If we’re to believe the recent NATO summit’s communique and the mainstream media’s commentaries about it, the alliance serves roughly the same essential purpose today as it did in 1948, and Americans had better heed European Council President Donald Tusk’s thinly veiled warning: rein in President Trump’s criticisms of NATO, because its members are about the only allies America has got.
But although the people who run today’s European and American societies are perhaps closer to each other than in 1948—which accounts for their dogged defense of “the alliance”—in fact, they themselves have changed in ways that obviate the purposes for which the alliance originally was formed.
The point of departure for understanding U.S.-European relations is that the relationship between “the people who count” on both sides of the Atlantic are so good precisely because they have become aliens to their own peoples. And, since all are in the process of being rejected by their own peoples, they are each others’ natural allies. But against whom are they allied?
What is the purpose of this alliance and what does it mean to us Americans?
Herewith, a summary of these moral and political changes, whose importance dwarfs the massive material transformations that the world has undergone in the past 70 years.
Defense of the West
In 1948, Europe faced the mighty Red Army, prostrate, poor, and penetrated by Communist organizations. But its principal figures—Konrad Adenauer, Charles De Gaulle, and Alcide De Gasperi—were devout Christians leading peoples who, chastened by war, were eager to safeguard and bolster what remained of their civilizations. All were conscious of their dependence on the United States of America for pretty much everything and grateful to us for it. That moral-political strength made up for a lot of material weakness.
It should be remembered, too, that keeping fellow Christians from succumbing to godless Communism moved that generation of Americans almost as much as the realization that the Soviet conquest of Europe would be very dangerous for us. Most came to believe that an alliance that reassured a weak-but-willing Europe was the best way to prevent it. Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, in tune as they were with ordinary Americans as well as with European leaders of their era, had no trouble forging a North Atlantic alliance based on the axiomatic commitment to nuke the Soviets were they to invade Europe.
NATO’s rot started in America. John F. Kennedy’s 1960 election brought to power progressives, who self-identified as “the best and the brightest.” Shaped intellectually and morally by the doctrines of (eventual Nobel laureates) Henry Kissinger and Thomas Schelling, they saw men like Adenauer and De Gaulle as of a piece with the American conservative persons and ideas they were displacing.
At the first NATO meeting after Kennedy’s inauguration, they removed the U.S. commitment to nuke the Soviets. They also removed the U.S. medium range missiles on the necessity of which that generation of European leaders had staked their legitimacy. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, these American did their best to foster the rise of progressive Europeans, who would be partners in the grand pursuit of “detente” with Moscow. They got what they wished, and then some.
In retrospect the 1980s, dominated as they were by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Helmut Kohl, were a brief anomaly.
Today, on both sides of the Atlantic, we have the opposite of 1948: political weakness born of the ruling class’s civilizational renunciation undermines vastly increased economic and (in the United States) military power. Russia’s army, backed by scarcely a tenth of the European Union’s GDP, would have little trouble making prisoners of NATO’s forward-deployed forces and reaching the Atlantic.
An Alliance to Protect the Ruling Class’s Power and Prestige
Today the transatlantic ruling class has its own civilizational agenda, manifested by its subsidies for constituencies both business and cultural, ranging from “renewable energy resources,” to education, the arts, and lifestyle. Far from allied to safeguard and promote Western civilization, this ruling class treats its cornerstone, Christianity, as unmentionable at best and usually as the main feature to be extirpated from people’s lives. This class also regards self-rule, the capacity of people in towns, regions, or nations to decide by vote how they shall live, as among the evils to be done away with. It treats as enemy anything—thoughts, practices, institutions—that limit its own its own power and prestige. For their power and prestige, after all, are what it is allied to protect.
Since ordinary people in each and all of NATO’s countries pose the clearest and most present danger to that power and prestige, whenever any country’s people have challenged the power or prestige of their local member of the club, the other countries’ ruling classes have treated it as an attack on themselves. Under this updated version of the famous Article 5, the allied transatlantic rulers have warned, on pain of horrid consequences, the people of Britain to stay in the EU, the peoples of France to elect anybody but Le Pen, the peoples of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and most recently of Italy, not to vote as they did.
