Let me say up front that I am not a Mike Morrell fan. In many ways he symbolizes everything that is wrong with the Intelligence Community. He is a fairly rabid partisan Democrat who hides behind the veneer of the disinterested and professional intelligence officer. This is the type who gave official sanction to the former head of the CIA’s failed Bin Laden unit, a guy named Michael Scheuer, to publish a book on Iraq during the 2004 campaign that was nothing more than a partisan hit job on George Bush. On several occasions, including during the 2016 campaign he gave at least one interview in which he claimed that the sacking of the Benghazi consulate was, in fact, caused by an internet video. This is something that we have known was false for a few years (see here | here).
Having said that, Morrell gave an interview to The Cipher Brief in which he pulls back his partisan fangs and says some commonsense stuff.
The first is that we do not fully understand the facts. For the most part – and please stay with me here – what we, the public, know is what the media has reported, that unnamed former and current government officials have told them what the Russians said to each other about what happened in meetings with Trump associates. That is not a sourcing chain in which I would put a great deal of confidence. I spent a career watching the media get a significant portion of intelligence-related stories wrong. So, the bottom line: we should all be very careful in saying what is a fact on which to base analysis here. The real facts may be different.
The second caveat is that we all need to be careful not to draw overarching conclusions from one data point – even if we think that data point is correct – or, even more importantly, we need to be careful that we don’t over-connect the dots. This latter point is particularly important. There are essentially two types of intelligence failures – One, under connecting the dots, not seeing what is there (Japan’s intent to attack Pearl Harbor is the best example) and two, over connecting the dots, seeing things that really are not there (Iraq WMD being the classic example). There are so many “facts” in the public domain now that many people are connecting them in a way that has them concluding the Trump campaign must have been guilty of conspiring with the Russians in a way that would be a violation of the law. It is way too early to come to that conclusion.
He gives more information on how he would view the contacts:
–This is as much about Flynn as it is about Kushner. Flynn was in the meeting. The media story is focused on Kushner because he is still a senior advisor to the President, while Flynn is not.
–Reaching out to the Russians during the transition is not necessarily a crime. It may be bad policy, but it is not necessarily a crime. I thought “Okay, something else to be investigated, but certainly not a smoking gun.” Whether a crime was committed, of course, depends entirely on the intent of the outreach and on what was discussed and decided – all of which we do not know with any degree of certainty.
–I wanted, and still want, to know two things: One, why the request for secrecy? Why the request for the use of the Russian Embassy’s secure communications? There are potential answers to those questions that would leave me saying “Okay, I understand. It was not smart to ask, but I get it and it is okay.” And there are potential answers to those questions that would leave me saying, “Put that at the top of the FBI’s list.” And two, was the Kushner/Flynn outreach coordinated within the transition? Was the president-elect aware? Was the vice-president elect, then the head of the transition, aware? Were other senior members of the transition aware? There is a big difference, in my mind, between a “yes” and a “no” on these questions.
And finally this:
TCB: You mentioned the media. Can you elaborate?
MM: Sure. I do think that Trump’s performance as President has been quite poor. But, I do think that the President is right to say there is a bias among some in the media. I see it everyday when I read the papers and see how things are being reported. And, I think this is a big deal.
You know when Hugo Chavez was first elected President in Venezuela in 1998, there was no political opposition of which to speak. The opposition was in disarray. There was no opposition leader to stand up and provide an alternative vision to that being pursued by Chavez. In its place, the Venezuelan media became the political opposition. And, in so doing, the media lost its credibility with the Venezuelan people. It was a huge loss for Venezuela.
That is a risk right here in America, right now. I believe that objective, fact-based journalism has never been as important as it is today to the future of our democracy. But, in order to be effective, journalists cannot take sides or even appear to take sides. It is only about our future.
You can ignore Morrell’s views on Kushner if you wish–personally, I’m at a loss to see how an authorized contact between Flynn/Kushner and the Russians could ever be criminal as they represent the incoming administration, unsavory and unwise, yes, but criminal?–but his last observation about the media is completely on target. But I think he may be in the running for the “too little too late” award. To a great extent the media, which was already on shaky ground, is burning its credibility daily with what has become a very obvious attempt to damage President Trump and his administration by any means possible. It is way too late to un-ring that bell.