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Our Opinion: Neither a 'witch hunt' nor a hoax

Our Opinion: Neither a 'witch hunt' nor a hoax

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Last week, former FBI agent Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty to altering an email in 2016 as he sought a court’s blessing to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. He'll be sentenced in December.

Altering the FISA application was wrong and Carter should be held accountable. But it's neither the smoking gun Republicans have been seeking, nor proof of President Trump's claim of an "Obamagate hoax — the greatest political crime of the Century!”

Throw away Clinesmith’s surveillance request — and throw away the controversial Steele dossier — and there were still substantial reasons to investigate possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. They include a warning from the Australian government that Russia was trying to infiltrate Trump’s campaign as well as then-candidate Trump’s request for Russia to expose Hillary Clinton's emails — which Russia did within hours, through Wikileaks.

Given the circumstances, a thorough investigation was required.

The Justice Department discovered a great number of unreported contacts between Russian officials and Trump campaign personnel. They included the infamous Trump Tower meeting that followed Donald Trump Jr.’s enthusiastic response to an offer of dirt on the Clinton campaign. They also included campaign chairman Paul Manafort sharing key polling data with Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik. This and other investigations found, consistently, that Russia intended to help elect Trump and Trump’s campaign welcomed the help.

Trump’s response to the allegations was a counterstrike — to accuse President Obama, the FBI, The Washington Post and a variety of other individuals and agencies of conspiring to undermine his election. Some of his allies in Congress have followed suit. But an investigation last year by DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz found that, although the surveillance of Page was flawed, there was no evidence of “political bias or improper motive.”

Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month, affirmed that investigations were justified — and also countered the “Obamagate” narrative, saying, "During the meeting, the president, vice president and national security adviser did not in any way attempt to direct or influence any kind of investigation."

Following Yates’ testimony, President Trump claimed she was lying. But Yates, a legal professional who is fully aware of the consequences of perjury, testified under oath to a hostile committee, which Trump has steadfastly refused to do.

All of this was reaffirmed by the 1,000-page bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report released last week. "Russian officials, intelligence services, and others acting on the Kremlin's behalf were capable of exploiting the (Trump) Transition's shortcomings for Russia's advantage. Based on available information it is possible — and even likely — that they did so," the report said.

The report described Manafort as “a grave counterintelligence threat” and showed that campaign officials, including Trump Jr. and Gen. Michael Flynn, not only had contacts with Russian authorities, but repeatedly lied to investigators about them.

The Republican-led committee, chaired by North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, investigated before drawing conclusions. But Trump apologists like Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Ted Cruz seem to be starting with their conclusion — “conspiracy!” — then trying to fill in the blanks to justify it. 

But there’s still no there there. Not yet.

Republicans are placing a lot of hope on federal prosecutor John Durham’s current investigation of the investigation. Attorney General William Barr promised Fox News that there would be “significant developments” before November. If Durham finds any substantial wrongdoing, it should be punished. But it’s shameful that his investigation seems to be spurred mostly by a desire for political payback.

Many Americans are concerned with justice and fairness — which shouldn’t be partisan issues. But attempts to reach the truth, like so much in the Trump era, have been poisoned by toxic political partisanship and loyalty to Trump above all. That undermines justice.

These “hoax” games have diverted attention from continuing Russian influence on the 2020 election. That’s where our attention should turn now.

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