Common Sense Refutes Conspiracy

The House committee “has discovered serious violations of the public trust, and the American people have a right to know when officials in crucial institutions are abusing their authority for political purposes.

  • Rep. Devin Nunes


“This is far worse than Watergate. This is an abuse of surveillance and intelligence to win an election. It is a massive abuse of power, and it was all done by just a few people who think and thought they knew better than you about who should be the president of the United States. It is the biggest national scandal by far in our lifetime.”

  • Sean Hannity


          Accepting the argument that the Republican members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence promote requires one to believe that the FBI and Obama Department of Justice set a level of incompetence that would make the Buchanan administration swoon.  Their fundamental argument is that the FBI and Justice abused their authority to undermine the Trump campaign in an effort to assist the Clinton campaign.  Hannity, et al., proclaim that leadership committed a fundamental violation of the Fourth Amendment and all of this was done to assist Sec. Clinton.  The facts simply do not support the suggestion.

          Trump identified Carter Page as one of his foreign policy specialists on March 21, 2016.  The FBI, however, did not reveal at that time that it had interviewed Page in 2013, in connection with a Russian spy ring.  Certainly, the FBI did not reveal that it had interviewed Page in connection with possible Russian recruitment efforts.  That disclosure could have adversely impacted the Trump campaign.

          The FBI and Justice sought the FISA warrant in October 2016.  Of course, Page had already left the Trump campaign by that date.  Yet, neither FBI nor Justice officials thought to leak to the press of the existence of the FISA warrant.  Potentially, that disclosure would have embarrassed the campaign and suggested an even stronger link between the rumoured connection between Trump and Russia.  In short, officials within the Obama administration had multiple opportunities to leak damaging information that would directly impact the Trump campaign, yet it did not take such action.

          Instead, FBI Director Comey revealed on October 28, that the FBI had reopened its investigation into the Clinton e-mails.  On that date, Clinton had a five percent lead and Trump had only an estimate nine percent chance of winning.  Certainly, individuals have connected that disclosure with Clinton’s electoral loss in 2016.

          The track of history undermines any suggestion that the FBI and Justice Department worked in favour of the Clinton campaign.  The steps that Director Comey took, or did not take, in October 2016, had the opposite impact of what individuals now wish to argue happened then.  No evidence exists to suggest a deep state conspiracy against the Trump campaign or Donald Trump.

          The process underlying a FISA warrant defeats the existing conspiracy story.  A FISA warrant utilizes multiple sources, runs approximately 60 to 80 pages in length and, on average, ten people review the application.  The Director of the FBI and the Deputy Attorney General must sign off on the application. In drafting the application for a FISA warrant, the government must demonstrate that the individual was “knowingly engaging in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of” another nation.  The government then must present its application before a federal judge whom the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has appointed to a seven-year term on a special FISA court.  These judges, in turn, have years of experience including handling warrant applications in criminal matters.  While the potential for abuse exists, the probability of Rep. Nunes’s story is remarkably low.


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Wholly Inappropriate Questions

Rep. Gohmert has embarrassed himself several times at the expense of his Texas constituents. He denies human impact on the climate and drew an analogy between his position and the Catholic Church’s prosecution of Galileo. He has placed some of the blame of the Benghazi attack on Sen. John McCain and showed off a flow chart that remains the envy of every conspiracy theorist wearing a tin foil hat. His performance this week, however, established a new personal low as he channeled the late Sen. Joe McCarthy.

FBI Director Christopher Wray appeared before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, December 7, and the hearing must have struck him as odd. Many of the Republican members of the committee, members of the party better known for pushing law and order issues, utilized their time to attack the FBI. The challenges ranged from the actions of agent Peter Strzok on special counsel Mueller’s investigation to the need for investigations of Sec. Clinton to the FBI’s authority to conduct Section 702 surveillance.

The vast majority of these partisan attacks arise from efforts to discredit Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation. The public should expect these attacks to increase over the next few months if it appears that the investigation is getting closer to finding grounds for an indictment against Mr. Trump or members of his family. As Rep. Nadler observed to Director Wray: “I predict that these attacks on the FBI will grow louder and more brazen as the special counsel does his work and the walls close in around the president, …. Your job requires you to have the courage in these circumstances to stand up to the president.’’

Rep. Gohmert’s questions distinguished themselves during the hearing. Rep. Gohmert directly confronted the Director about the loyalty of his staff, asking about those members of the FBI with “political bias against” Mr. Trump. After opening his time with an unsubstantiated attack on Mueller’s time as the FBI Director, Rep. Gohmert’s asked Director Wray directly whether a series of individuals, each of whom he identified individually by name, had been witnessed “openly speaking against this administration.” See clip starting at 2:56. These questions pushed FBI Director Wray into a defense of individual, while challenging the underlying premise of Re. Gohmert’s questions.

