More evidence keeps appearing that the FBI investigation of Russian collusion by the Trump campaign was a two-phase operation. According to a detailed article by Lee Smith, published on RealClearInvestigations, the first stage of the operation was the offensive. It consisted of a series of leaks by pro-Clinton senior officials in the Obama administration to mainstream me-dia outlets eager to cooperate in casting suspicion of collusion with Russia on candidate Trump and his campaign.
According to Smith, “The focus of the ongoing anti-Trump campaign became clear in March 2016 when the candidate identified Carter Page and George Papadopoulos as foreign policy ad-visers. . . FBI officials decided that Page, in particular, was a Russian asset and that others on the team might also be. Instead of alerting Trump to this possibility, law enforcement set up a sting operation.
“FBI informants and figures associated with Western intelligence approached the Trump team with offers of Russian-sourced dirt on Clinton.” According to Smith, “the most significant was a Russian lawyer’s June 9 meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with Donald Trump Jr. . . .”
“At the same time, [Fusion GPS founder Glenn] Simpson was working with a former British spy, Christopher Steele, and Nellie Ohr, [senior Justice Department official] Bruce Ohr’s wife, to assemble a series of reports alleging Trump’s ties to the Kremlin.
“In late summer, the Steele dossier . . . was circulated to Washington newsrooms. Yahoo News and Mother Jones published articles based on Steele’s briefings. . .
“The collusion narrative became fully operational at the end of October when the anti-Trump efforts of the Clinton campaign, the media and the FBI intersected. Even though then-Director James B. Comey considered the dossier ‘salacious and unverified,’ the FBI used it, and a Yahoo News article based on Steele’s reports, to obtain a warrant to spy on Page weeks before the election,” Smith wrote.
TRUMP’S VICTORY PUT THE CONSPIRATORS AT RISK
The first phase of the operation failed because Trump was elected despite the intensive effort to discredit him in the eyes of voters.
The government officials who had participated in the first phase of the operation had assumed – as had everyone else – that Mrs. Clinton would win the election and that they would be able to cover up their illegal leaks of classified information to the media. Trump’s unexpected victory left them potentially exposed, requiring a second, defensive phase of the operation in which Obama-era holdovers still working in the federal government and their media co-conspirators furiously leaked classified and misleading information in an effort to discredit people close to Trump.
During the transition, according to Smith, “lame-duck members of the Obama administration started to play offense, illegally leaking highly classified information aimed undermining the new administration’s agenda by raising concerns about Russian interference.”
Their first target was Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was the target of a series of malicious news reports by the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and others, based upon leaks of highly classified NSA wiretaps of Flynn’s phone conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, was another target of the malicious media campaign, fed by a steady stream of classi-fied material from Obama-era holdovers in the government.
Another target was Carter Page. He was one of the main victims of the first phase of the anti-Trump campaign, and the long list of FBI and Department of Justice officials who knowingly signed off on the FBI applications for secret FISA court surveillance warrant on Page may put many of the leaders of the anti-Trump campaign in serious legal jeopardy.
Another aspect of the media campaign was a series of prominent articles seeking to debunk the idea that Obama-era officials and the press were conspiring to undermine and discredit the new Trump administration.
According to Smith, the second phase of the “campaign was largely successful in raising doubts about whether the Trump administration really did put America first. It normalized charges of treason lodged against the president by Democrats and former Obama officials now working for the media, including former CIA Director John Brennan.”
WHEN THE TIDE TURNED
But by the end of Trump’s first year in office, the anti-Trump campaign in the media was forced to slow down because many of its main sources in the government, including the Obama holdovers and “Never Trump” Republicans, had been replaced.
At the same time, congressional investigations into the avalanche of classified leaks and misin-formation began to gain traction, as Republican committee chairmen Devin Nunes and Chuck Grassley forced a reluctant FBI and Department of Justice to release documents which began to reveal the first phase of the anti-Trump campaign.
Some of the most startling disclosures of the extreme bias and unfair tactics employed by the anti-Trump conspirators were the series of messages exchanged by senior FBI investigator Pe-ter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Strzok was particularly well placed to exert influence on the 2016 election because he was one of the leaders of the FBI investigation of Hillary Clin-ton’s private email server. Strzok also played a key role in editing the controversial public statement by FBI director James Comey, inserting the language which exonerated her from criminal prosecution.
Strzok had been also been working with CIA director John Brennan to conduct an unauthorized investigation of the Trump campaign, and when it had gathered enough incriminating infor-mation, Strzok personally initiated the formal FBI counterintelligence investigation into possi-ble Russian collusion, which eventually became Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.
