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Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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Will Trump sit for an interview with the special counsel? And, if he does, when will it happen? Those were the biggest questions for reporters following the Trump-Russia probe this week. Trump’s lawyers are advising him against talking to Bob Mueller out of fear that he’ll perjure himself, but a refusal to do so could set up a protracted legal showdown that history suggests would likely end with the President being forced to testify. Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is expected to be interviewed by Mueller’s team next week. Attorneys for indicted Trump campaign aide Rick Gates, meanwhile, are seeking to withdraw their representation, citing “irreconcilable differences.”

On the congressional side, there’s rising tension in the House Intelligence Committee, with Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) reportedly hatching plans to construct a physical wall this spring to separate Democratic and Republican staffers. The Office of Congressional Ethics has been asked to investigate the committee’s GOP staffers over leaks; if the office determines the matter warrants further review, it will refer it to the House Committee on Ethics, which would eventually compile a public report.

The Russia probe saw a rare bipartisan moment early in the week when the House panel unanimously voted to release a Democratic memo intended to refute Nunes’ now-public memo, which alleged anti-Trump bias at the FBI and DOJ. The White House is currently reviewing the Democrats’ memo and has until Saturday to decide whether or not to make it public. Chief of Staff Kelly has hinted that, unlike the Nunes document, the Democrats’ memo may face redactions because it’s “less clean” and “lengthier.”

The committee has also yet again extended the deadline for its interview with Bannon. It will now be next Tuesday. According to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Bannon’s lawyer informed the committee that he would only answer 14 “yes-or-no questions the White House had pre-approved” about the presidential transition. Schiff said this week that, if Bannon fails to comply with a committee subpoena to answer questions about the transition and administration, he should face contempt hearings — a threat the congressional committees have yet to follow up on.

Republicans’ allegations of Democratic partisanship among FBI leadership and resentment of that partisanship among the rank-and-file was dealt yet another blow this week by the publication of a FOIAed trove of emails that revealed dismay among officials at the bureau following James Comey’s firing. A new trove of texts between FBI officials Lisa Page and Peter Strzok that Trump deemed a “bombshell” was anything but; they showed that Barack Obama wanted to learn more about the Russia interference investigation, not, as conservative news outlets initially alleged, the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

Meanwhile, Russia is already taking steps to meddle in the midterm elections, per Secretary of State Tillerson, who said there was little the U.S. could do to prevent that interference.

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Read the latest reporter’s sum-up (Prime access) on the Russia probe »

Speculation about when and under what terms President Donald Trump might be interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller has dominated the headlines ever since the two parties began talks in December.

But what about Vice President Mike Pence?

Pence was absent from many of the key incidents Mueller is reportedly investigating as part of his sprawling probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. But he was intimately involved with several, including the firing of former FBI director James Comey, and the subsequent efforts to settle on a rationale for that firing, which appear to be at the center of the Mueller investigation.

So it’s puzzling that Mueller appears to have made no attempt to talk to the administration’s second-highest-ranking official. Pence’s lawyer met with Mueller last year to offer Pence’s full cooperation.

“It’s a bit of a mystery to me that Pence’s name hasn’t really surfaced at all,” Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor who worked closely with Mueller in the Justice Department’s criminal division, told TPM. “There are things that Pence seems to be relevant to. So I’m surprised.”

Pence’s lawyer, Richard Cullen, declined to comment to TPM on the record, while the special counsel’s office declined comment. Pence press secretary Alyssa Farah did not respond to TPM’s request for comment, but in December forcefully denied to CNN that Pence’s office was preparing for a meeting with Mueller.

As of mid-January, NBC reported that the special counsel had made no overtures to Pence about an interview.

By now, over 20 White House officials have been interviewed, including top Trump allies like Jared Kushner, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Counsel Don McGahn. Former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon is scheduled to sit down with Mueller next week.

Former White House lawyers caution that much of what Mueller’s team is up to is happening far from the public eye. After all, one noted, no one saw the indictment of George Papadopoulos coming.

But they offer a few explanations for why Mueller appears to be keeping his distance from Pence, at least for now.

Notably, public reports have offered little indication that Pence is a target of the obstruction of justice, collusion, or money laundering arms of the Russia investigation.

