Category Archives: FBI

Who is kevin clinesmith?

WSJ 1/30/2020

It was an almost unbelievable story—fit for a spy novel, and among the most disturbing and consequential allegations of governmental abuse in recent history. The alleged abuse went right to the heart of our ability to participate in free and fair elections. But much of the U.S. media seems ready to forget about it.

On December 9 Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz reported that a critical piece of evidence used to obtain a warrant to spy on a Trump campaign associate in 2016 was falsified by an FBI lawyer.

Even before the release of the report, the New York Times had the scoop in November but buried it under a headline which suggested a sort of vindication for the FBI: “Russia Inquiry Review Is Said to Criticize F.B.I. but Rebuff Claims of Biased Acts; A watchdog report will portray the pursuit of a wiretap of an ex-Trump adviser as sloppy, but it also debunks some accusations by Trump allies of F.B.I. wrongdoing.”

“Sloppy” is a nice way of describing how a federal court was misled into turning surveillance powers against a U.S. citizen volunteering for the presidential campaign of the party out of power.

When the inspector general’s report arrived in December, it cast the falsified evidence as the most egregious on a long list of problems in the FBI’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant applications targeting Trump supporter Carter Page :

We identified significant inaccuracies and omissions in each of the four applications—7 in the first FISA application and a total of 17 by the final renewal application… All of the applications also omitted information the FBI had obtained from another U.S. government agency detailing its prior relationship with Page, including that Page had been approved as an operational contact for the other agency from 2008 to 2013, and that Page had provided information to the other agency concerning his prior contacts with certain Russian intelligence officers, one of which overlapped with facts asserted in the FISA application.

Mr. Page had been helping a U.S. intelligence agency collect information on the Russians. The FBI not only never told the court he was assisting the good guys—the bureau falsely presented some of his helpful activities as evidence he was helping the bad guys.

Before the last renewal for wiretap authority in 2017, after Mr. Page had disclosed his actual role in the press, Inspector General Horowitz reports that the FBI lawyer said Mr. Page had never had a relationship with the other U.S. government agency and “altered the email that the other U.S. government agency had sent” so that it appeared to state that Page had not been a source. The IG adds that the FBI lawyer then forwarded the doctored email to his supervisor. Shortly thereafter, the supervisor “served as the affiant on the final renewal application, which was again silent on Page’s prior relationship with the other U.S. government agency.”

Back in November, while leading with its absolution of FBI leadership, the Times reported that the FBI lawyer who allegedly altered the record is named Kevin Clinesmith. According to the Times:

… Mr. Clinesmith worked on both the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the Russia investigation. He was among the F.B.I. officials removed by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, after Mr. Horowitz found text messages expressing political animus against Mr. Trump.

Shortly after Mr. Trump’s election victory, for example, Mr. Clinesmith texted another official that “the crazies won finally,” disparaged Mr. Trump’s health care and immigration agendas, and called Vice President Mike Pence “stupid.” In another text, he wrote, in the context of a question about whether he intended to stay in government, “viva la resistance.”

Since then, the press pack seems to have lost interest. According to the Factiva news archive, in the last month only one story on Mr. Clinesmith has appeared in any of America’s 50 largest newspapers.

On December 31 Mr. Clinesmith made a brief appearance about a dozen paragraphs into a Washington Post report. The Post story featured an interview with a Times reporter attempting to explain why the Times presented the Horowitz report largely as a vindication of the FBI.

Mr. Clinesmith deserves the presumption of innocence just like every other American. Perhaps media outlets will decide he’s also deserving of a fraction of the coverage they devoted to promoting the FBI’s bogus claims.

Presiding Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued a public order on December 17 and noted the abuses described in the Horowitz report:

It documents troubling instances in which FBI personnel provided information to [the Department of Justice’s National Security Division] which was unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession. It also describes several instances in which FBI personnel withheld from NSD information in their possession which was detrimental to their case for believing that Mr. Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power.

In addition, while the fourth electronic surveillance application for Mr. Page was being prepared, an attorney in the FBI’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) engaged in conduct that apparently was intended to mislead the FBI agent who ultimately swore to the facts in that application about whether Mr. Page had been a source of another government agency.

This column is struggling to recall a more serious allegation of abuse of our democratic process by officials of the federal government.

Others may have a different view, so perhaps a survey is in order. In the comments section below this column, readers are invited to opine on which one of the following scenarios represents the greatest threat to American liberty:

A) After identifying a U.S. citizen volunteering for the U.S. presidential campaign of the party out of power, the FBI makes false claims and persuades a federal court that the citizen may be a Russian agent and should be subjected to electronic surveillance.

