The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Readers of this blog may be interested in my Lawfare post about the news that the FBI made President Trump the subject of a counterintelligence investigation after he fired their boss. My take:
The political and bureaucratic motives mixed into this incident are reminiscent of the motives mixed into the decision to launch an investigation of Russia and the Trump campaign, the decision to rely on Christopher Steele's research despite his partisan funding, and the decision to interrogate national security adviser Michael Flynn in the slipperiest of fashions. There are reasons why all of these things might have seemed necessary to honest, committed cops just doing their job. But they also offer a roadmap for how to abuse counterintelligence authority to serve partisan ends—a roadmap that more or less begins where the civil liberties protections of the 1970s end.
My concern is that we're not taking that risk seriously because so many former officials and commentators believe that President Trump deserves all this and more. Some of them still hope that the election of 2016 can be undone, or at least discredited. This leads to a perseverating focus on leaks and scraps from the investigation and a determined lack of concern about the investigation's sometimes tawdry origins. (Yes, I'm talking to you, #BabyCannon!)
If we're going to prevent future scandals, we need to look at both. We need to know the answers to a lot of questions that are not being seriously addressed today: To what extent was politics involved in the decision to open the Trump-Russia investigation; to what extent did politics drive its direction; to what extent was politics involved in the Obama administration's transition intelligence leaks; and, finally, to what extent was politics involved in adding the president to the counterintelligence probe?
The only independent review of any of these questions seems to be the investigation launched by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz. He's examining the FISA application for Carter Page. That's a good start, but it's only a start. It's a commonplace insight that President Trump's norm-defying conduct has triggered norm-defying payback by others. I'm sure we're going to learn about the first, but we can't ignore the second.
It's time to expand the Horowitz inquiry, or something like it, into all of these events.