For more than a year and a half, the political headlines have been dominated by biased reporting of theories alleging illegal collusion by Donald Trump’s campaign with Russian agents to defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
Throughout that time, the details of the alleged Russian conspiracy and the investigations into it by the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller have been obscured by a thick fog of official secrecy, bureaucratic stonewalling and foot dragging, well-hidden financial relationships, highly partisan motives, the leaking of classified information and vicious rumors for publication in the media, as well as outright lies.
The sustained high level of media attention these allegations have attracted has been unprecedented. No update has been too small, no Russian encounter with a member of the Trump team has been too inconsequential, no anonymous source has been too unreliable to generate another series of screaming conspiracy headlines from the mainstream media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC and others who have deliberately made anti-Trump stories the dominant theme of their daily national news coverage.
Now that the fog is finally starting to break, it is revealing a complex plot in which politically motivated senior officials in the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ) played multiple roles in the effort to sell the Russia-Trump conspiracy theory to the American people to discredit and bring down Trump’s presidency.
These include FBI officials James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, James Baker and Lisa Page, and DOJ official Bruce Ohr. All of them have been fired, forced into retirement or demoted and reassigned because their professional integrity had been compromised by their handling of the Clinton email or Russian investigations.
CLINTON FINGERPRINTS ARE EVERYWHERE
Another developing pattern is the deep involvement of people who are directly connected to the Clinton camp or were staunch advocates of her candidacy to all the key elements of the Russian collusion investigation, beginning with the creation of the so-called Trump dossier. Its creation was indirectly paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democrat National Committee.
Christopher Steele, the former British agent who compiled the dossier, included allegations from longtime Clinton associates Sidney Blumenthal and Cody Shearer, who are known for their black bag efforts on behalf of the Clintons going back more than 25 years.
Dedicated Clinton political operatives and supporters played key roles in every aspect of the Russian conspiracy investigation, while trying to conceal the full extent of their involvement. But their fingerprints are everywhere.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
Some of the same FBI and DOJ individuals involved in the Russian investigation played critical roles in giving Mrs. Clinton special treatment in the investigation of her mishandling of classified information on her private email server.
Strzok, for example, was a leading investigator on the Clinton probe and the Trump-Russia investigation. He was responsible for making the key edit to an early draft of Comey’s public statement that excused Clinton from criminal charges. Strzok was the FBI agent who initiated the first Trump-Russia investigation. He and Page were eventually removed from the investigation in July 2017 by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The Strzok and Page communications reveal that their anti-Trump bias overwhelmed their professional duty to carry out the law impartially. They expressed their intentions to do whatever was necessary to assure Clinton’s victory in the presidential election.
Some members of the pro-Trump camp are also challenging the independence of other individuals who are currently overseeing the main ongoing investigations, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Mueller.
WHAT DID OBAMA KNOW AND WHEN DID HE KNOW IT?
An exchange of messages between Strzok and Page, dated September 2, 2016, was released by the Senate Homeland Security Committee which suggested that then-President Obama was taking a strong personal interest in one of the ongoing FBI investigations. Page wrote to Strzok, “potus [Obama] wants to know everything we’re doing.” It is not clear whether she was referring to the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s private email server or the FBI’s response to Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election.
The chairman of the committee, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, called the exchange of messages between Page and Strzok, “totally candid, unvarnished” and said they “just raise an awful lot of questions.”
With regard to the Clinton email investigation, Obama had said he could “guarantee” he wouldn’t get involved and that there would be “no political influence” in the FBI investigation.
In April 2016, Obama told Fox News, “I do not talk to the attorney general about pending investigations. I do not talk to FBI directors about pending investigations. We have a strict line.”
Nevertheless, Obama made a public statement while the investigation was ongoing that he did not believe Mrs. Clinton had done anything with her emails that hurt national security. In effect, he was sending a clear message to the FBI and Justice Department prosecutors.
At the time (September 2016), the Obama administration had not yet publicly accused Russia of trying to interfere with the election. But the president must have been aware of the FBI’s investigation of the Russians, which had started that July. Page’s text message suggests that Obama may have been aware of the allegations that Steele had already presented to the FBI in his dossier, and was closely following the progress of that investigation.
If so, was Obama also aware that the FBI was misusing the accusations in the Steele dossier to improperly obtain surveillance warrants from the FISA court on members of Trump’s campaign? That could be a politically dangerous line of inquiry to pursue.
