FILE – In this Feb. 22, 2018, file photo, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks on the Senate Floor at the Utah state Capitol in Salt Lake City. President Donald Trump’s list of candidates for the Supreme Court, posted on White House website in November 2017 includes Lee. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
I’ll bet not too many people remember this 2016 tweet from Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).
Donald Trump is a distraction. Time for him to step aside so we can focus on winning ideas that will carry Republicans to a victory in Nov.
— Mike Lee (@MikeLeeforUtah) October 8, 2016
Ol’ Mike was one of the original Never-Trump Republicans who did not support Candidate Trump against the execrable Hillary Clinton in 2016. Now contemplate this next fact very carefully. In a binary election, a Republican not supporting the Republican presidential candidate – and in a very public manner! – was effectively giving the nod to the walking felon Hillary Clinton. Would a REAL Republican walk that plank? Just think about where the country would be if Hillary had succeeded in stealing the election in 2016!
Lee has been sniping at the President from the cheap seats for a couple of years now. He and several other senators have been NeverTrumpers for most of the President’s first term. There were 14 other Republican senators who didn’t endorse the President in 2016, and in fact, many of them called for him to step aside for Mike Pence. One of the first victims of Trumpenfreude was Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who lost her Senate reelection bid in 2016 by just over 1000 votes. And she knows her anti-Trump blarney during the campaign cost her BIGLY. No tears from me!
To return to Senator Lee. Well, he used his time wisely at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Wednesday during which DoJ Inspector General Horowitz was questioned about the FISA abuse report. His statements provide a glimmer of hope that he’s been reconsidering his anti-Trump stance after having read about the blatant corruption and malfeasance by the FBI against President Trump that was detailed in the Horowitz report. Here is what he said:
I find the conclusion that some have raised that your report, Mr. Horwitz, somehow exonerates the FBI in this matter to be crazy. Absolutely crazy. It almost makes me wonder whether those who are making this argument have read the same report that we’re talking about today. Perhaps they’re talking about a different report?
There is no planet on which I think this report that indicates things were okay within the FBI in connection with this investigation. They most certainly were not, and yet stunningly, former FBI director James Comey took to the pages of the Washington Post to declare that this report – your report – shows that “the FBI fulfilled its mission protecting the American people and upholding the US Constitution.” I don’t understand that, and I find it absolutely stunning that he would reach that conclusion. This is nonsense.
I don’t care where you fit on the political spectrum. If you are a politician, or if you are a non-politician. If you are a liberal or a conservative. If you are a Republican or a Democrat. Regardless of your age, your views, you should be deeply concerned about what’s in your report, Mr. Horowitz. This report is a scathing indictment of the FBI, of the agents that were involved. I want to be clear about that because the FBI is an institution that has a long history of respect in this country. And as a federal prosecutor, I worked with the FBI. I found many of its agents to be of the utmost integrity and thoroughness. And that’s why I am so concerned by our report and its findings and the facts stated therein because I think this really damages that. There is a lot of good in this country that comes not just from the FBI being good but also being understood to be good.
The behavior outlined in our report is at a minimum so negligent … I would actually say so reckless … that it calls into question the legitimacy of the entire FISA program. And I don’t say that lightly. I say this of course as someone who has long questioned the FISA program and how it could be abused, but this really pushes us over the edge.
The report concludes – way too generously, in my view – that the report “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence of intentional misconduct on the part of the case agents” who were involved in investigating the Trump campaign. But the report goes on to call the conduct of the agents and the supervisors involved to be “serious performance failures,” which you noted were failures for which you did not receive a satisfactory explanation. [Horowitz confirmed that with a “yes.”] Serious performance failures. Failures without any type of satisfactory explanation. (emotionally at this point:) This is the failure that Jim Comey astoundingly, stunningly, irresponsibly considers a fulfilled mission? A mission that includes among other things protecting the constitutional rights of the American people? I think not. This is what the former head of the FBI considers protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution. I just can’t understand it. This is simply not good enough. It may be good enough for Mr. Comey; it’s not good enough for the American people.
Every American really should be terrified by this report. The FBI team that investigated the Trump campaign was, as has been pointed out, hand-picked by. After all, it couldn’t and wouldn’t and wasn’t the case that would just pick any ordinary investigators to investigate a presidential campaign, especially a presidential campaign of one of the two major party nominees for what was acknowledged in the report to be one of the most sensitive FBI investigations. These agents were supposed to have been the best of the best, and we wouldn’t expect anything else in that circumstance. They were supposed to have been of the highest character and professionalism, committed to protecting the civil liberties of all Americans. You see, our privacy is not at odds with our security. Our privacy is inextricably intertwined with a deep an inseverable part of our security. We cannot be secure unless our privacy is also guaranteed. We certainly can’t be secure in our republican form of government if after all our republican form of government imperiled by people who choose to politicize the intelligence gathering and law enforcement apparatus that our federal government has.
