Reporters leading the charge into investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government insist that no less than America's republican form of government is at stake.
If foreign actors are meddling in our political system, how can we be sure our efforts at self-government are being faithfully represented?
But if this is the standard — that America's political system is uncolored by foreign influence — there are a number of recent news stories receiving scandalously scant attention.
If these reporters really care about exposing Russian meddling in America's politics, why are they avoiding asking these critical 12 questions?
12. The Democratic political operative firm behind the discredited Trump dossier, Fusion GPS, relied on anonymous Russian sources to gather gossip about Trump, which it later circulated through media outlets and America's intelligence community. The FBI reportedly used the debunked dossier as the basis for its FISA warrant to conduct surveillance of the Trump campaign's communications. The question is, Who hired Fusion GPS? Russia? The Clinton campaign? Both? [UPDATE: We now know the Clinton campaign as well as the DNC and the FBI funded Fusion GPS' efforts; however, owing to the firm's stonewalling of a congressional investigation, we're still not sure who else funded their anti-Trump campaign.]
11. If Russia is in fact using Fusion GPS as a proxy in its efforts to undermine America’s political system, why aren’t reporters asking more questions about the firm’s founders refusing to cooperate with a congressional investigation? Last week two Fusion GPS officials pleaded the fifth, refusing to answer any questions about their role creating the dossier, their clients, or anything. In an attempt at following the money trail, Rep. Devin Nunes (D-Calif.) subpoenaed the firm's bank records, and Fusion GPS is now asking a judge to quash the request. The Fifth Amendment protects Americans from being compelled to submit self-incriminating testimony; shouldn't reporters be asking what Fusion GPS is trying to hide?
10. The answer to the above question might be clearer were the FBI not also refusing to cooperate with the congressional probe. After initially reviewing the Trump dossier, the FBI offered to pay Fusion GPS to continue its "research," although it's reported the FBI never issued any payments. The FBI has refused multiple congressional demands for information about its relationship with Fusion GPS. Why aren't reporters demanding answers from the feds? If the FBI was unwittingly co-oped by a Democratic operative firm working as a proxy for the Kremlin, isn't that a story worth investigating?
9. One of the original whistleblowers into Russian corruption, British-born American businessman, Bill Browder, testified before Congress that Fusion GPS uses friendly reporters to plant stories about their targets. (Bill Browder's former Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was tortured to death in a Russian prison after exposing Kremlin corruption; in response, Browder helped usher through the Magnitsky Act, which targeted specific Russian officials for punishment.) Browder says Fusion GPS, acting on behalf of Russian clients, orchestrated a smear campaign against him, with their goal being a repeal of the Magnitsky Act. In his testimony, Browder said that one D.C.-based journalist "in particular" appeared to be a for-hire journalistic hitman ... but wouldn't say who. Shouldn't reporters be demanding to know who among their ranks is willing to peddle Russian propaganda for cash?
8. Fusion GPS's lawyer, Joshua Levy, is also the former general counsel to Sen. Chuck Schumer, and The Wall Street Journal reports he's been leaked documents about Congress's Russia investigation (part of which is looking into Fusion GPS). "Consider that," the WSJ's Kim Strassel wrote, "Democratic members of Congress or their staff providing sensitive details of an investigation to a company to which the committee has given subpoenas." Why aren't members of the media demanding to know why Democratic lawmakers are secretly helping a subject of their own investigation?
7. During the 2016 presidential campaign, captured communications of Trump campaign staff were circulated within the federal government after the Obama Administration "unmasked" at least two of their identities. Gen. Michael Flynn's conversation with a Russian ambassador was leaked, which ultimately led to his resignation. Jeff Sessions' communications with the Russian ambassador were also leaked. By design, the government's "unmasking" of Americans' identities captured in electronic surveillance is meant to be extremely rare and can only be requested by a handful of high-ranking officials (as unmasking these communications infringes upon Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure). Yet one Obama official made a name for herself by unmasking "at such a rapid pace in the final months of the Obama administration that she averaged more than one request for every working day in 2016." That official, Samantha Power, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was notably not even part of the intelligence community. So why was she unmasking so many names in these final months of the Obama Administration? Actually, she wasn't. She says despite her name being used to file these requests, they were not actually hers. Meaning, another Obama official must have used her identity to access these classified communications. Shouldn't the press be demanding to know who? Especially, as was the case with Gen. Michael Flynn, these communications with foreign officials can be selectively leaked?