“The reporting so far has revealed not much detail about Pence’s involvement in key events. It may be that, as he did in the case of the the voter fraud commission, he kept his distance and tried to cut his losses. So he will be a witness, but it is hard to say how central to to the case he will be,” Bob Bauer, White House Counsel under President Barack Obama, told TPM in an email.

Pence had not yet joined the team at the time of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between high-level campaign officials and Russians promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. He was at his son’s wedding in Indiana in late Dec. 2016 when Mike Flynn reached out to then-Russian-ambassador Sergey Kislyak to discuss Obama’s imposition of fresh economic sanctions on Russia. And Pence has maintained he was the last to learn about issues that were either widely reported, like Flynn’s unauthorized lobbying work for Turkey, or that other White House officials were aware of, like Flynn’s conversations with Russian officials during the transition.

Still, there are a few topics that the special counsel would “absolutely” want to talk to Pence about, said Adam Goldberg, White House special associate counsel under President Bill Clinton.

One is what Flynn told Pence about his Russia contacts in January 2016. Flynn was fired in mid-February. The White House has said the firing was because Flynn misled the Vice President about those contacts. But that explanation has generated skepticism, in part because McGahn and Trump reportedly knew by late January that Flynn had lied to both Pence and the FBI.

Mueller might also might want to talk about Pence’s involvement in the May 2017 deliberations over firing Comey. The New York Times reported that Trump informed the Vice President on May 8 that he planned to dismiss the FBI director, reading to him and several other senior officials from a draft memo laying out the case that Comey had mishandled the FBI’s Russia investigation. Trump was stopped from sending that memo out, the Times reported, and instead shifted the justification for Comey’s dismissal onto his handling of the Clinton email investigation. Pence conveyed the official line about Clinton to the press.

Still, as Goldberg noted, other witnesses have likely already provided extensive testimony on these topics, making obtaining Pence’s account less of a priority. Flynn, for example, is cooperating with the special counsel after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI in December.

“If they already have enough people who would testify and aren’t worried about Pence contradicting, from their perspective they’re just going to make a political judgment of, ‘Well we don’t need to go involve the Vice President; that might make us look more partisan,’” he said.

Goldberg, Baeur and Zeldin noted that Mueller’s team is digging through reams of evidence that the public simply doesn’t know about, and that could prompt further lines of questions for the Vice President.

Pence could also serve as a corroborating witness for whatever testimony Trump provides, if he ultimately opts to do so, Zeldin suggested.

But things could get awkward if an invitation is ultimately extended to the Vice President, even as Trump’s own attorneys are reportedly counseling the President not to talk.

“Unless Pence is concerned he’s done something wrong, Pence will appear before Mueller no matter what,” Goldberg said. “Because it’d be political suicide for him not to.”

We just don’t know what he might have to say.

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For weeks, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) has been mired in a scandal stemming from an extramarital affair. And now Greitens is getting blamed for a shock Republican loss in a state legislative special election.

Democrat Mike Revis beat Republican David Linton by four points Tuesday in a state assembly district that has trended steadily rightward in recent years. Donald Trump won it by 28 points in 2016.

“The fact that that we lost that race is at the feet of the governor,” Scott Dieckhaus, the former executive director of the Missouri House Republican Campaign Committee, told TPM.

In mid-January, a local TV station published audio recorded in 2015 in which a woman with whom Greitens had an affair told her husband that Greitens took and threatened to release a nude photo of her if she went public about the affair. TPM has reported that the woman separately told her husband that Greitens slapped her after she told him she had slept with her husband.

Greitens has admitted to the affair but denied the photo blackmail attempt and alleged physical violence. But five GOP lawmakers have called for Greitens to step down, with some warning that the scandal could hurt the party.

Dieckhaus pointed to a series of polls of the district commissioned by state Republicans over the past two months as proof that it had. While Trump and the GOP’s net favorability both remained relatively strong and stable, Greitens’ plunged from plus 20 in late November to negative 13, with just 36 percent approving, the week after the scandal broke.

“The [Republican] candidate was poor, Democratic enthusiasm is obviously high, but those are still the types of things that we’ve been able to overcome for over a decade,” Dieckhaus continued, noting that the GOP has held the district since 2010. “So when you look at the polling the only thing that stands out is the scandal with the governor.”

A GOP strategist who requested anonymity to speak candidly said he too believes Greitens was among the factors dragging down the Republican candidate.

