From left, FBI Director James Comey, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and CIA Director John Brennan arrive at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on world wide threats on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Staring down into the smoking, effervescing crater that used to be the credibility of the FBI and the intelligence community after Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Mueller investigation, one is left with a single overarching question. How did this happen?
Eli Lake, writing at Bloomberg, calls political leadership, the media, and national security officials to task. The first two I’m not concerned about. Expecting Harry Reid to behave in any way other than as a noxious amoral crapweasel is just foolish. Expecting the leftist media to not pile on to any negative story on a Republican office holder is to ignore who and what they are. National security, and here I include the FBI, officials are expected to defend the republic, not to act as a partisan hit squad so it is their behavior that is most interesting.
Reid wasn’t the only one. Last year the House Intelligence Committee released memos that showed how this dossier was part of the underlying evidence the FBI provided in a surveillance application to a secret court to monitor the communications of Carter Page, a low-level foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. Page has not been charged with a crime, and yet his reputation has been trashed after a top-secret warrant for his surveillance was leaked to the media.
The dossier set the initial narrative for the Trump administration. After CNN reported that it was included as part of a briefing Comey himself provided to Trump and Obama, Buzzfeed published the whole thing with the helpful caveat that it was not verified and was in places incorrect. The most important takeaway so far of the Mueller probe is that this dossier is garbage.
Then there is the matter of Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. He was forced from the administration and into a legal nightmare after his monitored conversations with Russia’s ambassador to Washington leaked a few weeks before Trump’s inauguration. It’s true that Flynn failed to file as a foreign agent for Turkey, a crime that is normally punished with a slap on the wrist. At the time though, the accusation against Flynn was that he was a Russian spy, based on leaked transcripts that are never supposed to see the light of day. How silly do these hyperventilations look today in light of Mueller’s conclusions?
What’s more, it’s a scandal that no one has investigated how those transcripts were leaked in the first place. Given that the FBI’s own inspector general found that leaking with impunity is commonplace, the bureau’s agents should at least be among the suspects.
Finally, there is that handful of former officials who validated the worst fears of Americans about Trump without ever providing actual evidence. The best example is former CIA Director John Brennan. For the last two years, Brennan has been a frequent guest on cable TV to spread the innuendo that Trump is compromised by Russia. Just this month, he speculated that Mueller would be indicting members of Trump world for criminal conspiracy, even as he insisted he had no “inside knowledge” of Mueller’s deliberations. That last part, at least, turns out to have been true.
The saddest part of all of this is that there was a lot of evidence, hiding in plain sight, that could have spared many collusion proponents their embarrassment. Mueller’s indictment of Roger Stone, for example alleged that Stone was tasked by a senior campaign official to find out what was in the emails that Russia hacked from Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. If the campaign were coordinating with Russia’s influence campaign, why would Stone need to go to Wikileaks?
The key point in here is the primacy of the Steele Dossier in kicking off the investigation.
It is now clear, more than ever, that the driving factor in the whole collusion investigation was the Steele Dossier. The cock-and-bull story about George Papadopoulos’s conversation with a former Australian diplomat relayed through the Australian ambassador to the UK was the reason “Crossfire Hurricane” has never been believable. Not in the slightest. In fact, you had to be a very special kind of stupid (or eaten up with TDS) to think that an intrusive FBI investigation into a presidential campaign was going to be launched based on something that could hardly rise to the level of hearsay. This is not a new opinion on my part:
Let’s review the Steele Dossier for a moment. It was paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign by way of two cutouts to prevent anyone from seeing who was the paymaster. The campaign paid its law firm. The law firm paid Fusion GPS. Fusion GPS paid Christopher Steele. Steele had long term ties with the FBI going back to, at least, its FIFA investigation. Steele can’t visit Russia because of his (assumed) former MI6 employment. Steele paid intermediaries to interview people who were mostly current and former members of the KGB/FSB/SVR. Were the people interviewed paid? We have no way of knowing as Steele won’t reveal who his intermediaries were. And we’re supposed to believe that a couple of dozen Russian intelligence types were approached asking them for derogatory information on a candidate for president of the United States and they never reported it. This is my view:
That dossier was passed to the FBI in July 2016. Several copies of it were distributed about Washington. Dozens of prominent journalists were pitched on the story. Eventually, James Comey briefed Trump on the dossier as a news hook to let CNN publicize it. See:
There is a lot of reason to believe that the FBI and the intelligence agencies knew the genesis of the Steele Dossier. Nellie Ohr, wife of a senior DOJ official, after all was involved at least tangentially in its production. And we know now that virtually the whole dossier was either provably false or not falsifiable. This had to have been known to the intelligence community and the FBI shortly after the dossier made its way into their hands.
Another major data point in this is the meeting Donald Trump, Jr. and others had in Trump Tower with a couple of Russians. Allegedly, Trump, Jr. thought they had evidence of financial improprieties by the Clintons or their campaign (not a hard thing to believe). Instead they were hit by a pitch to remove sanctions on a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska. As it developed, both Russians were part time stringers for Fusion GPS. One of them, Rinat Akhmetshin, was a former KGB hood. The other, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was known to have close Kremlin ties and had been barred from entering the US, though somehow she ended up with special permission for this meeting. As it turned out, both the Russians supported the effort to sanitize Deripaska who, as it turned out, had acted as a proxy for the FBI (see There Might Be A Very Good Reason Why Mueller Is Not Indicting Paul Manafort’s Russian Business Partner).
At some point along the way, we know the dossier was laundered and scrubbed and used to justify FISA surveillance of, at least, Carter Page. Brennan has denied using he dossier but his colleagues tell a different story and they have told it under penalty of perjury.
The Trump Tower meeting was recast as a criminal conspiracy in the making. And we know that the investigation into collusion led to what seems to be serious discussions between Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Counterintelligence goon Peter Strzok over Rosenstein wearing a wire when talking to Trump and using the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. In fact, it seems as though Rosenstein may have even polled some cabinet members (I’d have to guess Tillerson was one) over whether they’d support a cabinet putsch.
So the question before us is did the people pushing this collusion narrative believe it? Or were they consciously involved in an effort to hamstring President Trump if not outright remove him from office. And we should keep in mind Hanlon’s Razor, that is, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
If they believed it, there is a great case to be made that they should be fired…if not outright euthanized to prevent the possibility of them reproducing. There was literally nothing in the dossier that merited spying on a presidential candidate or anyone else. When one weighs all the other factors. The public statements by Brennan and Clapper. The leaks by Comey. The coordination between CNN and Comey. Comey’s stated intention to trigger the appointment of a special counsel. The obvious, in retrospect, falsehoods told by all those involved about the dossier; the whole “insurance policy” conversation Strzok had with his main squeeze; the way the FBI was effectively a Hillary Clinton campaign organ; the politicization of the Department of Justice and the intelligence community, and on and on; one is left with inescapable impression that not only did President Trump take over an executive branch that was still grieving over Hillary’s loss and hostile to him and his administration, but there was a core group of senior officials in the government who were more than willing to try to remove an elected president from office on the basis of fraudulent evidence.
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