Spygate: The True Story of Collusion [Infographic]
Although the details remain complex, the structure underlying Spygate—the creation of the false narrative that candidate Donald Trump colluded with Russia, and the spying on his presidential campaign—remains surprisingly simple:
1. CIA Director John Brennan, with some assistance from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, gathered foreign intelligence and fed it throughout our domestic Intelligence Community.
2. The FBI became the handler of Brennan’s intelligence and engaged in the more practical elements of surveillance.
3. The Department of Justice facilitated investigations by the FBI and legal maneuverings, while providing a crucial shield of nondisclosure.
4. The Department of State became a mechanism of information dissemination and leaks.
5. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee provided funding, support, and media collusion.
6. Obama administration officials were complicit, and engaged in unmasking and intelligence gathering and dissemination.
7. The media was the most corrosive element in many respects. None of these events could have transpired without their willing participation. Stories were pushed, facts were ignored, and narratives were promoted.
Let’s start with a simple premise: The candidacy of Trump presented both an opportunity and a threat.
Initially not viewed with any real seriousness, Trump’s campaign was seen as an opportunistic wedge in the election process. At the same time, and particularly as the viability of his candidacy increased, Trump was seen as an existential threat to the established political system.
The sudden legitimacy of Trump’s candidacy was not welcomed by the U.S. political establishment. Here was a true political outsider who held no traditional allegiances. He was brash and boastful, he ignored political correctness, he couldn’t be bought, and he didn’t care what others thought of him—he trusted himself.
Governing bodies in Britain and the European Union were also worried. Candidate Trump was openly challenging monetary policy, regulations, and the power of special interests. He challenged Congress. He challenged the United Nations and the European Union. He questioned everything.
Brennan took unofficial foreign intelligence compiled by contacts, colleagues, and associates—primarily from the UK, but also from other Five Eyes members, such as Australia.
Individuals in official positions in UK intelligence, such as Robert Hannigan—head of the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ, Britain’s equivalent of the National Security Agency)—partnered with former UK foreign intelligence members. Former MI6 head Sir Richard Dearlove, former Ambassador Sir Andrew Wood, and private UK intelligence firm Hakluyt all played a role.
In the summer of 2016, Hannigan traveled to Washington to meet with Brennan regarding alleged communications between the Trump campaign and Moscow. On Jan. 23, 2017—three days after Trump’s inauguration—Hannigan abruptly announced his retirement. The Guardian openly speculated that Hannigan’s resignation was directly related to the sharing of UK intelligence.
One method used to help establish evidence of collusion was the employment of “spy traps.” Prominent among these were ones set for Trump campaign advisers George Papadopoulos and Carter Page. The intent was to provide or establish connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. The content and context mattered little as long as a connection could be established that could then be publicized. The June 2016 Trump Tower meeting was another such attempt.
Western intelligence assets were used to initiate and establish these connections, particularly in the cases of Papadopoulos and Page.
Ultimately, Brennan formed an inter-agency task force comprising an estimated six agencies and/or government departments. The FBI, Treasury, and DOJ handled the domestic inquiry into Trump and possible Russia connections. The CIA, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and National Security Agency (NSA) handled foreign and intelligence aspects.
Brennan’s inter-agency task force is not to be confused with the July 2016 FBI counterintelligence investigation, which was formed later at Brennan’s urging.
During this time, Brennan also employed the use of reverse targeting, which relates to the targeting of a foreign individual with the intent of capturing data on a U.S. citizen. This effort was uncovered and made public by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) in a March 2017 press conference:
“I have seen intelligence reports that clearly show the president-elect and his team were monitored and disseminated out in intelligence-reporting channels. Details about persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little apparent foreign-intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting.
“From what I know right now, it looks like incidental collection. We don’t know exactly how that was picked up but we’re trying to get to the bottom of it.”
As this foreign intelligence—unofficial in nature and outside of any traditional channels—was gathered, Brennan began a process of feeding his gathered intelligence to the FBI. Repeated transfers of foreign intelligence from the CIA director pushed the FBI toward the establishment of a formal counterintelligence investigation. Brennan repeatedly noted this during a May 23, 2017, congressional testimony:
“I made sure that anything that was involving U.S. persons, including anything involving the individuals involved in the Trump campaign, was shared with the [FBI].”