“Something was awry,” the strategist said. “My initial instinct is that it’s not President Trump. But something changed in the last few weeks.”

Revis, the Democratic candidate, didn’t make Greitens’ scandal a centerpiece of his campaign, instead focusing on issues like the governor’s support for Right-to-Work legislation, which is strongly opposed by labor unions. But at least one outside group backing Revis ran an online ad that opened with a series of headlines about the scandal, and about a separate pay-to-play allegation that has dogged the governor.

“Dieckhaus has it right,” Roy Temple, a leading Missouri Democratic operative, told TPM in an email. “Governor Greitens is an anchor around the neck of the Missouri GOP and there’s no reason to believe that’s likely to get better any time soon.”

The GOP strategist who requested anonymity told TPM he’d heard that state Democrats specifically made phone calls and did other outreach to female voters about the charges against Greitens.

A spokesperson for the Missouri Democratic Party did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment.

Other Republican operatives weren’t so sure that the governor had anything to do with the GOP loss—or that the result necessarily has implications for November. They noted that Republicans won the three other open statehouse seats on Tuesday, securing easy victories in two heavily red districts and a close win in the third.

“Special elections, especially really low turnout ones in statehouse districts, are not really indicative,” a different Missouri GOP strategist told TPM, predicting that Revis will lose his seat in November when more Republican voters turn out for the U.S. Senate and State Auditor’s race.

Whether Greitens does end up dragging down the state GOP in the fall will hinge largely on what happens in the interim—and especially on the results of an investigation into the allegations being conducted by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.

According to a lawyer for the ex-husband of the woman with whom the governor had the affair, Gardner this week convened a grand jury—a sign that the probe into Greitens may only be escalating.

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President Donald Trump has said he’s “looking forward” to the prospect of sitting down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But according to a New York Times report Monday, his private legal team is vehemently urging him to decline any invitation to talk to Mueller.

Negotiations are continuing. But constitutional law experts told TPM that if the White House does choose defiance and Mueller responds with a subpoena, it would likely set up a high-stakes legal showdown—one in which the special counsel might have the upper hand.

A decision by the White House to reject Mueller’s request for a voluntary interview would signal a clear shift in the Trump legal team’s game plan from cooperation to delay.

“If they’re sort of pushing Mueller into a corner where he has to file a subpoena and Trump refuses to comply with the subpoena, they’re switching tracks to a whole new strategy of delay,” said Jens Ohlin, an executive privilege expert at Cornell Law School. “They just want to prevent Mueller from completing his investigation. Which on the one hand is bad for Trump because it keeps the Russia investigation hanging over his head in perpetuity. But, on the other hand, it keeps Trump away from Mueller, and keeps him out of any kind of danger.”

The Times reported that the legal team is split. White House lawyer Ty Cobb is reportedly continuing to argue for full cooperation while Trump’s private attorneys, Jay Sekulow and John Dowd, who is leading discussions with Mueller’s office on the issue, are arguing against a sit-down interview. Trump frequently makes false statements, and Sekulow and Dowd are concerned that talking to Mueller could expose him to charges of lying to investigators, the Times reported.

Asked for comment, both sets of lawyers sent TPM the same statement: “The active discussion between the OSC and the president’s personal lawyers regarding how and under what terms information will be exchanged are understandably private.”

If Trump ultimately declines an interview with Mueller, things could escalate quickly, legal experts said.

Mueller’s team would likely issue a subpoena asking a court to compel the president to appear before the grand jury. Trump might then comply and take the stand, where he could take the politically risky step of pleading the Fifth or telling the jury he does not recall the answers to key questions. More likely, Trump’s legal team would move to quash the subpoena, arguing that a sitting president shouldn’t be required to take time and resources away from his official duties to be questioned in an ongoing criminal investigation, and that Mueller’s queries extend beyond his mandate to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.

After a round of litigation in district court, the matter would likely then go to the D.C. Court of Appeals and all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

History offers some pointers on the legal question of whether the president can be forced to testify in civil or criminal litigation. But past commanders-in-chief have either left office before doing so, as Richard Nixon did in the midst of the Watergate scandal, or ultimately agreed to voluntary interviews, as Bill Clinton did with the Paula Jones sexual harassment case and George W. Bush did during the Valerie Plame affair.