SUSAN RICE’S CURIOUS EMAIL
Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham have been trying to uncover the truth about whether President Obama was aware of the FBI’s misuse of the Steele dossier. In that regard, they have sent a letter to Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, about a curious email which she sent to herself on January 20, 2017, the day of President Trump’s inauguration, about a meeting on January 5 with Obama that Rice attended, along with Vice President Joe Biden, FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
The email was a detailed recounting by Rice of what transpired in that meeting. She wrote: “President Obama began the conversation by stressing his continued commitment to ensuring that every aspect of this issue is handled by the Intelligence and law enforcement communities ‘by the book.’
“The president stressed that he is not asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective. He reiterated that our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would by the book.
“He wants to be sure that, as we engage with the incoming team, we are mindful to ascertain if there is any reason that we cannot share information fully as it relates to Russia.
“The President asked Comey to inform him if anything changes in the next few weeks that should affect how we share classified information with the incoming team. Comey said he would.”
Grassley and Graham are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which obtained the Rice email from the National Archives as part of an investigation into the issuance of the FISA warrant on former Trump advisor Carter Page. They were troubled by the timing and circumstances of Rice’s email, and sent her a letter asking her to clarify her motives. They wrote:
“It strikes us as odd that, among your activities in the final moments on the final day of the Obama administration, you would feel the need to send yourself such an unusual email purporting to document a conversation involving President Obama and his interactions with the FBI regarding the Trump/Russia investigation. In addition, despite your claim that President Obama repeatedly told Mr. Comey to proceed ‘by the book,’ substantial questions have arisen about whether officials at the FBI, as well as at the Justice Department and the State Department, actually did proceed ‘by the book.’”
TRYING TO PUT OBAMA “ON THE RECORD”
In a Fox News interview, Senator Graham said that Rice’s email was “self-serving.” Graham suggested that Rice wrote the email, 15 days after the fact, in an effort to put Obama “on the record” telling his people to do everything “by the book,” because Comey had briefed Obama at that meeting about how the FBI had inappropriately used the Steele dossier to obtain a FISA warrant to spy on Carter Page.
The letter from Grassley and Graham asks Rice to respond by February 22 to a dozen questions about the accuracy of the email and her motive for sending it, her own knowledge about the FISA warrant application and the Steele dossier, and what else happened at the January 5 meeting.
A lawyer for Rice replied to the letter from the senators by saying that the email Rice wrote had nothing to do with the Steele dossier. The lawyer added that the concerns expressed in the meeting with Obama about sharing classified information with the incoming Trump team had to do with Michael Flynn and his contacts with Russian officials.
Rice has previously admitted that, during the transition to the Trump administration, she had asked for the identity of some of the Trump people who had been wiretapped while working on transition team.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE DOSSIER
The dossier served as the centerpiece of the Russian conspiracy accusations. It was compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, starting in June 2016. He was hired, through multiple intermediaries, by Marc Elias, the lawyer for the Clinton campaign and the Democrat National Committee. Steele used his reputation with the FBI as a once-reliable source of intelligence on Russia to sell the fantastic allegations against Trump and his campaign in the dossier, which was based on unverified, untrue, third-hand information from Steele’s anonymous sources in Russia.
As the fog has lifted, it has revealed that others who contributed to allegations listed in the dossier included Sidney Blumenthal and Cody Shearer, who were notorious for using dirty tricks to protect the Clintons. When Clinton was appointed Secretary of State, the Obama White House refused to allow her to put Blumenthal on her State Department staff. Using a State Department intermediary, Blumenthal and Shearer fed Steele some of the most damaging unproven allegations against Trump.
Steele added those accusations to the unverified rumors about Trump that he received from his own Russian informants, and turned it over to the FBI. Steele’s employer, Fusion GPS, the well-connected Washington opposition research firm, is another major player in the plot. Fusion GPS is notorious for using its close ties with the mainstream media and underhanded tactics to intimidate the enemies of its unsavory international clients, including the Russians.
THE EVIDENCE NEVER EMERGED
Despite the lack of verification for any of the dossier’s charges, once its existence was revealed, the media eagerly reported its allegations as if they were facts, with the missing proof for the allegations expected to emerge from the ongoing multiple investigations at any moment.
But more than 18 months after the investigations started, no proof that a Trump-Russian conspiracy ever existed has yet to emerge, most likely because there wasn’t any.
There were several meetings and contacts between Trump campaign advisors and officials with suspected Russian agents, all of which were widely reported in the media. But none of those contacts resulted in any illegal activity or ongoing cooperation between Russia and the Trump campaign.
