The Senate Judiciary Committee released two documents strongly indicating that, by March 2017, when Comey publicly announced that the FBI was investigating President Trump and his administration for conspiring with Russia, the FBI leadership, including James Comey, knew that there was no reasonable basis for continuing that investigation.
Background & Context
Remember this? It’s a March 20, 2017 article in The Atlantic, documenting a critical event in James Comey’s Congressional testimony on that date.
It’s Official: The FBI Is Investigating Trump’s Links to Russia
That announcement was unprecedented. Comey was, at a minimum, trying to fan the flames of the Russia hoax into a conflagration, and likely hoping to goad Trump into firing him. As Andrew McCarthy explained a few days later at NRO:
That brings us to FBI director Comey’s testimony on Monday. Like Clapper, Comey narrowly denied the allegations in Trump’s tweets but would not address other investigative tactics used to target Trump or his associates. Moreover, although Comey did not claim that there had been collusion between Trump-campaign figures and the Putin regime, he made an extraordinary acknowledgment: There is an ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the election, including the possibility of collusion between the Kremlin and some Trump associates. Under FBI protocols, the existence of investigations should not be acknowledged, much less their subject matters and potential targets —suspicions of wrongdoing should never be publicly announced until the government is prepared formally to charge and prove them in court.
It was a crucial step in the Russia Hoax and the repercussions of it led directly to Trump firing Comey and Rosenstein appointing a Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller. Mueller then dragged on the investigation for years to justify what we now know can only be described as a Soviet-esque fishing expedition, all the while casting a tremendous pall over the duly elected Trump administration.
It now appears ever more likely that when Comey made this announcement before Congress (with full approval, it seems, from acting AG Dana Boente) he did so knowing that there was no reasonable basis for the investigation. If so, then this was a criminal act of sedition.
Inspector General Horowitz’s December 2019 report established that the FBI relied on the Steele Report to justify investigating the Trump campaign. It established as well that the facts Steele reported in his memos came from information he obtained second hand from a primary sub-source, who likewise obtained the information second-hand. It further established that, by March 20, 2017, when Comey made his bombshell announcement before Congress and the American public, the FBI had already twice interviewed the primary sub-source for Steele’s reporting and found that his reports lacked all credibility.
The only remaining question is whether the FBI/DOJ leadership knew these facts, and on that issue, the IG Report falters. Comey refused to cooperate with the IG investigation. As I quoted here from that part of the IG Report discussing Comey’s knowledge of these and other issues before signing the Page FISA warrants:
[W]e . . . found no evidence that Corney had been made aware of these issues at the time he certified the application, as discussed in our analysis in Chapter Eleven, multiple factors made it difficult for us to precisely determine the extent of FBI leadership’s knowledge as to each fact that was not shared with OI and not included, or inaccurately stated, in the FISA applications.
These factors included, among other things, limited recollections, the inability to question Corney or refresh his recollection with relevant, classified documentation because of his lack of a security clearance, and the absence of meeting minutes that would show the specific details shared with Corney and McCabe during briefings they received, beyond the more general investigative updates that we know they were provided.
Moreover, the IG, at pages 370-371 of his report and elsewhere, points out that the worker bees who conducted the first interview with the sub-source wrote documents that gave the entirely false impression that the Primary Sub-source was reliable. It defies belief that the FBI leadership would not be read in on the critical events of the investigation, particularly before taking the unprecedented step of publicly announcing that it was investigating the Trump administration.
Normally, one could make an inference that Comey and upper level management knew that the primary sub-source was unreliable. However, in this case, the IG Report was so muddled that it was impossible to assume that they had actionable knowledge, particularly in this case, where the only information in the record seems to indicate that the worker bees at the operational level engaged in malfeasance and some level of cover-up. That seems far less likely now based on the release of two newly declassified documents.
Newly Released Documents
Two recently declassified documents from the Senate Judiciary Committee provide strong evidence that, when Comey announced on March 20, 2017, that the FBI was investigating the Trump administration for criminally conspiring with Russia, he knew or should have known that there was no basis for the investigation. The first document is the heavily redacted 57-page summary of the FBI’s January interview with Steele’s sub-source. We still don’t know who the sub-source is, but we’ve just learned something important about him. This from Sharyl Attkisson:
The document reveals that the primary “source” of Steele’s election reporting was not some well-connected current or former Russian official, but a non-Russian-based contract employee of Christopher Steele’s firm.