Page was also well placed, working for Assistant FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who was aware of and a participant in the anti-Trump FBI conspiracy.
The messages between Strzok and Page revealing their inappropriate bias were uncovered by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who brought them to the attention of Mueller. He reacted by removing the two from his investigation. But the content of most of their correspondence remained undisclosed to the public until Horowitz released them in his report earlier this year on the FBI’s mishandling of the Clinton e-mail server investigation.
TRUMP NOW SEEN AS THE VICTIM
The extent of the animus in their messages toward Trump, and their determination to see him defeated by Mrs. Clinton, validated claims by Trump supporters that he was the victim of an illegal conspiracy, and that the FBI’s investigation of his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia should never have been launched.
However, when Horowitz released his report, he noted that six months of messages between Srzok and Page were missing, due to technical problems in recovering them from FBI comput-ers and cell phones. The effort to recover those missing emails has continued, with some suc-cess.
In recent weeks, some of the newly recovered emails were turned over to the congressional oversight committees which had requested them, and their contents revealed new aspects of the second phase of the operation to discredit Trump once he was in office, how media outlets competed with government officials to publish the latest accusations.
Strzok described his contacts with reporters at the New York Times and Washington Post during the spring of 2017 to provide them with classified information for the stories they published about the FBI’s Russian collusion investigation.
WORKING WITH THE MEDIA
In one message sent on April 14, Strzok mentioned New York Times writer Michael Schmidt. He wrote that “apparently [The New York] Times is angry with us about the Washington Post scoop and [an] earlier discussion we had about the Schmidt piece that had so many inaccura-cies. Too much to detail here, but I told Mike and Andy they need to understand we were abso-lutely dealing in good faith with them. The FISA one, coupled with the Guardian piece from yesterday.”
Reporter Sara Carter’s research indicates that “Mike” was Mike Kortan, the former FBI assis-tant director for public affairs who retired in February, and “Andy” was former FBI Deputy Di-rector Andrew McCabe. He was fired earlier this year due to the findings in Horowitz report that he had lied to the inspector general’s investigators.
The newly revealed text messages prompted North Carolina Republican Congressman Mark Meadows to send a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein asking him to investigate Strzok’s reference to a “media leak strategy.” Strzok’s lawyer claims he was talking about a strategy to stop media leaks, but the history of his efforts, in cooperation with Page, to defeat Trump and discredit his presidency makes that benevolent interpretation of his comment hard to believe.
Meadows has asked Rosenstein to provide his congressional committee with an opportunity “to review text messages, emails, and written communication from FBI and DOJ officials Stu Ev-ans, Mike Kortan, and Joe Pientka between June 2016 to June 2017.”
Meadows wrote, “to be clear, we are not suggesting wrongdoing on the part of Evans, Kortan, and Pientka – and, in fact, previously reviewed documents suggest that some of these individu-als may share the committees’ same concerns.”
OTHER INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES “LEAKING LIKE MAD”
Another series of newly revealed messages between Strzok and Page which took place on De-cember 15, 2016, revealed that other Obama administration intelligence agencies were also “leaking like mad” to the media, for “political” purposes, based upon classified information from the FBI’s Trump-Russia collusion probe, according to new communications between Strzok and Page obtained exclusively by Fox News.
Page also texted Strzok, “Oh, remind me to tell you tomorrow about the [New York] Times do-ing a story about the RNC (Republican National Committee) hacks.”
Strzok replied: “[I] think our sisters have begun leaking like mad. Scorned and worried, and political, they’re kicking into overdrive.”
There has been some debate about who Strzok meant when he used the term “sisters.”
Retired FBI special agent and former FBI national spokesman John Iannarelli told Fox News that it could be a reference to another government agency.
“Sisters is an odd phrase to use,” Iannarelli said. “It could be any intelligence agency or any other federal law enforcement agency. The FBI works with all of them because, post 9/11, it’s all about cooperation and sharing.”
The “leaking like mad” text was sent on the same day that several news outlets reported that US intelligence officials said they were convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin was per-sonally involved in and approved of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The latest batches of Strzok and Page emails make it clear that media reporters and officials of government security and intelligence agencies were working in close, daily cooperation to fash-ion stories to attack and discredit Trump’s policies and key members of his administration.