Most of all, they warned Americans not to elect Donald Trump.
Nothing has equaled their fury against him. This, of course, has little to do with Trump himself. Rather, it is the transatlantic allies’ reaction to their inability to bend the American people to their ways. The American people’s adherence to Western civilization, our inflexible desire to rule ourselves, is the negation of everything for which this class stands. And because America is what it is, the election of an anti-ruling class candidate has inspired European peoples to do likewise.
As the transatlantic allies have lost election after election, they have retreated to their bastions in the supranational institutions, the banks, the corporations, the media, etc. Their objective seems to be to punish voters—psychologically if in no other way—to convince them to repent. Their hands will have to be pried off the levers of power.
Because such things as Russia’s power, the Third World’s physical occupation of the Europe and the United States, never mind the international military balance, do not threaten what the transatlantic ruling class is allied to protect, they cannot be bothered to take these questions seriously. Hence, for the American people, NATO as it exists today is yet one more ruling class institution to be overcome.
What good—and it may be considerable—that Americans might achieve by working with Europeans would have to be pursued with such peoples as have freed themselves from the transatlantic ruling class’s power.
Tobacco-company stocks have plunged this year—along with cigarette sales—because of a wonderful trend: the percentage of people smoking has fallen to a historic low. For the first time, the smoking rate in America has dropped below 15 percent for adults and 8 percent for high school students. But instead of celebrating this trend, public-health activists are working hard to reverse it.
They’ve renewed their campaign against the vaping industry and singled out Juul Labs, the maker of an e-cigarette so effective at weaning smokers from their habit that Wall Street analysts are calling it an existential threat to tobacco companies. In just a few years, Juul has taken over more than half the e-cigarette market thanks to its innovative device, which uses replaceable snap-on pods containing a novel liquid called nicotine salt. Because the Juul’s aerosol vapor delivers nicotine more quickly than other vaping devices, it feels more like a tobacco cigarette, so it appeals to smokers who want nicotine’s benefits (of which there are many) without the toxins and carcinogens in tobacco smoke.
It clearly seems to be the most effective technology ever developed for getting smokers to quit, and there’s no question that it’s far safer than tobacco cigarettes. But activists are so determined to prohibit any use of nicotine that they’re calling Juul a “massive public-health disaster” and have persuaded journalists, Democratic politicians, and federal officials to combat the “Juuling epidemic” among teenagers.
The press has been scaring the public with tales of high schools filled with nicotine fiends desperately puffing on Juuls, but the latest federal survey, released last month, tells a different story. The vaping rate last year among high-school students, a little less than 12 percent, was actually four percentage pointslower than in 2015, when Juul was a new product with miniscule sales. As Juul sales soared over the next two years, the number of high-school vapers declined by more than a quarter, and the number of middle-school vapers declined by more than a third—hardly the signs of an epidemic.
Nicotine prohibitionists have been claiming for years that e-cigarettes are a “gateway” to smoking addiction, but studies have repeatedly shown that they’re not even a gateway to regular vaping, much less smoking. (See “The Corruption of Public Health,” Summer 2017.) Few teenage vapers do it daily—most are “party vapers”—and few teenage or adult smokers got started by vaping. A recent survey of Juul customers found that nearly 90 percent had already smoked cigarettes at some point before trying Juul, and the smokers reported a phenomenally high rate of success at quitting. Of the roughly 12,000 people who were current smokers when they tried Juul, more than 7,500 reported giving up cigarettes (and most of the rest reported cutting back). Meanwhile, among the roughly 2,400 Juul customers who had never previously smoked, just 50 went on to become occasional smokers, and only 5 of them became daily smokers.
But all this good news hasn’t changed the minds of nicotine prohibitionists. During the Obama administration, they promulgated regulations to take effect this year that would have outlawed most vaping products on the market and prevented new ones from being introduced by small companies and entrepreneurs—like the creators of the Juul. Those regulations, fortunately, have been postponed by Scott Gottlieb, the head of the Food and Drug Administration. But a coalition of prohibitionists has sued to reinstate the rules, a move that’s also being demanded by a group of Democratic senators that includes Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, and Elizabeth Warren. The activists and senators have further demanded that the FDA restrict flavors in vaping devices, ostensibly to protect teenagers from being enticed by the taste of mint or mango, but those restrictions would lessen the appeal for adults, too.