At one time, the media had speculated that Steele’s sources were highly placed Russians, such as the Russian spy Oleg Smolenkov who was extracted from Russia in 2017. Had that been true, it might have justified the FBI leadership’s assumption that Steele’s information was reasonably trustworthy. But knowing that the sub-source was a nobody, information that the FBI had by January 2017, standing alone should have been enough to put FBI and DOJ leadership on notice that there was likely no reasonable basis to investigate Donald Trump’s administration.
It is the second document, however, that seems even more damning. On February 14, 2017, the NYT published an article entitled “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contact With Russian Intelligence.” (No link to the Times on principle). Then-FBI agent Peter Strzok read the article and made notes in response. Those notes establish that the FBI, after months of investigation, was not incompetent, and that, at Cross-Fire Hurricane’s supervisory level, FBI agents knew (1) what was in the January interview with the sub-source, including his unreliability and (2) that the FBI’s investigation into the Trump administration had no basis:
This is again from Sharyl Attkisson, who is quoting from Strzok’s notes:
Claim in NYT article: “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.”
Note by Strzok: “This statement is misleading and inaccurate as written. We have not seen evidence of any individuals in contact with Russians (both Governmental and non-Governmental)” and “There is no known intel affiliation, and little if any [government of Russia] affiliation[.] FBI investigation has shown past contact between [Trump campaign volunteer Carter] Page and the SVR [Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation], but not during his association with the Trump campaign.”
Claim in NYT article: “… one of the advisers picked up on the [intercepted] calls was Paul Manafort, who was Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman for several months …”
Note by Strzok: “We are unaware of any calls with any Russian government official in which Manafort was a party.”
Claim in NYT article: “The FBI has obtained banking and travel records …”
Note by Strzok: “We do not yet have detailed banking records.”
Claim in NYT article: “Officials would not disclose many details, including what was discussed on the calls, and how many of Trump’s advisers were talking to the Russians.”
Note by Strzok: “Again, we are unaware of ANY Trump advisers engaging in conversations with Russian intel officials” and “Our coverage has not revealed contact between Russian intelligence officers and the Trump team.”
Claim in NYT article: “The FBI asked the NSA to collect as much information as possible about the Russian operatives on the phone calls …”
Note by Strzok: “If they did we are not aware of those communications.”
Claim in NYT article: “The FBI has closely examined at least four other people close to Mr. Trump … Carter Page … Roger Stone… and Mr. Flynn.”
Note by Strzok: “We have not investigated Roger Stone.”
Claim by NYT: “Senior FBI officials believe … Christopher Steele … has a credible track record.”
Note by Strzok: “Recent interviews and investigation, however, reveal Steele may not be in a position to judge the reliability of subsource network.”
Claim by NYT: “The FBI’s investigation into Mr. Manafort began last spring .”
Note by Strzok: “This is inaccurate … our investigation of Manafort was opened in August 2016.”
Claim by NYT: “The bureau did not have enough evidence to obtain a warrant for a wiretap of Mr. Manafort’s communications, but it had the NSA closely scrutinize the communications of Ukrainian officials he had met.”
Note by Strzok: “This is inaccurate …”
Attkisson goes on to say:
There is as yet no explanation in the documents or from the New York Times as to the identities of the four “American officials” who apparently provided the misleading and false information; or what their motivation was.
However, it is clear that inaccurate reporting such as that in the Times had a significant influence on the trajectory of the Trump-Russia collusion probe, which ultimately concluded there had been no collusion on the part of Trump, anyone in the Trump campaign, or any U.S. person.
Given that Strzok was leading the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and was only two levels below Comey, and given how important this investigation was (arguably the most important in the FBI’s history), it’s inconceivable that Comey did not have the same information, whether he got it from reading the materials himself or from his agents briefing him. If, as it is reasonable to assume, Comey knew all this in February 2017, then it throws into stark — and criminal — relief his decision to publicly announce, as part of testimony before Congress, that the FBI was investigating the Trump administration.
We await the results of the Durham investigation into the worst political scandal of our nation’s history. As the clock ticks down to November, along with it ticks down any chance of reestablishing equal application of the rule of law in this country. Given all that is going on at the moment, if we do not reestablish that rule, then there is little hope for our Republic.