The Trump Russia investigation has spread in so many directions, and sparked so much crazy commentary, that it's hard to keep track of it all. So here is a guide to help you keep your eye on the ball:
1) Substance is what matters, Part 1. From the very beginning, there was only one central question in the investigation: Did Donald Trump or his associates collude with Russians in an attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election? So far we've seen evidence of some in the Trump circle having contact with Russians — see the Roger Stone DMs with Guccifer 2.0 — but we have seen nothing to prove, or even lend much support to, the contention that anyone on the extended Trump team coordinated election interference with Russians.
2) Substance is what matters, Part 2. In recent weeks, a second Big Question has emerged: Did the Obama administration spy on the Trump campaign and/or transition team? That's the issue at the heart of the Devin Nunes brouhaha, and the answer — did this happen or not? — is more important than where or how Nunes got his information.
3) When either side yells about process, they're holding a weak hand. Some Republicans have tried to distract from the was-there-collusion question by focusing on the leak of classified information regarding former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's conversation with the Russian ambassador. That's a legitimate issue — and indeed, the only known crime committed so far — but it doesn't get to the main issue of whether or not TrumpWorld colluded with Russians. Likewise, when Democrats yell about the methods House Intel Committee chairman Nunes employed to obtain evidence that might point toward Obama administration spying — that means they don't want to talk about Obama administration spying.
4) Everyone should see the Nunes documents. In a smart — and belated — move Thursday, White House counsel Don McGahn invited the chairmen and ranking members of both House and Senate intelligence committees to come to the White House to view the documents Nunes saw. House Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff took McGahn up on it, but the Senate is making noise about demanding the documents be brought to the Senate. Enough with the turf battles; the investigation will be better off if both Senate Intel chairman Richard Burr and vice chairman Mark Warner go see the documents.
5) Mike Flynn's request for immunity is no big deal. Of course the former national security adviser wants immunity; he's under investigation by the FBI. But the public does not know exactly what Flynn is under investigation for. It is known that the Obama Justice Department used a possible violation of the never-successfully-prosecuted Logan Act as the reed-thin pretense for going to the White House with its concerns about Flynn talking to the Russian ambassador during the transition. It's also known that there was nothing wrong with Flynn talking to the ambassador, even talking specifically about U.S. sanctions on Russia. What is not known is how the Flynn investigation might have spread into other areas — Turkey? — or whether it focuses on an alleged process crime like making a false statement to investigators. In any event, the House and Senate investigations can go forward without Flynn's testimony.
6) Don't fetishize "sources and methods." If it has been said once, it's been said a thousand times in this investigation: This or that potentially critical bit of information cannot be made public because to do so would compromise the intelligence community's "sources and methods." The problem is, this is an investigation of the highest priority; some Democrats hope it will result in removing President Trump from office. Resolving it is of great national concern. And if "sources and methods" would indeed be damaged, well they have been damaged at times in the past, to be repaired later. Yes, it is not something to be done lightly, but it is time for the intelligence community to release more, not less, information on the Trump-Russia matter.
7) Don't forget Manafort and Stone. Given what is publicly known now, the two prime suspects in the Russia collusion investigation are former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has long had business dealings in that part of the world, and Roger Stone, who just likes to mix things up in the course of campaigns. Both have volunteered to testify before the House and Senate — Stone is demanding to do so publicly, while Manafort's representatives have not yet said whether he wants to do the same or testify in some sort of closed session. In either event, congressional investigators should get their testimony, and soon, and as publicly as possible.
8) Say yes to Clapper, Brennan, and Yates. House chairman Nunes famously canceled a hearing planned for last Tuesday in which two former top intelligence officials and a former top Justice Department official were scheduled to testify. Nunes' stated reason was that he wanted to receive closed-door testimony from the FBI's James Comey and the NSA's Michael Rogers before going ahead. Comey slowed things down by demanding an invitation signed by both Nunes and Schiff — and then the Democrat chose not to sign until the Clapper, Brennan, and Yates hearing was re-scheduled. The solution is easy: Make everybody testify. And if there are more questions, make them testify again.
9) Watch what the Senate Judiciary Committee does on the issue of the Christopher Steele dossier. On February 28, the Washington Post published an intriguing story, reporting that last fall the FBI reached an agreement to pay Trump dirt-digger Christopher Steele, who had been working for supporters of the Hillary Clinton campaign, to continue his work for the FBI. The idea that the FBI would foot the bill for oppo research during a campaign struck many as amazing. One of those was Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley. On March 6, Grassley wrote a letter to Comey demanding more information. So far, he's received no answer. Then, on Tuesday, Grassley wrote another letter with more questions, focusing heavily on FBI number-two Andrew McCabe. Grassley is patient and persistent. Look for him to discover something.
10) Yes, what Evelyn Farkas said is important. Democrats are pooh-poohing Republican excitement over a just-noticed March 2 MSNBC interview in which former Obama Defense Department official Evelyn Farkas — she left the administration in 2015 — described how, during the transition, she urged her former colleagues to compile and distribute classified information regarding the Trump team. Farkas said she feared "that the Trump folks — if they found out how we knew what we knew about their, the Trump staff, dealing with Russians — that they would try to compromise those sources and methods." Farkas' statement clearly supports the Obama-Trump "breadcrumbs" theory, and the "if they found out how we knew what we knew" suggests — doesn't prove, but suggests — that the Obama team used some sort of irregular methods in its Trump information collection. Investigators need to know more about what Farkas said, and to whom.
11) In the end, it's probably all going to be about process. This is not a guarantee, but in the past, a lot of Washington "scandals" that seemed very hot for a while ended in a whimper. No one was charged with any underlying crime. If anyone was charged, it was with process crimes like making false statements to investigators or withholding information from Congress. What seemed world-shaking at one moment ended up much less. It could turn out that the Russia-helped-Trump-and-Obama-spied-on-Trump twin scandals end much the same way.