TRUMP SAYS RELEASE
As we were preparing to go to press, President Trump ordered the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to declassify several documents related to the Russia probe, including 21 pages of the application to the secret FISA court for the order per-mitting his campaign advisor Carter Page to be surveilled. He also ordered that the text mes-sages of the key players in the Russia probe be released “without redaction.” The order includes messages from Stzrok and Page as well as Bruce Ohr, FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. He also asked for the declassification of all FBI reports of inter-views pertaining to Carter Page and Bruce Ohr.
Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump acted in response to requests of Congressional com-mittees and in the interests of transparency.
Rep. Mark Meadows, head of the House Freedom Caucus, said, “As Congress has investigated, we’ve continued to see more and more troubling evidence suggesting multiple senior level FBI and DOJ officials acted in a deeply unethical fashion during the 2016 campaign and throughout the early stages of the Trump administration. Enough is enough–the time for full transparency is now. Let’s bring the full truth to light, while protecting sources and methods, and allow the American people to judge for themselves.”
Twelve congressmen, including Meadows, had asked Trump to declassify the application to the FISA court.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said on Fox the day before the presi-dent’s order, that “If the president wants the American people to really understand just how broad and invasive this investigation has been to many Americans and how unfair it has been, he has no choice but to declassify.”
THE END GAME FOR MANAFORT AND PAPADOPOULOS
In recent weeks, special counsel Robert Mueller has wrapped up the legal loose ends involving two individuals he has filed charges against from the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos. Manafort was initially brought into the Trump campaign during the spring of 2016 to keep Trump’s GOP convention delegates in line. He then served for several months as campaign chairman, before he was forced to resign due to allegations that he com-mitted financial crimes years before while working for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.
Manafort was convicted in a federal court this summer for some of those financial crimes and agreed to plead guilty to a series of lesser charges in order to avoid a second trial for additional crimes, and to reduce the total length of his jail sentence. Manafort agreed to fully cooperate with Mueller’s prosecutors, but legal experts disagree on how much useful new information he can provide at this late stage of the investigation.
If there was any high-level collusion with Russian agents to sway the outcome of the election, Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager during the late spring and summer of 2016, would likely have been aware of it. If so, he is compelled under the terms of his plea bargain agreement to reveal it to Mueller. But even if there was no such collusion, Manafort could still be useful to Mueller by providing corroborating evidence about any other wrongdoing within the Trump campaign which the investigation may have uncovered, and as a check on the testi-mony of other witnesses the Mueller team has interviewed.
DOES TRUMP NEED TO WORRY ABOUT MANAFORT?
Manafort is a veteran political operative who has long-established connections to Kremlin-connected political operatives in Eastern Europe. He might be able to provide Mueller with in-formation about Russian agents who were working to influence the 2016 election, but who had no connection to the Trump campaign. That would be consistent with a Politico article which quotes a source from the Manafort camp which says that “The cooperation agreement [with Mueller] does not involve the Trump campaign.”
Conservative commentator and former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy also finds it “hard to believe Mueller sees Manafort as the key to making a case on Trump when Mueller has had [Richard] Gates — Manafort’s partner — as a cooperator for six months. You have to figure that Gates knows whatever Manafort knows about [Russian] collusion.”
Manafort can give Mueller a firsthand account of the June 2016 encounter at Trump Tower in which he, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer to follow up on an offer from one of Don Jr.’s business contacts of compromising information the Trump campaign could use against Hillary Clinton. When the meeting was first reported by the New York Times a year later, the Trump campaign officials initially released a statement dismissing it as a waste of time and declaring that it was unrelated to campaign business. But the meeting soon became a source of greater embarrassment when Don Jr.’s emails revealed the real reason that he agreed to the meeting, and the White House admitted that President Trump had authored the misleading initial statement that was given to the media in order to protect his son.
The Russian lawyer involved, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was also working with Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS, who was behind the notorious Trump dossier which was paid for by the Clinton campaign. That has led some to suggest that the Trump Tower meeting might have been a polit-ical trap, set up by the Russians or the Clinton camp, or perhaps both, to embarrass the Trump campaign. There is no reason to doubt that the Trump Tower meeting ultimately went nowhere, but it is evidence that Trump campaign officials were interested in any information which could be used against Mrs. Clinton, even from a suspect Russian source.
WHAT DOES WITNESS COOPERATION MEAN?
