The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Pop Some Popcorn: The FBI Inspector-General Report Gets Released Today

FBI Director James Comey attends a news conference on terrorism after speaking at the NYPD Shield Conference in the Manhattan borough of New York, December 16, 2015. (Darren Ornitz/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: It’s likely to be a very uncomfortable day for James Comey and perhaps the entire FBI; Hollywood and Broadway rage at Trump and forget that they’re supposed to be master storytellers who can change people’s minds; and congressional Republicans begin to get a little irritated with the pace of Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Buckle Up for the IG Report

This afternoon, FBI inspector general Michael Horowitz is expected to release his report about how the bureau handed the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server in the run-up to the 2016 election . . . and it is not expected to be pretty.

The report is expected to blast Comey for straying from Justice Department guidelines when he held a July 5, 2016, news conference to announce that there would be no criminal charges brought against Clinton and also to accuse her of carelessness in her use of the private email server. Typically, the FBI’s role would be limited to referring its findings to the attorney general. It would then be up to prosecutors to decide whether to bring criminal charges. The Justice Department — not the FBI — would typically make any public announcements about the case.

Comey is not the only high-profile Obama administration official whose actions are expected to draw criticism Thursday. Comey has said he was prompted to take extraordinary action in the Clinton case, in part, because he believed then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch showed poor judgment when she met privately in June 2016 with former President Bill Clinton when their planes were parked on the tarmac in Phoenix.

This morning, CBS News said the report would call Comey “insubordinate.”

But there’s more. Observers expect the report to address whether Andrew McCabe should have recused himself from investigating the Clintons, and whether he intentionally delayed looking at emails discovered on Anthony Weiner’s laptop; he was informed in late September or early October 2016, but nothing happened for three weeks. It’s hard to believe the IG report will offer a flattering portrait of Peter Strzok, who helped oversee the Clinton inquiry, or Lisa Page — for either their affair or their comments in their text messages. Recall that both Strzok and Page went on to work for Robert Mueller’s investigation for a period of time before resigning. And the report is likely to at least discuss reports of FBI leaks to the press.

‘When They Go Low . . .’ Eh, the Democrats Go Just as Low in Response

Does it mean something that Frank Bruni, the left-of-center New York Times columnist, sounds like he’s getting fed up with some corners of #TheResistance? He’s openly worrying that the Democrats will louse up their efforts in the midterms and 2020 because of all the rage, the profanity, the conspiracy theories, the doomsday predictions:

The more noise, the less discernment. The more fury, the less focus. Proportion and triage are in order, and that means an end, please, to the Melania madness. Floating the idea that she’s a victim of domestic abuse merely supports Trump’s contention that his critics are reflexive and unfettered in their contempt for him and that all of their complaints should be viewed through that lens.

“When they go low, we go high,” said another first lady, Michelle Obama, at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. It’s a fine set of marching orders, disobeyed ever since. It was definitely ignored by those of you in the Manhattan theater where the Tony Awards were held on Sunday. You answered [Robert] De Niro’s expletives with a standing ovation.

No one will change their rhetoric or behavior because of a Frank Bruni column, of course. This is because very few Trump critics — or advocates, for that matter — believe they’re in a public debate to persuade some undecided middle. We’re approaching the middle of Trump’s second year in office. Saturday will mark the three-year anniversary of Trump descending from the escalator in Trump Tower and launching his campaign. Just about everybody already knows what they think of him, and I suspect at least 35 to 40 percent of Americans on either side of the partisan divide are pretty much “locked in” on their opinion, and the rest are pretty firmly in place. Only Trump’s actual actions, and actual changes in circumstances — the economy, war, terror attacks — are likely to change those views.

De Niro wasn’t aiming to persuade anyone; he was preaching to the choir — not all that differently than most cable-news hosts, talk-radio hosts, columnists, or bloggers. And sometimes the choir needs to hear some preaching.

But as I mentioned on CNN earlier this week, the irony is that the Tony Awards celebrates and honors . . . great storytellers and performers. The wealthy, talented, inspired, gifted people in that room are supposed to be really good at catching our attention, telling us a story about people in a compelling and unforgettable way, getting us to feel emotions, taking us on a moving journey, and leading us to think about subjects in a new way.

De Niro could have shared the story of the illegal immigrant from Honduras who was caught, detained, and allegedly separated from her daughter immediately after breastfeeding. He could have asked whether we, as Americans, really want an immigration policy that separates children from parents if they are caught entering the country illegally, and whether we feel this sort of action makes us any safer. I’ll bet there are a lot of immigration hawks who would say, “You know, I’m not comfortable with that.”

But instead De Niro dropped the F-bomb. Hope it was worth it, Taxi Driver.

Earlier this week, Politico reported that the Democratic National Committee and members of Congress are “turning to Hollywood for help with voter turnout and messaging ahead of the midterm elections and 2020 presidential campaign, quietly consulting with a group of actors, writers and producers.”

Right now, a lot of people are scoffing, thinking of all the times they’ve watched some insufferable video or commercial featuring ill-informed celebrities lecture them, or creepily “pledging to serve” a particular politician.

Still . . . if you want Americans to sympathize with a gay man suffering from HIV, you cast Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. If you want Americans to remember that 18 members of the armed forces were killed and another 73 wounded in Somalia, in what could be seen as a key precursor to the war on terror, you make Black Hawk Down. You could even argue that if you want audiences to hate South Africa’s government, you make them the villains in a Lethal Weapon 2.

The Mueller Investigation Approaches Its 14th Month

We’re now approaching the 14th month of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — and it’s starting to test the patience of previously sympathetic GOP lawmakers: “A growing number of Republicans in senior leadership positions, who all profess that Mueller should have no artificial deadline for his Russia influence probe, have also begun to sprinkle in another suggestion: It’s time to wrap it up.”

Look, it’s possible that sometime soon, Robert Muller starts popping out indictments like a Pez dispenser, not merely for lying to investigators or for financial shenanigans unrelated to the Trump 2016 campaign, but over a concerted effort to coordinate with Russia to influence the election. But that’s been a possibility for quite a while now. And each morning we wake up and learn that Paul Manafort is in deeper hot water about his shady consulting, or that some Russian political consultant we’ve never heard of and who’s far from American soil is being indicted for obstruction of justice . . .

. . . but on the question of collusion, we must wait. Month after month.

And no matter how much Mueller wants to be seen as a straight shooter, above politics, and not interested in influencing the upcoming midterm elections, if the final report comes out in the fall, a lot of people will perceive it as a deliberate October surprise.

A lot of folks point out that Mueller’s moving fast by the standards of an independent counsel; recall Lawrence Walsh was named in 1986 and issued an indictment of Caspar Weinberger in 1992.

But the scale of the crime alleged is epic, and if proven, the crime would require rectification as soon as possible. The cloud of suspicion has hung over this president since before he was sworn in. If Donald Trump and his staff really did cooperate with Russia in an effort to determine the outcome of the presidential election, he would have to be removed from office as quickly as possible.

But if Mueller comes back with a report that makes that conclusion, with sufficient supporting evidence, a lot of people will ask, “Why are you telling us this in the latter half of 2018?” or even later.

ADDENDA: The editors have had it with Scott Priutt.

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