While Gottlieb has been much more sensible than his predecessors at the FDA, he has echoed the prohibitionists’ alarms about Juul and is threatening to restrict flavors. He has also ordered Juul to supply his agency with documents about its research and marketing, and he has announced undercover operations to catch retailers selling Juul to minors. Aside from harassing the company and its retailers, it’s hard to see what this campaign could accomplish. Juul has not been marketing to minors, and has a program to prevent them from making online purchases. The federal government’s surveys show that more than 99.5 percent of the e-cigarettes sold in stores are being bought by adults, not minors,according to oral pathologist Brad Rodu, who holds a chair in Tobacco Harm Reduction Research at the University of Louisville’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center. “Like alcohol and cigarettes, most e-cigarettes used by teens are obtained from social sources, not directly from stores, so it makes no sense to go to war against retailers,” Rodu says. “We don’t want kids to use e-cigarettes, but many more are using marijuana and getting drunk, which are much more dangerous. We have to put these behaviors in perspective.”
Democrats who favor liberalizing marijuana laws, like Senator Schumer, want to restrict e-cigarettes, even though they pose much less risk while making a major contribution to public health. E-cigarettes are at least 95 percent safer than tobacco cigarettes, according to British medical authorities (who have been far saner on this issue than their American counterparts), and the rate of smoking has declined much more rapidly since the emergence of vaping devices than during the previous years.
While there’s a general consensus to discourage teenagers from vaping, the zeal to protect them has had perverse consequences, as demonstrated in a new studyanalyzing New York City’s decision to raise the age for e-cigarette purchases to 21 from 18. Since the city enacted that restriction four years ago, the rate of youth smoking has declined more slowly in the city than in other parts of the state that allow sales to 18-year-olds.
Another perverse consequence of the campaign against Juul is that the wave of publicity is probably inducing teenagers to try it. The more they hear about this fad supposedly sweeping the nation’s schools, the more they’ll be tempted to taste this new forbidden fruit. But even if the rate of teen vaping rises, and even if a few of those teenagers become regular vapers, that’s still no reason to crack down on a product whose proven benefits far outweigh any potential harms.
“The Juul isn’t causing substantial health damage,” notes Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health who studies tobacco control policies. “There is no evidence that even long-term Juuling increases the risk for disease. And Juul is helping hundreds of thousands of smokers to quit and perhaps save their lives.”
You’d think that progressive activists and journalists would be cheering the small company whose life-saving product has become an existential threat to Big Tobacco. But the lower the smoking rate falls, the less work there is for anti-smoking activists at groups like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which has helped lead the attack on Juul and the vaping industry. The activists need a new cause and a new enemy, and they’re not about to let the public’s health get in their way.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to the press as she arrives at the Alliance’s headquarters ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 11, 2018. (Paul Hanna/Reuters)
Across the chancelleries of Europe, a realization is dawning. It began at the outskirts of the continent and has now made its way to the heart of Angela Merkel’s government in Berlin. It is the realization that even Merkel is mortal.
For the entirety of this century so far, Merkel has been a constant. She has been leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) since 2000, when she publicly turned on her former political mentor, Helmut Kohl, over a party-funding dispute. And she has been chancellor of Germany since 2005, when she managed to put together a coalition with the left-wing Social Democratic party (SPD). There she has stayed for 13 years, to work with three different American presidents, four British prime ministers, and more Mediterranean governments than anyone could count.
She steered the continent through the financial crisis of 2008 and the resulting euro-zone crises, becoming — in the “austerity” process — a bogeywoman for much of the debt-ridden south. But having steered the continent through those disasters, she then, in 2015, almost single handedly plunged it into another. It is this mess that has now led people to begin to draft Merkel’s political obituaries.
The conflict and economic hardship that have caused millions of people to head towards Europe in recent years are, of course, not the responsibility of Angela Merkel. But what is very much her responsibility is that, as the flow was at a historical high, with hundreds of thousands of people pressing into southern Europe in the summer of 2015, Angela Merkel unilaterally declared that normal border procedures would be suspended. The world could come. Rallying her own nation on the last day of August that year, the chancellor uttered the now fateful words Wir schaffen das (“We can do this”).
