As FBI Director Sen John Cornyn Would Kill the Trump-Russia Investigation and Go After Leaks
WASHINGTON, May 13, 2017—Donald Trump is considering Republican Senator John Cornyn from Texas to head the FBI, according to reports. Installing Senator Cornyn as FBI Director would end the agency’s current Trump-Russia investigation and turn it instead into a hunt for whistleblowers.
Given his questioning of former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper at the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism hearing Monday, it is reasonable to assume that placing Senator Cornyn at the head of the FBI would effectively end any meaningful investigation into the Trump-Russia connection by that agency.
At the Monday hearing, Senator Cornyn asked a total of eight questions. None of his questions dealt with Russian interference in the 2016 election, the purported topic of the hearing. Instead, Senator Cornyn asked about unmasking, leaking, and Sally Yates’ refusal to defend Trump’s executive order enacting a travel ban.
Before asking questions, Senator Cornyn took several minutes to “regret” that former National Security Advisor Susan Rice had “refused to testify in front of the Committee.” Senator Cornyn conveniently left out that Rice had been invited by the chairman of the subcommittee but not by the ranking Democrat, in what has been described as a “significant departure from the bipartisan invitations extended to other witnesses.”
Senator Cornyn also took time to state that he was also a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and was privy to classified information.
“We have been given access to the raw intelligence collected by the intelligence community, which I think, completes what understandably is an incomplete picture,” said Cornyn. He then went on to express his concerns that “unmasking is casting suspicion on the intelligence community,” and causing “legitimate privacy concerns.”
Senator Cornyn then went on to ask Director Clapper three questions about the “paper trail” and process through which an individual caught up through incidental collection is unmasked, and how this information can be leaked to the press.
The remainder of Senator Cornyn’s five questions focused on Acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ refusal to defend Donald Trump’s executive order imposing a travel ban from a number of majority-Muslim countries.
By focusing on leaks, Cornyn advanced the White House and Donald Trump’s repeated assertions that “the real story” is about leaks, and not about a hostile government hijacking the 2016 elections.
The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2017
By concentrating on Susan Rice and unmasking, Cornyn attempted to revive the idea that there is “evidence” for Trump’s baseless claim that President Obama “wiretapped” Trump Tower in 2016. The pursuit of these same questions was what ultimately led Rep. Devin Nunez to step down from a similar investigation in the House.
By asking Sally Yates about her reasons for refusing to defend the executive order, Senator Cornyn advanced the White House narrative that Yates is a “political opponent,” in an attempt to discredit her testimony.
A copy of Senator Cornyn’s questions and remarks are copied below from a full transcript published in The Washington Post.
Senator Cornyn did not ask a single question about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, how it was accomplished or how we can protect ourselves from this kind of interference in the future. He did not ask about Sally Yates’ conversations with White House Counsel Don McGhan on the topic of Michael Flynn’s conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He did not ask about how Russia used fake news to influence the election or how Russia recruits collaborators.
It was clear that Senator Cornyn’s agenda was to protect Donald Trump and advance the narratives put forward by a White House currently experiencing a grave credibility crisis.
It is also clear from Senator Cornyn’s questions at the hearing that he has no interest in finding out how Russia interfered in the 2016 election and whether they had help from Donald Trump or his associates.
Senator Cornyn has shown that he will not be impartial as head of the FBI and as head of an investigation into possible ties between Trump, his associates and Russia.
Naming Senator Cornyn Director of the FBI would effectively end the investigation into Trump’s possible collusion with Russia, and instead focus on punishing whistleblowers and the press for contradicting the story the White House is trying to tell.
GRAHAM: Senator Cornyn.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-TEXAS: Thank you, Chairman Graham.
And Senator Whitehouse, for today’s hearing.
This is important, the American people have every right to know as much as possible about Russian interference in our elections. But, as I think, as the Director has told us before many times, this is not anything new.
Although, perhaps, the level and intensity, and the sophistication, of both Russian overt and covert operations is really unprecedented, and I thank the intelligence community for their assessment.
I do regret that, while these two witnesses are certainly welcomed and we’re glad to have them here, that former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, has refused to testify in front of the Committee. It seems to me, there are a lot of questions that she needs to answer.
I would point out, though, Mr. Chairman, that both Senator Feinstein and I, are fortunate enough to be on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also conducting a bipartisan investigation under the leadership of Chairman Burr and Vice Chairman Warner.
One of the benefits of that additional investigation, is that we have been given access to the raw intelligence collected by the intelligence community, which I think, completes what understandably is an incomplete picture. When you can only talk in a public setting about part of the evidence, but it is important for the American people to understand what’s happening.
I think this subcommittee hearing is playing an important role in that.
I want to ask Director Clapper, because, I think, unfortunately some of the discussion about unmasking is casting suspicion on the intelligence community in a way that I think is, frankly, concerning. Particularly when we’re looking at reauthorizing Section 702 of the Patriot Act by the end of next year.
because as many have said, I can’t recall your specific words, but I know Director Comey has called that the crown jewels of the intelligence community, and I’m very concerned that some of the information that’s been discussed about unmasking, for example, might cause some people to worry about their legitimate privacy concerns.
CORNYN: So when it comes to incidental collection on an American person, and that is unmasked at the request of some appropriate authority, can you describe, briefly, the paper trail and the series — and the approval process that is required in order to allow that to happen? That’s not a trivial matter, is it?
CLAPPER: The — and the — the process is that, first of all, the judgment as to whether or not to unmask or reveal the identity is rendered by the original collection agency so normally that’s going to be, in the case of 702 — going to be NSA.
