An anonymous, but wise, Wyoming rancher recently summarized special counsel Robert Mueller's report in clear middle-America language: "We know that old boy didn't actually steal any horses, but he's obviously guilty of trying to avoid being hanged for it."
The House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), wants a hangin' no matter what. We know they're serious because they had former Nixon counselor John Dean testify, which had everyone in America under age 60 searching Google. The parallels to Watergate apparently are uncanny in the minds of some. Next up: Maybe Robert DeNiro, since his resemblance to Bob Mueller on "Saturday Night Live" is uncanny, too.
Let's face it, Congress seems little more than a parody now. The legislative branch of our constitutional government has withered to a thin twig, completely overshadowed by the executive and judicial branches that have far more impact on our lives.
Congress's popularity hovers just above that of human traffickers. Their job description is to pass important laws and a budget. They've done neither, consistently, for years. Immigration, cybersecurity, violent crime and drug trafficking, the environment ... basically, crickets. Their constitutional responsibilities to declare war and ratify treaties have been bypassed by the executive branch for decades. We essentially are down to 2.1 branches of government.
As a result, Congress has rolled over and abandoned America's right to sober, statesman-like, bipartisan lawmaking in exchange for political demagogue theater, which attracts the news media and gets the politicians on TV. This leads to notoriety, which leads to fabulous personal wealth - an all too familiar pattern now for those elected to Congress.
The "obstruction of justice by the president" chimera that House members are chasing along party lines pales in comparison to their own corrupt, empty practices. Out of frustration stemming from their evident irrelevance, they are hurling, tantrum-like, subpoenas for personal financial records without legitimate legislative grounds, along with increasing contempt of Congress citations and threats against anyone who won't buy a ticket to their party politics theater.
Frankly, most Americans hold Congress itself in contempt. We have a finely tuned desire and expectation for justice and fair play constitutionally baked into our DNA. Party politics and committee hearing circuses do not get to the truth or lead to justice; they just serve the power lust of their practitioners.
We would like the truth. A long, expensive investigation by former FBI Director James Comey and the special counsel that came up empty has led to legitimate questions about how all of this got started. The Mueller report has surfaced a concern much greater than fuzzy obstruction of justice issues: Did the intelligence community of the Obama administration initiate an intelligence operation, illegitimately leveraging the immense powers of government, against an opposition party presidential campaign?
If true, that would be far from "fair play." That would be devastating abuse that should invite reforms to ensure it never recurs. Attorney General William Barr has signaled his intent to examine the origins of the government's intersections with the Trump campaign and the initiation of a formal FBI counterintelligence investigation by Comey and his hand-picked team.
Will this get us to the truth? Well, the attorney general has been armed with a couple of power tools that should not be underestimated in their effect. The first is a presidential order to the heads of intelligence community agencies to fully cooperate with Barr's requests for information, and the second grants the attorney general the authority to declassify documents and records as needed when relevant to his inquiry.
Barr, through his chief investigator John Durham, will want to zoom in on the following questions pertinent to the early stages of government activities against the Trump campaign:
Were members of the Trump campaign, as U.S. citizens, improperly targeted by confidential human sources of either the FBI or CIA prior to an official investigation initiation? Which agency "owned" these sources, or were they jointly operated? Early indicators of potential misuse are troubling.
- Did the interaction of these sources with Trump campaign members actually help create the predication that Comey's team relied on to justify the initiation of its counterintelligence investigation? In other words, did the government enable its own investigation?
- Was the Comey investigation conducted in accordance with the Attorney General's Guidelines that protect against law enforcement overreach into the lives of U.S. citizens? Remember, this was not an FBI investigation; it was an isolated, compartmented investigation by Comey, former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and former agent Peter Strzok - individuals not perceived as steeped in the dense requirements of the intelligence sections of the guidelines. The possibility of error and sloppy disregard is high. Durham should demand all volumes of the FBI case file, unredacted. He should require all communications among the Comey team and those they had with the CIA, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and White House.
- Was the use of a government employee acting in an undercover role against a Trump campaign member (George Papadopoulos) within policy and properly approved? For which agency did this employee work? This is an intensively sensitive investigative technique that usually requires several layers of review and approval because of entrapment concerns.
The answers to these and other questions will go a long way toward determining the truth of the origins of the Trump-Russia collusion investigation. That is why we are seeing the principals involved - Comey, McCabe, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper - clamoring ahead of time to set a diverting narrative focused on the "badness" of the president. Their nervousness is easy to spot.
No one is nervous about what the House of Representatives is doing. They have their constitutional impeachment arrow in a quiver but that is likely to be fired with the same effectiveness of their other constitutional powers that have turned toothless. The attorney general's efforts, in all likelihood, will expose the sad truth that one political party abused governmental powers to go after the other political party. And now they want to impeach because their abusive efforts failed. It's an ugly truth, but we deserve to know it in full.
Attorney General Barr probably will uncover the ultimate truth if he gets the cooperation that has been ordered. Put your money on him. The legislative twig, not so much.
Kevin R. Brock, former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI, was an FBI special agent for 24 years and principal deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center. He is a founder and principal of NewStreet Global Solutions, LLC.