As a consequence, in 2015 Germany took in up to 1.5 million migrants in a single year. Sweden took in a similar amount per capita, adding around 2 percent to its population in just that year. Many people labored under the misapprehension that these arrivals were asylum seekers. Yet while some were fleeing the Syrian civil war, most were not. As the vice president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, subsequently admitted, most of the 2015 arrivals in Europe had “no reason to apply for refugee status” and therefore no right to be in Europe. Since then, the flows have slowed (largely because of a bribe being paid to Turkey’s President Erdogan, who now boasts of holding a gun to Europe’s head). But although the Turkey-to-Greece route has largely closed, the other route into Europe for asylum seekers and economic migrants from across the whole of Africa, most of the Middle East, and much of the Far East runs through North Africa. And that route remains open, with tens of thousands of people this year making the journey — mainly via Libya — in the hope of getting into European waters, where European naval vessels then pick them up and safely transport them to Italy.
Whether or not Germany could cope with migration at such a speed and of such a nature, most of Germany’s European partners decided that they could not. During 2015 and the years that have followed, these countries have grown to greatly resent that the whole continent should be held hostage to the whims of a chancellor in Berlin. And whims they were, for only months before opening the borders, Merkel had declared any abandonment of the normal rules to be impossible.
The results of Merkel’s decision have taken time to play out. In 2015, Britain was among the EU countries that refused to take part in the migrant-redistribution quota schemes proposed by Brussels and Berlin. A year later — in a decision not hindered by Merkel’s disagreement — Britain voted to leave the European Union altogether. Since then, Merkel has seen the status quo she did so much to hold together begin to pull apart and turn its fury towards her.
In April of this year, Hungary’s voters returned Viktor Orban to power for a third term in a decisive electoral victory. During the height of the 2015 crisis, Hungary (a country of 10 million people) saw 400,000 migrants cross its territory. It was the first country to start building border fences — a policy that was condemned and then copied by most of its neighbors. Throughout that year and in the period since, Orban has been Angela Merkel’s most immovable opponent. He has refused to buckle before all the threats of Brussels and Berlin. Along with the other members of the Visegrad Four (Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic), he has refused to accept migrant quotas and insisted that he will hold this stance even in the face of much-threatened fines from Brussels. This has paid off, not least because it is no longer the Visegrad countries that seem to be in a position of weakness.
In regional and then national elections over the last two years, German voters repeatedly punished Angela Merkel. Last September, they not only delivered historically low votes for her own party and those parties that were in coalition with her but raised up a new party that was founded only in 2013. Today, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has a presence in most of Germany’s regional assemblies. After last September’s elections, it took almost half a year for Merkel to put her grand coalition back together. But it also left the AfD, which is vitriolically opposed to Merkel and her migrant policy, as the official party of opposition in the Bundestag. One of the few things holding the present coalition in Berlin together is the knowledge that a return to the electorate at this stage would see the AfD benefit and the parties of government suffer.
And so the forces that look set to topple Merkel at some point soon have begun to coalesce.
The first ring of pressure now comes from outside Germany, where each new election goes in the same ineluctable direction. Until last year, it was possible to pretend that a concern about borders and a refusal to obey the status quo was an Eastern European foible with no risk of wider contagion. But since last autumn’s elections and the formation of a new coalition government in December, Austria has been governed by the center-right Austrian People’s party and the Freedom party, which was until recently always described as “far right.” Both parties are deeply opposed to the Merkel policy on migration.
Still more serious for Berlin was the moment in March this year when the Italian electorate put its most unignorable two fingers so far up to Berlin and Brussels. The subsequent formation of a government consisting of the Lega (also until recently described as “far right”) and the comedian-founded Five Star Movement could not have been worse for Berlin. The Italian coalition agreement boasted of an end to fiscal restraints and the immediate deportation from Italy of half a million illegal immigrants.
