Attorney General Opens Another Investigation Into Origins Of Russia Probe

Attorney General William Barr has opened a new investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation, a move that seems suspiciously political.

In what would be the third Justice Department investigation of the topic, Attorney General William Barr has directed the United States Attorney for Connecticut to investigate the origins of what eventually became the Russia investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, an apparent concession to President Trump as well as pundits on the far-right who keep insisting on the existence of a conspiracy of some kind that led to the start of the investigation itself:

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William P. Barr has assigned the top federal prosecutor in Connecticut to examine the origins of the Russia investigation, according to two people familiar with the matter, a move that President Trump has long called for but that could anger law enforcement officials who insist that scrutiny of the Trump campaign was lawful.

John H. Durham, the United States attorney in Connecticut, has a history of serving as a special prosecutor investigating potential wrongdoing among national security officials, including the F.B.I.’s ties to a crime boss in Boston and accusations of C.I.A. abuses of detainees.

His inquiry is the third known investigation focused on the opening of an F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation during the 2016 presidential campaign into possible ties between Russia’s election interference and Trump associates.

The department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, is separately examining investigators’ use of wiretap applications and informants and whether any political bias against Mr. Trump influenced investigative decisions. And John W. Huber, the United States attorney in Utah, has been reviewing aspects of the Russia investigation. His findings have not been announced.

Additionally on Capitol Hill, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said he, too, intends to review aspects of law enforcement’s work in the coming months. And Republicans conducted their own inquiries when they controlled the House, including publicizing details of the F.B.I.’s wiretap use.

Thomas Carson, a spokesman for Mr. Durham’s office, declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the Justice Department. “I do have people in the department helping me review the activities over the summer of 2016,” Mr. Barr said in congressional testimony on May 1, without elaborating.

Mr. Durham, who was nominated by Mr. Trump in 2017 and has been a Justice Department lawyer since 1982, has conducted special investigations under administrations of both parties. Attorney General Janet Reno asked Mr. Durham in 1999 to investigate the F.B.I.’s handling of a notorious informant: the organized crime leader James (Whitey) Bulger.

In 2008, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey assigned Mr. Durham to investigate the C.I.A.’s destruction of videotapes in 2005 showing the torture of terrorism suspects. A year later, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. expanded Mr. Durham’s mandate to also examine whether the agency broke any laws in its abuses of detainees in its custody.

Mr. Barr has signaled his concerns about the Russia investigation during congressional testimony, particularly the surveillance of Trump associates. “I think spying did occur,” he said. “The question is whether it was adequately predicated. And I’m not suggesting that it wasn’t adequately predicated. But I need to explore that.”

His use of the term “spying” to describe court-authorized surveillance aimed at understanding a foreign government’s interference in the election touched off criticism that he was echoing politically charged accusations by Mr. Trump and his Republican allies that the F.B.I. unfairly targeted the Trump campaign.

Last week, the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, defended the bureau, saying he was unaware of any illegal surveillance and refused to call agents’ work “spying.” Former F.B.I. and Justice Department officials have defended the genesis of the investigation, saying it was properly predicated.

Yet Mr. Durham’s role — essentially giving him a special assignment but no special powers — also appeared aimed at sidestepping the rare appointment of another special counsel like Robert S. Mueller III, a role that allows greater day-to-day independence.

Mr. Trump and House Republicans have long pushed senior Justice Department officials to appoint one to investigate the president’s perceived political enemies and why Mr. Trump’s associates were under surveillance.

As noted, this investigation is the third investigation that has been opened in connection with the underlying facts behind the Russia investigation and largely appears to be in response to pressures from President Trump, Republicans on Capitol Hill, and conservative pundits on Fox News Channel and elsewhere. It is rooted in the claims made while the Mueller investigation was going on that there was something illegitimate about the entire investigation, that it was rooted in an effort by the Obama Administration, the Democratic National Committee, and the Hillary Clinton campaign to undermine the Trump campaign and the idea that Democrats inside the Federal Bureau of Investigation improperly obtained FISA warrants to spy on the Trump campaign.

