On any other day, a key admission in a plot to destroy a presidency might have been the lead story in America's newspapers and on its news broadcasts. But with the country's cities burning and politicians promoting protests over social distancing amid a global pandemic, the story was only back-page and end-of-broadcast material.
In case you missed it, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein admitted in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday if he had known then what he knew now, he would never have signed a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant renewal about Trump campaign aide Carter Page possibly being a Russian agent.
Had he not done that, the entire three-year Russian collusion investigation of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and of Trump himself likely would have petered out. Had it quickly dissolved, the administration may not have been slowed in getting Cabinet officials confirmed, not sputtered in being able to get its agenda moving forward and the national media might have had to acknowledge the soaring trajectory the country was on before the advent of the COVID-19 virus earlier this year.
"By any measure what the Obama/Biden administration did in 2016 and 2017 makes everything Richard Nixon even contemplated pale in comparison," said U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Rosenstein admitted Wednesday what had been exposed about the warrant — that the FBI "was not following the written protocols [during the Obama administration Department of Justice investigation], and that significant errors appeared in applications."
Operation Crossfire Hurricane, as the FBI investigation was called, used a dossier created by British private intelligence consultant Christopher Steele that was paid for by the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign and filled with lies to prop up the FISA warrant on Page. The FBI operation also was marred by clear ethics violations by Peter Strzok and Lisa Page (no relation to Carter Page) and more recently was exposed in its attempt to entrap former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn, who has since been exonerated.
Even though the Department of Justice inspector general found in December that the special counsel's investigation of Russian collusion in the 2016 campaign was littered with errors, Rosenstein defended on Wednesday his appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel.
As deputy attorney general, he said, he acted because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself and FBI Director James Comey had been fired by Trump.
"As a result of events that followed the departure of the FBI director," Rosenstein said, "I was concerned that the public would not have confidence in the investigation and that the acting FBI director was not the right person to lead it. I decided that appointing a special counsel was the best way to complete the investigation appropriately and promote public confidence in its conclusions.
"As we now know," he said, "the eventual conclusions were that Russians committed crimes seeking to influence the election, and Americans did not conspire with them."
Indeed, Rosenstein also testified it was clear by August 2017 — only a few months into Mueller's investigation — that there was no evidence the Trump campaign colluded with Russians to affect the election.
In authorizing the FISA warrant, the former deputy attorney general admitted he didn't read the entire warrant application and assumed what the FBI alleged in it was accurate.
"The FBI was supposed to be following protocols to ensure that every fact was verified," he said.
Yet, Rosenstein also testified former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was acting director after Comey was dismissed, "was not fully candid with me ... wasn't forthcoming" especially about Comey's memos of his interviews with Trump.
The inspector general in his December report also had been critical of Comey's decision to leak contents of his memos in order to "force" the appointment of a special counsel, actions the inspector general said violated FBI rules in trying to "achieve a personally desired outcome."
The committee soon is expected to subpoena Comey, McCabe, who was fired for lying under oath, former Obama Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Obama CIA Director John Brennan to testify.
"[T]his entire thing has been a complete corruption of our expected peaceful transition of power," said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, "and people need to understand how serious that is. ... You had an outgoing administration that did not respect the will of the American people ... . You have to accept that, and they didn't."
With each new revelation, America learns more about the cabal that tried to ruin an administration before it got started. And the No. 2 man in that administration now seeks to head the next administration. Whether you love or hate the current president, it's a frightening thought for the country.