No sooner had he entered office than the new Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, demonstrated that he intended to act on his promises. In June, a boat called “The Aquarius,” containing more than 600 migrants picked up at sea, was refused the right to land in Italy. Malta, whose government has repeatedly lectured other EU member states for not doing enough for migrants, also refused the ship. In the end, the new left-wing government in Spain made a great show of being the country to allow the migrant ship to land.
But Salvini’s stand proved significant. France’s Emmanuel Macron accused Salvini of being “cynical and irresponsible.” But it was noticeable that President Macron (perhaps being cynical and responsible?) at no point offered to make France the new landing ground for even one ship full of migrants, let alone the hundreds of such ships that have driven the Italians to such fed-up behavior at the polling booths.
Everywhere the power is shifting. When Salvini is condemned for his “anti-migrant” rhetoric, he has the perfectly true response that it was not Italy that asked the migrants to come. It was the German chancellor who did so, and who now expects all of Europe to pick up the tab that she ran up. Northern European countries such as Denmark have long been making their own arrangements and refusing to accept any migrant who has already traveled through other, safe European countries. And so from every direction the focus of the continent’s ongoing immigration crises is inexorably fixing on Berlin — and on one woman in particular.
But while the consequences of Merkel's 2015 decision continue to play out on the international level, they also play out on the local level for German citizens. One consequence of the current migrant wave (a wave that includes a disproportionate number of young males) has been an upsurge of crime and especially violent and sexual offenses. In Germany and Sweden in particular, these facts are both well known and barely covered by the mainstream press. Germans describe having to read between the lines of their morning newspapers. The public has learned to assume that, if an unnamed person is reported to have committed an unmentioned crime against an unnamed individual, the culprit is an immigrant. Occasionally, a case emerges that is so horrific that even the German media cannot fail to report on it.
Such was the case at the end of May, when a 14-year-old Jewish girl from Mainz, Susanna Feldman, was reported missing. At the beginning of June, her body turned up near a refugee center. Her suspected killer — Ali Bashar — had arrived in 2015, at the age of 18, with his parents and five siblings. He was actually refused asylum, and like many others was due to be deported. But, again like most such immigrants, he never was deported and ended up getting a temporary-residence visa. He molested and killed Susanna Feldman, only to then succeed in escaping Germany via the Dusseldorf airport and going back to his native Iraq (where he has since been arrested by the Kurdish authorities).
The Feldman murder is far from the only such case — one German-government-funded study released early this year said that more than 90 percent of a recent upsurge in crime in Lower Saxony could be attributed to young male migrants — and for the Merkel government, it could not be worse. That the victim was a young Jewish girl strikes some of the most painful touchpoints of post-war Germany. Already the heads of the Jewish community in Berlin have warned Jews not to wear visible symbols of their faith in major German cities. But the Feldman case also highlights the mess of the whole system. Everywhere the public-opinion polls show a one-way traffic. More and more Germans disbelieve and distrust their chancellor and doubt the wisdom of her most significant decision.
Now the revolt has come home to Merkel herself. In Bavaria, which has been dominated ever since the Second World War by Merkel’s coalition-partner party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), there is a growing sense of political crisis — not only because Bavaria is one of the German states to have felt the post-2015 crisis most acutely (many of the migrants that year came through Munich) but also because the CSU feels the AfD snapping at its heels. The previously inconceivable idea that the CSU may lose power on its native turf means that its leaders are now toughening their own rhetoric and policies.
In recent months, Merkel’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer, the leader of the CSU, has been explicit in his attempts to outflank or escape his coalition partner. Sensing the damage that his alliance with Merkel has been doing him, in March he even declared that “Islam does not belong to Germany.” Now the game of one-upmanship on the German right is seeing other CSU and CDU figures attempting both to steal some of the AfD’s thunder and distance themselves from their own chancellor. Much of the debate in Germany — as in the rest of Europe — has centered on what to do with migrants who have already walked through safe European countries (where, technically, under the terms of the Dublin Treaty, they should have claimed asylum on arrival) and whether these migrants can be turned away from the borders of countries farther into Europe.