Brennan also admitted that his intelligence helped establish the FBI investigation:
“I was aware of intelligence and information about contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons that raised concerns in my mind about whether or not those individuals were cooperating with the Russians, either in a witting or unwitting fashion, and it served as the basis for the FBI investigation to determine whether such collusion [or] cooperation occurred.”
This admission is important, as no official intelligence was used to open the FBI’s investigation.
Once the FBI began its counterintelligence investigation on July 31, 2016, Brennan shifted his focus. Through a series of meetings in August and September 2016, Brennan informed the congressional Gang of Eight regarding intelligence and information he had gathered. Notably, each Gang of Eight member was briefed separately, calling into question whether each of the members received the same information. Efforts to block the release of the transcripts from each meeting remain ongoing.
The last major segment of Brennan’s efforts involved a series of three reports and greater participation from Clapper. The first report, the “Joint Statement from the Department Of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security,” was released on Oct. 7, 2016. The second report, “GRIZZLY STEPPE —Russian Malicious Cyber Activity,” was released on Dec. 29, 2016. The third report, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections”—also known as the Intelligence Community assessment (ICA)—was released on Jan. 6, 2017.
This final report was used to continue pushing the Russia-collusion narrative following the election of President Donald Trump. Notably, Admiral Mike Rogers of the NSA publicly dissented from the findings of the ICA, assigning only a moderate confidence level.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Although the FBI is technically part of the DOJ, it is best for the purposes of this article that the FBI and DOJ be viewed as separate entities, each with its own related ties.
The FBI itself was comprised of various factions, with a particularly active element that has come to be known as the “insurance policy group.” It appears that this faction was led by FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and comprised other notable names such as FBI agent Peter Strzok, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, and FBI general counsel James Baker.
The FBI established the counterintelligence investigation into alleged Russia collusion with the Trump campaign on July 31, 2016. Comey initially refused to say whether the FBI was investigating possible connections between members of the Trump campaign and Russia. He would continue to refuse to provide answers until March 20, 2017, when he disclosed the existence of the FBI investigation during congressional testimony.
Comey also testified that he did not provide notification to the Gang of Eight until early March 2017—less than one month earlier. This admission was in stark contrast to actions taken by Brennan, who had notified members of the Gang of Eight individually during August and September 2016. It’s likely that Brennan never informed Comey that he had briefed the Gang of Eight in 2016. Comey did note that the DOJ “had been aware” of the investigation all along.
Following Comey’s firing on May 9, 2017, the FBI’s investigation was transferred to special counsel Robert Mueller. The Mueller investigation remains ongoing.
The FBI’s formal involvement with the Steele dossier began on July 5, 2016, when Mike Gaeta, an FBI agent and assistant legal attaché at the US Embassy in Rome, was dispatched to visit former MI6 spy Christopher Steele in London. Gaeta would return from this meeting with a copy of Steele’s first memo. This memo was given to Victoria Nuland at the State Department, who passed it along to the FBI.
Gaeta, who also headed the FBI’s Eurasian Organized Crime unit, had known Steele since at least 2010, when Steele had provided assistance to the FBI’s investigation into the FIFA corruption scandal.
Prior to the London meeting, Gaeta may also have met on a less formal basis with Steele several weeks earlier. “In June, Steele flew to Rome to brief the FBI contact with whom he had cooperated over FIFA,” The Guardian reported. “His information started to reach the bureau in Washington.”
It’s worth noting that there was no “dossier” until it was fully compiled in December 2016. There was only a sequence of documents from Steele—documents that were passed on individually—as they were created. Therefore, from the FBI’s legal perspective, they didn’t use the dossier. They used individual documents.
For the next month and a half, there appeared to be little contact between Steele and the FBI. However, the FBI’s interest in the dossier suddenly accelerated in late August 2016, when the bureau asked Steele “for all information in his possession and for him to explain how the material had been gathered and to identify his sources.”
In September 2016, Steele traveled back to Rome to meet with the FBI’s Eurasian squad once again. It’s likely that the meeting included several other FBI officials as well. According to a House Intelligence Committee minority memo, Steele’s reporting reached the FBI counterintelligence team in mid-September 2016—the same time as Steele’s September trip to Rome.
