At the end of the so-called “Schiff memo,” which ably dismembers GOP efforts to discredit the DOJ’s Russia investigation, there’s a reference to two career FBI employees who were thrust unwillingly into the midsts of those efforts several weeks ago.
Finally, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page’s text messages are irrelevant to the FISA application. The Majority gratuitously includes reference to Strzok and Page at the end of their memorandum, in an effort to imply that political bias has infected the FBI’s investigation and the DOJ’s FISA applications [to wiretap former Trump adviser Carter Page]. In fact, neither Strzok nor Page served as affiants on the applications, which were the product of extensive senior DOJ and FBI review. In demonizing both career professionals, the Majority accuses them of “orchestrating leaks to the media”—a serious charge; omits inconvenient text messages in which they critiqued a wide range of other officials and candidates from both parties; does not disclose that FBI Deputy Director McCabe testified to the Committee that he had no idea what Page and Strzok were referring to in their “insurance policy” texts; and ignores Strzok’s acknowledged role in preparing a public declaration, by then Director Comey, about former Secretary Clinton’s ‘extreme carelessness’ in handling classified information—which greatly damaged Clinton’s public reputation in the days just prior to the presidential election.
Anyone who hasn’t closely followed the GOP’s attempts to run interference against the Russia investigation for President Trump will be completely at sea reading that paragraph. But it is an important window into the brutal tactics conservatives embrace when their core political and ideological commitments come under threat.
Strzok worked as a senior counterintelligence agent, and Page an FBI lawyer, during the 2016 campaign. At the time, they were engaged in an extramarital affair that, as colleagues, entailed a voluminous exchange of text messages, thousands of which were uncovered in an internal review of the DOJ’s Clinton email investigation protocols. Among the text messages were dozens in which the two shared their political views, including uncensored criticisms of politicians—Donald Trump most prominent among them. When Special Counsel Robert Mueller learned of the text messages, he quietly demoted Strzok from the Russia investigation, but when Republicans on Capitol Hill learned of the text messages, they issued selective leaks (about the text messages, and the affair) in a contrived and immoral effort to place Strzok and Page at the center of an imaginary Deep State plot to sabotage Trump’s campaign and presidency.
The proximate consequence of these disclosures was to smear two career federal law enforcement officials and ruin (or at least damage) their lives, in order to advance a conspiracy theory none of the people advancing it believed. The Trump-Russia investigation remained undisclosed to the public throughout the election, even as the FBI made routine disclosures about the Clinton investigation, on which Strzok served as a lead investigator. In the full context of their communications, neither Strzok nor Page come across as conventionally partisan, and their conduct as law enforcement officials, outside the content of their text messages, remains unimpeached.
Smearing them, however, served the dual purposes of sowing doubt about the Russia investigation and centering public attention not around the findings of the probe, but around caricatures of the people conducting it. And this is exactly how Republicans are responding to a surge in public support for new gun laws in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas high school massacre.
Alongside helping Trump obstruct and distract from the Russia investigation, the main organizing intellectual project on the right today is getting influential people to say whatever nonsense they have to say to exonerate guns. Cops are cowards, teachers should be commandos. It doesn’t matter if what they say is embarrassingly stupid—guns can’t fail they can only be failed, and anything supportive of that assumption is worth saying out loud.
Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them. Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again – a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2018
Republicans have seized on the fact that multiple sheriff’s deputies at Stoneman Douglas high school didn’t storm the school grounds during the shooting—and the fact that law enforcement officials were warned repeatedly that the gunman was a potential threat—to lay blame for the massacre at the feet of public servants.
Though one lesson of Stoneman Douglas is that protecting schools with armed guards won’t necessarily deter a shooter with a death-wish, the Republican response to all of this is to flood schools with guns, or at least make sure that guns are held blameless. The fact that the deputy who was guarding the school didn’t stop the shooting is useful to conservatives, because it allows them to scapegoat a nameless, faceless public servant in a way that takes heat off the guns.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Trump criticizes Florida deputy who didn’t confront school shooter: ‘He certainly did a poor job’
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) February 23, 2018
Other Republicans will gladly spread the blame to the Broward County sheriff and his entire force, threatening the careers of people who haven’t done anything demonstrably wrong, so that critics of the gun regulation status quo are offset in the public debate by human foils.
I had wrongly assumed his CNN performance last week, while he knew the culpability of his own force, would ensure we’d never hear from this guy again. Another reminder that shame isn’t a universal human experience. https://t.co/GI9f4smgTH
— Josh Holmes (@HolmesJosh) February 24, 2018
This isn’t new behavior for Republicans. In recent memory they have run down, and created professional or legal jeopardy for, IRS officials, climate scientists, and Democratic campaign staffers whose livelihoods they found expendable in exchange for momentary political advantage. What the Russia investigation and Parkland shooting have revealed is that they will extend this ethic to law enforcement officers and other notional conservative allies when their conduct is politically inconvenient or disproves one of their inane theories.