Everywhere there is that familiar political moment when subdued political murmuring bursts out into full-scale opposition. As the EU continues to try to find a common policy on migrants, Merkel’s own colleagues have begun to issue ultimatums. At the end of June, Seehofer gave her a weekend to come up with a new policy, threatening that if she did not do so, his home state of Bavaria would begin to turn away migrants at its borders with or without the approval of the chancellor. With Austria taking up the rotating presidency of the EU in July, the biggest threat for Merkel had been that other EU member states would continue to develop their own unilateral policies. But it is perhaps the biggest demonstration so far of Merkel’s loss of control that it is not just every other EU country that is starting to go its own way, but states within Germany itself.
At the end of June, no less a figure than the head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, surveyed this landscape and warned, “The fragility of the EU is increasing. The cracks are growing in size.” While Seehofer was reportedly threatening to resign and the German cabinet looking like it might fall, Wolfgang Schauble, the president of the Bundestag, warned that the CSU and CDU were “standing at the edge of the abyss.”
This was the moment of alignment. When everyone from the Italian EU-skeptic government to the head of the European Commission is in agreement on something, it turns from being a likely trend into being a likely fact.
At the beginning of July, with new elections looking like a real possibility, Merkel finally accepted the policies she has spent years resisting. Late on July 2, she agreed to reinstate border controls between Austria and Germany, to hold migrants at camps along the country’s southern border, and to turn back migrants who have already claimed asylum in other EU countries. At the same time, the EU as a whole agreed on a plan to tighten the continent’s external borders and set up migrant-processing camps in North Africa. All these are policies that could have been instituted in 2015. All are policies that Merkel obstinately resisted for years, in spite of public demand.
The cause of that growing demand was not only clear but obvious. From 2015 till today, the German public looked at the flows of people whom Merkel had invited in and learned some of the consequences. And, like the publics all across Europe, they heard the cry of “We can do this” but began over time to realize, “We can’t do this.” Or, at the very least, “We can’t keep doing this.”
Who ever told them that they could? Only one person. And if a political price must be paid, then there is only one woman in Europe who can pay it. If not today, then someday soon.
An investigation is one of two things: a search for the truth, or a farce. The House is conducting a farce. That fact was on full display during ten hours of testimony by Peter Strzok, the logorrheic lawman who steered the FBI’s Clinton-emails and Trump–Russia probes.
The principal question before the joint investigation of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees is whether the Democratic administration’s law-enforcement and intelligence arms strained to manufacture an espionage case against the Republican candidate, having buried an eminently prosecutable criminal case against the Democratic presidential nominee.
It should be straightforward to answer this question, provided that the investigative process has the one attribute central to any credible probe: the capacity to compel the production of evidence and testimony, with the corollary power to hold witnesses in contempt for defiance.
The House investigation has devolved into farce because it lacks this feature.
Oh, it exists on paper. There is even a statute making contempt of Congress a crime, punishable by up to a year in prison (and not less than a month). That may not sound like much, but the months can pile up: A separate offense occurs each time a question is ducked or a document is not surrendered. As the Wall Street Journal’s Bill McGurn explains, Congress has inherent power to enforce its subpoenas unilaterally, or it can seek assistance from the other branches.
But then reality intrudes. The committees pursuing the probe lack either the will or the votes — or perhaps both — to hold witnesses in contempt. This, despite audacious refusals to answer questions and turn over documents that would explain when and why the Trump–Russia investigation commenced.
It is an elaborate game of chicken.
Disciplined Democrats have hammered at a theme: The Republican-led investigations are a political ploy to discredit the Mueller investigation. At first blush, this seems like a red herring: Robert Mueller was not appointed special counsel until May 2017, mainly because of President Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey. The committees, by contrast, are scrutinizing decisions made a year earlier to end “Mid-Year Exam (MYE)” (the criminal investigation of Clinton) and conjure up “Crossfire Hurricane” (the counterintelligence investigation of Trump “collusion” in Russia’s election meddling).
But, though distinct in time, these matters are intertwined. The FBI and Justice Department saw MYE and Crossfire as logically connected: The first thing Strzok said to his paramour, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, when it became clear that Trump would be the GOP nominee was that this would ratchet up pressure to wrap up MYE; the bureau then simultaneously shut down the Clinton-emails case and ramped up the investigation of the Trump campaign. When Mueller was appointed, it was not with a clean slate; his formal assignment was to assume control of the Trump–Russia counterintelligence probe — i.e., Crossfire Hurricane — focusing on whether it had been obstructed by Trump’s firing of Comey.