The reason for the FBI’s renewed interest had to do with an adviser to the Trump campaign—Carter Page—who had been in contact with Stefan Halper, a CIA and FBI source, since July 2016. Halper arranged to meet with Page for the first time on July 11, 2016, at a Cambridge symposium, just three days after Page took a trip to Moscow. Speakers at the symposium included Madeleine Albright, Vin Webber, and Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6.
Page was now the FBI’s chosen target for a FISA warrant that would be obtained on Oct. 21, 2016. The Steele dossier would be the primary evidence used in obtaining the FISA warrant, which would be renewed three separate times, including after Trump took office, finally expiring in September 2017.
Peter Strzok and Lisa Page
Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were two prominent members of the FBI’s “insurance policy” group. Strzok, a senior FBI agent, was the deputy assistant director of FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer, served as special counsel to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
Strzok was in charge of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for government business. He helped FBI Director James Comey draft the statement exonerating Clinton and was personally responsible for changing specific wording within that statement that reduced Clinton’s legal liability. Specifically, Strzok changed the words “grossly negligent,” which could be a criminal offense, to “extremely careless.”
Strzok also personally led the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into the alleged Trump–Russia collusion and signed the documents that opened the investigation on July 31, 2016. He was one of the FBI agents who interviewed Trump’s national security adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn. Strzok met multiple times with DOJ official Bruce Ohr and received information from Steele at those meetings.
Following the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Strzok would join the team of special counsel Robert Mueller. Two months later, he was removed from that team after the DOJ inspector general discovered a lengthy series of texts between Strzok and Page that contained politically charged messages. Strzok would be fired from the FBI in August 2018.
Both Strzok and Page engaged in strategic leaking to the press. Page did so at the direction of McCabe, who directly authorized Page to share information with Wall Street Journal reporter Devlin Barrett. That information was used in an Oct. 30, 2016, article headlined “FBI in Internal Feud Over Hillary Clinton Probe.” Page leaked to Barrett thinking she had been granted legal and official authorization to do so.
McCabe would later initially deny providing such authorization to the Office of Inspector General. Page, when confronted with McCabe’s denials, produced texts refuting his statement. It was these texts that led to the inspector general uncovering the texts between Strzok and Page.
The two exchanged thousands of texts, some of them indicating surveillance activities, over a two-year period. Texts sent between Aug. 21, 2015, and June 25, 2017, have been made public. The series comes to an end with a final text by Page telling Strzok, “Don’t ever text me again.”
On Aug. 8, 2016, Stzrok wrote that they would prevent candidate Trump from becoming president:
Page: ”[Trump is] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”
Strzok: ”No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”
On Aug. 15, 2016, Strzok sent a text referring to an “insurance policy”:
“I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office—that there’s no way [Trump] gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. … It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”
The “insurance policy” appears to have been the effort to legitimize the Trump–Russia collusion narrative so that an FBI investigation, led by McCabe, could continue unhindered.
Department of Justice
The Department of Justice, which comprises 60 agencies, was transformed during the Obama years. The department is forbidden by federal law from hiring employees based on political affiliation.
However, a series of investigative articles by PJ Media published during Eric Holder’s tenure as attorney general revealed an unsettling pattern of ideological conformity among new hires at the DOJ: Only lawyers from the progressive left were hired. Not one single moderate or conservative lawyer made the cut. This is significant as the DOJ enjoys significant latitude in determining who will be subject to prosecution.
The DOJ’s job in Spygate was to facilitate the legal side of surveillance while providing a protective layer of cover for all those involved. The department became a repository of information and provided a protective wall between the investigative efforts of the FBI and the legislative branch. Importantly, it also served as the firewall within the executive branch, serving as the insulating barrier between the FBI and Obama officials. The department had become legendary for its stonewalling tactics with Congress.
The DOJ, which was fully aware of the actions being taken by James Comey and the FBI, also became an active element acting against members of the Trump campaign. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, along with Mary McCord, the head of the DOJ’s National Security Division, were actively involved in efforts to remove Gen. Michael Flynn from his position as national security adviser to President Trump.
