FILE – In this April 25, 2006, file photo, John Durham speaks to reporters on the steps of U.S. District Court in New Haven, Conn. On Monday, Aug. 24, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder is assigned prosecutor John Durham to investigate CIA mistreatment of terror suspects. (AP Photo/Bob Child, File)
Now that former CIA head John Brennan has become part of the focus in U.S. Attorney John Durham’s criminal probe into the origins of the Russia collusion investigation, speculation begins in earnest as to what exactly, if any, crimes were committed by him or other former heads of the intelligence agencies implicated, such as former FBI head James Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Former Federal Prosecutor Robert Ray, in an interview Monday on Fox News, attempts to answer exactly what Durham may be interested in with regard to Brennan, up to and including whether he lied to Congress, what information related to the Steele dossier was shared between intelligence agencies, and whether there was a concerted effort to leak information to the press in a propaganda campaign to build public support for a Russia collusion investigation.
He also alludes to something that was originally reported on favorably when it began around the time of the 2016 election, but has since gained notoriety in the wake of Lt. Col. Vindman’s testimony during the impeachment inquiry: a coordinated interagency group that may have been working against the Trump administration.
“There’s always been a divide, and a well-recognized one, between the intel community’s mission, which is to keep us safe; and the law enforcement mission through the FBI to prosecute those who have engaged in criminal misconduct,” Ray said Monday. “The danger is when the two overlap — and the FBI’s mission has changed a bit post- 9/11 to include an intelligence function as well. The problem is that ‘s subject to potential mischief.”
Ray said that Durham may be very interested in if the agencies were sharing information about the now-infamous Steele dossier, and if they knew of the political origins of that document and presumably the problems with its veracity and the reputation of its author, Christopher Steele.
“What did the intelligence community actually know about the Steele dossier, its origins and the potential political bias behind it,” Ray said of the focus of Durham’s probe into Brennan. “And also what were they doing behind the scenes and comparing that with what [Brennan and Clapper’s] public statements were.”
Ray seems to be alluding to cooperation between intelligence agencies in their intent to investigate the Trump campaign, something that was initially touted by left-leaning media outlets such as Vox when Brennan created the “interagency group” in early 2016 (with some reports indicating their work began even earlier).
BBC’s report claims that an interagency group was created when the CIA director last April allegedly received “a tape recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign.” The McClatchy report says the interagency group is looking into whether the Kremlin itself funneled money to hackers as part of Russia’s attempt to covertly help Trump win his campaign. And the Times report says that key former Trump advisers are being scrutinized closely for potential links with Moscow.
Crucially, all the reports indicate that this investigation began before the FBI was fed the now-infamous dossier alleging that Russian operatives had sensitive information that would embarrass and undermine Trump, and that there was “a continuing exchange of information during the [presidential] campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.”
The new reports offer no insight into the claims made in the dossier, but they do show that many in the US intelligence community are taking claims about Trump’s links to Russia very seriously. And if they were to find concrete evidence of links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, it would have the potential to unravel Trump’s entire presidency.
The claim in the Vox piece that the interagency group was reaching consensus before the Steele dossier crossed their threshold was meant to legitimize the concerns of Russia collusion and downplay the idea that the dossier was a crucial piece of evidence. Now, thanks to Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report, we know that the dossier was indeed an integral part of the DOJ’s FISA warrants used to spy on Carter Page and the Trump campaign.
More telling, was Lt. Col. Vindman’s impeachment inquiry testimony referring to an interagency consensus that took issue with the direction of Trump’s foreign policy.
Are there two interagency working groups, or does this one group form a link between the Russia collusion investigation and Trump’s impeachment?
And, as Ray remarks when questioned in Monday’s interview about the media’s role, just how did this formal group or the intelligence agencies informally coordinate to involve the press in their plan?
“That’s the other concern…whether there was an orchestrated campaign to engage in leaks in order to further press and public sentiment in favor of the FBI opening up a criminal [Russia collusion] investigation,” Ray said.
Depending upon what Durham uncovers, several players — including the press — are going to have to do more than dismiss the notion that a Deep State exists. They may end up having to counter evidentiary information that proves it.