Tag Archives: FISA court

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/4/18: On Baseball, Mocking Ford, Apologies, and “Tax Schemes”

Good Morning!

[BOY its been hard keeping up on ethics blogging between air travel, a balky laptop, seminars, the new firm and, most of all, ushering the Red Sox to a World Championship. Yesterday was classic: I had multiple posts composed in my head, and literally was never able to find time to work on them. I’m sorry. I’ll figure it out…]

1 Baseball ethics: The exciting Cubs-Rockies Wild Card elimination game was set up by the Colorado 12-0 win over the Washington Nationals on the final day of the season. Thus the Rockies ended the season in a tie with the Dodgers on top of the NL West, requiring one of the two tie-breaking games on Monday. These were ratings bonanzas for baseball and the networks showing them, leading to conspiracy theories regarding that last Rockies victory.  Max Scherzer, arguably the best pitcher in the league, was supposed to start the game fr Washington, and if he had, its safe to say that the Rockies would not have won 12-0, if at all. Reportedly he wanted to start the game, but the Nationals decided late to start the immortal Eric Fedde. Were they trying to give the game to the Rockies? Did orders come down from MLB to tank?

The theory makes no sense, because the suits and networks are always rooting for the big media centers and their teams to make it to the World Series. The Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs mean big ratings, and the Rockies posed a threat to the Dodgers and ended up eliminating the Cubs. Nonetheless, a team like the Nats, out of the race, running out the string, should have the professional integrity to go all out to win when a game is important to its opponent.

2. I’m not going to demand an apology, but they still owe me an apology. The Hill is reporting that…

Congressional investigators have confirmed that a top FBI official met with Democratic Party lawyers to talk about allegations of Donald Trump-Russia collusion weeks before the 2016 election, and before the bureau secured a search warrant targeting Trump’s campaign.

Former FBI general counsel James Baker met during the 2016 season with at least one attorney from Perkins Coie, the Democratic National Committee’s private law firm.

That’s the firm used by the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign to secretly pay research firm Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence operative, to compile a dossier of uncorroborated raw intelligence alleging Trump and Moscow were colluding to hijack the presidential election.

The dossier, though mostly unverified, was then used by the FBI as the main evidence seeking a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant targeting the Trump campaign in the final days of the campaign.

This is not exactly surprising, but it ticks me off for personal reasons. Several left-leaning commenters here who I respected and gave a lot of attention, abandoned Ethics Alarms in high dudgeon because I continued to question the growing evidence that the entire Russian collusion investigation was rigged, partisan, illegal, and an effort to bring down an elected President using a corrupt and politicized FBI and Justice Department. Here was one exit speech, and from a friend:

“But I can’t allow my own tiny voice to be associated with this nonsense any longer. Being the “left” voice is one thing; being way out on the fringe is quite another, and I don’t think it’s me that has moved. I see far too many shades in our times now of McCarthyism (not Gene), George Wallace-ism, and autocracy. I’m deeply concerned about the continued health and well-being of our democratic institutions. I suspect Rod Rosenstein will soon have no recourse but to resign, and I’m doing something similar. I don’t want to be party to this hysterical of a dialogue (in my humble opinion).”

Continue reading

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Sunday Evening Ethics Debriefing, 7/22/18: FISA, “Resistance” Jerks, Translator Ethics And More Problems With CVS

Good evening!

1.  Confirmation bias test? The big news today was that the  U.S. Department of Justice and FBI have released the 412 page FISA application used to gain a Title I surveillance warrant against Carter Page in 2016 while he was working as a low-level unpaid adviser for the Trump campaign. The document is heavily redacted in its more than 400 pages. Carter Page himself—he was never charged or interviewed , which seems rather damning in itself–said today,

“‘You talk about misleading the courts, it’s just so misleading… It’s literally a complete joke.'”

The full pdf is available here.

Once again, it is impossible to tell what is going on by following the news media’s reports. It sure seems, however that once you block out the spinning by the mainstream media, this post regarding Devon Nunes’ much attacked memo on the topic was verified.  Still, I have a low rate of patience for these things, and am not the best interpreter of documents like this, so I am only relying on second hand opinions by others who have plowed through the damn thing. I’ll wait to get some reliable readings.