To this day, it remains unknown which individual was responsible for making public Flynn’s call with the Russian ambassador. Flynn ultimately pleaded guilty to a process crime: lying to the FBI. There have been questions raised in Congress regarding the possible alteration of FD-302s, the written notes of Flynn’s FBI interviews. Special counsel Robert Mueller has repeatedly deferred Flynn’s sentencing hearing.
David Laufman, deputy assistant attorney general in charge of counterintelligence at the DOJ’s National Security Division, played a key role in both the Clinton email server and Russia hacking investigations. Laufman is currently the attorney for Monica McLean, the long-time friend of Christine Blasey Ford, who recently accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her while in high school. McLean was also employed by the FBI for 24 years.
Bruce Ohr was a significant DOJ official who played a key role in Spygate. Ohr held two important positions at the DOJ: associate deputy attorney general, and director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. As associate deputy attorney general, Ohr was just four offices away from then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, and he reported directly to her. As director of the task force, he was in charge of a program described as “the centerpiece of the attorney general’s drug strategy.”
Ohr, one of the highest-ranking officials in the DOJ, was communicating on an ongoing basis with Steele, whom he had known since at least 2006, well into mid-2017. He is also married to Nellie Ohr, an expert on Russia and Eurasia who began working for Fusion GPS sometime in late 2015. Nellie Ohr likely played a significant role in the construction of the dossier.
According to testimony from FBI agent Peter Strzok, he and Ohr met at least five times during 2016 and 2017. Strzok was working directly with then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
Additionally, Ohr met with the FBI at least 12 times between late November 2016 and May 2017 for a series of interviews. These meetings could have been used to transmit information from Steele to the FBI. This came after the FBI had formally severed contact with Steele in late October or early November 2016.
John Carlin is another notable figure with the DOJ. Carlin was an assistant attorney general and the head of the DOJ’s National Security Division until October 2016. His role will be discussed below in the section on FISA abuse.
The Battle Between Rosenstein and McCabe
Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe held a pivotal role in what has become known as “Spygate.” He directed the activities of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page and was involved in all aspects of the Russia investigation. He was also mentioned in the infamous “insurance policy” text message.
McCabe was a major component of the insurance policy.
On April 26, 2017, Rosenstein found himself appointed as the new deputy attorney general. He was placed into a somewhat chaotic situation, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the ongoing Russia investigation a little less than two months earlier, on March 2, 2017. This effectively meant that no one in the Trump administration had any oversight of the ongoing investigation being conducted by the FBI and the DOJ.
Additionally, the leadership of then-FBI Director James Comey was coming under increased scrutiny as the result of actions taken leading up to and following the election, particularly Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation.
On May 9, 2017, Rosenstein wrote a memorandum recommending that Comey be fired. The subject of the memo was “Restoring Public Confidence in the FBI.” Comey was fired that day.
McCabe was now the acting director of the FBI and was immediately under consideration for the permanent position.
On the same day Comey was fired, McCabe would lie during an interview with agents from the FBI’s Inspection Division (INSD) regarding apparent leaks that were used in an Oct. 30, 2016, Wall Street Journal article, “FBI in Internal Feud Over Hillary Clinton Probe” by Devlin Barrett. This would later be disclosed in the inspector general report, “A Report of Investigation of Certain Allegations Relating to Former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe.”
At the time, nobody, including the INSD agents, knew that McCabe had lied, nor were the darker aspects of McCabe’s role in Spygate fully known.
In late April or early May 2016, McCabe opened a federal criminal investigation on Sessions, regarding potential lack of candor before Congress in relation to Sessions’s contacts with Russians. Sessions was unaware of the investigation.
Sessions would later be cleared of any wrongdoing by special counsel Robert Mueller.
On the morning of May 16, 2017, Rosenstein reportedly suggested to McCabe that he secretly record President Trump. This remark was reported in a New York Times article that was sourced from memos from the now-fired McCabe, along with testimony taken from former FBI general counsel James Baker, who relayed a conversation he had with McCabe about the occurrence. Rosenstein issued a statement denying the accusations.
The alleged comments by Rosenstein occurred at a meeting where McCabe was “pushing for the Justice Department to open an investigation into the president.”
An unnamed participant at the meeting, in comments to The Washington Post, framed the conversation somewhat differently, noting Rosenstein responded sarcastically to McCabe, saying, “What do you want to do, Andy, wire the president?”