Previous investigations have revealed this conspiracy theory to be without merit. In reality, the Russia investigation that was eventually handed off to Special Counsel Mueller was rooted in a tip that the Bureau received from an Australian diplomat regarding his conversations in the early summer of 2016 with George Papadopoulos in which Papadopoulos told the diplomat that he had been told by agents of the Russian government that they had “dirt” that would be useful in the campaign against Hillary Clinton. This conversation took place shortly before the meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a lawyer with ties to the Russian government that was originally intended to be about compromising information about Clinton. This Australian diplomat reported this conversation to their superiors, who passed the information along to the Bureau. It was at this point that the Bureau opened its investigation of Russian interference in the election and potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Several months later, the investigation had branched out to include other people involved in the Trump campaign and their contacts with Russia. Chief among these was Carter Page, who became the subject of a warrant issued by a Judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Republicans asserted that this warrant had been improperly obtained, but it later became clear that this was not the case, that the warrant against Page was completely supported by the available evidence, and even President Trump’s own lawyer admitted that the so-called “Spygate” allegations were nonsense. At this point, it appeared that the so-called conspiracy theory had been completely rebutted, but now Barr is directing another investigation be opened notwithstanding the fact that there is no evidence to support the conspiracy theory behind it.

Given the results of previous investigations and the lack of any credible evidence to support the allegation that there was anything improper about the opening of the Russia investigation, it seems clear that Barr’s motives here are purely political. In addition to the fact that he himself has been critical in the past about the investigation, this move is obviously meant to placate the President who continues to rant and rave about the Mueller investigation on Twitter in what seems like a conscious effort to undermine the report and any Congressional investigation. Additionally, the President is being egged on in this effort by right-wing talk show hosts on Fox News who continue to insist that there is a conspiracy out there that would not only clear Trump when it is revealed but also bring down the Democrats, the F.B.I. and the Clinton political machine. It’s possible, of course, that Barr recognizes the absurdity of all of this, and the fact that he assigned this matter to a U.S. Attorney rather than appointing a Special Counsel is a sign that this is little more than an effort to placate a paranoid President. Even if that’s the case, though, the fact that this is even being investigated after three successive investigations that have found no wrongdoing certainly doesn’t indicate good faith on the Attorney General’s part.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Law and the Courts, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    The actions of an authoritarian state…

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  2. Raoul says:

    Very good summary DM. Yes we all kind of know how the investigation happened, in fact, I wonder why it took so long after over 100 GOP-Russian contacts. I also wonder how keeping this in the news helps the administration. And I also wonder if disbarring proceeding should start against Barr.

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  3. al Ameda says:

    This is the Roy Cohn/John Gotti administration, it’s all about getting even.

    William Barr is the worst Attorney General since John Mitchell, or maybe A. Mitchell Palmer for that matter.

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  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    It’s possible, of course, that Barr recognizes the absurdity of all of this, and the fact that he assigned this matter to a U.S. Attorney rather than appointing a Special Counsel is a sign that this is little more than an effort to placate a paranoid President.

    It is far more likely that Dennison’s newest “Roy Cohn” has found, in the CT USA, a willing accomplice in the effort to;

    not only clear Trump when it is revealed but also bring down the Democrats, the F.B.I. and the Clinton political machine.

    Based on his performance in outright lying about the Mueller report, there is zero reason to believe Barr’s intentions are anything but corrupt, or that his loyalties are to anything or anyone but Dennison.
    Frankly, the idea that Barr is doing this to placate Dennison is embarrassingly naive; Dennison wanted a corrupt AG, and he got a corrupt AG. Period.
    It’s up to the spineless Democratic Congressional Caucus to do actually something about it. Good luck with that. Maybe they will write a letter. Oooooohh……

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  5. al Ameda says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    It’s up to the spineless Democratic Congressional Caucus to do actually something about it. Good luck with that. Maybe they will write a letter.

    D R A F T L E T T E R
    “Dear Attorney General Barr,
    We are very upset at your actions to whitewash the Mueller Report, and your subsequent decision to retaliate against those who investigated the Trump and associates’ communications with Russian operatives.

    Please stop now or we will have to criticize you more harshly.

    All the best,
    House Democratic Caucus.”

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  6. drj says:

    Pretty sweet for Trump to have a tame Attorney General he can sic on whoever has the temerity (or misfortune) to get in his way.

    Pretty chilling for everyone else.

    This is often how dictatorships start: not through a dramatic revolution or coup, but by slowly chipping away at the rule of law.

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  7. Paul L. says:

    Shoe is on the other foot.
    Enjoy having your talking points thrown back in you face.

    Remember: It is unpatriotic to in any way question this. The investigation must not be obstructed. … Comey, McCabe, Strzok and Page must cooperate fully and speak candidly with investigators, under oath. It is impossible for prosecutors to go after you as long as you tell the truth.

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  8. CSK says:

    @drj: It’s what Trump always wanted in an attorney–a personal attack dog.

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  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Paul L.:
    Oh, look, another red-hatted loon sighting.
    It’s been fuqing investigated.