It seems like the critics of the Mueller investigation and the conduct of Justice and the FBI feel confident that the materials show that indeed the warrants were acquired deceptively, meaning illegally, with the unsubstantiated Steele dossier being the crux of the justification for the warrants, also considering the fact that the Clinton campaign was behind the dossier was never revealed to the judges. [Here’s a recent example of the spin being applied to that argument. The judges were told that the dossier was paid for by a person with political motives, and the claim is that this was enough, that they could figure out that it was a tool of the Clinton campaign. I’ve never understood this argument. Why weren’t the judges informed directly, then? ] Ann Althouse commenter named Yancy Ward wrote, Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/26/18: Spin! Hypocrisy! Heresy! Demagoguery! Idiocy! And Weren’t Those Sex Slaves Cheering For North Korea Adorable?

Good Morning!

Of course it’s a good morning…the 2018 Winter Olympics ended last night!

1 The Schiff Memo. The Democrat’s alleged rebuttal to the Devon Nunes memo regarding how Carter Page came to be the object of secret surveillance that extended into the Trump campaign should have been the big story of the weekend, along with the fact that government systems repeatedly failed to protect the students in Parkland from an unbalanced young man who had been repeatedly identified as a risk for exactly the kind of mad act he ultimately engaged in. But the left-biased news media downplayed it after trying to spin it, because the hyped memo did not rebut the key allegations in the previous Republican House document. The FISA court was not informed that the Russian dossier was created and funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. The dubious dossier  was a key component of the evidence that led a secret court to remove the Constitutional rights of a citizen, while interfering with a Presidential campaign.

Amusingly, the Schiff memo spins that the Obama Justice Department application was “transparent,” and then describes transparency as a FISA warrant application that said that Christopher Steele, referred to as “Source #1,” was “approached by” Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, referred to as “an identified U.S. person,” who

indicated to Source #1 that a U.S.-based law firm had hired the identified U.S. Person to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s [i.e., Trump’s] ties to Russia. (The identified U.S. Person and Source #1 have a longstanding business relationship.) The identified U.S. Person hired Source #1 to conduct this research. The identified U.S. Person never advised Source #1 as to the motivation behind the research into Candidate #1’s ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. Person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.

Andrew McCarthy, in the National Review, concludes that the Schiff memo does the Democratic narrative more harm than good. I agree: it looks like a desperate spin attempt to me, so desperate that the news media abandoned the story as quickly as it could.

2. Segue Alert! And speaking of transparency…From the Boston Herald: Continue reading

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The Woods Procedures

Sheryl Attkisson, the former CBS reporter who is suing the Justice Department and others for, she says, illegally spying on her, authored a widely ignored article in the Hill that clarifies some of the problems critics have with the FISA warrants approved against Carter Page. I know that those who are determined to deny that anything is amiss regarding the FBI as long as the agency appears to be adversarial against this President don’t care about such niceties, but maybe they should stop humming with their fingers in their ears long enough to learn something.

The Woods Procedures were named for the FBI official who drafted the rules as head of the Office of General Counsel’s National Security Law Unit, Michael Woods.  In April 2001. these rules were established to “ensure accuracy with regard to … the facts supporting probable cause,” after the FBI had presented inaccurate information to the FISA court several times, with “[i]ncorrect information …repeated in subsequent and related FISA packages,” the FBI told Congress in August 2003.  Under the Woods procedures, each and every fact presented in an FBI request to electronically spy on a U.S. citizen must be thoroughly vetted for accuracy, and presented to the court only if verified.

As Attkisson points out, we know that this rigorous standard was not followed.

“There’s no dispute that at least some, if not a great deal, of information in the anti-Trump “Steele dossier” was unverified or false. Former FBI director James Comey testified as much himself before a Senate committee in June 2017. Comey repeatedly referred to “salacious” and “unverified” material in the dossier, which turned out to be paid political opposition research against Donald Trump funded first by Republicans, then by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign….Yet Comey allegedly signed three of the FISA applications on behalf of the FBI. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe reportedly signed one and former Attorney General Sally Yates, then-Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein each reportedly signed one or more…”
When Robert Mueller—where have I heard that name before?— was head of the FBI, here was the process that he insisted that his agency go through before it could meet the Woods Procedures with appropriate confidence: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/4/18: Getting Pounded On The Head To Make Us Confused About The Nunes Memo Edition

Minnesota yesterday. Unfortunately, the game is indoors…

Good morning!