The FBI used the Steele dossier as the primary source for a warrant to the secret FISA court for surveillance of Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page. Page was a peripheral figure in the Trump campaign, which cut its ties with him even before the first FISA warrant was issued. Like George Papadopoulos, whose drunken, indiscreet remarks to an Australian diplomat about his connections in the Kremlin provided Strzok with an excuse to start the FBI investigation, Page was a fall guy. The FBI used him to start surveillance on the Trump campaign, under cover of the unproven allegations in the Steele dossier.
The FBI renewed its application for the Page search warrant three times at three-month intervals. During that time, it had fired Steele for leaking accusations from his dossier to the media and then lying to the FBI about it. In its warrant applications to the FISA court, the FBI did not reveal that it had fired Steele, nor that Steele had been hired to write the dossier as opposition research by the Clinton campaign and the Democrat National Committee, and that he had included unverified information supplied by Clinton operatives.
KEEPING THE CLINTON CONNECTION SECRET
We have recently learned that the FBI carefully obscured the dossier’s connection to the Clinton campaign in a footnote of its first warrant application. It stated only that the dossier was compiled at the direction of a law firm that had hired an “identified U.S. person,” meaning Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS. The application withheld the fact that the law firm’s clients were the Clinton campaign and the DNC, and that their lawyer, Mr. Elias, had paid Fusion GPS more than a million dollars to create the dossier. In reports to the Federal Election Commission, the DNC and the Clinton campaign camouflaged the payment as “legal expenses” owed to Perkins Coie, Elias’ law firm. Steele was paid over $160,000 by Fusion GPS for compiling the dossier.
Simpson and Fusion GPS fought furiously in the courts to keep the identity of their client secret. The dossier’s sponsorship by the Clinton campaign and the DNC was not publicly disclosed until October 2017. No mention of the Clinton connection was made in the FISA search warrant applications for which the dossier served as the primary source.
After the dossier’s allegations were published, several people whose names were mentioned in it sued Steele for libel in Britain. In his response, Steele told a British court in May 2017 that the allegations in his dossier were “unverified. . . raw intelligence [that] warranted investigation,” and mere “indications” of “possible” coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
In March 2017, then-FBI Director James Comey was asked during testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee “why the FBI relied on the dossier in the FISA applications absent meaningful corroboration.” Comey answered that it was “because Mr. Steele himself was considered reliable due to his past work with the Bureau.” This was five months after the FBI had fired Steele for lying to them about leaks.
FBI COVERED UP FOR STEELE
Yet in April and June 2017, when the FBI applied to extend the surveillance warrant on Carter Page, it continued vouch for the reliability of Steele’s allegations.
The FBI severed its formal ties with Steele after he gave a published interview on his dossier to Mother Jones magazine, which published it in late October 2016, about a week before the election.
But the FBI was not willing to forego the search warrant his dossier had helped them obtain from the FISA court against Page. They kept the judges of the FISA court in the dark, filing applications to renew the search warrant even after Steele had told a court in England that he refused to stand by the truthfulness of allegations in the dossier.
The dossier offered no independent testimony or verification for any of its allegations of wrongdoing by Carter Page during his trip to Moscow in the summer of 2016, or its many allegations against Trump.
Steele admitted that he was the anonymous source for a much less detailed article about the dossier written by Michael Isikoff and published by Yahoo News on September 23, 2016. Isikoff has confirmed it as well.
The Yahoo article included several of the dossier’s specific allegations, and the FBI cited the article as independent corroboration for the dossier’s accusations in the FISA warrant application. The FBI should have suspected that Steele was its source. Yet, in the initial Carter Page warrant application, in which the Yahoo article was cited, the court was told, “The FBI does not believe that [Steele] directly provided this information to the press.”
The FBI agreed to cover for Steele leaking his material to Isikoff because it enabled them to falsely claim that the story was independent confirmation of the dossier.
To complete the circle, an email from the DNC dated May 4, 2016, that was stolen and published on WikiLeaks says that a DNC contractor had hired Isikoff to work on digging up dirt on Trump from Ukrainian sources.
ANOTHER FUSION GPS CONNECTION
Even after he was formally fired, Steele’s paymaster, Glenn Simpson, one of the founders of Fusion GPS, kept feeding the FBI the dirt that Steele was digging up on Trump. Simpson set up meetings between Bruce Ohr, who was then the fourth highest ranking official in the Justice Department, and Steele. Previously, Fusion GPS had hired Ohr’s wife, Nellie a professional researcher on Russia, to help Steele with his dossier. Eventually all of Mrs. Ohr’s research, paid for by the Clinton campaign through Fusion GPS, made its way to the FBI. That connection, too, was omitted from the FBI’s application to the FISA court.