    His inquiry is the third known investigation focused on the opening of an F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation during the 2016 presidential campaign into possible ties between Russia’s election interference and Trump associates.

    And just like Benghazi and the IRS and Fast and Furious…nothing untoward has been found.
    Idiots like you just can’t let go of their conspiracy theories, which are fueled by Fox News and the rest of the wing-nut media.

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  10. michael reynolds says:

    @Paul L.:
    Democrats will comply fully and willingly with the investigation. No perjury, no obstruction of justice.

    So. . . You were saying?

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  11. Paul L. says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    Why did the DOJ retract the Fast and Furious Grassley Letter and U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke resign?
    Or do you believe that it was ATF Rat whistle blower John Dobson hiding his misconduct by betraying his brothers and superiors in Law Enforcement?

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  12. JKB says:

    Well, if the investigation was properly predicated, then that will be documented by this current investigation. If that is what everyone believes then there is should be no complaint over hard-boiled US Attorney collecting the evidence and then issuing a report that nothing was found. This would go a long way to salving the divide in the country.

    But then, there is an IG investigation that is about to issue its report and there could have been indications that caused this specific genesis investigation. Similarly, there is an investigation by the FISA court into the warrant applications that could have revealed something bringing the origins of the whole investigation into question. There has been a State Department memo shared with the FBI and other agencies before the reported opening of the investigation of notes taken during a meeting with Christopher Steele where he states plainly his political motives and election day deadline to affect the election, i.e., foreign interference.

    The giving of this to a USA instead of a special counsel is only an indication that Barr believes that there are still enough good people at the DOJ to investigate without interference from the bad actor who have mostly now been removed, reassigned or retired from senior positions of influence over the investigation.

    The FBI and DOJ people should know better than others that if they didn’t do anything wrong, they’ve no reason not to gleefully cooperate with the investigation. But if they try to assert their rights or the privileges of their office, then we know they are guilty. Or is that only for Trump?

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  13. michael reynolds says:

    @Paul L.:
    Are you suggesting that Republicans are so incompetent that after dozens of investigations they still couldn’t find anything? Think maybe that’s because there was nothing to find?

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  14. michael reynolds says:

    @JKB:
    You elected a criminal and traitor. The CIA and FBI investigated as they had to. Now you want to attack the investigators.

    Our response is: OK, bring it on. Because, see, that’s how INNOCENT people react. You know, as opposed to cult leader.

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  15. Paul L. says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Democrats successfully stonewalled it until it no longer mattered.

    Of course Democrats are also so incompetent that after dozens of investigations they still couldn’t find anything on Trump.

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  16. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @JKB:

    This would go a long way to salving the divide in the country.

    The divide in this country can only be solved by requiring an IQ test to vote.
    You fools believe anything and everything that you are told, no matter how nonsensical.
    I hate to say it…but only by excluding the idiots can the rest of us move on.
    Seriously…vaccines cause autism, life begins at conception, climate change is a hoax, tax cuts pay for themselves, WMD in Iraq, Death Panels…I’m sorry, but you red-hatted loons are fuqing stupid.

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  17. michael reynolds says:

    @Paul L.:
    Hah hah hah. Nothing on Trump, right.

    His first NSA copped to felonies. His personal lawyer is in prison. His campaign chair is in prison. His deputy campaign chair is going to prison. His best friend is on trial for multiple felonies. His son committed perjury. His charity was shut down as fraudulent.

    His inaugural committee was a slush fund for foreign powers to bribe Trump. His DC hotel, Mar a Lago and Trump Tower are all infested with Saudis and Russians feeding money to the #TrumpCrimeFamily.

    He was not cleared of collusion with Putin, nor was he cleared of obstruction of justice. And: SDNY is still beavering away.

    And you, you poor dumb sap, still haven’t figured out that you are the victim of a con. It’s the best thing about being a con man: knowing the suckers will go all Stockholm Syndrome and cover up the crime to cover up their own stupidity. It’s why it’s so hard to convict con men: the suckers lack the balls to admit they’re suckers.

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  18. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @JKB:
    Seriously…You believe everything Dennison tells you.
    He has a fake tan.
    Fake teeth.
    A phony comb-over to hide his bald head.
    He cheats at golf.
    He cheated on all his wives, and lied about paying hush money to a porn star.
    He says he is smart but you can’t see his grades.
    He says he is rich but you can’t see his taxes.
    Yet, still, you believe everything he says.
    Fuqing maroons…

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  19. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Paul L.:
    Thanks for proving my point.

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  20. DrDaveT says:

    @Paul L.:

    Of course Democrats are also so incompetent that after dozens of investigations they still couldn’t find anything on Trump.