And I know, for my part, because, as I indicated in my statement, over my six and a half years of DNI, I occasionally ask for identities to be unmasked to understand the context.
What I was concerned about, and those of us in the intelligence community are concerned about, is the behavior of the — the validated foreign intelligence target. Is that target trying to co-opt, recruit, bribe, penetrate or what?
And it’s very difficult to understand that context by the labels “U.S. person one,” “U.S. person two.” And as well, I should point out, doing that on an anecdotal basis, one SIGINT report at a time, in which you need to look at is there a — is there a pattern here, and so I tried on my part to be very, very judicious about that.
It’s a very sensitive thing. But I did feel an obligation, as DNI, that I should attempt to understand the context and who this person was, because that had a huge bearing on how important or critical it was, and what threat might be posed by virtue of the — again, the behavior of the validated foreign intelligence target.
So our focus was on the target, not — not as much as the U.S. person — only to understand the context.
CORNYN: Well, the fact that some appropriate authority might request and receive the unmasking of the name of the U.S. person does not then authorize the release of that information — that classified information — into the public domain? that remains a crime, does it not?
CLAPPER: Yes. Again, that’s why I attempted to make — to clarify, in my statement…
CORNYN (?): Push the button.
CLAPPER: That’s why, in my statement, I attempted to make that distinction between unmasking, an authorized, legitimate process with approval by the appropriate authorities, and leaking, which is an unauthorized process under any circumstance.
CORNYN: Mr. Chairman, I think it’s really important that, in order to determine who actually requested the unmasking, and in order to establish whether appropriate procedures were undertaken under both legislative oversight and judicial oversight, that we determine what that paper trail is and follow it…
CLAPPER: Senator Cornyn, if I may, I just — and I have to be very careful here about how I phrase this, but I would just repeat to you the definition of what 702 is used for…
CORNYN: Foreign intelligence (ph).
CLAPPER: … which is collection against a non-U.S. person overseas.
CORNYN: I don’t think you can say that enough, Director Clapper. It’s important, because people need to understand that…
CLAPPER: Happy to say it again.
CORNYN: … we are both getting necessary foreign intelligence…
CORNYN: … to keep the American people safe, but also respecting the privacy rights and the constitutional rights of American citizens.
CORNYN: Ms. Yates, this is the first time that you’ve appeared before Congress since you left the Department of Justice, and I just wanted to ask you a question about the — your decision to refuse to defend the president’s executive order.
In the letter that you sent to Congress, you point out that the executive order itself was drafted in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel, and you point out that the Office of Legal Counsel reviewed it to determine whether, in its view, the proposed executive order was lawful on its face and properly drafted.
Is it true that the Office of Legal Counsel did conclude it was lawful on its face and properly drafted?
YATES: Yes, they did. The office of…
CORNYN: And you overruled them?
YATES: … I did. The office of legal…
CORNYN: Did you (ph) — what — what is your authority to — to overrule the Office of Legal Counsel when it comes to a legal determination?
YATES: The Office of Legal Counsel has a narrow function, and that is to look at the face of an executive order and to determine purely on its face whether there is some set of circumstances under which at least some part of the executive order may be lawful. And importantly, they do not look beyond the face of the executive order, for example, statement that are made contemporaneously or prior to the execution of the E.O. that may bear on its intent and purpose.
That office does not look at those factors, and in determining the constitutionality of this executive order, that was an important analysis to engage in and one that I did.
CORNYN: Well, Ms. Yates, I thought the Department of Justice had a long standing tradition of defending a presidential action in court if there are reasonable arguments in its favor, regardless whether those arguments might prove to be ultimately persuasive, which of course is up to the courts to decide and not you, correct?
YATES: It is correct that often times, but not always, the civil division of the Department of Justice will defend an action of the president or an action of Congress if there is a reasonable argument to be made. But in this instance, all – all arguments have to be based on truth because we’re the Department of Justice. We’re not just a law firm, we’re the Department of Justice and the…
CORNYN: You distinguish the truth from lawful?
YATES: Yes, because in this instance, in looking at what the intent was of the executive order, which was derived in part from an analysis of facts outside the face of the order, that is part of what led to our conclusion that it was not lawful, yes.
CORNYN: Well, Ms. Yates, you had a distinguished career for 27 years at the Department of Justice and I voted for your confirmation because I believed that you had a distinguished career. But I have to tell you that I find it enormously disappointing that you somehow vetoed the decision of the Office of Legal Counsel with regard to the lawfulness of the president’s order and decided instead that you would counter man (ph) the executive order of the president of the United States because you happen to disagree with it as a policy matter.
YATES: Well, it was…
CORNYN: I just have to say that.
YATES: I appreciate that, Senator, and let me make one thing clear. It is not purely as a policy matter. In fact, I’ll remember my confirmation hearing. In an exchange that I had with you and others of your colleagues where you specifically asked me in that hearing that if the president asked me to do something that was unlawful or unconstitutional and one of your colleagues said or even just that would reflect poorly on the Department of Justice, would I say no? And I looked at this, I made a determination that I believed that it was unlawful. I also thought that it was inconsistent with principles of the Department of Justice and I said no. And that’s what I promised you I would do and that’s what I did.
CORNYN: I don’t know how you can say that it was lawful and say that it was within your prerogative to refuse to defend it in a court of law and leave it to the court to decide.
YATES: Senator, I did not say it was lawful. I said it was unlawful.
Featured image: Gage Skidmore, Flickr Creative Commons