Ohr reported on his meetings with Steele to the FBI. In a September 2016 meeting, Steele told Ohr that he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president,” but the FBI never disclosed Steele’s strong anti-Trump bias to the FISA court.
A MOCKERY OF PROPER LEGAL PROCEDURES
According to former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, the procedures followed by the FBI and the DOJ to obtain the warrants on Carter Page made a mockery of procedures in American criminal courts. McCarthy is just as angry at the judges in the FISA court for approving the search warrant as he is at the senior FBI and DOJ officials who failed to submit any verified evidence that the target of the warrant had likely committed a crime.
The warrant does not cite testimony from anyone who claims to have witnessed the criminal acts alleged in the dossier. It only provides rumors that were collected by Steele in London from his sources in Russia who retold him stories they heard about Trump, Page and other members of the Trump campaign from third parties.
The credibility of the application for the FISA warrant rested entirely on the reputation of Steele, and the FBI was far from honest with the judges about Steele’s credentials.
Steele had won the trust of the FBI when he was still working for British intelligence in 2009 by providing valuable information which helped break a major scandal in the international soccer federation. But in 2016 he was no longer working for the British government. He had retired from MI6 and formed his own business in London to sell his skills and services to the highest bidder, in this case, Fusion GPS.
Steele was working for the FBI, but he did not follow their rules, beginning with keeping the information in the dossier private. Steele was more interested in getting his dirt on Trump into any media vehicle that would agree to publish it.
CONGRESS STEPPED UP AS THE FBI FAILED
According to McCarthy, not only did the FBI and DOJ officials betray their own professional standards by submitting such an application, the judges on the FISA court failed to do their duty of properly scrutinizing the warrant and rejecting it for its obvious legal shortcomings.
But members of several congressional committees, as well as the inspector general of the Department of Justice, Michael Horowitz, have distinguished themselves by ignoring the politics and drilling down into the handling of the two most politically sensitive criminal investigations probes in recent memory: Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified emails while she was Secretary of State and claims that the Trump campaign colluded illegally with Russia to meddle with a presidential election.
Horowitz’s report will probably have the greatest impact when it arrives, because it will be seen as politically independent, unlike any of the senatorial and congressional investigations, or Special Counsel Mueller’s probe, which is being conducted by a pro-Clinton staff.
NUNES VS. SCHIFF
The first significant committee report to emerge focused on the FISA warrant. It was the majority memo of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence produced by Republican Congressmen Devin Nunes, the committee chairman, and Trey Gowdy, a former South Carolina prosecutor.
It was the first to spell out in a way the public could understand the many problems with the way the dossier was used to obtain the FISA warrant. What it lacked was the still classified information contained in the warrant application that was needed to prove some of its allegations. Committee Democrats led by their ranking member, Adam Schiff, objected violently and tried to keep the Nunes memo from being published. Schiff then crafted his own memo in an attempt to refute some of the most effective points made by the Nunes-Goudy document.
GRASSLEY AND GRAHAM VS. THE FBI
But the Democrat effort was overshadowed by the work of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham, who managed to get the FBI and the Justice Department to declassify the material in the FISA warrant application which proved that Steele had been lying and that the FBI was covering for him.
Grassley and Graham had sent a letter to the Department of Justice on January 5 asking them to open a case against Christopher Steele for lying to the FBI when he denied that he had shared the dossier’s accusations with the media. When the FBI initially reviewed the Grassley-Graham letter, it redacted so much of its original contents that it was not clear what they claimed Steele had done. Grassley and Graham accused the FBI of trying to cover up how they mishandled the FISA warrant application.
Grassley accused the FBI of playing a “bureaucratic game of hide the ball” to keep the public in the dark about how it had violated basic principles of honesty and evidence in order to trick a federal court to issue a search warrant without proper justification, violating the constitutional rights of an American citizen. Grassley and Graham had to fight the FBI tooth and nail to get the full story to the public, but they succeeded.
The second redacted version of their letter to DOJ was much more intelligible, making it clear that the major points in the Nunes memo were, in fact, correct.
AN APPLICATION THAT SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN SUBMITTED
The Grassley and Graham letter proves that the application for a FISA warrant to spy on Carter Page should never have been submitted in that form by the FBI, and the FISA court should never have accepted it.
The court was asked to take it on faith, based upon the FBI’s claim that Steele was a credible source of intelligence information. Then-FBI Director James Comey told Senator Grassley’s Judiciary Committee on March 17 that the FBI accepted the Steele “dossier’s allegations about Carter Page in the FISA applications because Mr. Steele himself was considered reliable due to his past work with the Bureau.”