Later, on the same day that Rosenstein had his meetings with McCabe, President Trump met with Mueller, reportedly as an interview for the FBI director job.
On May 17, 2017, the day after President Trump’s meeting with Mueller—and the day after Rosenstein’s encounters with McCabe—Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel.
The May 17 appointment of Mueller in effect shifted control of the Russia investigation from the FBI and McCabe to Mueller. Rosenstein would retain ultimate authority for the probe and any expansion of Mueller’s investigation required authorization from Rosenstein.
Interestingly, without Comey’s memo leaks, a special counsel might not have been appointed—the FBI, and possibly McCabe, would have remained in charge of the Russia investigation. McCabe was probably not going to become the permanent FBI director, but he was reportedly under consideration. Regardless, without Comey’s leak, McCabe would have retained direct involvement and the FBI would have retained control.
On July 28, 2017, McCabe lied to Inspector General Michael Horowitz while under oath regarding authorization of the leaking to The Wall Street Journal. At this point, Horowitz knew McCabe was lying, but did not yet know of the May 9 INSD interview with McCabe.
On Aug. 2, 2017, Rosenstein secretly issued Mueller a revised memo on “the scope of investigation and definition of authority” that remains heavily redacted. The full purpose of this memo remains unknown. On this same day, Christopher Wray was named as the new FBI director.
Two days later, on Aug. 4, 2017, Sessions announced that the FBI had created a new leaks investigation unit. Rosenstein and Wray were tasked with overseeing all leak investigations.
That Aug. 2 memo from Rosenstein to Mueller may have been specifically designed to remove any residual FBI influence—specifically that of McCabe—from the Russia investigation. The appointment of Wray as FBI director helped cement this. McCabe was finally completely neutralized.
On March 16, 2018, McCabe was fired for lying under oath at least three different times and is currently the subject of a grand jury investigation.
The State Department, with its many contacts within foreign governments, became a conduit for the flow of information. The transfer of Christopher Steele’s first dossier memo was personally facilitated by Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Nuland gave approval for FBI agent Michael Gaeta to travel to London to obtain the memo from Steele. The memo may have passed directly from her to FBI leadership. Secretary of State John Kerry was also given a copy.
Steele was already well-known within the State Department. Following Steele’s involvement in the FIFA scandal investigation, he began to provide reports informally to the State Department. The reports were written for a “private client” but were “shared widely within the U.S. State Department, and sent up to Secretary of State John Kerry and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who was in charge of the U.S. response to Putin’s annexation of Crimea and covert invasion of eastern Ukraine,” the Guardian reported.
In July 2016, when the FBI wanted to send Gaeta to visit Steele in London, the bureau sought permission from the office of Nuland, who provided this version of events during a Feb. 4, 2018, appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation”:
“In the middle of July, when [Steele] was doing this other work and became concerned, he passed two to four pages of short points of what he was finding and our immediate reaction to that was, this is not in our purview. This needs to go to the FBI if there is any concern here that one candidate or the election as a whole might be influenced by the Russian Federation. That’s something for the FBI to investigate.”
Steele also met with Jonathan Winer, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement and former special envoy for Libya. Steele and Winer had known each other since at least 2010. In an opinion article in The Washington Post, Winer wrote the following:
“In September 2016, Steele and I met in Washington and discussed the information now known as the ‘dossier.’ Steele’s sources suggested that the Kremlin not only had been behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign but also had compromised Trump and developed ties with his associates and campaign.”
In a strange turn of events, Winer also received a separate dossier, very similar to Steele’s, from long-time Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal. This “second dossier” had been compiled by another longtime Clinton operative, former journalist Cody Shearer, and echoed claims made in the Steele dossier. Winer then met with Steele in late September 2016 and gave Steele a copy of the “second dossier.” Steele went on to share this second dossier with the FBI, which may have used it to corroborate his dossier.
Other foreign officials also used conduits into the State Department. Alexander Downer, Australia’s high commissioner to the UK, reportedly funneled his conversation with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos—later used as a reason to open the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation—directly to the U.S. Embassy in London.
“The Downer details landed with the embassy’s then-chargé d’affaires, Elizabeth Dibble, who previously served as a principal deputy assistant secretary in Mrs. Clinton’s State Department,” The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel wrote in a May 31, 2018, article.