B) After observing a U.S. citizen obtain a Ukrainian company board seat for which he was manifestly unqualified while his father was running Ukrainian policy for the U.S. government—and in which capacity the father would later demand the firing of a local prosecutor investigating the son’s business associates—the U.S. President urges the government of Ukraine to investigate.

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Follow James Freeman on Twitter.

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The FBI Panic

This should have never happened, and should never happen again. !!!!

If you are not concerned, you are not thinking.

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The American people have largely taken the disruptive Trump Presidency in stride, going about their lives and expressing their approval or not the constitutional way—at the ballot box. The same can’t be said for many of the country’s panicked elites, as we are learning anew about the Federal Bureau of Investigation as former deputy director Andrew McCabe hawks a new memoir.

Mr. McCabe now says that, after Mr. Trump fired FBI director Jim Comey in May 2017, Mr. McCabe and senior Justice Department officials “discussed whether the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet could be brought together to remove the President of the United States under the 25th Amendment.” That’s according to Scott Pelley’s account of his interview with Mr. McCabe aired Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

In the interview, Mr. McCabe says Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein raised the 25th Amendment scenario “and discussed it with me in the context of thinking about how many other cabinet officials might support such an effort.” Mr. McCabe says he didn’t contribute much but seems to excuse the conversation because “it was an unbelievably stressful time.”

Mr. McCabe was fired last year for lying to FBI investigators, so it’s hard to know how much to believe. He’s also tried to qualify the interview after excerpts were disclosed, with a spokesperson saying that while Mr. McCabe “participated in a discussion that included a comment by Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein regarding the 25th Amendment,” he did not participate in any “extended discussions” about removing Mr. Trump.

Mr. Rosenstein says he wasn’t in a “position to consider invoking the 25th Amendment” but doesn’t deny the discussion.

This is extraordinary, and as far as we know unprecedented. A President exercises his constitutional prerogative to fire the FBI director, and Mr. Comey’s associates immediately talked about deposing him in what would amount to a coup?

The 25th Amendment was passed after JFK’s assassination to allow for a transfer of power when a President is “unable” to discharge his duties. It is intended to be used only after demonstrated evidence of impairment that is witnessed by those closest to the Commander in Chief. It doesn’t exist to settle political differences, or to let scheming bureaucrats imagine they are saving the country from someone they fear is a Manchurian candidate. The constitutional process for that is impeachment.

Yet it’s not far-fetched to think that Messrs. McCabe and Rosenstein considered a 25th Amendment coup because the idea was also widely discussed in elite media circles at the time. The Comey firing so flustered so many that they were willing to consider nullifying an election five months into the Presidency.

“The 25th Amendment Solution for Removing Trump,” declared one May 2017 headline in the New York Times. The thought seemed too silly to write about at the time, but apparently we underestimated the lack of faith in American democracy and institutions among the political and media class. This elite panic was a bigger threat to constitutional norms than anything Mr. Trump is known to have done.

The McCabe account also fits with what else we know about the FBI during the Comey era. Mr. Comey saw fit to start a counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign based on thin evidence of Russian contacts. His agents then used an opposition-research document financed by the Clinton campaign to justify a warrant to spy on a Trump adviser.

In July 2016 Mr. Comey violated Justice rules to exonerate Hillary Clinton on his own authority in the email probe. Then to protect himself against second-guessing from Congress after the election, he intervened again in violation of department rules to reopen the Clinton probe 11 days before Election Day. This intervention may have done more to elect Mr. Trump than anything else in the final weeks of the campaign, as Nate Silver and other analysts have argued.

After his firing, Mr. Comey arranged a media leak that prompted Mr. Rosenstein to appoint Robert Mueller as a special counsel to investigate Trump-Russia campaign ties. Twenty-one months later we are still waiting for evidence of collusion, as the Mueller probe rolls on seemingly without end. Mr. Trump’s enemies still claim he is a Russian agent while millions of his supporters think there is a “deep-state” conspiracy against him. This is all corrosive to public trust in American democracy.

The Senate last week confirmed William Barr as Attorney General, and he has no more urgent task than restoring some of that public trust. He could start by explaining to the public, in a major speech, where the FBI went so badly wrong and what he will do to make sure it never happens again.

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A Politicized FBI

Good analysis to help understand just how the FBI is designed to fit into “judicial reviews”.
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WSJ 10/2/2018
By David B. Rivkin and Kristi Remington

The bipartisan bonhomie occasioned by the reopening of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s background investigation dissipated quickly. By the weekend, Senate Democrats—who had demanded the investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation—were challenging its credibility, objecting to its scope and focus, and lamenting that the White House had any involvement in shaping the process.