Randall Samborn, a spokesman for Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation into the Plame leak, said the closest precedent was the 1974 US v. Nixon Supreme Court ruling that forced the former president to comply with a special prosecutor’s subpoena to turn over his Oval Office tapes.

The Nixon ruling “makes it compelling for Mueller to obtain presidential testimony under the theory that nobody is above the law, which I think is pretty sound,” Samborn told TPM. “But I also think there continue to be arguments that can and will be made that [special counsel] questioning can’t be open-ended and has got to be narrowly tailored.”

“There has to be specific material in mind that’s unattainable in other ways,” Samborn added. “So I do see it as shifting the burden on Mueller to have to justify the necessity.”

Matters touching on obstruction of justice and Trump’s state of mind would qualify, legal experts told TPM. Those topics are critical to Mueller’s investigation and can only be answered by the president himself, superseding any claims of executive privilege.

“I’m not sure how he could invoke a privilege that would categorically shield him from at least entertaining some questions,” Steve Vladeck, a constitutional law expert at the University of Texas School of Law, told TPM.

Past presidents have argued that there’s a legitimate need to maintain the confidentiality of their executive duties. But those arguments may not be in play here, Vladeck noted. The Times reported that Trump’s attorneys are instead concerned that this particular president will lie or contradict himself under oath, as he so often does in public.

“It’s like self-protection as opposed to institutional preservation,” Vladeck said. “That’s why I think if or when this gets into court the odds are still on Mueller’s side.”

But even if refusing to testify might not be a winning legal strategy, it could make sense politically for Trump. The president’s allies can continue to argue that Mueller is luring him into a perjury trap, knowing that he has a penchant for misstatements and outright falsehoods.

“It’s a way of explaining away why he’s not going to be transparent,” Ohlin said.

And by attacking the credibility of the FBI, DOJ, and Mueller investigation, Trump’s defenders can make the case that there is no reason for him to cooperate with what they argue is a fundamentally compromised probe.

“They’re creating a second pathway by saying, ‘We thought it would be over but it’s not, so clearly it’s an investigation run amok,’” Samborn said. “‘We have no choice but to litigate whether this is even necessary.’”

“It’s like rolling the dice,” Samborn added. “What do they have to lose?”

Read the latest editor’s brief (Prime access) on the Russia probe »

 

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A lawyer for the ex-husband of the woman who had an affair with Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens says prosecutors have convened a grand jury in their investigation into whether Greitens blackmailed the woman.

Al Watkins, the lawyer, announced Monday that his client was served with a subpoena to provide testimony to the grand jury.

The news may represent an escalation of the probe, which was launched last month.

“The issuance of a Grand Jury subpoena conclusively indicates that the Circuit Attorney’s Office has elevated its undertakings to include Grand Jury proceedings, for which subpoena power and other discovery tools are available,” Watkins said in a statement provided to TPM. “The power of subpoena is an invaluable tool to garner evidence and compel testimony which far transcends that which is accorded investigative personnel not otherwise armed with a Grand Jury.”

Greitens, a Republican, has publicly apologized for cheating on his wife and vowed to remain in office through a scandal that has prompted calls for his resignation from members of his own party. He has vehemently denied allegations that he slapped and once took a compromising photograph of the woman that he threatened to release it if she went public about their relationship.

The blackmail claim was made by the woman in a conversation with her then-husband, which he recorded without her knowledge and provided to a local news station.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner launched the investigation into what she called the “very troubling” allegations against Greitens shortly after they were first surfaced in mid-January.

Watkins has told TPM he began “receiving ongoing consistent contact” about Greitens from an FBI special agent in October 2016.

According to CNN, the FBI recently opened an inquiry into the governor. It’s unclear if the outreach to Watkins is related to the inquiry that two federal officials confirmed to CNN.

The bureau’s St. Louis office has declined to comment on the existence of any investigation related to Greitens.

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Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) may have achieved his short-term goal with Friday’s release of a memo that he says demonstrates anti-Trump bias among the Justice Department and FBI’s highest ranks.

President Donald Trump on Saturday crowed that the memo “totally vindicates ‘Trump’” in the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Donald Trump Jr., called the document’s release a “little bit of sweet revenge” for the First Family.

But over the weekend, a different picture emerged. There’s now reason to think that both the document’s underwhelming contents and the contested nature of its release may inadvertently have bolstered, not undermined, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

In other words, the much-hyped Nunes memo may have turned out to be a flop not just in substantive terms but, more importantly, in political ones, too.