If true, this would mean that neither Australian intelligence nor the Australian government alerted the FBI to the Papadopoulos information. What happened with the Downer details, and to whom they were ultimately relayed, remains unknown.
Curiously, details surprisingly similar to the Papadopoulos–Downer conversation show up in the first memo written by Steele on June 20, 2016:
“A dossier of compromising information on Hillary Clinton has been collated by the Russian Intelligence Services over many years and mainly comprises bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls. … It has not yet been distributed abroad, including to Trump.”
Clinton Campaign and the DNC
The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee both occupied a unique position. They had the most to gain but they also had the most to lose. And they stood willing and ready to do whatever was necessary to win. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, is credited with being the first to raise the specter of candidate Donald Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia.
The entire Clinton campaign willfully promoted the narrative of Russia–Trump collusion despite the uncomfortable fact that they were the ones who had engaged the services of Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele through their law firm Perkins Coie. Information flowed from the campaign—sometimes through Perkins Coie, other times through affiliates—ultimately making its way into the media and sometimes to the FBI. Information from the Clinton campaign may also have ended up in the Steele dossier.
Jennifer Palmieri, the communications director for the Clinton campaign, in tandem with Jake Sullivan, the senior policy adviser to the campaign, took the lead in briefing the press on the Trump–Russia collusion story.
This event is described in the House Intelligence Committee’s final report on Russian active measures, in footnote 43 on page 57. Foer then published the article “Was a Trump Server Communicating With Russia?” on Oct. 31, 2016. The article concerns allegations regarding a server in the Trump Tower.
The Slate article managed to attract the immediate attention of Clinton, who posted a tweet on the same day the article was published:
“Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.”
Attached to her tweet was a statement from Sullivan:
“This could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow. Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.
“This secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia. It certainly seems the Trump Organization felt it had something to hide, given that it apparently took steps to conceal the link when it was discovered by journalists.”
These statements, which were later proven to be incorrect, are all the more disturbing with the hindsight knowledge that it was a senior Clinton/DNC lawyer who helped plant the story. And given the prepared statement by Sullivan, the Clinton campaign knew this.
This type of behavior would be engaged in repeatedly—damning leaks leading to media stories, followed by ready attacks from the Clinton campaign.
Alexandra Chalupa is a Ukrainian-American operative who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee. Chalupa met with top officials in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington in an effort to expose ties between Trump, Paul Manafort, and Russia. Chalupa began investigating Manafort in 2014. In late 2015, Chalupa expanded her opposition research on Manafort to include Trump’s ties to Russia. In January 2016, Chalupa shared her information with a senior DNC official.
Chalupa’s meetings with DNC and Ukrainian officials would continue. On April 26, 2016, investigative reporter Michael Isikoff published a story on Yahoo News about Manafort’s business dealings with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. It was later learned from a DNC email leaked by Wikileaks that Chalupa had been working with Isikoff—the same journalist Christopher Steele leaked to in September 2016. Manafort would later be indicted for Foreign Agents Registration Act violations that occurred during the Obama administration.
International law firm Perkins Coie served as the legal arm for both the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Ties to Perkins Coie extended beyond the DNC into the Obama White House.
Bob Bauer, a partner at the law firm and founder of its political law practice, served as White House counsel to President Barack Obama throughout 2010 and 2011. Bauer was also general counsel to Obama’s campaign organization, Obama for America, in 2008 and 2012.
Perkins Coie partners Marc Elias and Michael Sussmann each played critical roles and were the ones who hired Fusion GPS and Steele. Sussmann personally handled the alleged hack of the DNC server. He also transmitted information, likely from Steele and Fusion GPS, to James Baker, then-chief counsel at the FBI, and to several members of the press.
According to a letter dated Oct. 24, 2017, written by Matthew Gehringer, general counsel at Perkins Coie, the firm was approached by Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson in early March 2016 regarding the possibility of hiring Fusion GPS to continue opposition research into the Trump campaign. Simpson’s overtures were successful, and in April 2016, Perkins Coie hired Fusion GPS on behalf of the DNC.
Sometime in April or May 2016, Fusion GPS hired Christopher Steele. During this same period, Fusion also reportedly hired Nellie Ohr, the wife of Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr. Steele would complete his first memo on June 20, 2016, and send it to Fusion via enciphered mail.