    So, you haven’t actually read the Mueller report then?

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  21. michael reynolds says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    No, @JKB doesn’t actually believe Trump. @Paul L does, but Paul’s a complete idiot while JKB, like @Guarneri, is a deliberate liar. They’re both suckers but I can forgive Paul – it’s not his fault.

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  22. Teve says:

    “I love the uneducated.”

    -Donald J. Trump

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  23. CSK says:

    @Teve: Please. It’s “I love the poorly educated.”

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  24. Paul L. says:

    @DrDaveT:
    I am waiting for the DOJ/FBI to arrest and convict Trump just like they did to Ted Stevens.

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  25. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    And: SDNY is still beavering away.

    I’m not taking that as a given with Barr as AG. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if anything happens on the dozen indictments Mueller left for others to act on.

    People keep telling me the FBI and DOJ are filled with patriotic public servants dedicated to the rule of law. Is someone going to stop telling me this is true and show me?

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  26. Gustopher says:

    What’s sad is that now we need an investigation into how this investigation started.

    I know Sen. Harris asked Barr whether he had received any requests from Trump to open investigations, and he waffled… so we have a pretty good idea of how it started, but no evidence.

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  27. Steve V says:

    @JKB:

    If that is what everyone believes then there is should be no complaint over hard-boiled US Attorney collecting the evidence and then issuing a report that nothing was found. This would go a long way to salving the divide in the country.

    How much you wanna bet on that?

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  28. Joe says:

    Additionally on Capitol Hill, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said he, too, intends to review aspects of law enforcement’s work in the coming months.

    I trust the administration will stonewall this Congressional investigation like all others, simply on principle.

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  29. steve says:

    “His inquiry is the third known investigation”

    The magic number to beat is 8. They had 8 Benghazi investigations. We should expect them to keep piling these up a least until they hit the magic number.

    “I am waiting for the DOJ/FBI to arrest and convict Trump just like they did to Ted Stevens.”

    At least in Stevens case a more honest AG came along (Holder) and vindicated him. In the case of Trump if a Republican lead DOJ/FBI arrests him, just like with Stevens, I dont think anyone will find Trump innocent since the evidence would have to be overwhelming.

    Steve

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  30. Bob@Youngstown says:

    So, Barr is questioning the predicate for the Mueller investigation, but has no evidence that the investigation was politically motivated. Rather, he has a suspicion that the predicate was political. Got it.
    Based on Barr’s suspicion (no evidence) he is initiating an investigation with only a politically-motivated predicate. Got it.

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  31. Guarneri says:

    LOL

    Bad day for you guys, yesterday. I’m applying for the popcorn concession.

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  32. JKB says:

    @CSK: Please. It’s “I love the poorly educated.”

    Someone has to love them. The Democrats who control their schools and are their teachers certainly don’t or they wouldn’t be so poorly educated.

    Trump has spurred the economy so that the greatest wage increases are going to the least skilled.

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  33. JKB says:

    @Steve V:

    True, the Mueller report did little for you Trump haters. Even though, Mueller and his merry band of partisans found no conspiracy with Russia or Russians and Trump officials. And Mueller was unable to decide on obstruction but his bosses, Rosenstein and Barr with others in the DOJ found no evidence that would support an obstruction charge in a court of law.

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  34. JKB says:

    @Bob@Youngstown:

    No, Barr has had an investigation opened into the origins of the investigation started under the Obama administration that led to the FBI and other administrative state agencies to surveil the Trump campaign, insert covert operatives and seek to recruit human intel assets.

    The question being whether the predicates required to open a “spying” campaign on the candidate whose party is not in control of the Executive Branch were met even though many of those guiding the “investigation” have shown overt partisanship against the candidate. Also, whether when authorization for the covert collection of communications and activities of a US citizen tied to the campaign via the FISA law was due to best practices or because senior members of the Obama administration at the FBI, namely Jim Comey, perpetrated a fraud upon the court.

    And they will also look to see if intelligence/law enforcement information developed due to this surveillance was leaked to partisan political actors of the Democratic party and the Hillary campaign.

    Accountability is coming.

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  35. gVOR08 says:

    The linked NYT piece is a bit incomplete. It notes Mr. Durham was tapped to investigate FBI ties to Whitey Bulger, destruction of torture videos by the CIA, and then whether CIA illegally (as opposed to legally) abused detainees. They don’t mention outcomes? Did he faithfully investigate and indict, did he faithfully investigate and find nothing indictable, or did he protect the agencies and the involved higher ups? Would be good to know. No?

