I watched Rod Rosenstein’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee today and it brought out the Democrat in me. I’m an Obama Democrat, definitely not a Hillary Democrat, and as any expat ends up doing, I spent a lot of time during the Obama years explaining to my Russian friends and colleagues what Obama was doing and why what he was doing in terms of Russia, and the way he was doing it, was probably the lightest touch that any American president could have in the face of Russia’s actions towards Ukraine, regardless of whatever Russians’ perception of America’s role in Ukraine’s 2014 revolution.
I’ve never been pro-Trump. I remember when The Apprentice first came out, and I remember saying to myself and my friends that I couldn’t watch it because I didn’t buy Trump in his role as head of a real estate company. And that’s with the full knowledge that Trump was, undeniably, head of a real estate company. All the “Mr. Trump” obsequiousness of his underlings, his excessive, affected gravitas amidst patent ridiculousness, and gilded penthouse bullshit was too much for me.
But when I say I’m an Obama Democrat, I mean I agree with his domestic policies overall, but as far as foreign policy goes I mean I’m an Obama Democrat in the sense of the “Obama Doctrine” series of interviews that Barack Obama gave to Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic towards the end of Obama’s second term. Basically, Obama used the term “The Blob” to describe the over-institutionalization of US foreign policy and his regrets about having gone along with hawkish, counterproductive conventional Beltway wisdom.
The United States is a country of institutions, more than most. Not a country of traditions, but a country of ever-involving institutions that serve principles, chief among them the principles enshrined in the Constitution. But since the Constitution doesn’t cover the day-to-day, the American bureaucracy, from Federal to local, with some exceptions is made up of people who see themselves as serving their institution, something with a mission greater than themselves or their bosses. That’s generally been viewed as America’s great strength. There’s a great line in the movie “Bridge of Spies” where Tom Hanks’ character says that Americans come from all religions, creeds and ethnicities, and without rules and institutions, there’s no America.
I think most Americans feel the same way. So while I don’t think Trump colluded with the Russians in the 2016 election, I don’t think that the investigation into collusion is a sham in itself. I think that investigating issues of national controversy is a great American tradition.
I mentioned above that I supported Obama’s thoughts that US foreign policy had become over-institutionalized. That’s the obvious danger of a country built on institutions rather than personal rule (even benevolent personal rule): bureaucracies become entrenched, policies have inertia beyond their useful shelf-life, and experts and officials who were supposed to serve a greater good serve to perpetuate vested interests. This, I think, was probably the main thing that brought Trump to power. Too many contradictions had arisen: actual on-the-ground immigration policy was completely at odds with the laws on the books, international alliances had grown dusty and complacent, globalization marched ahead for perceived geopolitical gain with little regard for economic impact on households, personal debt continued to grow, the healthcare system was obviously deficient compared to other developed countries, poverty and malaise in the heartland ran rampant with no one really offering any solutions other than “get with the program.” Those were real problems that existing institutions seemed to be perpetuating, not solving, and with no one really in charge in an over-instititutionalized system, someone who said he could set these contradictions right appealed to a lot of people.
I saw Russiagate as the “revenge” of entrenched institutions attempting to find a convenient foil to take down their enemy. But at the same time, I believed that once brought to light, process and truth would win out. If there’s no “there” there, then I didn’t suspect that it would be fabricated outright. The truth always seems to come out. If not right now, then in the fullness of time. American institutions have proven self-correcting over history.
But Russiagate appears poised not to reinforce American institutions, but to undermine them. And the linchpin appears to be Peter Strzok. I don’t think it’s a big deal that Mueller hired pro-Clinton prosecutors and investigators to his team: at the end of the day, courts and Congress will review the evidence, and so I don’t see any problem with having prosecutors motivated to take Trump down. That’s the point of an investigation and prosecution, right? Would Fox Mulder be as effective tracking aliens if his sister hadn’t been abducted? Would Olivia Benson put the same effort into her SVU investigations if she weren’t a child of rape? There’s nothing wrong with a cop or a prosecutor being “biased” against the perp for what he’s accused of doing; it’s the judge who’s supposed to be neutral.
But Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, the star-struck lovers of Russiagate, will be the stars of the movie, and yes, there will certainly be a movie. If you’ve ever been screwing someone you’re not supposed to screw, you know: it’s hot. Strzok was married, and Lisa Page was his work colleague. And as we all know from movies and TV, the only thing that makes an illicit relationship hotter is when it plays out against the backdrop of world events, when the lovers are secret comrades-in-arms for a cause.
When you see Page’s and Strzok’s texts where Strzok says “there’s no way he gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk” and Page writes to him “maybe you’re meant to stay where you are because you’re meant to protect the country from that menace” and he replies “I just know it will be tough at times. I can protect our country at many levels,” how much of that is just foreplay to hot extramarital sex? My opinion: a lot of it. I think if Strzok was faithful to his wife and didn’t have a like-minded mistress he was working with, he’d have no reason to play hero. Who would appreciate it? Heroism with no one to witness it isn’t heroism. And it’s unlikely he’d plot like that with a colleague in whom he didn’t have the absolute trust that comes from secret fucking.
Strzok’s and Page’s texts are damning. It would’ve been much better if Strzok was a lower-level agent and his lover worked somewhere else and Strzok was just pretending to be an action hero with the ability to throw shackles on the dangerous madman Trump. But Lisa Page was right there, she knew exactly who Strzok was and what his authorities were, and he was no Walter Mitty: he did have the ability to steer the investigation. And he probably did–Lisa would’ve been able to tell if he was bullshitting.
So long story short: I think the affair between Strzok and Page was the difference between Strzok just fuming privately and commiserating with colleagues and getting on with his job, versus him actually feeling he had to be The Man Who Saved The World. Love stinks.
I don’t think there’s any American who wants to see the FBI or the Justice Department lose their credibility over Russiagate, even those who, like me, think that Russiagate is a pretext for political games. On the contrary, only FBI and Justice have any hope of sorting out what’s fact and what’s spin–who else can? How the FBI and Justice can survive the vigilantes and self-appointed Guardians of the Republic found to be working in those institutions is an important question.
Postscript. Why didn’t I mention the Ohrs and the Steele Dossier? I think the Ohrs are run-of-the-mill partisans and the Dossier is a run-of-the-mill smear job that, in the end, I expect would get exposed by a thorough investigation. The optics are bad but, I have to imagine, law enforcement is always being pitched crazy theories and shoddy evidence and every once in a while, these theories and evidence find a sympathetic ear inside of law enforcement. I think that’s a fairly normal story. Strzok and Page, not so much. Theirs was a reckless conspiracy to Save the World fueled and shielded by a white-hot illicit love affair.