1 So Depressing. I guess we have to conclude that liberals, progressives, Democrats and “the resistance” will never have any objection to rampant news manipulation and partisan bias in the news media until and unless the think it has turned against their interests.

I wonder why they don’t think a properly functioning participatory democracy supported by an informed electorate is in their interests. Oh well…

Working furiously to bolster Democratic Party efforts to throw dust, mud and static around Rep. Devin Nunes’ memo so the public gives up and moves on to other things, the Associated Press wrote that the conservative Washington Free Beacon, not the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, had paid for the Christopher Steele Trump dossier. Then MSNBC’s Katy Tur  passed the misinformation along, and (of course) so did CNN, on the air. This fake story was definitively disproved months ago. The AP’s eventual correction was also needlessly confusing:

“In a story Feb. 2 about a Republican memo on the Russia investigation, The Associated Press erroneously reported that a former British spy’s work on an opposition research project was initially funded by the conservative Washington Free Beacon. Though the former spy, Christopher Steele, was hired by a firm that was initially funded by the Washington Free Beacon, he did not begin work on the project until after Democratic groups had begun funding it.”

I cannot  find any record of a correction from CNN.  (Presumably anyone who believes Katy Tur about anything is beyond help.)

2. Keep repeating: “Acting guilty doesn’t prove guilt. Acting guilty doesn’t prove guilt…” Byron York, a hard-working and generally straight-shooting political reporter at the Washington Examiner (which I always get mixed up with the Free Beacon) correctly explains why the most frequently heard and read attacks on Nunes’ memo are part of a disinformation campaign. The main one:

Did the FBI tell the court about the Hillary Clinton campaign’s involvement in the Steele dossier? The memo says the FBI used the dossier to get a warrant on [Carter] Page, but, “Neither the initial application in October 2016, nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the [Democratic National Committee], Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts.”

That passage appears to be indisputably true. No one is claiming the FBI informed the court that the Clinton campaign and the DNC were behind the Steele dossier. But Democrats have still pushed back by arguing that the FBI did tell the court that the Steele information came out of a political context, that it kinda, sorta gave the court the idea that a source was politically motivated.

Exactly how the FBI did that is not clear. So far, news reports are all over the lot. The Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI “did disclose Mr. Steele was being paid by a law firm working for a major political party.” The New York Times reported that the FISA application “was more forthcoming with the surveillance court than the Republicans say. The FBI told the court that the information it received from Mr. Steele was politically motivated, though the agency did not say it was financed by Democrats.” And the Washington Post reported that the court “was aware that some of the information underpinning the warrant request was paid for by a political entity, although the application did not specifically name the Democratic National Committee or the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.”

None of that disproves or contradicts what the memo said. Sources familiar with the application suggest that it noted there might have been a political motivation behind some of the information. But Republicans ask why it would be acceptable for the FBI to actively withhold from the court the fact that the Clinton campaign and the DNC specifically were behind the Steele dossier. It’s not clear what the Democratic answer to that will be in coming days.

It is emblematic of how intellectually dishonest the attempts to dismiss the import of this matter are that telling the judge that ” the information it received from Mr. Steele was politically motivated” is being claimed to be the equivalent of telling the judge “this dossier was prepared for and paid for the Clinton campaign and the DNC.” That is a major, material distinction, when the same party controls the administration the Justice Department attorneys are working for.

3. Wow, that’s hilarious, Bill! Here was a section of Bill Maher’s side-splitting rant about the Nunes memo on HBO’s “Real Time” yesterday. Interesting question: do comedians have any obligation to try to accurately portray what they are making fun of? This is res ipsa loquitur; I’m not wasting my morning ticking off the myriad factual misrepresentations, the ends justify the means rationalizations, the mind-blowing hypocrisy, and the warped reasoning here, but if you are looking for something to do this afternoon and have run out of crossword puzzles, I’d love to get a full list. At least the rant is so darn funny, it’s justifiable.