The strongest evidence of this came from four of Nunes’ Republican colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee, who made the rounds on the Sunday shows to say that the memo doesn’t absolve Trump and that Mueller’s probe should continue unimpeded.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), one of few members of Congress who read the underlying classified evidence on which the memo was based, flat out said that the memo does not have “any impact on the Russia probe.” As the chair of the committee that investigated Hillary Clinton’s role in the response to the Benghazi terror attacks, Gowdy’s bona fides as a partisan Republican are hard to doubt.

Appearing on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” the South Carolina Republican devoted little attention to the memo’s central argument: that intelligence officials failed to disclose how much they relied on a partially Democrat-funded dossier in obtaining a surveillance warrant against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Instead, Gowdy pointed to the many other troubling connections between the Trump campaign and Russia that merit a closer look.

“There is a Russia investigation without a dossier,” Gowdy said. “So to the extent the memo deals with the dossier and the FISA process, the dossier has nothing to do with the meeting at Trump Tower. The dossier has nothing to do with an email sent by Cambridge Analytica. The dossier really has nothing to do with George Papadopoulos’ meeting in Great Britain. It also doesn’t have anything to do with obstruction of justice.”

Gowdy’s remarks were backed up by Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), and Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), who insisted in separate interviews that the memo was irrelevant to Mueller’s ongoing work.

Trump reportedly disagreed, musing to aides last week that he could use the memo as justification to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s investigation. Those conversations—and the President’s decision to release the memo over the vehement objections of his own DOJ and FBI—could bolster the obstruction of justice case against Trump, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti argued in a recent New York Times op-ed.

And the memo’s release forced the White House to again go on the record insisting that the President doesn’t plan to lay a finger on his deputy attorney general. Deputy press secretary Raj Shah told CNN that there will be “no changes” at the DOJ, while White House spokesman Hogan Gidley added that “there are no conversations and no considerations about firing Rod Rosenstein.” Those comments indicate that Rosenstein’s position is now more, rather than less, secure than it was before the memo was out.

The fallout also extended to the FBI. Trump ignored the protestations of his handpicked director, Chris Wray, who argued that the memo was misleading, prompting the FBI Agents Association of rank-and-file agents to publicly take Wray’s side.

A former FBI counterterrorism investigator explicitly called out the memo and “politicians seeking partisan gain” in a Times op-ed explaining why he was leaving the bureau after 10 years of service, arguing that politicized attacks threaten “the credibility of the entire institution.”

To be clear, the GOP campaign to discredit the FBI is having some effect. An Axios poll conducted over the weekend found that only 38 percent of Republicans approve of the bureau, compared to 47 percent who disapprove. That suggests the GOP base may be primed to discount the conclusions of Mueller’s investigation.

Breitbart and Fox News, too, have cited the memo as proof that the intelligence community abused its powers to thwart Trump. But less unapologetically pro-Trump outlets were much more skeptical. Articles in both Red State and National Review argued that if Nunes and the White House wanted the document released in the name of greater transparency, they should also release the point-by-point Democratic rebuttal from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).

Republicans on the committee last week voted to block the publication of that document, at least until it had been declassified. But the fallout from Nunes’ memo appears to have changed the political calculation. As of Monday afternoon, Republicans on the committee appeared poised to approve the Democratic memo’s release in a vote later in the evening.

If it passes, the President will then be put in the position of giving final approval to the release of a document that buttresses the foundations of the federal Russia investigation he calls a witch-hunt.

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The FBI Agents Association decried what it called the distraction of congressional “partisan politics” after a House GOP memo alleging anti-Trump bias at the bureau was released Friday afternoon.

“The American people should know that they continue to be well-served by the world’s preeminent law enforcement agency,” FBIAA president Tom O’Connor said in a statement. “FBI Special Agents have not, and will not, allow partisan politics to distract us from our solemn commitment to our mission.”

Despite strenuous objections from the Justice Department and FBI, the White House ordered that the declassified memo, which was put together by staff for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA), be released with no redactions.

It alleges that the DOJ and several top FBI officials failed to disclose that a dossier of damaging information about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia served as part of the basis for a surveillance warrant against a former adviser to the campaign.

FBI leadership and rank-and-file have insisted that the four-page document is inaccurate and misleading, pitting the Trump White House squarely against his own intelligence community.

