The Russians are back, big time. The Russian bots, that is. And that means something big is happening in the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. We all know who reaped the rewards of that intrusion.
Over the course of the last 48 hours, bots linked to the Russian Federation have gone viral on a Twitter hashtag created by Republican lawmakers who claim the Obama administration illegally spied on Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign during FBI surveillance of Russian diplomats and figures linked to the Kremlin. Never mind the problematic fact that Kremlin-linked figures under surveillance were chit-chatting with a presidential campaign that stood to gain from a Russian influence operation. In Age of Trump, such facts are easily overlooked, especially where the nation’s first black president is concerned.
The hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo refers to a memorandum kept secret by House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, which is alleged to contain classified information proving that Obama used the intelligence services and a secret warrant to keep tabs on the Trump operation. But Nunes refuses to release the memo, which Democrats have described as “a hit job” on the FBI, according to NPR’s Ryan Lucas.
Nunes, you’ll recall, recused himself for a time from Intelligence Committee activities involving the matter of Russia’s election meddling after it was revealed that he made a secret trip to a White House office, where Trump administration officials showed him classified information about the secret warrant granted to the Obama Justice Department under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But he’s all unrecused now, and making hay of a memo he says proves his case, which he will show to no one, not even officials in the U.S. Department of Justice.
Members of the right-wing congressional Freedom Caucus got the ball rolling on the hashtag, and the bots latched on. Some 400 of those Twitter bot accounts were created just this month, according to Jonathon Morgan of the nonprofit Data for Democracy, as reported by The Washington Post.
Representative Adam Schiff and Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrats on the House Intelligence and Senate Judiciary Committees, sent a letter to Twitter and Facebook expressing concern and demanding answers.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders joined the chorus of parroting nesting dolls on Tuesday, recommending “transparency” on the Nunes memo.
It’s all an attempt, of course, to discredit Mueller and the FBI, while creating a giant, howling distraction.
Because if you look at what happened over the last 48 hours in the Mueller investigation, there’s plenty for Trump and his toadies to be freaked out about.
Start with the Mueller team’s interview on Tuesday of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who met several times during the campaign with Sergey Kislyak, then Russia’s ambassador to the United States, and conveniently forgot to tell Congress about it during his confirmation process. Sessions, who served as a campaign surrogate for Trump and served on the president’s transition team, is the first cabinet member to submit to Mueller’s grilling, and he may well not be the last.
Move on to the news broken by The Washington Post that Trump asked Andrew McCabe, the number-two guy at the FBI, whom McCabe had voted for. McCabe, whose wife ran for office in Virginia as a Democrat (and lost), has been in Trump’s sights since that time he fired former FBI Director James Comey, and Sessions has been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire McCabe.
Oh, and speaking of Comey, we also learned in the last day that he was interviewed last year by the Mueller team.
And that’s just in the last two days. Over the course of the last two weeks, Mueller issued a grand jury subpoena for Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief White House strategist who also ran the Trump campaign in its final stretch and served on the transition team. In the book Fire and Fury, Bannon famously told author Michael Wolff that a meeting led by Donald Trump Jr. between campaign officials and a Kremlin-linked lawyer was “treasonous”—a claim that got him pushed from his latest job as chief of the right-wing agitprop shop known as Breitbart News.
Perhaps most telling about the state of affairs vis-à-vis the Trump crowd and the Mueller investigation was Bannon’s performance last week in a closed-door hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on the Russia matter. There, the characteristically chatty and bombastic former aide faced a rapt audience and fell mute.
While not exactly citing executive privilege, Bannon, reportedly at the behest of White House lawyers, declined to answer questions about anything that took place during his tenure on the transition team or in the West Wing, prompting the committee to issue a subpoena of its own—which apparently yielded nothing.
Word is that Mueller intends to interview Trump, and it could happen soon. What’s that din, you ask? Why it’s the bots and the bootlickers, all in a dither, seeing their dreams of plunder rent asunder.