6. The Russian lawyer who sought and received a meeting with Trump's inner circle was granted entry into the U.S. without a visa under "extraordinary circumstances" by the Obama Administration's Department of Justice. Why, some journalists might be inclined to ask, was it so important for this Russian attorney to be in the United States that A.G. Loretta Lynch herself personally intervened on her behalf?
5. The Hill newspaper recently reported the FBI was aware Russian officials were engaged in a racketeering scheme that saw bribes traded in exchange for America, with then-Secretary of State Clinton's personal blessing, giving Moscow control over 20 percent of its uranium supply. Despite years of undercover investigators accumulating substantial evidence of criminal influence-peddling, the FBI essentially swept the matter under the rug. The biggest beneficiary of this odd decision was Hillary Clinton, who as part of the Clinton Foundation collected more than $200 million from Russian interests suffered an obvious conflict of interest. The FBI director at the time of this investigation was Robert Mueller. Shouldn't reporters thus be asking, If Mueller was willing to effectively deep-six his own agency's evidence of Russian meddling during the Obama era, why should he have credibility to investigate Trump's Russia connections?
4. One of the FBI's key undercover witnesses in the above investigation sought to speak to Congress about Russia's nuclear corruption in 2016, but was blocked from doing so by the Obama Administration's Department of Justice. If this informant divulged publicly the corruption he witnessed, the DoJ said it would hit him with criminal prosecution. If Russian meddling is the target, shouldn't reporters be demanding this person be allowed to speak?
3. The Hill reports today that the Russian spy ring busted up in 2010 had one spy that managed to gain access to Clinton's inner circle, a claim she denied after the story originally broke. Reports now suggest that the feds opted to move in on the spy ring specifically because they were alarmed at how close the sleeper cell was getting to Clinton. These 10 spies were arrested June 28th, 2010; the next day, Bill Clinton received $500,000 for delivering a short speech in Russia, where he met personally with Putin. (Over this same period, the Clinton Foundation was also receiving hundreds of millions in donations from Russian interests.) Just days later, Hillary Clinton intervened in the Russian spy case, allowing the agents to skip criminal prosecution and instead return to Russia in a hastily brokered a one-sided deal that was quietly announced over the 4th of July holiday. But knowing what we now know today, isn't this story worth revisiting? Was Russia able to buy back its spies through the auspices of the Clintons' bank accounts? The FBI had not even completed its interviews with these spies before they were shipped back; shouldn't journalists demand to know why?
2. When Bill Clinton visited Russia in 2010, he spoke as the husband of the secretary of State and former president. A Clinton family friend told The Hill that “one of the goals of the trip was to try to help a Clinton family relative ‘grow investments in their business with Russian oligarchs and other businesses …. It was one of the untold stories of the Russia trip. People have focused on Uranium One and the speaking fees, but opening up a business spigot for the family business was one only us insiders knew about.” Why aren't journalists asking which Clinton-connected businesses were being boosted during this trip? (Recall it was only weeks ago that many in the media where aghast that Trump's real estate company was pursuing a real estate project in Moscow in 2015, when Trump himself was considering a presidential run.)
1. In one of Loretta Lynch's final acts as attorney general, she pushed through a rule change making it easier for the NSA to circulate Americans' intercepted communications within the federal government. This policy change is thought to have played a role in the leaks of Trump officials' calls with Russian officials. The question then becomes: If a Democratic-run political operative firm is able to gin up a phony dossier with help from anonymous Russian accomplices, and if that report then serves as the basis for more comprehensive federal surveillance of specific Americans, and if that surveillance is then permitted to circulate amongst various federal agencies, and if those circulated communications are then selectively leaked to the press ... what exactly is the media's role in Russia's meddling? Are they being used, either wittingly or unwittingly?
Clearly there's a lot about Russia's involvement in American politics that merits further investigation. Unfortunately, too many reporters appear intent on using the Russia investigation to score political points against the president, rather than as an opportunity to do real investigative journalism and let the facts lead where they may.
But if reporters are serious about exposing Russia's efforts at manipulating American politics, they'll start demanding answers to the 12 questions above.