“Forget Groundhog Day. The only large, rat-like creature I’m concerned about is Devin Nunes. Of course, it’s not fair to single him out. All the Republicans these days are treasonous rats. Trump declassified this Nunes memo, which is supposed to make us think that our own top law enforcement people are crooked so Trump can get away with his Russia crimes. Problem is, Republicans talk about this memo as if it’s some smoking-gun piece of evidence they uncovered. No! They wrote it! They uncovered it in their printer! It’s not an intelligence document, it’s a Facebook post that you briefly skim before clicking ‘unfriend.’ They did not like what the FBI was finding out about Trump, so like the true patriots they are—of Russia—they attack the FBI and the Justice Department because they’re ‘biased.” Yes, because they’re in law enforcement and the Trump crime family commits crimes, so that’s what they’re supposed to do! It’s like saying the exterminator is biased against the termites. This Republican delusion that Robert Mueller, a Republican who’s there because of Trump, is conspiring with Rod Rosenstein, the acting attorney general, a Republican who’s there because of Trump, and of course Mueller’s old buddy, Jim Comey, another Republican appointed by Trump, and Trump’s attitude is, ‘Jeez, what a bunch of idiots. Who put them in charge?’”

(President Trump appointed Comey?)

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/3/18: On The Nunes Memo, The Times Flunks (Another) Integrity Check.

Cold Morning! I mean, Good Morning!

Anne Frank would still read The New York Times, I guess…

(Anne Frank belongs in the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor. I will fix that with a post this month–she probably dies in February, 1945. Don’t let me forget.)

1 “But you know what I sometimes think? I think the world may be going through a phase… It’ll pass. – I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.” Or maybe not. I gathered up all my idealism and hope, and thought that maybe, just maybe, after the ugly and destructive lynch mob it has constituted for over a year to try to destroy the elected President, the mainstream news media, faced with incontrovertible evidence of frightening lawlessness and an attack on democracy by the previous administration in the midst of a Presidential campaign, would finally show some integrity and do its duty.

Then I read today’s New York Times.

The headline: GOP MEMO LEADS TO FRESH JOUSTING ON RUSSIA INQUIRY.

Unbelievable. That’s the news? That there is “fresh jousting”? The memo, as I accurately explained in the previous post, shows that the Obama administration’s Justice Department knowingly used opposition research, funded by Obama’s party and its Presidential candidate, that has substantially been discredited  by the FBI, the same agency that represented it to the court, as evidence justifying a FISA warrant against an American citizen and a member of the opposing party’s Presidential campaign and the Republican Presidential campaign itself.

I don’t see any mention of the Russian collusion investigation in that sentence, but that sentence still suggests a serious scandal involving abuse of civil rights and tampering with the election by law enforcement and a partisan Justice Department. If the so-called “newspaper of record” was objective and trustworthy, some version of that sentence would have been its headline, not an intentionally misleading headline stating that the “news” just is more political “jousting.”

Think about it: the Times is using a less interesting and provocative headline that the one that is justified by the facts. The only reason it would do this is misdirection born of a political agenda. No, Hanlon’s Razon does not apply here. This is not incompetence. This is malice.

2. “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. ” Then there the Times editorials. Two days ago, the Times editors wrote this:

“In a demonstration of unbridled self-interest and bottomless bad faith, the Trump White House and its Republican minions in Congress are on the cusp of releasing a “memo” that purports to document the biggest political scandal since Watergate. To pull it off, they are undermining the credibility of the law enforcement community that Republicans once defended so ardently, on the noble-sounding claim that the American public must know the truth.”

Again, unbelievable and yet too believable. Let’s parse this one:

“In a demonstration of unbridled self-interest and bottomless bad faith,”

The Times thinks it is bad faith to inform the American public of undeniable misconduct by the FBI and the Justice Department regarding civil rights and the Presidential election. Sure.