The reopened investigation, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham— reflecting the White House’s view— potentially entailed interviewing Deborah Ramirez, who claims that Judge Kavanaugh committed lewd conduct while a freshmen at Yale, and the three purported witnesses named by first accuser Christine Blasey Ford—Mark Judge, P.J. Smyth and Leland Keyser—all of whom have attested they have no memory that would corroborate her accusation. Julie Swetnick’s sordid and implausible claims were to be left out, and if any new allegations against Judge Kavanaugh were to emerge, these also wouldn’t be investigated.

President Trump told reporters Monday: “The FBI should interview anybody that they want within reason, but you have to say within reason.” That qualification is crucial. It is clear that Judge Kavanaugh’s opponents are clamoring for an open-ended fishing expedition that, probably by design, would go on much longer than a week. They are insisting that the FBI investigate Judge Kavanaugh’s drinking while in high school and college and interview anyone who might know about it. Two such people have already come forward, and there are no disincentives for new claimants, possibly driven by partisan or personal animus, to emerge.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) tried to justify his demand to broaden the FBI investigation by claiming that heavy drinking was “directly relevant” to the sexual-assault allegations. If this approach were adopted, the FBI would have to interview a very large pool of witnesses about Judge Kavanaugh’s alcohol intake, and possibly many other personal traits, over many years. Never mind that alcohol use is a standard FBI question, certainly asked in the course of Judge Kavanaugh’s previous six background investigations.

Kavanaugh foes also want the FBI to interview people who might challenge the credibility of pro-Kavanaugh witnesses. Mr. Judge is a prominent target here. His former girlfriend Elizabeth Rasor has stated publicly that he has disclosed to her facts relating to his past sexual activities that have nothing to do with Judge Kavanaugh, but cast Mr. Judge in a negative light. This approach could also open up a never-ending investigation, in which the FBI inquires into the credibility of all witnesses, whether pro- or anti-Kavanaugh, including witnesses interviewed to test other witnesses’ credibility.

The demands get even more absurd. “For its investigation to be comprehensive, the FBI must also get to the bottom of what ‘boofing’ means,” wrote Brian Fallon, who worked as press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, in Politico on Monday. That’s a reference to a joke in Mr. Kavanaugh’s highschool yearbook entry. As Mr. Fallon notes, “Kavanaugh said it referred to ‘flatulence.’ ” The entire debate is complicated by confusion about what the FBI does in a background investigation. Even former Director James Comey is mixed up. He penned a vastly misleading New York Times op-ed Sunday, in which he seemed to conflate background checks with criminal probes. “It is one thing to have your lawyer submit a statement on your behalf,” Mr. Comey wrote. “It is a very different thing to sit across from two F.B.I. special agents and answer their relentless questions.”

The FBI is primarily a law-enforcement agency. Its criminal investigations are often wide-ranging, can be potentially expanded into new areas, and have no preset time limits. Although the president has authority under the Constitution to direct the exercise of all federal law-enforcement activities, in practice the FBI enjoys great autonomy when conducting criminal investigations. Agents seek both to uncover the facts and to assess the credibility of everybody they interview. Their questioning is often aggressive and repetitive. Interviewees are warned they will face criminal penalties if they lie to the FBI.

FBI background investigations are a fundamentally different affair. They are not based on any explicit statutory authorization but are founded on regulations authorizing investigations of persons who seek federal government employment. The bureau’s authority to conduct investigations of nominees dates to at least President Eisenhower’s Executive Order 10450 of 1953, though some scholars credit the beginning of the process to President Hoover and his request of Attorney General William Mitchell to investigate the qualification of applicants for judicial positions.

FBI background investigations are carried out by a special team within the bureau called Special Inquiry and General Background Investigations Unit. SIGBIU functions as a gatherer of facts. It doesn’t cajole or challenge witnesses and routinely offers them anonymity. It never proffers any credibility assessments or speculates about the motives of witnesses.

SIGBIU operates on tight deadlines and usually moves faster with Supreme Court nominations. The process begins and is completed well before the nominee’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing takes place. Occasionally, SIGBIU is directed to conduct further interviews. Throughout the whole process, it operates under instructions from both the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office.

Significantly, there is a firewall between SIGBIU and FBI’s criminal-investigative divisions. SIGBIU’s goal is to have witnesses be open and forthcoming. Agents routinely assure witnesses that nothing that they say during the interview will be referred for criminal investigation. Even more fundamental, the FBI’s velvet-glove approach to background investigations reflects its recognition that people they interview are not suspected of any crimes and cannot be coerced into cooperating or threatened with a grand jury subpoena.