    I’ll note that it’s concerned me since day one that the FBI had a questionable cozy relationship with Trumpsky’s Russian mob buddy, Felix Sater, similar to their relationship with Bulger.

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  36. An Interested Party says:

    Someone has to love them. The Democrats who control their schools and are their teachers certainly don’t or they wouldn’t be so poorly educated.

    I didn’t realize that Democrats controlled and ran schools in Mississippi and West Virginia…

    Accountability is coming.

    Ohhhhhhhh, I’m sure many people are just quaking in their boots…

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  37. al Ameda says:

    @Guarneri:

    Bad day for you guys, yesterday. I’m applying for the popcorn concession.

    And wash down that tasty popcorn with your usual Trump kool aid

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  38. Andrew says:

    Actual evidence of Russia meddling in the last TWO elections. It does not and should not matter if Trump actually willingly colluded.
    The GOP and Trump just will not admit Russia helped Trump win. Trump will try and act like the tough guy he can never be, but he and Barr both know Putin helped Trump get elected, and now they must hunt down anyone who wants to investigate this.

    That is grounds for impeachment for any president. Period.
    And yet the people cheering Trump on, “cuz screw dem libs huuuur! Deep state Hilary pizza shop huuuur!!”they are in fact supporting an enemy country attacking the United States. They don’t seem to care much being ignorant and traitors.

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  39. Teve says:

    @An Interested Party: he’s right though nobody values a degree from those liberal Democrat schools like Harvard and MIT and Stanford. 😀

    That reminds me of 20 years ago, back when I used to do lab monkey stuff in medical labs I knew a guy who had a masters in microbiology from FSU. We got to talking over the 6 months I was there, and he had apparently just gotten hired recently after graduating from FSU, and he was pissed that he was two years behind “because of his parents”. long story short when he graduated high school he wanted to do microbiology. His parents wouldn’t let him go to a high-ranking microbiology school, because it was full of a bunch of anti-christian Darwin evolution blah blah blah. he could do microbiology, but he had to go to a good Christian School like Liberty University or Bob Jones or whatever. So, not knowing any better, he did, and got a undergrad in microbio from one of those places, and applied to grad school and FSU would let him in but they told him you’re going to have to do like two years of remedial classes because you don’t know the normal amount about microbio.

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  40. Andrew says:

    Excuse me? Are we now at the point in our country where our Sec. of State meets with Vladimir Putin for a photo opportunity AND THEY LET PUTIN WEIGH IN ON THE REPORT THAT SHOWS RUSSIA INTERFERED!!?!? And Pompeo just sits there with that constipated smirk of his.

    What the fuck is going on?
    Obama can’t bow in front of a foreign leader…a friendly foreign leader, without being called into question. And are Sec. of State is literally meeting with the Russians to help smooth over the whole election meddling that led to the Trump winning. See MAGA country, they only attacked our democracy for your dear leader’s benefit! Pfft! That’s okay by me!!

    This is supposed to help our relations with Russia. This whole witch hunt is a blemish on our sacred history or something?
    Hmmm Trump wants to be diplomatic for our country insulting Putin and his…OR it’s a gigantic PR scheme in which Trump is excellent at, while continuing to sell out the USA for his and the GOP’s gain while more than likely looking forward to a 2016 repeat in 2020 thanks to Russia?….Such a tough question to answer…I’ll go for the latter. Cowards and Traitors.

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  41. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @JKB:

    Trump has spurred the economy so that the greatest wage increases are going to the least skilled.

    Oh…please do provide a link to a credible source that backs this up.

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  42. The Marine says:

    @drj: @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Ever spend time in a Federal Detention Facility? Or inside of a Federal Prison? Well, I have… Their both full of a variety of individuals. Computer Software Engineers, Doctors, Lawyers, and real time gang members, but it’s the multi-million dollar “White Collar Guys”, that can tell you about the nightmares of a “Federal Warrant”. Wives, children, family and friends all get linked to a conspiracy. And everyone goes to prison! Check it out… The FEDS have a 99.6 percent “Guilty” rating. So, if you ever do get interviewed by a Federal Agent – 99.6 percent chance you’re going to prison! Semper Fi

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  43. wr says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: “@JKB: Trump has spurred the economy so that the greatest wage increases are going to the least skilled.

    Oh…please do provide a link to a credible source that backs this up.”

    Maybe he doesn’t need a link. Maybe the DQ just added a few cents to his paycheck.

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  44. Teve says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: in a sense this may be right. The least skilled people are rich trust-fund heirs, and they’ve gotten a windfall.

    ReplyReply

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