The president, moreover, has tied everything together politically. He routinely refers to Mueller’s investigation as the “rigged witch hunt.” This is only partially because the special counsel has foolishly assembled a staff overflowing with lawyers who have notorious Democratic-party connections — and some of whom held high-ranking positions in the Obama Justice Department at the very time when the Clinton case was killed and the Trump case was launched. More to the point, Trump frequently offers the alleged 2016 misconduct of FBI agents in the Clinton and Russia investigations as his rationale for bashing Mueller, who had nothing to do with that misconduct and who removed Strzok from the investigation upon learning of his anti-Trump texts with FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who had already left by then.
It is therefore shrewd politics for Democrats to claim that Republicans don’t really care a whit about investigative integrity and even-handed law-enforcement; that they are smearing the FBI and Justice Department for the sheer political purpose of undermining Mueller.
Most Republicans recoil at this criticism. This is why so many take pains to praise the special counsel and stress that their purpose is to examine conduct that occurred long before he came on the scene. But this hasn’t got a prayer of being heard above the din. If Republicans tried to hold a witness in contempt — whether it were Strzok, who won’t answer questions; the FBI officials, who are directing him not to answer questions; or the Justice Department officials, who endorse the FBI’s stonewalling — Democrats and the media would say they were trying to destroy Mueller’s methodical probe of “Russia’s attack on our democracy.” Republicans want to steer clear of that allegation, no matter how angry they are over being toyed with.
Then there is the elephant in the room.
Only one official in the U.S. government has the power instantly to end the contemptuous flouting of Congress’s oversight authority: President Trump. He could, at any time, direct that all relevant documents be disclosed to the committees and that all executive-branch officials provide complete and truthful testimony.
The president has declined to do this. Publicly, he has taken the position that, because some have falsely alleged that he has obstructed the investigation, he has decided to maintain his distance from it. And, for all we know, it may be that Trump realizes he has done nothing wrong and calculates that it’s better to let the Mueller’s investigation wind down than to take action that would reignite the embers of obstruction talk.
What serves the president’s political interest, however, does not serve the congressional investigations. Indeed, it makes matters worse. Committee Republicans blast the Justice Department and the FBI for obstructing them, even though their ire would be better aimed at Trump, who could end the logjam promptly. Everyone knows that if the president were a Democrat, that is precisely what Republicans would do. The fact that they give Trump a pass rather than blaming him for his subordinates’ intransigence bolsters the Democrats’ argument that the investigations are political theater. This gives the committees and GOP leadership even less appetite for a brawl over contempt.
The result is that, despite Republican control of the House, the votes may not be there to pass and enforce a contempt citation. Without a credible threat of enforcement, the Justice Department and FBI will continue defying subpoenas, and the FBI lawyers will keep instructing Strzok, Lisa Page, and other key witnesses not to answer questions.
It is not possible to get at the truth that way. A joint committee determined to get at the truth would use its power to gather all the documentary evidence before interrogating witnesses. It would not convene for ten hours to allow 75 legislators five minutes each of TV-camera time with Strzok; it would hire a competent investigator and trial lawyer to spend ten hours walking Strzok through every document — a carefully planned, exhaustive examination in which he is forced to answer tough questions, not make speeches.
That isn’t what’s happening. Instead, Strzok gets to present the story he wants to tell, avoiding the questions he and the FBI do not want to answer. Without access to the full documentary record, the committees have no practical way to cross-examine him.
What is the point of arguing with Peter Strzok for ten hours about whether he was biased against Donald Trump? The texts speak for themselves, illustrating beyond cavil that he was biased. In fact, his absurd caviling to the contrary suggests he’d be an easy witness to demolish if a competent examiner had the documentary ammunition.
