Republicans are stoking a smoke screen to obscure the Trump-Russia investigations. (More)

“Each side is going to do its own thing”

At least in Congress, the Trump-Russia investigations are turning into precisely the kind of partisan spat that too many voters will ignore:

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan Russia probe has fractured, with Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein saying they’re each going to set their own path on the investigation.

The two senators spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday, where they agreed to pursue different issues without giving up on the original probe – into the reasons President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and Russian attempts to interfere in the election.

This began as an investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and whether the God-King obstructed justice by firing Comey to shut down “the Russia thing.” Now that’s changed, at least for Senate Republicans:

“We have kind of agreed that each side is going to do its own thing,” she said. “I think they want to do some things that we don’t want to do. And that is go into the emails, and go into the uranium thing.”

Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy said Wednesday that the chairman will continue his broad focus on multiple administrations, “even if the ranking member is only willing to focus on President Trump and unwilling to examine the role of the DNC and Clinton campaign,” referring to the Democratic National Committee.

Grassley isn’t “continuing” anything. He and Republicans have decided to revive two wingnut conspiracy theories – Hillary Clinton’s emails and the repeatedly-debunked lie about the sale of a uranium mining company – to build a smoke screen around the Trump-Russia investigation.

It’s not just Grassley and the Judiciary Committee. Politico’s Ali Watkins reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee are also turning their sights on the Clinton campaign:

The Senate intelligence committee expects to receive documents from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign in the next week, two people familiar with the investigation said.

The documents, requested as part of the committee’s sweeping probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, are expected to provide insight into how Democrats responded to Moscow’s campaign, which included the hack and subsequent release of stolen Democratic National Committee emails.

The documents could also provide details on any Democratic-funded opposition research effort against then-candidate Donald Trump. Reports surfaced Tuesday that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee last year helped fund research that became a now-famous dossier alleging ties between Trump and the Kremlin.

Intelligence committee sources insist they need the Clinton campaign’s documents as a “baseline.” Yeah, right. You can bet your macadamias that GOP committee staffers will start leaking anything and everything that can be spun to make Clinton look bad.

“The Clinton campaign did not know about Fusion GPS”

Of course conservatives are crying “Foul!” because the Washington Post reported that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund an oppo research project. Reminder: the repeatedly-debunked uranium mining company story also began as Breitbart-funded oppo research. The difference is that primed-to-hate-Clinton reporters leapt all over the GOP’s oppo research and presented it as independent reporting, while only Mother Jones’s David Corn wrote about the Steele dossier before the election … and his story clearly stated that it was oppo research:

This was for an opposition research project originally financed by a Republican client critical of the celebrity mogul. (Before the former spy was retained, the project’s financing switched to a client allied with Democrats.)

The Post’s Philip Bump offers a good assessment of the Steele dossier. The gist is that some of its pages track with facts known from other sources, others make claims that haven’t yet been proved, and a few seem pretty far-fetched.

But here’s the key fact to keep in mind, via Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall:

As I wrote last night, whether Elias lied about his role funding the Fusion GPS research is really his problem. It seems clear, even based on the Times reporting, that the Clinton campaign did not know about Fusion GPS or what subcontractor was working on an oppo research project (nor would it have been routine for them to know).

In fact, the Times’s own reporting says the campaign didn’t even have copies of Steele’s dossier:

Anita Dunn, a veteran Democratic operative working with Perkins Coie, said on Tuesday that Mr. Elias “was certainly familiar with some of, but not all, of the information” in the dossier. But, she said “he didn’t have and hadn’t seen the full document, nor was he involved in pitching it to reporters.” And Mr. Elias “was not at liberty to confirm Perkins Coie as the client at that point,” Ms. Dunn said.

I’ll go out on a limb – squirrels do that – and speculate that the dicier claims in Steele’s dossier were kept at arm’s length, and only the claims that fit otherwise-reported facts were passed up the chain. That would fit how responsible campaigns handle such information.

