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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Every scandal in Washington evokes the specter of Watergate, the infamous moment in history that brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon. But our nation may be facing an even more calamitous constitutional crisis now.
Last Thursday, FBI Director Christopher Wray was on Capitol Hill, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. At that meeting, Republican committee members cast doubt on and tried to discredit the FBI and the Justice Department’s work with regard to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mueller is still investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
FBI’s Investigation in Doubt
Questioning the integrity of FBI investigation came to light earlier last week. Peter Strzok, a high-ranking FBI agent on Mueller’s team, sent anti-Trump texts to fellow FBI employee Lisa Page, who was also the lead counsel in the Special Counsel’s office. Strzok was reassigned after the text messages were discovered.
Strzok was an investigator in the Hillary Clinton email probe and was one of the agents who interviewed her. Strzok also worked with then-FBI Director James Comey to change the letter exonerating Clinton’s behavior from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless.”
In Wray’s five-hour testimony, he defended his agency while not giving out much information. Instead, Wray repeatedly said that the FBI Inspector General was reviewing all investigations into whether any FBI investigators had improperly allowed their personal political opinions to affect the Clinton investigation. If there were any improprieties, Wray said, he would re-evaluate the investigations.
Wray deflected all questions about Strzok’s involvement in the investigations. He said that the FBI’s Inspector General’s findings would be released sometime next month.
Constitutional Implications of Wray’s Testimony
Two issues that have constitutional implications arose from Wray’s testimony. The first involves what Democratic lawmakers have insisted since the election – that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Since last year, the American public has been told that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer systems and gave the information to WikiLeaks. Crowdstrike, a California cybersecurity company hired by the DNC, corroborated this information.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has insisted that he never received any such information from Russia. The DNC refused assistance from the FBI to look into the breach of its computer servers.
But why would the FBI rely on a third party that had been paid by a political party? Why would the FBI accept Crowdstrike’s findings without the Bureau ever having reviewed the servers?
Did Russia Interfere in the 2016 Election?
To date, we still don’t know for certain whether or not Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. However, we do know that Russian agents used Facebook and other social media to sway American voters away from Clinton and toward Trump.
Mueller has been investigating Russian collusion, but as far as we know, he has found no evidence that Trump campaign personnel were involved. However, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his business associate, Rick Gates, have been indicted for alleged illegal financial activities unrelated to the 2016 presidential election.
The other issue of the Special Counsel’s investigation is that Trump’s former National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI about his meetings with Russian government officials after the election. The 200-year-old Logan Act prohibits private citizens from engaging in foreign policy activities.
What Was Strzok’s Role in Various FBI Investigations?
Many questions remain. For example, what was Strzok’s reason for changing the wording in the exoneration letter from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless” months before he interviewed Clinton? If he already was convinced that she would not be charged for her careless handling of classified material, what was the purpose of his interviewing Clinton?
Why was Strzok’s investigation of Clinton handled differently than how he dealt with Flynn? Strzok also interviewed Clinton aides Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills regarding the unsecured server she used while she was Secretary of State. Both Abedin and Mills told the FBI they knew nothing of the server.
But, according to the Daily Caller, both women did have prior knowledge of the emails. So why did the FBI prosecute Flynn for lying, but not Abedin and Mills?
What was Strzok’s role in the now infamously discredited “Russian Dossier” that might have been used as the excuse to gain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to conduct surveillance on Carter Page? Page was a foreign policy advisor to President Trump during the campaign.
That issue was brought up during Wray’s testimony, when Republican Rep. Jim Jordan (OH) told the FBI Director. “I think Peter Strzok, Mr. Super Agent at the FBI, I think he is the guy that took the application to the FISA court.”
How Was the Russian Dossier Used?
We still do not know for certain if the FBI used the discredited dossier as evidence for the FISA court to issue a warrant to conduct surveillance on Americans. The dossier was paid for by the DNC and the Clinton campaign.
If this dossier story was proved to be accurate, could this be a constitutional violation of Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures? That might turn the Justice Department and FBI into a partisan entity.
An additional element with constitutional implications is what role did U.S. intelligence agencies play in the Russian dossier? Former FBI Director James Comey admitted under oath that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asked him to brief President-elect Trump on the dossier. CNN later reported the meeting. It’s possible that the Obama administration and the intelligence agencies played a role in leaking the meeting.
Perhaps the leak was retribution against Trump for calling out the intelligence agencies at the beginning of the year. Whether or not the U.S. now faces a constitutional crisis remains to be revealed by future events.
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