-FBI attorney Lisa Page.

Mainstream media outlets haven’t paid much attention to the transcripts because they mostly confirm what we already knew. But right-wing media is spending a lot of time spinning them into confirmation of the various conspiracy theories that have been developed about the “deep state” and its “witch hunt.”

For example, if you think that the Steele dossier was a Democratic plot dreamed up to damage Donald Trump, then Bruce Ohr testifying that he passed what he heard from Steele on to the FBI makes him complicit in the deep state witch hunt. And yet, that is exactly what the late Sen. John McCain did when he received the same information.

Right-wing reporting on the Page transcript has been even more interesting. She participated in the initial FBI probe into Russian interference and was part of the Mueller team until her texts with former FBI agent Peter Strzok were released. Republicans became obsessed with this text Strzok sent to Page:

I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.

From the Fox News report on the Page transcript, here is how she answered questions about that text.

The former FBI lawyer explained how the FBI was trying to strike a balance with the investigation into the Trump campaign—which agents called “Crossfire Hurricane.”

“So, upon the opening of the crossfire hurricane investigation, we had a number of discussions up through and including the Director regularly in which we were trying to find an answer to the question, right, which is, is there someone associated with the [Trump] campaign who is working with the Russians in order to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton,” Page said. “And given that it is August, we were very aware of the speed and sensitivity that we needed to operate under.”

Page continued that, “if the answer is this is a guy just being puffery at a meeting with other people, great, then we don’t need to worry about this, and we can all move on with our lives; if this is, in fact, the Russians have coopted an individual with, you know, maybe wittingly or unwittingly, that’s incredibly grave, and we need to know that as quickly as possible.”

Page explained that the text message reflected their “continuing check-in” as to “how quickly to operate.”

“[W]e don’t need to go at a total breakneck speed because so long as he doesn’t become President, there isn’t the same threat to national security, right,” Page explained, while saying that if Trump were not elected president, the bureau would still investigate.

“But if he becomes President, that totally changes the game because now he is the President of the United States,” Page told lawmakers. “He’s going to immediately start receiving classified briefings. He’s going to be exposed to the most sensitive secrets imaginable. And if there is somebody on his team who wittingly or unwittingly is working with the Russians, that is super serious.”

Page made clear, though, that those involved did not think Trump would beat Clinton: “So this reflects: Let’s be reasonable, let’s not, you know, throw the kitchen sink at this because he’s probably not going to be elected, and so then we don’t have quite as horrific a national security threat than if we do if he gets elected.”

Both Page and Strzok were removed from the Mueller investigation in July 2017 when their text messages came to light. During her congressional testimony, Page referred to the status of the inquiry when she left.

Page also spoke to how little information the bureau was starting with, saying the FBI “knew so little” about whether the allegations were “true or not true,” and had “a paucity of evidence because we are just starting down the path” of vetting the allegations.

She later said that all they needed was an allegation, and claimed “it is entirely common, particularly in a counterintelligence investigation, that you would only have—you would have a small amount of evidence” in launching a probe.

Senator Rand Paul (or someone from his office) apparently read that same report from Fox News and reached this conclusion:

Sean Hannity and his guests had a similar reaction.

But if you are not a Trump enabler and your mind hasn’t been infected with conspiracy theories, Page’s testimony makes perfect sense, just as Ohr’s decision to pass information on to the FBI made sense. As we’ve heard from all of the FBI officials involved, there was an awareness of the tightrope they were walking with an investigation of a presidential candidate. That had to be weighed with the gravity of a very serious security threat.

Far from demonstrating a deep state witch hunt, these transcripts confirm that FBI and Justice Department officials were doing their jobs under very challenging circumstances.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.