As a matter of leadership, Director Wray should have told the Representative from Texas that he would not answer such questions. As a practical matter, little separates these questions from Sen. McCarthy inquiring whether certain individuals were communists. The questions improperly and without foundation sought to attack the integrity of individuals. The questions were particularly infuriating as they came from an individual of questionable intelligence and integrity who offered them solely for a political purpose.

Nothing necessitates or required the Director to answer fundamentally inane questions about the entire breadth of comments that any individual has made. Further, a negative comment about an individual who accused the FBI of “roll[ing] over,” botched the firing of Director Comey, labeled the FBI’s moral as low, stated that the FBI’s reputation is in tatters and otherwise conducts a relentless attack on law enforcement and intelligence groups not doing exactly what he desires would prompt most people to respond with something less than full enthusiasm. Disagreement with an individual or his policies does not render an individual bias, unfaithful to the laws and Constitution or unable to perform his or her job.

Rep. Gohmert owes an apology to each individual he mentioned during his inquiry.


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The Role of Elective, Representative Government

Members of the United States government have sunk to new lows in the past 48 hours. Mr. Trump utilized a racist moniker to denigrate a member of the U.S. Senate during a White House ceremony to honor Navajo code talkers.  The following day, he retweeted three anti-Muslim posts from a British bigoted splinter group.  When the press challenged the Press Secretary about the tweets, pointing out the inaccurate aspects of some of the videos, Ms. Sanders responded that the truth of the video is immaterial to the importance of the issue.

Meanwhile, the GOP has promoted a travesty tax bill because they need some achievement to highlight for their supporters after a year of full control.  Lawmakers are ignoring the impact on the national debt, $1.4 trillion increase, the impact on health care and the impact on various small issues, such as the sudden taxation on college endowments.  Far more distressing, the abject lying from the White House and GOP leadership about the benefits of the bill and the pure fiction doled out that this bill will create a sudden economic boom.  All of this is done as the White House insults opposition leadership to the point that Democrats walk away and refuse to show up for a meeting with the President.

In other news, the man leading in the polls for the U.S. Senate seat from Alabama has been fired from his job twice and had a thing for under-aged girls; allegations of sexual harassment have come to light involving members of both the House and Senate; and administration officials are gutting agencies critical to the health, safety and security of the nation.

The appropriate responses to these actions is not throwing up one’s hands and muttering a plague on both houses.  Initially, these immediate events, coupled with all of the prior events of the past year, necessitate a reminder of the role of representatives in a republic.

Edmund Burke’s speech to the electors of Bristol, made just after they had elected him to Parliament in 1774, remains one of the finest expressions of the role of an elective official.  Burke agreed that a representative should hold his constituent’s views in the highest regards and he should give their wishes the greatest weight. Burke, however, rejected the idea that an official should simply adhere and act on the opinions of his constituents.  As he explained:

But, his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgement, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you; to any man, or to any sett of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the Law and the Constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your Representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

This aspect of Burke’s speech is well known, but he expanded on it and there, he provided a message that bears careful consideration today.

First, Burke pointed out that governance is not merely a matter of acting on the will of the people. Instead, “Government and Legislation are matters of reason and judgement, and not of inclination ….”  Second, Burke reemphasize the importance of the representative acting in a manner consistent with his judgment and conscience. For him, to fail to do so “would be utterly unknown to the laws of the land” and constitute a fundamental mistake.  Third, and finally, Burke considered the nature of the government and for whom the representative was working. Burke concluded:

Parliament is not a Congress of Ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an Agent and Advocate, against other Agents and Advocates; but Parliament is a deliberative Assembly of one Nation, with one Interest, that of the whole; where, not local Purposes, not local Prejudices ought to guide, but the general Good, resulting from the general Reason of the whole. You chuse a Member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not Member of Bristol, but he is a Member of Parliament. If the local Constituent should have an Interest, or should form an hasty Opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the Community, the Member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it Effect.

Burke viewed the Constitutional government as an intricate and delicate machine requiring the balancing of broad and varying interests that must be balanced if it at all possible.

Burke’s letter identifies the best and, in truth, ideal character for our members of Congress.  The goals and considerations laid out in the speech to Bristol defines the standard that we should demand for our officials in local, state and federal government. Now, we need to remind our representatives that we expect them to serve in a deliberative body, where they exercise their reason and judgment in order to benefit the entire nation, not merely some small portion of it. Doing so, may help to restore government to what it should be.

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Respecting the Press


The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.


Thomas Jefferson’s observation from 1787, has always stood out for me as a personal favorite. Jefferson, obviously, did not view the issue as a binary proposition for he understood that absent a government, we would lack a civil society. Instead, the comment highlighted the importance and priority that Jefferson placed on the Fourth Estate. Understandably, journalists and political writers frequently utilize the sentence in their defense of a free press.