Read the full FBIAA statement below.

 

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If you’ve spent much time watching Fox News or Republican-led congressional committee hearings over the past year, you’d be forgiven for believing the FBI is a teeming nest of anti-Trump liberals.

One problem: That doesn’t square with the bureau’s modern history or demographics, nor with the events of the 2016 presidential election.

There is compelling evidence that former FBI Director James Comey’s two public pronouncements on the Hillary Clinton email investigation damaged the Democratic nominee’s standing in the polls. The two FBI officials who were found to have exchanged text messages disparaging Trump also criticized former Obama Justice Department officials. And now, it is the President’s own Republican appointees at the DOJ and FBI who are warning against the validity of a controversial GOP memo, expected to be released Friday, that purportedly shows anti-Trump bias at those agencies.

To protect Trump from the federal investigation into Russia’s election interference, the White House and Capitol Hill Republicans have had to manufacture an image of the nation’s premiere law enforcement agency that has no basis in reality.

“The idea that there’s this giant conspiracy and that the entire FBI is politicized is pure nonsense,” former FBI special agent Mark Pollitt told TPM, calling the Nunes memo fracas “bizarre.”

“At the end of the day that’s not why these people joined,” Pollitt added. “In some ways it’s a very old-fashioned organization.”

In a testament to the tradition of hierarchy and professionalism at the bureau, the FBI Agents Association released a statement on Thursday voicing support for Director Christopher Wray “standing together with the men and the women of the FBI” during the prolonged public fight over the memo release.

Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, a history professor at the University of Edinburgh and author of “FBI: A History,” noted that the FBI “always has been a bone of political contention.” Towards the second half of J. Edgar Hoover’s long tenure as director, the bureau became “very much associated with an anti-communist drive and persecution of the left—black civil rights activists, the women’s movement, the burgeoning gay rights movement in the 1950s.”

“At that point the FBI becomes a Republican party icon and can do no wrong,” Jeffreys-Jones said.

But the left’s concern about the politically-motivated persecution of activists, communists and homosexuals was grounded in fact, as the Church Committee’s investigations into the FBI’s investigatory abuses confirmed.

There is little ready comparison to the current political moment.

Pro-Trump conservatives’ attacks initially focused on top leadership. But former FBI Director James Comey has since been fired, his deputy Andrew McCabe is gone, and Wray, Trump’s own pick, was installed six months ago.

Then there are the demographics. As Politico reported in late 2016, 67 percent of the bureau’s agents are white men. Many are middle aged and have backgrounds in law enforcement or the military. Those demographics, of course, line up well with Trump’s own base.

And even if most FBI agents were liberals, Pollitt and FBI historians emphasize that FBI agents and officials must subsume their political opinions to work on whatever cases they are assigned.

Still, the anti-FBI campaign has been surprisingly successful with its target audience. A Huffington Post/YouGov poll released Wednesday found that the share of Republicans who have at least a fair amount of trust in the FBI has plummeted from 68 percent in 2015 to 45 percent now.

Tracking this strange evolution requires going back to the final months of the 2016 election.

In July, Comey took the unprecedented step of publicly announcing that Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state was “extremely careless” but that the federal investigation into it would result in no charges. Then in late October, Comey made the equally fateful decision of announcing that the FBI was investigating a newly-discovered trove of Clinton-related emails, uncovered by agents in the New York office.

Comey’s handling of the sensitive probe—and his conclusion that Clinton should not face charges—sparked something of a mini-revolt at the bureau. That revolt was headquartered at the New York office, whose agents had a longstanding reputation for hardline tactics, and, according to a flurry of stories, deep anti-Clinton sentiment.

In the final weeks of the campaign, two close Trump allies—Rudy Giuliani and former FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom—claimed that they were hearing rumors of mutiny inside the bureau from disgruntled former agents. “The FBI is Trumpland” and Clinton is “the antichrist to a large swath of FBI personnel,” a current FBI agent told The Guardian.

But then, to America’s surprise, Trump won.

After he took office and the focus turned to the investigation of his campaign’s possible coordination with Russia to influence the election, congressional Republicans turned against the bureau.

