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The weirdest Trump scandal: His Russian counter-intelligence investigation was secretly blocked

3 min read

As Trump’s one term winds to a thankful close, one of the largest scandals remains seemingly forgotten and bizarrely unexplained.  There not only has never been a counter-intelligence investigation into Trump’s connections with Russia and Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — but we have learned that this is because that investigation was secretly thwarted by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The obvious implications of this forgotten scandal are astonishing, but the basic facts are simple to grasp and have been publicly reported.  For example, on August 30, 2020, the NYT  reported:

The Justice Department secretly took steps in 2017 to narrow the investigation into Russian election interference and any links to the Trump campaign, according to former law enforcement officials, keeping investigators from completing an examination of President Trump’s decades-long personal and business ties to Russia.

… [L]aw enforcement officials never fully investigated Mr. Trump’s own relationship with Russia, even though some career F.B.I. counterintelligence investigators thought his ties posed such a national security threat that they took the extraordinary step of opening an inquiry into them. Within days, the former deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein curtailed the investigation without telling the bureau, all but ensuring it would go nowhere

Briefly, the FBI is tasked with two types of investigations: criminal investigations and counter-intelligence investigations.  The former is understood by the public.  Counter-intelligence investigations are less understood and “are conducted to prove or disprove an allegation of espionage or other intelligence activities, such as sabotage, assassination, or other national security crimes conducted by or on behalf of a foreign government, organization, or person or international terrorists.”

The FBI originally opened a counter-intelligence investigation into Trump and his campaign, and subsequently expanded that into a criminal investigation as well.

OK, here is where the scandal arose.  When Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller was appointed, he was supposed to take over both aspects of the FBI’s dual investigations.  Except, we subsequently learned, Deputy AG Rosentein told Mueller to limit his investigation to a criminal investigation only, and then deliberately concealed that instruction from the FBI.  The result was that Mueller thought that the FBI was conducting the counter-intelligence investigation, and the FBI thought that Mueller was conducting the counter-intelligence investigation. Thus, as intended by Rosenstein, no one conducted a counter-intelligence investigation into Trump’s connections or misconduct with Russia.  Again, from the same NYT article:

[P]rivately, Mr. Rosenstein instructed Mr. Mueller to conduct only a criminal investigation into whether anyone broke the law in connection with Russia’s 2016 election interference, former law enforcement officials said. . . .

Mr. Rosenstein never told [FBI Director] McCabe about his decision, leaving the F.B.I. with the impression that the special counsel would take on the investigation into the president as part of his broader duties. Mr. McCabe said in an interview that had he known Mr. Mueller would not continue the inquiry, he would have had the F.B.I. perform it.

Amazingly, Rosenstein has confirmed all of this.  Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff (who I respect) later acknowledged this in court filings, and the subject has been acknowledged in books by departing officials.  In short, this happened.

So, (i) a Republican Deputy AG secretly blocked any counter-intelligence investigation into Trump’s Russian connections, (ii) we all know about it and, as best as I can tell, (iii) there has been no explanation, much less repercussions, for this grand, consequential scandal. I don’t even see subsequent reporting on it.

I’m not inclined to conspiracy theories, but I have no obviously innocent explanation for the underlying Rosenstein scandal, nor the subsequent and broad silence about it, including by Democrats and the press.

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