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Republicans can't let go of their dubious Carter Page claims

Leading GOP officials keep tying themselves to Carter Page. I'm not sure they've thought this through.

The principal point of the Republicans' recent "Nunes memo" was to prove that federal law enforcement officials had been unfair toward Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. That GOP effort failed spectacularly, and the memo was quickly discredited.

But Republicans apparently can't yet let go of the idea that the Justice Department violated Page's rights -- to the point that a special counsel is now needed to investigate the FBI. Politico  reported yesterday:

Two powerful House Republicans are pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint a prosecutor to investigate the FBI's 2016 decision to spy on Carter Page, a former campaign aide to President Donald Trump.House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy sent a letter Tuesday to Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, urging them to name a special counsel to review Republicans' allegations that the FBI misled a federal judge to obtain a warrant to conduct surveillance of Page, whose contacts with Kremlin-connected Russians had drawn agents' scrutiny.

The likely underlying point of this isn't exactly subtle. For Republicans, the investigation into the Russia scandal poses an enormous threat to their party's president, so it's become politically necessary to call for an investigation into the investigators. If there's a special counsel probing the real scandal for the Justice Department, some GOP lawmakers evidently believe there should be another special counsel probing the Justice Department itself.

Common sense suggests the request is better left ignored. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, explained in a statement yesterday, "The federal regulation on Special Counsels is clear -- the Department of Justice must determine that a 'criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted.' In this case, it is difficult to see what crime the Republicans are alleging."

It is, indeed. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes' (R-Calif.) memo was effectively supposed to serve as an indictment, documenting the Justice Department's wrongdoing, but since the document ultimately proved the opposite, the case for a new special counsel is built on a foundation of sand.

But perhaps more important is the larger context: Republicans have tied themselves to Carter Page in ways they may regret.

We are, after all, talking about a man who described himself in writing as an "advisor to the staff of the Kremlin." Indeed, as we discussed in January, the same year in which Page talked up his Kremlin ties, he was also targeted by a Russian spy ring, drawing FBI scrutiny.

Six months after the spy ring was broken up -- resulting in multiple criminal convictions -- Page joined the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser, despite having no apparent qualifications for the job. A few months into his tenure, Page, newly identified by Trump as someone who had the Republican candidate's ear on matters related to international affairs, traveled to Russia, met with prominent foreign officials, and denounced U.S. sanctions against the Putin government.

It was the sort of thing that was likely to capture the interest of U.S. counter-intelligence officials -- and that's exactly what happened. In fact, Page was suspected as a possible agent of a foreign adversary.

After Trump won the election, Page went back to Moscow for another visit, during which time he again met with leading Russian officials.

Republicans like Trey Gowdy, Bob Goodlatte, Devin Nunes, and others are deeply troubled that federal law enforcement in the United States was conducting court-approved surveillance of this guy. What's more, this isn't just some random aside -- the GOP's assertions are the cornerstone of the entire pro-Trump effort to undermine the federal investigation into the Russia scandal.

I'm not sure the right has fully thought this through.

Postscript: Asked yesterday whether he'd heard from FBI or congressional investigators since the Nunes memo came out, Page told a Politico reporter he's the victim of "egregious human rights violations," on par with the FBI's surveillance of Martin Luther King. For the record, it's worth noting that Page has not been charged with any crimes.