Trump and his backers on Capitol Hill were suddenly consumed with concerns about the “witch hunt” being carried out by “deep state” Clinton and Obama loyalists in the intelligence community. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a Republican former FBI director appointed by President George W. Bush, was painted as an anti-Trump partisan leading an investigative team of Democrats. Joking text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was kicked off of Mueller’s team after their discovery, and FBI attorney Lisa Page, with whom he was having an affair, were seriously discussed as evidence of an anti-Trump “secret society” at the bureau.

We’re now at a moment where Fox hosts are routinely calling for top FBI officials to be dragged off in handcuffs, and the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee believes he is tasked with investigating the DOJ and FBI themselves.

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Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee appeared to downplay the FBI’s concerns about the release of a controversial memo put together by Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA), according to a transcript of the panel’s closed-door Monday meeting that was made public Wednesday.

Asked by Democrats whether the FBI had approved the memo’s release, Nunes didn’t answer directly, saying the committee was satisfied that the memo on the intelligence community’s alleged surveillance abuses did not “disclose any issues of national security.”

The FBI put out a statement Wednesday expressing “grave concerns” about the document’s accuracy.

The developments highlight the divide between the White House and congressional Republicans on one side who want to release the memo, and the FBI, DOJ and Democrats on the other, who says it’s a misleading effort to make the intelligence community appear biased against President Trump.

At Monday’s meeting, Rep. Pete King (R-NY) said FBI Director Christopher Wray and two other senior FBI employees had reviewed the document, prompting Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) to ask if they were “okay” with its dissemination.

Nunes responded:“[O]ur goal was to make sure that we were not going to disclose any issues of national security, and we believe that we have met that threshold.”

The FBI on Wednesday issued a rare public statement disavowing the memo’s “material omissions of fact,” prompting Swalwell to fume on Twitter that his Republican committee colleagues had misled him.

The transcript also laid bare the battle over what, exactly, the minority and minority think they’re investigating. As Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) disclosed to reporters after Monday’s meeting wrapped, Nunes made the remarkable admission that he sees the DOJ and FBI as targets in their investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) had downplayed Schiff’s characterization that the committee majority had announced a designated investigation into those agencies, telling reporters they were simply engaged in standard “oversight.”

But the transcript shows Nunes took a stronger tone behind closed doors.

Schiff introduced a motion to delay the committee’s vote on the memo’s release so that the DOJ and FBI could provide the full House of Representatives with a briefing on security issues with making it public.

“The Department of Justice and the FBI have been under investigation by this committee for many, many months for FISA abuse and other matters,” Nunes replied, referring to his concerns about the validity of warrants issued by specialized foreign surveillance courts. “That investigation continues.”

Urging his colleagues to vote against Schiff’s motion, Nunes added, “We are not going to be briefed by people that are under investigation by this committee.”

Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

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When pressed by a Democrat on his committee in a closed-door meeting, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) denied coordinating with the White House on his controversial memo that purportedly reveals anti-Trump bias at the FBI and Justice Department—but sidestepped the question of whether committee staff had White House contacts.

In a newly released transcript of the committee’s Monday meeting, where the committee voted on party lines to release the memo, Nunes was asked about his motivations in assigning his staffers to craft it.

The Trump administration has pushed for the memo’s release, even as his top appointees at DOJ and FBI have made personal pleas and presumably approved of a rare public admonishment against doing so, citing national security concerns.

“Did they have any idea you were doing this?” Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) asked Nunes of the White House. “Did they talk about doing this with you? Did they suggest it? Did you suggest it to them? Did you consult in deciding how to go forward with this before, during, and after this point right now?”

“I would just answer, as far as I know, no,” Nunes replied.

Quigley pressed again for confirmation that “none of the staff members that worked for the majority had any consultation, communication at all with the White House.”

“The chair is not going to entertain—” Nunes replied, before he was interrupted by crosstalk.

He didn’t offer further comment on the issue.

Nunes has insisted that his only interest in getting the memo out is greater transparency. On Wednesday, after the FBI released a public statement asserting that the document’s accuracy is compromised by “material omissions,” he released a statement calling their concerns “spurious.”

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), countered in a statement that the transcript offered a “revealing and disquieting look into the strategy of Committee Republicans and that of Chairman Nunes in particular as they seek to protect President Trump from the Special Counsel’s investigation and congressional probes.”

Schiff said he would continue to press for the release of the committee Democrats’ 10-page rebuttal to the Nunes memo, which was blocked by their Republican colleagues.

Read the full transcript below.

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LiveWire