What Did the President Know, and When Did He Know It?

I remember watching the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973 and hearing Senator Howard Baker ask that question. It has again become appropriate, this time related to what the President knew in 2016. John Hinderacker has a post over at PowerlLine examining recently declassified information bearing on that question.

Highly redacted handwritten notes from a briefing CIA Director Brennan gave to President Obama on 28 July, 2016 have been declassified.

The relevant text reads:

We’re getting additional insight into Russian activities from….

CITE alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on 26 July of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security services.

President Obama had several comments or questions, only one of which survives redaction. He wanted to know whether there was any evidence of collaboration between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Brennan’s answer to that question isn’t recorded in the notes, but we know from other documents that the fact that there was no such evidence was communicated to Obama. Contributions by Comey, McDonough and Rice are fully redacted.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Brennan’s notes is their date (assuming July 28 is correct). According to the intelligence report, Hillary Clinton approved the plot to smear Trump with the Russia collusion fiction on July 26. Just two days later, the head of the CIA, the FBI Director, the National Security Adviser, the President’s Chief of Staff and the President himself met, presumably in the Oval Office, to discuss the intelligence. The report, picked up by spying on the Russians, who I take it were spying on Hillary, was obviously top priority and was taken seriously by the intelligence community, in the person of Brennan.

What little reporting that has been done on this briefing has focused on either the claim that the Trump/Russia collusion hoax originated inside of the Clinton campaign or the claim that President Obama was informed of the hoax within days of it being launched.

There’s another important angle here. The CIA learned of Clinton plan because it had leaked to the Russians. What are the odds that the same leaker(s)/operative(s) would have been embedded in the inner circle of a Clinton White House staff?

We dodged a very large bullet in 2016.

Yet Another Rule 5

Over the past few years, the Gentle Reader has seen references to three Rule 5s here at Hogewash!

Stacy McCain’s Rule 5—Everybody loves a pretty girl.
Saul Alinsky’s Rule 5—Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5—Often mentioned when Brett Kimberlin violated it in many of his court filings.

Today, the Senate Homeland Security Committee authorized subpoena for John Brennan, James Comey, James Clapper, and others to testify. The committee had held off issuing subpoenas to avoid interference with U. S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the Russian Collusion Hoax.

Over the next few weeks we will probably be seeing the application of another Rule 5—Invoke your Fifth Amendment right to silence when you’re under indictment.

Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen. OK, a bit behind schedule, but more or less on track.

18 USC § 1001

(a)Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully—
(1)
falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
(2)
makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
(3)
makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;
shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both. If the matter relates to an offense under chapter 109A, 109B, 110, or 117, or section 1591, then the term of imprisonment imposed under this section shall be not more than 8 years.
(b)
Subsection (a) does not apply to a party to a judicial proceeding, or that party’s counsel, for statements, representations, writings or documents submitted by such party or counsel to a judge or magistrate in that proceeding.
(c)With respect to any matter within the jurisdiction of the legislative branch, subsection (a) shall apply only to—
(1)
administrative matters, including a claim for payment, a matter related to the procurement of property or services, personnel or employment practices, or support services, or a document required by law, rule, or regulation to be submitted to the Congress or any office or officer within the legislative branch; or
(2)
any investigation or review, conducted pursuant to the authority of any committee, subcommittee, commission or office of the Congress, consistent with applicable rules of the House or Senate.

That’s the law Scooter Libby was convicted of violating. It’s the law that Michael Flynn was pressured into pleading guilty to.

It’s being reported that U.S. Attorney John Durham will be interviewing former CIA Director John Brennan. Mr. Durham has already subpoenaed a great deal of Director Brennan’s emails, phone records, and other documents, so the former spymaster should probably choose his words carefully. Or invoke his Fifth Amendment right to silence.

The Need to Know

I’ve had various security clearances from the government, and every time that my association with a program, project, or agency that justified my having a particular clearance ended, the clearance was terminated. That’s what is supposed to happen.

As Elliot Abrams points out in an article over at Politico, certain former full-time employees may remain cleared after they leave a position because they continue to serve as consultants. They need access to classified information in order to be of continued use to the government. When they are no longer engaged as consultants, their clearances are revoked. Abrams also notes:

I would add a third consideration. I cannot recall previous high intelligence officials acting the way Brennan and Clapper have in vocally assaulting the succeeding administration in a highly partisan manner. Think of Directors of National Intelligence John Negroponte, John McConnell and Dennis Blair, and think of CIA Directors like William Webster, Robert Gates, James Woolsey, John Deutch and George Tenet, and you’ll immediately see that what’s happening now is unprecedented. Brennan and Clapper may well believe that Trump is a threat to the country and as such, merits a break from the norms. They are entitled to their beliefs and can go on attacking—but they shouldn’t have access to classified information.

One has to assume that the partisan views Brennan and Clapper now express were the same views they held when in office, and it is impossible to believe such views did not affect their conduct of their offices. They have done real damage to the belief and expectation that partisan politics will not affect the way our intelligence agencies operate, or the advice they give. They have also led to a reasonable suspicion they might deliberately leak something that could in their view damage the administration or contradict its assertions.

Of course, former officials—including presidents—do not take a vow of silence upon leaving office. But former presidents have usually been circumspect in attacking their successors (Jimmy Carter is an exception), and former intelligence chiefs have generally avoided partisan attacks as well. In behaving this way, they are changing the rules, and Trump is justified in changing the rules to reflect their conduct.

Needless to say, lines have to be drawn. Security clearances should not depend on party loyalty and should not be routinely and immediately revoked when a word (or many words) of criticism are spoken.But it is reasonable to ask our highest former national security officials to consider the integrity of their former offices and agencies and ask that they decide carefully before entering the political and media fray.

They are free to choose that path, but if they do, they relinquish the perquisites that have traditionally gone with their long careers—like a security clearance.

Read the whole thing.