“…the Trump White House and its Republican minions in Congress are on the cusp of releasing a ‘memo'”

An ad hominem attack (“minions”), a partisan bias-based innuendo of dishonesty ( “purports to document”) and a dishonest use of scare quotes around “memo,” as if this wasn’t a memo. It is a memo.

“…the biggest political scandal since Watergate.”

A straw man trick, exploding an assertion into its most extreme form to knock it down. The facts are the facts, and how they are characterized by some is irrelevant to what the facts show. it may not be  “the biggest political scandal since Watergate” when a Democratic administration uses opposition research its party paid to have done to defeat a Republican Presidential candidate  to get court authorization to spy on that campaign during the campaign. You have to admit, though, that at least sounds a little like Watergate—Presidential campaign, administration interfering with the opposition campaign, dirt tricks, misuse of government power—no? Even a little bit like Watergate is bad enough, when government and law enforcement interference with Presidential campaigns is the issue.

“To pull it off, they are undermining the credibility of the law enforcement community that Republicans once defended so ardently, on the noble-sounding claim that the American public must know the truth.”

Pull what off? That’s another bit of rhetorical dishonesty implying wrongdoing by transparency, when  transparency is not wrongdoing unless it is illegal (Wikileaks, James Snowden). Then we have the cynical tack I just wrote about:

“The argument against the memo and the issues it raises, that the public revelations demoralizes our intelligence community and undermines the public’s support and trust is the same invalid logic being used to condemn criticism of the biased news media. If these institutions are not trustworthy and acting against the interests they are pledged to protect, then the public must know. If the conduct of the intelligence community shows that it isn’t trustworthy, there is nothing wrong, and everything right, about exposing it.”

How does the fact that the Republicans once defended the law enforcement community “ardently” change the appropriateness and necessity of  revealing wrongdoing they were not previously aware of? Finally, did I really read the New York Times editors mocking the proposition (“noble-sounding”) that “the American public must know the truth”?

What a disgraceful, shocking, self-indicting paragraph. Continue reading

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Ten Ethics Observations On The Nunes Memo

The controversial Devon Nunes memo was released. You can read it here.

Observations:

1 The most important thing to keep in mind is that the information and conclusions in the memo are incomplete. Claims from the Right that it describes a Watergate level scandal are. at best, premature. However, the immediate and furious protests from the Left that it is a “nothingburger”—you know, like Obama IRS scandal that passed another stage today—is pretty damning. What the memo suggests is deeply disturbing, and possibly—too early to tell–frightening. For any American, and certainly for any journalist, to try to brush it off at this point as insignificant  is proof of corruption by hyper-partisanship.

2. The resistance to releasing the memo from the FBI as a danger to “national security” appears deliberately misleading, in light of the memo itself. This, in turn, unavoidably makes , or should make, any objective reader suspicious. In retrospect, the warning sure looks like a false characterization as a desperate effort to keep an unethical episode covered up. The furious FBI attacks on the memo have to be regarded in this light: if the memo was fair and accurate, would the FBI react this way? Yes. If it was unfair and inaccurate, would it react the exact same way? Yes.

3. Rep. Trey Gowdy said today that the memo in no way undermines the Mueller investigation. I don’t see how he could say that, or why. Of course it does; the memo gives credence to the accusation that the entire Russian collusion theory was nurtured by anti-Trump figures in the Justice Department and the FBI before and after the election.

4. To reduce the memo to its simplest form: The infamous Steele dossier—the one James Comey described to Congress, under oath, as “salacious and unverified”— was included as l part of the initial and all three renewal FISA applications against Carter Page. Andrew McCabe, the Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who just resigned under fire, testified that no FISA warrant would have been sought from the FISA Court without the Steele dossier information. Yet The initial application and the renewal applications did not disclose the role of the Democratic National Committee and the  Clinton campaign in generating the dossier by paying $160,000 to Christopher Steel to compile it,  nor did the applications show that Steele was working for Fusion GPS and Glenn Simpson, who was paid by the law firm representing the DNC. In other words, part of the evidence presented to the court to justify surveillance of a member of the Trump campaign, and by extension the campaign itself, was created by someone   working on behalf of  the DNC and Clinton campaign. Continue reading

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