So, we’re faced with two possibilities: either (1) these FBI agents purposely used the power of the federal government to wage a political war against a presidential candidate they despised, or (2) these agents were so incompetent that they allowed a paid foreign political operative to weaponize the FISA program into a spying operation on a rival presidential political campaign. I’m not sure which one is worse. I am sure that NEITHER conclusion is acceptable. They’re both horrifying for slightly different reasons. I’m not sure there is a substantive distinction between the two of them and I’m not sure it’s possible to conclude the biased evidence in communications between some of these investigators wasn’t at least a part of it. Now the fact that you say there wasn’t a causal connection between them … that there wasn’t a sine qa non (what for) causal chain between those communications and the opening of the investigation itself is beside the point. The fact is, they were agents who made their bias clear, and they went after someone in part because they did not like his candidacy, and that’s inexcusable.
The report on the FBI’s abuse. I believe it’s longstanding abuse. I believe it’s inevitable abuse of FISA and the FISA court to surveil American citizens. This should not be a surprise to us. James Madison warned us against this very kind of thing in Federalist No. 51 when he said, “if men were angels, we wouldn’t need a government. If we had access to angels to govern us, we wouldn’t need rules about government.” But alas, we are not angels, and we don’t have access to angels to govern us, and so we have to have auxiliary precautions. We have to have checks and balances to make sure that no one person or no one entity gets too much power. And added to those checks and balances, we also have substantive limitations like the Fourth Amendment. We have things that are there to protect us.
I believed for some time as has been noted earlier in this hearing … that I’ve teamed up with people at the opposite end of the political ideological spectrum … that FISA carries with it an unacceptable risk of abuse. That’s why I teamed up with Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) during the last nine years that I’ve served in the Senate on the Senate Judiciary Committee because I believe that these programs are subject to abuse. I’ve been warning for YEARS that inevitably these would result in abuse. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when and how soon will government official get caught doing it.
It actually surprises me in some ways that it took this long to find an instance where they get caught, but again, that is what happens when you take a standard that is malleable, that requires virtually no public accountability, you render all by a small handful of intelligence committee lawmakers in the House and in the Senate to. You render all other citizens other than them – other than the intel community itself – ineligible to review their work, and then you make it possible for them to gather information … This kind of thing is of course going to happen. It’s never NOT going to happen, and that scares me to death.
Now, Inspector General Horowitz, you’ve stated several times today, both in your opening statement and in response to questions, that you did not find documentary and testimonial evidence of bias that influenced the FBI’s decision to conduct these operations. But Mr. Horowitz, is not the lack of evidence that you’re talking about itself evidence of bias? Isn’t the lack of evidence on bias … evidence that we really should take as bias? But in any event, it’s certainly not itself indicative that no bias occurred. Isn’t that correct?
[Horowitz: as to the opening, which is a different place (in the report) than the FISA issues that you’ve identified and I talked about earlier, these are two very different situations. On the FISA side, we found a lack of documentary and testimonial evidence about intentionality, but we also noted the lack of satisfactory explanations, and in fact, we’ve opened the possibility that – for the reasons you’ve indicated – it’s unclear what the motivations were. On the one hand, gross incompetence and negligence; on the other hand, intentionality. And where in between, we weren’t in a position with the evidence we had to make that conclusion.]
(Back to Lee) my point is, your lack of evidence here is not evidence that there was no bias.
[Horowitz: No. Correct. I’m solely basing it on the actual evidence that we have.]
Sen. Lee’s key points made included these two:
- The FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane (CFH) team either was politically motivated to take out a presidential candidate with whom the disagreed using the awesome power of the federal government to do so, or the CFH team was incompetent and allowed a foreign national (Steele) to weaponize the FISA process in order to spy on a presidential campaign. And we can rule out “incompetence” because the Democrats have praised the CFH for the “professionalism and patriotism.” It’s quite a conundrum for you Democrats, isn’t it? And neither choice bodes well for the CFH team – and you!
- Secondly, Lee was able to get Horowitz to infer that there may be other evidence that Horowitz’s team did not have access to (and, by inference US Attorney John Durham’s team has) that would provide a definitive answer about the motivation for the investigation itself.
Okay, Sen. Lee may not be completely back from “anti-Trump purgatory,” but I suspect he is at the very least appalled at what the Horowitz report disclosed, and any beliefs he may have had about the “craziness” of the President’s claims that he was spied on during his campaign have completely dissipated. It’s a good start that I suspect will also sink in with some of his NeverTrump colleagues like Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Mike Crapo (R-ID). We shall see.