In fact, the FBI knew that Steele was being paid through Fusion GPS by the Clinton campaign and had violated his agreement with the FBI not to share the information with the media.
A COMPROMISED SOURCE
Steele also badly compromised his credibility by accepting unverified allegations about Trump from Shearer and Blumenthal. He forwarded them to the FBI along with his dossier, thereby giving their allegations his implicit endorsement.
The FBI hid the fact from the FISA court that the Clinton campaign had commissioned the creation of the dossier. It only mentioned in a footnote to the application for the warrant that the dossier was paid by a lawyer, and did not mention his connection to the Clinton campaign. It also did not disclose to the FISA judges that the man who compiled the dossier had admitted to a DOJ official that he was “desperate” to keep Trump from being elected.
THE FINGERPRINTS OF FUSION GPS
The fingerprints of Fusion GPS are also all over the Trump dossier, especially the way it has been sold to the FBI and the mass media. Simpson and company apparently have few scruples about their clients. Fusion GPS began its anti-Trump opposition research for the Free Beacon, a Washington, D.C. conservative newspaper, during the early GOP primaries, but the Beacon stopped paying for the research in April 2016, once it became clear that Trump would become the GOP nominee. At that point, Fusion GPS went back to work digging up or manufacturing dirt on Trump for the Clinton campaign and the Democrats.
Fusion GPS had also been hired by the law firm of a Putin-connected Russian oligarch, Denis Katsyv, to run a public relations campaign against the U.S. sanctions on Putin’s cronies. The sanctions were imposed in 2012 by the Global Magnitsky Act in response to Russian human rights violations. Glenn Simpson was working jointly with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitkaya on behalf of Katsyv’s firm, Prevezon Holdings.
SIMPSON AND THE RUSSIAN LAWYER
She is the same Russian lawyer who held a controversial meeting at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, with Donald Trump Jr. and two top Trump campaign officials. Trump Jr. had been led to believe that Veselnitkaya could give the Trump campaign access to damaging information the Russians had on Hillary Clinton. But the information she offered was deemed to be of no value by the Trump campaign officials, who rejected Veselnitkaya’s efforts to use the meeting to lobby against the Magnitsky sanctions.
Trump Jr. and the campaign made a mistake by initially trying to conceal their purpose for agreeing to the meeting. For a while after the truth came out, the meeting was portrayed in media headlines as evidence that the Trump campaign wanted to conspire with the Russians. The lawyer was attempting to lure the Trump campaign into a compromising position, but eventually it became clear that Trump’s people considered the meeting to have been a waste of time, and nothing further came of it.
Fox News reported that Veselnitkaya had been seen that day with Fusion GPS’ Glenn Simpson twice, before and after the meeting at Trump Tower. Simpson later insisted that he and Veselnitkaya were at the same places because of their work against the Magnitsky sanctions, and that it had nothing to do with her meeting at Trump Tower.
That could be true. The first time Simpson and Veselnitkaya were seen together that day was at a federal court hearing relating to the accusation that Prevezon Holdings had illegally laundered more than $230 million.
But there have been so many instances of the same names being linked together in the Russian-Trump and Clinton email scandals that any further such coincidences seem to be deeply suspicious. This is especially true for Fusion GPS, which has been particularly adept at trying to hide its tracks and those of its clients.
THE RECKONING FOR THE ANTI-TRUMP MEDIA
Other major players in the Russian collusion story who will have a lot to answer for when the truth finally comes to light are the mainstream media outlets which have built their entire approach to news coverage on the assumption that the Trump campaign is guilty as charged. They have continued to ignore the evidence uncovered by Grassley, Graham and Nunes that the FBI and the DOJ deliberately manipulated the criminal justice system to build a false case against Trump and members of his campaign for colluding with the Russians.
Similarly, over the past year and a half, a number of prominent journalists have publicly admitted that they violated standards of objectivity in order to convince voters to reject Trump, arguing that the ends justify the means.
WHAT HAPPENS THE DAY AFTER TRUMP IS EXONERATED?
It seems increasingly unlikely that any credible evidence that Trump colluded with the Russians will emerge. Special Counsel Mueller will also have a difficult time producing evidence that Trump obstructed justice if there is no evidence a serious underlying crime was ever committed.
The report by Justice Department Inspector General Horowitz is expected to reveal severe irregularities in the way the FBI conducted its investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email server. It may also condemn as overly harsh the way in which the FBI has treated Trump supporters such as Carter Page and Paul Manafort.
Even if Trump emerges whole from the accusations against him, serious damage will have been done to the respect of the American people for their president, their system of government, their faith in the rule of law, and their trust in a free media to report the truth.