The spokesman for President Trump’s legal team, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, declared in a tweet following the announcement of the Mueller plea deal that there was “no ev-idence of collusion with Russia” within the Trump campaign and that “the president did noth-ing wrong.” Giuliani also told Business Insider that “sources close to” Manafort’s defense team had told him that “Paul Manafort is not going to talk to Robert Mueller about Trump or the Trump campaign. His cooperation deal does not include an agreement to do that. He’s only co-operating on matters related to the two indictments against him and others named in those in-dictments.”
But another legal expert disputed Giuliani’s claim that Manafort cannot be forced to give evi-dence against Trump. Former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer said it was unlikely that Mueller would agree to give Manafort a lighter sentence unless he had information that would help him catch a bigger fish. “If you’re Mueller, the reason you pursue this against Manafort, and appropriately so, is to squeeze him,” Cramer said.
Elie Honig, a former Justice Department lawyer, explained that “the way it works with federal cooperation is it’s all or nothing. The cooperator doesn’t just talk about select people or catego-ries. They have to talk about everything they’ve ever done, all the criminal activity they knew about, every crime they’ve committed.”
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz also believes that the Trump legal team should be “alarmed” about what Manafort may tell Mueller.
In an interview on MSNBC, Dershowitz said that there was “no doubt” that Mueller’s reason for agreeing to the plea deal was to get evidence against Trump. However, Dershowitz noted that because of his conviction and his guilty plea, Manafort isn’t a very credible witness, and the value of his testimony is limited.
“There’s nothing he can testify to that would probably lend weight to impeachment because he didn’t have close contact with President Trump while he was president,” Dershowitz said. “What they are looking for is self-corroborating information that can be used against Trump.”
Dershowitz said that if Mueller can make Manafort “sing” with usable information against Trump, it could lead to a “big win” for the special counsel. But Dershowitz also expressed con-cern that Manafort has a strong motive to “compose and elaborate on the story” in an effort to convince the prosecutor that he is living up to the terms of the plea deal.
The announced terms of Manafort’s agreement to cooperate with Mueller do not include any specific exception for events during his time working for the Trump campaign. Moreover, An-drew Weissmann, one of Mueller’s prosecutors, told US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson that Manafort has agreed to cooperate “in any and all matters as to which the government deems the cooperation relevant,” including “testifying fully [and] completely” before a grand jury.
In a tweet following the plea deal, Trump did not mention the Manafort case directly, but did say that his poll numbers are being hurt by the “rigged Russian witch hunt” and that, “highly conflicted Bob Mueller and the 17 angry Democrats [on Mueller’s team] are using this phony issue to hurt us in the midterms.”
WHY MANAFORT NEEDED A DEAL
Manafort was recently convicted in a Virginia federal court on eight felony counts of bank and tax fraud related to payments he received for his activities on behalf of his clients in Ukraine. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he was subject to a term of up to 20 years in prison. He was also facing additional felony charges in a Washington, DC federal court, and possible retri-al on ten other charges on which the jury in the Virginia court could not reach agreement.
Manafort is 69 years old, which meant that without a plea bargain for a reduced sentence on all of the charges, he would likely have been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. Ap-parently, the information Manafort was offering was valuable enough to Mueller for him to agree to limit Mueller’s sentence to a total of no more than ten years in prison, but neither Mueller nor Manafort’s attorneys would say what kind of information was involved.
Under the plea agreement, Manafort pled guilty to a general charge of “conspiracy against the United States” which could cover a multitude of crimes. Manafort also pled guilty to obstruc-tion of justice based on his alleged attempt to tamper with witnesses against him in the Virginia trial, and for which his bail was revoked. Finally, Manafort has pled guilty on the ten bank-fraud charges on which the Virginia jury could not reach an agreement. Given those admissions of guilt, he now has no choice but to follow through on his promise to cooperate fully with Mueller’s team if he ever hopes to get out of jail alive.
PAPDOPOULOS GETS TWO WEEKS AT “CLUB FED”
George Papadopoulos, a former aide to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was sen-tenced to 14 days in prison after lying to federal agents investigating whether campaign mem-bers coordinated with Russia before the election.
After the sentencing, Papadopoulos sent out a series of tweets suggesting that then-Australian ambassador to Great Britain Alexander Downer had set him up as part of an elaborate conspira-cy involving British spy agency MI6 and unnamed “private intelligence organizations” working on behalf of Mrs. Clinton to damage the Trump campaign.