The quotation, however, does not end there and writers frequently omit the subsequent sentence from Jefferson’s letter to Edward Carrington. Jefferson continued, “But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.” For Jefferson, the priority of newspapers is directly connected with the broad availability of that information to all and, just as importantly, everyone is capable of reading and, implicitly, understanding that information. This second sentence is important because the ability to critically read information is slowly evaporating for many.

We have achieved the first half of that second sentence. Satellites and cable lines make the news immediately available to everyone across the nation. We have entered an age where an individual sitting on a front porch in Vermont can read about a robbery in San Diego or a woman celebrating her 100th birthday in Arizona. A natural disaster half a world away is broadcast in nearly real time with experts and pundits explaining the consequences as you watch and a Japanese businessman sitting in Paris can start or end his day reading the Asahi Shimbun.

A significant percentage of the U.S. public, however, remains unwilling, unable or incapable of assessing the information before it. Perhaps because it arrives to individuals over the same data stream, people fail to assess or weigh the merit or quality of the information before them. People equate individual blogs to The Chicago Tribune or NPR. Someone driving home listening to Mark Levin on the radio believes that they are equally as informed as someone who read The New York Times over lunch.

News sources are not equal. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post offer both the best journalists and leading opinion writers in the country. If you wish to see the best that U.S. journalism has to offer, these are the places to look. Conversely, many turn to entertainers for their news. Sean Hannity freely acknowledges that he is not a journalist and that he brings a specific bias to his shows (and, Rachel Maddow offers the flip side of Hannity). While talk show hosts and programs will offer viewers and listeners some information, the top newspapers and some news programs are the place to go for obtaining quality information and analysis.

Inexplicably, many reject the best in the business and rest their opinions on the views of the unqualified. From Gov. Palin’s attacks on the “lame stream media” to Trump’s denouncement of the Times, and others, as “fake news,” people have rejected informed, accurate representations for palatable propaganda. In our assessment of information, a significant portion of the population has taken to rejecting the medical advice of the Johns Hopkin’s trained doctor and, instead, stand devoted to the snake oil sold to them and view the con man better qualified than the doctor to identify and address their ills.

No rational explanation exists for this rejection of the better qualified individuals and embrace of the lesser informed. While the information is now readily available to all, in Jefferson’s words, many are proving incapable of reading them.

An example may serve to illustrate the point. A former neighbor frequently posts pieces from Breitbart, the Washington Examiner,, Dailycaller, Fox or other a wide variety of hack sites to denounce the evils of the world, the threat of immigrants to the nation, the horrors of leftists, the risk of an Islamic attack, the intrusion of Sharia law in the United States and a variety of other problems. More frequently than not, these pieces are little more than click-bait chum and either the lead paragraph itself or the next few paragraphs contain assertions that are factually inaccurate or take a statement significantly out of context. Given my own preference for accuracy, I will frequently respond to these pieces with an explanation as to why the central thrust of the piece is false or the assertion unfounded.

At the start of the year, this individual attempted to reverse the process.

At the end of January, Nicholas Kristof published an op-ed piece in the New York Times discussing the nation’s past history of over reacting to immigrants, how the new President’s travel ban might bar entry to individuals who had served the country and how the ban might have impacted his own family and I shared the column on Facebook. About fifteen minutes later, a comment appeared from the neighbor accusing Kristof of lying and offering the column as another example of the lying media.

So what her complaint?

The neighbor challenged a single clause out of long op ed piece related to the travel ban. From the sentence, “We make bad decisions when we fear immigrants we “otherize.” That’s why Americans burned Irish Catholics alive, banned Chinese for decades, denied visas to Anne Frank’s family and interned Japanese-Americans. And yes, The New York Times sometimes participated in such madness,” she labeled the charge that Americans burned Irish Catholics an ugly lie. I asked her if she had any proof for her charge, and received no direct response. After repeated assertions of falsification, I directed her to contact Kristof directly. I repeated the direction the following day. Her only response was to denounce the lying media.

Two days later, I received a demonstration of the distinction between credible, first-class journalism and third-rate manipulative hacks. On January 30, I e-mailed Kristof at the Times, identified the specific clause in question and asked for the source of the statement. The following day, I received a response that provided a link to an 1857 book that referenced such attacks happening in Philadelphia in 1844. Yes, the man who has received Pulitzer Prizes for both international reporting and commentary offers reliable information which one can confirm as accurate.

While President Reagan famously adopted the Russian proverb “trust, but verify,” and although we should all adopt this approach to all of the information we read, their track records repeatedly demonstrate that The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post are worthy and deserving of that trust. Few others merit the same respect.


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