Perkins Coie appears to have also been acting as a conduit between the DNC and the FBI. Documents suggest that Sussmann was feeding information to FBI general counsel James Baker and at least one journalist ahead of the FBI’s application for a FISA warrant on the Trump campaign.
The information provided by Sussmann may have been used by the FBI as “corroborating information.”
The Obama administration provided a simultaneous layer of protection and facilitation for the entire effort. One example is provided by Section 2.3 of Executive Order 12333, also known as Obama’s data-sharing order. With the passage of the order, agencies and individuals were able to ask the NSA for access to specific surveillance simply by claiming the intercepts contained relevant information that was useful to a particular mission.
Section 2.3 had been expected to be finalized by early to mid-2016. Instead, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper didn’t sign off on Section 2.3 until Dec. 15, 2016. The order was finalized when Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed it on Jan. 3, 2017.
The reason for the delay could relate to the fact that while the executive order made it easier to share intelligence between agencies, it also limited certain types of information from going to the White House.
An example of this was provided by Evelyn Farkas during a March 2, 2017, MSNBC interview, where she detailed how the Obama administration gathered and disseminated intelligence on the Trump team:
“I was urging my former colleagues and, frankly speaking, the people on the Hill … ‘Get as much information as you can. Get as much intelligence as you can before President Obama leaves the administration.’
“The Trump folks, if they found out how we knew what we knew about the Trump staff’s dealing with Russians, [they] would try to compromise those sources and methods, meaning we would no longer have access to that intelligence. … That’s why you have the leaking.”
Many of the Obama administration’s efforts appear to have been structural in nature, such as establishing new procedures or creating impediments to oversight that enabled much of the surveillance abuse to occur.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz was appointed by Obama in 2011. From the very start, he found his duties throttled by the attorney general’s office. According to congressional testimony by Horowitz:
“We got access to information up to 2010 in all of these categories. No law changed in 2010. No policy changed. … It was simply a decision by the General Counsel’s Office in 2010 that they viewed, now, the law differently. And as a result, they weren’t going to give us that information.”
These new restrictions were put in place by Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole.
On Aug. 5, 2014, Horowitz and other inspectors general sent a letter to Congress asking for unimpeded access to all records. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates responded on July 20, 2015, with a 58-page memorandum. The memo specifically denied the inspector general access to any information collected under Title III—including intercepted communications and national security letters.
The New York Times recently disclosed that national security letters were used in the surveillance of the Trump campaign.
At other times, the Obama administration’s efforts were more direct. The Intelligence Community assessment was released internally on Jan. 5, 2017. On this same day, Obama held an undisclosed White House meeting to discuss the dossier with national security adviser Susan Rice, FBI Director James Comey, and Yates. Rice would later send herself an email documenting the meeting.
The following day, Brennan, Clapper, and Comey attached a written summary of the Steele dossier to the classified briefing they gave Obama. Comey then met with President-elect Trump to inform him of the dossier. This meeting took place just hours after Comey, Brennan, and Clapper formally briefed Obama on both the Intelligence Community assessment and the Steele dossier.
Comey would only inform Trump of the “salacious” details contained within the dossier. He later explained on CNN in an April 2018 interview why:
“Because that was the part that the leaders of the Intelligence Community agreed he needed to be told about.”
Shortly after Comey’s meeting with Trump, both the Trump–Comey meeting and the existence of the dossier were leaked to CNN. The significance of the meeting was material, as Comey noted in a Jan. 7 memo he wrote:
“Media like CNN had them and were looking for a news hook. I said it was important that we not give them the excuse to write that the FBI has the material.”
The media had widely dismissed the dossier as unsubstantiated and, therefore, unreportable. It was only after learning that Comey briefed Trump that CNN reported on the dossier. It was later revealed that DNI James Clapper personally leaked Comey’s meeting with Trump to CNN.
The Obama administration also directly participated in a series of intelligence unmaskings, the process whereby a U.S. citizen’s identity is revealed from collected surveillance. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power reportedly engaged in hundreds of unmasking requests. Rice has admitted to doing the same.
The Obama administration engaged in the ultimately successful effort to oust Trump’s newly appointed national security adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn. Yates, along with Mary McCord, head of the DOJ’s National Security Division, led that effort.