Running a background investigation as if it were a criminal one would destroy the FBI’s ability to conduct the former. It would cause many Americans to refuse to cooperate. It would cause the bureau to exceed its constitutionally proper remit. And having the FBI proffer credibility determinations in the context of a judicial appointment would politicize the bureau—and, as then-Sen. Joe Biden correctly asserted during Justice Clarence Thomas’s 1991 confirmation hearings, it would usurp a function that properly belongs to the president and the Senate.

The demands by anti-Kavanaugh Democrats are blatantly partisan and unfair. What they seek has never been done with any judicial nominee in American history. They also run afoul of important legal and practical realities of FBI-conducted background investigations. If countenanced, they would politicize the FBI and destroy the judicial confirmation process.

Mr. Rivkin practices appellate and constitutional law in Washington. He served in the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Ms. Remington served in the Justice Department during George W. Bush administration. She was responsible for overseeing the judicial nomination and confirmation process, including for Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

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What Bruce Ohr Told Congress – WSJ

Let’s not confuse anyone with the facts…
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WSJ 9/1/2018
Kimberely Strassel

To believe most media descriptions of Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr, he is a nonentity, unworthy of the attention President Trump has given him. This is remarkable, given that Mr. Ohr spent Tuesday confirming for Congress its worst suspicions about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s abuse of its surveillance and sourcing rules.

If Mr. Ohr is only now under the spotlight, it’s because it has taken so much effort to unpack his role in the FBI’s 2016 investigation of the Trump campaign. Over the past year, congressional investigators found out that Mr. Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS, the opposition-research firm that gave its infamous dossier, funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign, to the FBI. They then discovered that Mr. Ohr had numerous interactions of his own with Fusion chief Glenn Simpson and dossier author Christopher Steele, and that he passed on information from these talks to the bureau. So the G-men were being fed the dossier allegations from both the outside and the inside.

This week’s news is that Mr. Ohr’s deliveries to the FBI came with a caveat. Congress already knew that Mr. Ohr had been aware of Mr. Steele’s political biases. In notes Mr. Ohr took of a September 2016 conversation with Mr. Steele, he wrote that the dossier author “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” Congressional sources tell me that Mr. Ohr revealed Tuesday that he verbally warned the FBI that its source had a credibility problem, alerting the bureau to Mr. Steele’s leanings and motives. He also informed the bureau that Mrs. Ohr was working for Fusion and contributing to the dossier project.

Mr. Ohr said, moreover, that he delivered this information before the FBI’s first application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a warrant against Trump aide Carter Page, in October 2016. Yet the FBI made no mention of this warning in the application, instead characterizing Mr. Steele as a “reliable” source. Nor does the application note that a senior Justice Department official’s spouse was contributing to the dossier and benefiting financially from a document the FBI was using in an investigation. That matters both because the FBI failed to flag the enormous conflict and because Mr. Steele’s work product potentially wasn’t entirely his own.

No reference to Mr. Ohr—direct or cloaked—can be found in any of the four applications for Page warrants, according to those who have seen them. This despite his more than a dozen conversations with FBI agents over the course of the probe that addressed the content in and sourcing behind the surveillance applications. I’m told Mr. Ohr made clear that these conversations variously included all the heavyweights in the FBI investigation—former lead investigator Peter Strzok, former FBI senior lawyer Lisa Page, and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. So senior people were very aware of his role, information and conflict.

All this is what Republicans are referring to when they hint that the Ohr interview provided solid evidence that the FBI abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. “Before yesterday, we thought the FBI and DOJ had not disclosed material facts they were aware of in the FISA application. If Bruce Ohr testified truthfully, we now know that to be the case,” Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas tweeted Wednesday. (The Justice Department declined to comment, citing an inspector-general investigation.)

As for Mr. Ohr’s interaction with the FBI, he told congressional investigators this week that while initially he reached out to the FBI, the bureau also later came looking for information about Mr. Steele. That outreach happened after the FBI had terminated Mr. Steele as a source in October 2016 for violating bureau rules about talking to media. So even after having been warned of Mr. Steele’s motivations, even after having fired him for violating the rules, the FBI continued to seek his information—using Mr. Ohr as a back channel. This surely violates the FBI manual governing interaction with confidential human sources.

That Mr. Ohr came shopping the Steele info should have on its own set off FBI alarm bells. Mr. Steele was already in direct contact with the FBI by early July. Why would Mr. Steele then go to work on a Justice Department source, and refunnel the same allegations to the bureau? The likely answer is that the Fusion crowd wanted to exert maximum pressure on the FBI to act. Had the FBI bothered to try to find out what was behind such a pressure campaign, it might have stumbled upon the obvious answer: politics.

Unless it didn’t care. The evidence continues to mount that the FBI didn’t want to know about bias, or about conflicts of interest, or about the political paymasters behind the dossier—and it certainly didn’t want the surveillance court to know. It wanted to investigate Donald Trump.

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