Any thorough oppo research project will dredge up stuff that would be dynamite if you could prove it — and blow up in your face if you can’t. It might be wild rumors from ex-friends, ex-spouses, former rivals. It might also be counter-oppo sleaze traps. A responsible campaign staff will try to fact-check their own oppo research – especially the ‘best’ stuff – lest they get caught peddling obvious lies. If they think an oppo claim is dicey … they make sure the candidate and senior campaign folks never see it.

That seems to be what happened with much of the stuff in the Steele dossier. And as the original Post story noted, Steele’s investigation did not end on election day:

Some of Steele’s allegations began circulating in Washington in the summer of 2016 as the FBI launched its counterintelligence investigation into possible connections between Trump associates and the Kremlin. Around that time, Steele shared some of his findings with the FBI.

After the election, the FBI agreed to pay Steele to continue gathering intelligence about Trump and Russia, but the bureau pulled out of the arrangement after Steele was publicly identified in news reports.

And the Post notes that the FBI’s own investigation confirmed some of Steele’s claims.

“One tragedy of the Trump-Russia scandal is that it has not escaped the hyperpartisan vortex of modern-day politics”

Even so, right-wing pundits are claiming this was “Clinton’s dirtiest trick,” and now Senate Republicans are shifting their investigations over to the Clinton campaign’s role in funding Steele’s research. Plus that uranium mining company sale. Plus her emails. Because “Lock her up!

It’s a giant, carefully-stoked smoke screen, as Mother Jones’ Corn reports:

At the heart of all this is a simple and troubling fact: Most Republicans don’t seem to give a damn about the Russian assault on the 2016 election and the profound implications of that act of information warfare. Trump, of course, has refused to fully acknowledge Vladimir Putin’s attack on American democracy and has branded all reporting of interactions between him and his associates and Russia as “fake news.” (His denial of Russia’s actions was one form of collusion.) Most of his party has followed his lead. Though there are three congressional investigations underway related to the Trump-Russia scandal, several prominent Republicans, including Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, have been trying to change the subject by focusing on the Steele documents more than the extensive Russian covert plot – which included the hack-and-dump operations and, as we now realize, clandestine social-media campaigns. These Republicans also have been attempting to develop competing scandals, such as the Clinton-uranium affair or the unmasking controversy. (For the latter pseudo-scandal – a Nunes favorite – Republicans have claimed former Obama administration officials who reviewed classified intelligence intercepts improperly asked for the names of Americans caught in U.S. intelligence eavesdropping. Unmasking actually is a common action conducted by national security officials, and so far there has been no evidence anyone engaged in wrongful unmasking.)

Republicans and conservatives looking to protect the president from the Russia scandal keep trying to build up distractions. The Steele memos have been a main target. Republicans appear to believe that if they can cast the Steele memos as no more than a spurious product of partisan oppo research – essentially, a dirty trick—they can persuade people that the whole Trump-Russia affair is the hoax the president claims it is. Some Trump backers even contend that the FBI investigation is a sham because it was predicated on the Steele material.

Corn concludes:

One tragedy of the Trump-Russia scandal is that it has not escaped the hyperpartisan vortex of modern-day politics. The intelligence community – which Republicans used to support and embrace as part of their patriotic duty – has declared that Putin waged cyberwar on the United States to influence an election and help Trump land in the White House. Yet plenty of  Republicans now are looking to deflect and distract. Ultimately, the Steele dossier is not the most important matter at hand. And certainly the uranium deal and unmasking are not. None of these have anything to do with the integrity of the American election process – or with protecting U.S. democracy from future attacks from Russia or elsewhere. Still, many Republicans – Trump, most of all – would rather have congressional committees (and the public) chase after these rabbits rather than confront the bear in the room. And there’s just one word for that: sad.

I doubt special counsel Robert Mueller will be distracted, and his investigation may well yield indictments. But even he wins convictions, Republicans will try to bury the coverage of those crimes in a smoke screen of conspiracy theories. And if enough voters get lost in the smoke … Republicans – and the Russians – might just get away with it.

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Image Credits — Trump Putin Meeting AP; Smoke, Oil Effects: Crissie Brown (BPICampus.com)

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Good day and good nuts