Executive Order 13762
President Barack Obama issued a last-minute executive order on Jan. 13, 2017, that altered the line of succession within the DOJ. The action was not done in consultation with the incoming Trump administration.
Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired on Jan. 30, 2017, by a newly inaugurated President Trump for refusing to uphold the president’s executive order limiting travel from certain terror-prone countries. Yates was initially supposed to serve in her position until Jeff Sessions was confirmed as attorney general.
Obama’s executive order placed the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia next in line behind the department’s senior leadership. The attorney at the time was Channing Phillips.
Phillips was first hired by former Attorney General Eric Holder in 1994 for a position in the D.C. U.S. attorney’s office. Phillips, after serving as a senior adviser to Holder, stayed on after he was replaced by Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
It appears the Obama administration was hoping the Russia investigation would default to Channing in the event Sessions was forced to recuse himself from the investigation. Sessions, whose confirmation hearings began three days before the order, was already coming under intense scrutiny.
The implementation of the order may also tie into Yates’s efforts to remove Gen. Michael Flynn over his call with the Russian ambassador.
Trump ignored the succession order, as he is legally allowed to do, and instead appointed Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, as acting attorney general on Jan. 30, 2017, the same day Yates was fired.
Trump issued a new executive order on Feb. 9, 2017, the same day Sessions was sworn in, reversing Obama’s prior order.
On March 10, 2017, Trump fired 46 Obama-era U.S. attorneys, including Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan. These firings appear to have been unexpected.
In some respects, the media has played the most disingenuous of roles. Areas of investigation that historically would have proven irresistible to reporters of the past have been steadfastly ignored. False narratives have been all-too-willingly promoted and facts ignored. Fusion GPS personally made a series of payments to several as-of-yet-unnamed reporters.
The majority of the mainstream media has represented positions of the DNC and the Clinton campaign.
Steele met with members of certain media with relative frequency. In September 2016, he met with a number of U.S. journalists for “The New York Times, the Washington Post, Yahoo! News, the New Yorker and CNN,” according to The Guardian. It was during this period that Steele met with Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News.
In mid-October 2016, Steele returned to New York and met with reporters again. Toward the end of October, Steele spoke via Skype with Mother Jones reporter David Corn.
Leaking, including felony leaking of classified information, has been widespread. The Carter Page FISA warrant—likely the unredacted version—has been in the possession of The Washington Post and The New York Times since March 2017. Traditionally, the intelligence community leaked to The Washington Post while the DOJ leaked to sources within The New York Times. This was a historical pattern that stood until this election. The leaking became so widespread, even this tradition was broken.
On April 3, 2017, BuzzFeed reporter Ali Watkins wrote the article “A Former Trump Adviser Met With a Russian Spy.” In the article, she identified “Male-1,” referred to in court documents relating to the case of Russian spy Evgeny Buryakov, as Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who had provided the FBI with assistance in the case. Just over a week later, on April 11, 2017, a Washington Post article, “FBI Obtained FISA Warrant to Monitor Former Trump Adviser Carter Page,” confirmed the existence of the October 2016 Page FISA warrant.
The information contained within both articles likely came via felony leaks from James Wolfe, former director of security for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who was arrested on June 7, 2018, and charged with one count of lying to the FBI. Wolfe’s indictment alleges that he was leaking classified information to multiple reporters over an extended period of time.
It appears probable that Wolfe leaked unredacted copies of the Page FISA application.
The original Page FISA application is 83 pages long, including one final signatory page.
In the public version of the application, there are 37 fully redacted pages. In addition to that, several other pages have redactions for all but the header. There are only two pages in the entire document that contain no redactions.
Why would Wolfe bother to send 37 pages of complete redactions? It seems more than plausible that Wolfe took pictures of the original unredacted FISA application and sent them by text to Watkins.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has repeatedly stated that evidence within the FISA application shows the counterintelligence agencies were abused by the Obama administration. Most of the mainstream media has known this.
Despite this, most major news organizations for over two years have promoted the Russia-collusion narrative. Despite ample evidence having come out to the contrary, they have not admitted they were wrong, likely because doing so would mean they would have to admit their complicity.
UK and Australian intelligence agencies also played meaningful roles during the 2016 presidential election.
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