According to a story published in the New York Times last December, a tipsy Papadopoulos had told Downer in a London restaurant in May 2016 that Russia had “political dirt” on Mrs. Clin-ton. After Downer cabled that information to Australian security officials, it was passed to American agencies. The Times story alleges that the conversation between Papadopoulos and Downer was the original impetus for the FBI to open the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, which is now being continued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
NOTHING BUT A DIVERSION
But others believe that the Papadopoulos story is being used to divert attention away from mounting evidence that the original FBI probe was opened based upon bogus charges from the Steele dossier and an illegal investigation led by then-CIA director John Brennan, FBI agent Peter Strzok and members of British intelligence agencies seeking to discredit the Trump cam-paign, several months before Papadopoulos met Downer in London. Those who are skeptical of the Times story suspect that Downer, who was closely connected to the Clinton Family Founda-tion, set up Papadopoulos to serve as a fall guy to provide a more plausible excuse for the launching of the FBI investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.
In interviews and tweets following his sentencing, Papadopoulos has insisted that he had “no recollection” of telling Downer that the Russians had damaging Clinton campaign emails it was willing to give the Trump campaign.
Papadopoulos wrote that Downer had wanted to meet him in London under “incredibly suspi-cious circumstances. . . The notion that Downer randomly reached out to me just to have a gin and tonic is laughable. Some organization or entity sent him to meet me.”
Papadopoulos also tweeted that, “For the sake of our republic and the integrity of this investi-gation, I think it’s time Downer is as exposed as [Trump dossier author] Christopher Steele,” explaining that it “would be a very, very big problem if British intelligence was weaponized against an American citizen.”
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Papadopoulos said he had told the Greek foreign minister that Russia had obtained Clinton campaign emails, but insisted he could not recall ev-er mentioning this to Downer or communicating it to officials in the Trump campaign.
PLAYED FOR A STOOGE BY THE RUSSIANS
Papadopoulos says he was first told about the Russian breach of Clinton emails by Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese academic with who appears to have been an agent of the Russian govern-ment. Mifsud introduced Papadopoulos to other Russian agents, who led him to believe that they could help him arrange meetings between Trump campaign officials and Trump himself with senior Russian government officials.
Papadopoulos offered to arrange for such contacts during a meeting with senior Trump cam-paign officials, in the presence of Trump himself, whom he described as being non-committal about the idea. But Papadopoulos claimed that then-Senator Jeff Sessions was very interested in such contacts, disputing Sessions’ claim in later congressional testimony that he was outspoken at the meeting in opposition to the Papadopoulos proposal. In the end, the Trump campaign re-jected Papadopoulos’ offer to set up meetings with Russian officials, and he insists that, contra-ry to the claim in the Times story, he never told Trump campaign officials that the Russians had access to Mrs. Clinton’s emails.
Last October, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to making false statements to FBI agents relating to the timing of the contacts he had with Russian agents while working for the Trump campaign. He said that he misled the FBI out of his sense of loyalty to the Trump campaign, and admitted that he had hoped to land a position in the Trump White House after the election.
His guilty plea was part of a plea bargain reflecting his cooperation with the Mueller investiga-tion. But it is not clear how much useful information Papadopoulos, who was never more than a peripheral player in the Trump campaign, could provide to Mueller’s prosecutors.
Trump named Papadopoulos and Carter Page, another obscure but central figure in the Trump-Russian collusion investigation, as members of his foreign policy team at a time when better known and more highly respected members of the Republican foreign policy establishment wanted nothing to do with the Trump campaign.
After his name surfaced in the Times article last December, Trump downplayed Papadopoulos’s role in his campaign. “Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Papadopoulos was sentenced to 14 days in prison, in addition to 12 months of supervised re-lease, and 200 hours of community service. He was also fined $9,500. Mueller’s team had asked that he be sentenced to at least a month in jail, but the judge in the case was moved by Papadopoulos sincere expression of regret for his mistake and gave him a lighter sentence.
Papadopoulos’ claims in media interviews and tweets after his sentencing contradict key details in the Times version of his meeting with Downer in London, and the Sessions account of how his proposal to set up meetings with Russian officials was received by the Trump campaign.
It seems apparent that Papadopoulos was never more than a pawn who was duped by Russian agents seeking a connection to get inside the Trump campaign, but he had too little influence to give the Russians the access they wanted to more senior campaign officials.
One by one, the false stories meant to cover up the two-stage conspiracy against Donald Trump, the first intended to defeat him, and the second intended to discredit his presidency, are being revealed. Slowly, the anti-Trump conspirators are being driven out of the shadows, and their true motives are being revealed. Their day of reckoning, when they will be held accountable for their efforts to thwart democracy and remove a duly elected president from office, is coming.