Bias is a dumb thing for Strzok to get uppity about. In 20 years of investigating people, I can’t tell you how many of them I developed a healthy bias against. Bias is a natural human condition. It is something we tend to feel about people who do bad things. There is, and there could be, no requirement that an investigator be impartial about the people he reasonably suspects of crimes. Am I supposed to be impartial about a terrorist? An anti-American spy? A corrupt politician? Seriously?
The question is not whether the investigator is biased, but whether bias leads the investigator to do illegal or abusive things. In the case of Strzok and his colleagues, the questions are whether they applied different standards of justice to the two candidates they were investigating; whether, with respect to Trump in particular, they pursued a counterintelligence probe in the stretch-run of an election, premised on the belief that he was a traitor, based on information that was flimsy and unverified.
These questions cannot be answered without the documents that explain the origin of the investigation. If the committees are not willing or able to hold government officials in contempt for stonewalling, and President Trump is not willing to order that his subordinates cooperate, it would be better to shut the investigations down than to further abide a farce.
Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok testifies on FBI and Department of Justice actions during the 2016 Presidential election during a House Joint committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, July 12, 2018.(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
Although his texts to his paramour indicate he hated Donald Trump as much or possibly more than most of us hate Hitler or Saddam Hussein, Peter Strzok insists his extreme feelings did not affect his work in the Hillary Clinton email matter or the subsequent Russia probe.
He repeated that ad nauseam throughout the circus-like congressional hearing Thursday. But no matter how many protestations the man makes, under oath or not, Occam's razor plus most of our life experiences tell us that Strzok is full of it.
Still, you need concrete evidence and, in a situation like this, that is hard to come by. Only a real nincompoop would generate it and -- though Strzok was clearly no genius, leaving a huge digital trail of his extra-curricular activities (astounding for a counter-intelligence officer) -- none has surfaced yet. And if the FBI has its way, none will surface until roughly a thousand years after humanity has left Earth for another galaxy.
So we are left to our own devices to determine whether this man is lying. During the hearings, Louie Gohmert applied the old Roman precept -- falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus (you lie about one thing, you lie about everything) -- making the audience gasp by speaking aloud the elephant in the room. Strzok had obviously lied to his wife about his affair. Why should he be believed about anything?
Well, good question, except that it would disqualify about two-thirds of American presidents and who knows how many people currently in that very hearing room. (You can hazard your guess in the comments.)
So we're all liars and maybe we are, but I'll tell you what convinced me -- besides an overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence equivalent to the O.J. trial -- that Strzok was not just your garden variety prevaricator but an out-and-out conniving, evil S. O. B.: his smirk.
The shrinks call that "inappropriate affect" and it sure was. What the hell was this guy smirking about? Even in the remote possibility (oh, how remote) that his bias had no direct political and investigatory consequence, he had shamed himself, his family, and the FBI and its personnel tremendously, damaging the organization materially for years to come. And yet he was smirking.
In fact, he wasn't just smirking. He was fighting back as if he were the wounded party. One "useful idiot" on the Democratic side even said he deserved the Purple Heart.
Peter Strzok testifying yesterday (Evan Vucci/AP)
It was a nauseating display of moral turpitude on the part of the Democrats and Strzok. Who paved the way for that? Well, I'll tell you: Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
Listening to the hearings today convinced me more than ever that he, like Strzok, is a liar -- only a far subtler and therefore ultimately more dangerous one. In fact, he's so good he probably believes his own lies Unlike Strzok, he doesn't smirk or get angry.
But he told a whopper in the most clever way. He gave us hundreds of pages of unequivocal bias on the part of FBI leadership and then said it didn't really matter, that the Hillary decision was correct because there was a similar precedent with Bush's AG Alberto Gonzalez, all of the time ignoring the fate of Navy sailor Kristian Saucier, who went to jail for far less than Gonzalez and, certainly, Clinton ever did.
Horowitz conveniently omitted Saucier from his overview for obvious reasons -- it would have blown it out of the water. Instead, he has given cover to the likes of Strzok and to the FBI he appears to be criticizing so strongly, but really isn't.
The whole IG report was quite brilliant, if your covert goal was to maintain the status quo. We saw that at work during Thursday's hearings.
Roger L. Simon - co-founder and CEO Emeritus of PJ Media - is an author and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter.