The Russia-Trump collusion narrative of 2016 and beyond was a dirty trick for the ages, and now we know it came from the top—candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. That was the testimony Friday by 2016 Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook in federal court, and while this news is hardly a surprise, it’s still bracing to find her fingerprints on the political weapon.
Mr. Mook testified as a witness in special counsel John Durham’s trial of Michael Sussmann, the lawyer accused of lying to the FBI. In September 2016, Mr. Sussmann took claims of a secret Trump connection to Russia’s Alfa Bank to the FBI and said he wasn’t acting on behalf of any client. Prosecutors say he was working for the Clinton campaign.
Prosecutors presented evidence this week that Mr. Sussmann worked with cyber-researchers and opposition-research firm Fusion GPS to produce the claims on behalf of the Clinton campaign, and to feed them to the FBI. An FBI agent testified that a bureau analysis quickly rejected the claims as implausible. (Mr. Sussmann has pleaded not guilty.)
Prosecutors asked Mr. Mook about his role in funneling the Alfa Bank claims to the press. Mr. Mook admitted the campaign lacked expertise to vet the data, yet the decision was made by Mr. Mook, policy adviser Jake Sullivan (now President Biden’s national security adviser), communications director Jennifer Palmieri and campaign chairman John Podesta to give the Alfa Bank claims to a reporter. Mr. Mook said Mrs. Clinton was asked about the plan and approved it. A story on the Trump-Alfa Bank allegations then appeared in Slate, a left-leaning online publication.
On Oct. 31, 2016, Mr. Sullivan issued a statement mentioning the Slate story, writing, “This could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow.” Mrs. Clinton tweeted Mr. Sullivan’s statement with the comment: “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.” “Apparently” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.
In short, the Clinton campaign created the Trump-Alfa allegation, fed it to a credulous press that failed to confirm the allegations but ran with them anyway, then promoted the story as if it was legitimate news. The campaign also delivered the claims to the FBI, giving journalists another excuse to portray the accusations as serious and perhaps true.
Most of the press will ignore this news, but the Russia-Trump narrative that Mrs. Clinton sanctioned did enormous harm to the country. It disgraced the FBI, humiliated the press, and sent the country on a three-year investigation to nowhere. Vladimir Putin never came close to doing as much disinformation damage.
The House Intelligence Committee staff investigator who led the Russia inquiry that exposed malfeasance at the FBI and the DOJ related to the surveillance of Trump 2016 campaign associates told the Epoch Times on March 15 that there would be no closure until the responsible officials are indicted and prosecuted.
“For me, closure is synonymous with accountability,” Kash Patel, who led the House Russia inquiry in 2017 and 2018 before moving on to senior roles at the White House, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Department of Defense.
“So we either have that accountability in the form of the only place that can give it, which is a Department of Justice indictment, or we don’t. And I do think it’s that binary.”
Special counsel John Durham is reportedly continuing a criminal inquiry into the origins of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation. Durham has handed down one indictment to date, which has resulted in the conviction of former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith. Patel believes that falls far short of the scope of wrongdoing he and his colleagues uncovered.
“We got 14 individuals fired, resigned early or retired early, as a result of our investigation on House Intel, because of the malfeasance we showed they committed,” he continued. “So there’s some measure of accountability from a congressional standpoint, because that’s what congressional oversight is supposed to do. But for the American public, and, quite frankly, me, there’s no accountability unless you can exact the same punishments over those that committed this conduct internally as they do to others externally.”
Patel’s work on the House Intelligence Committee culminated in the release of the report on Russian active measures in March 2018. Two months prior to the report’s release, the committee Republicans voted to release the so-called Nunes memo, which summarized the findings about the FBI’s use of the infamous Steele dossier to secure warrants to surveil a former Trump campaign adviser.
Patel’s team discovered that the Clinton 2016 presidential campaign ultimately paid for the dossier and that the FBI failed to disclose that fact to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The bureau also failed to disclose the overt bias of the dossier’s author, former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele, who was, according to an associate, “desperate” that then-candidate Trump not be elected president.
Considering the amount of money that changed hands and the number of players involved, including top officials at the FBI and DOJ, Patel finds it hard to believe that Clinesmith, the convicted FBI attorney, was a lone wolf.
“For someone who worked at DOJ, part of the reason I left was the lack of internal accountability for when prosecutors breach the public trust that they’ve been bestowed. The most common example is a Brady violation—exculpatory evidence,” Patel said.
“We found that time and again in the Russiagate investigation that the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court was not told of exculpatory evidence as it related to multiple individuals involved in that FISA package,” Patel said, referring to the FISA warrants secured against former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. “It’s unfortunate and I hope there’s more, but I don’t know.”
Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told Congress last year that he would not have signed the FISA applications on Carter Page if he knew what he knows now. The Department of Justice Office Inspector General found 17 significant errors and omissions in the Page FISA applications, implicating every official involved in the process.
The Crossfire Hurricane investigation evolved into the special counsel probe headed by Robert Mueller, who after 22 months found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Patel arrived at the same conclusion long before Mueller. Every one of the nearly 60 witnesses his team interviewed said they had no evidence of collusion, conspiracy, or coordination.
Patel said he has a number of people in mind, both in the private and public sectors, who he would bring charges against if he were in the Department of Justice. Whether anyone faces charges is ultimately up to Durham, he said.
“I hope he does, because it’s the one thing that really separates us from almost the rest of the world … our ability to hold even our own officials at the highest levels accountable when they break the law,” Patel said. “And I’m hoping we get there.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday released interview transcripts from an inquiry into the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe, code-named Crossfire Hurricane, claiming the documents show incompetence and corruption at the heart of the investigation.
Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, released hundreds of pages of transcripts from the committee’s inquiry into the origins of the Crossfire Hurricane probe, saying in a statement that he believes the effort “was one of the most incompetent and corrupt investigations in the history of the FBI and DOJ.”
The transcripts come from 11 closed-door hearings that the Graham-led committee carried out between March and October of 2020, including interviews with Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI officials.
One of the transcripts relates to an interview with an unnamed FBI agent who once headed one of the FBI’s field office’s investigations into Russian organized crime and later became British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s primary contact and handler. The transcript shows the agent believed that Steele’s infamous dossier, which was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, was “political.”
“I mean, it was obvious,” the FBI agent said when asked whether he believed the dossier was political in nature.
“It was completely obvious to all of us, whoever was involved in these conversations, what the purpose was of the information was—to be used by one political party or another,” the agent said.
He was asked whether concerns were raised about whether the dossier may have been tainted by Russian disinformation.
“That’s always a concern, particularly dealing in that universe,” he said, adding that he had no knowledge of how the Crossfire Hurricane team was corroborating the information in the dossier.
According to earlier reporting by The Epoch Times, the FBI relied heavily on news articles and open sources in its efforts to corroborate claims in the Steele dossier.
The agent insisted that “in no way, shape, or form” were any of his decisions relating to Steele or the connections he made between Steele and the Crossfire Hurricane team political, adding that he had not seen any evidence that political bias impacted the Trump-Russia probe.
While he said he couldn’t “speak to the purpose of the investigation,” he said he had seen no evidence suggesting that the Crossfire Hurricane investigation was part of a campaign to damage President Donald Trump politically or that the FBI “waged a coup against President Trump.”
In a report released in December 2019 (pdf), Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that the FBI had sufficient cause to justify opening the probe and he did not find evidence of political bias in the agency’s decision to launch the investigation.
“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced” the decision to open the Crossfire Hurricane probe, the report says. “We found that Crossfire Hurricane was opened for an authorized investigative purpose and with sufficient factual predication,” it added.
At the same time, Horowitz found “at least 17 significant errors and omissions” in the FBI’s case for surveilling former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Although Horowitz said in the report that his team didn’t find evidence of intentional misconduct on the part of case agents who applied for the surveillance warrants, “we also did not receive satisfactory explanations for the errors or problems we identified.”
While Horowitz found that Steele’s questionable dossier played a “central and essential role in the decision to seek a FISA application for Carter Page,” he also said his investigative team found the dossier “played no role” in launching the Crossfire Hurricane probe.
Following the release of Horowitz’s report, then-Attorney General William Barr disputed his findings that the investigation was properly predicated, as did U.S. Attorney John Durham, who has been appointed as a special counsel to pursue a separate investigation into whether Crossfire Hurricane was launched correctly and lawfully.
Graham criticized the leadership of the FBI under former Director James Comey and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, arguing it was “either grossly incompetent” or said “they knowingly allowed tremendous misdeeds.”
“There was a blind eye turned toward any explanation other than the Trump campaign was colluding with foreign powers,” Graham said. “At every turn the FBI and DOJ ran stop signs that were in abundance regarding exculpatory information.”
Graham contended the Crossfire Hurricane “investigation was pushed when it should have been stopped and the only logical explanation is that the investigators wanted an outcome because of their bias.”
Comey and McCabe have repeatedly rejected the allegations that the Crossfire Hurricane probe was improperly predicated, although McCabe acknowledged “unacceptable” failures in surveillance warrant applications and Comey admitted to “real sloppiness” in the conduct of the probe.
The South Carolina senator said he would continue to push for reforms of counterintelligence investigations and warrant applications, and said he hopes for bipartisan backing on these matters. He also urged FBI Director Christopher Wray to “continue the reforms he has started.”
“It is hard to believe that something like Crossfire Hurricane could have happened in America,” Graham said. “The bottom line is that going forward we must have more checks and balances when it comes to political investigations. We must have more meaningful sign-offs on warrant applications, and we need to restore the trust to the American people in this system.”
The Crossfire Hurricane probe, which morphed into former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, found no evidence of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the results of the 2016 election.
An official who worked on former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation wrote in a recently released email that he or she was in possession of an iPhone belonging to Lisa Page three days after the former FBI lawyer’s last day on the job and at a time when the device was thought to have been lost.
The special counsel’s office (SCO) and the Justice Department (DOJ) previously claimed to have no documents to show who handled Page’s iPhone after she turned it in on July 14, 2017, or who improperly wiped it two weeks later, before it could be checked for records, in violation of SCO policy.
But documents released by the DOJ on Sept. 11 tell a different story, with three officials certifying that Page turned over her phone and one claiming to have been in possession of it.
“I have her phone and laptop,” an administrative officer with the initials LFW wrote in a July 17, 2017, email to Christopher Greer, an assistant director at the DOJ Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO).
Beth McGarry, the executive officer at the special counsel’s office, told Greer in an email sent earlier in the day that Page “returned her mobile phone and laptop.”
On the same day, a property custodian officer, whose name is redacted in the documents, signed a form on which Page certified that she turned in her phone and the officer certified that “all government property has been returned or otherwise properly accounted for.”
The July 17 timing of the two statements and the signature is significant. The DOJ Office of Inspector General (OIG) previously concluded that there were no records of who had the phone after July 14.
The records about Page’s phone are part of a DOJ disclosure that revealed that members of the Mueller team improperly wiped at least 22 iPhones before they could be checked for records.
“These irregularities with the phones of Mueller investigators are either sloppiness or the deliberate destruction of evidence—and it’s probably not sloppiness,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), ranking member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, told The Epoch Times in an email.
On July 14, Page’s last day at the SCO, McGarry met Page to fill out her exit clearance form. Page checked a box on the form to certify that she “surrendered all government-owned property, including … cellular telephones.” McGarry signed the same form but later told the OIG that “that she did not physically receive Page’s issued iPhone.”
Page told the inspector general that she “had left her assigned cell phone and laptop on a bookshelf at the office on her final day there.”
McGarry left the special counsel’s office for the private sector in March 2019, according to her LinkedIn profile.
“The DOJ OIG investigated the circumstances of the mobile phone issued to Lisa Page by the Special Counsel’s Office,” McGarry told The Epoch Times in an email, referring to the December 2018 OIG report. She didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up query about how to reconcile differences between the findings of the report and the new documents.
The OIG, which interviewed the records officer, McGarry, Page, and LFW for the report, told The Epoch Times that the new documents aren’t at odds with its findings.
“We stand by the information in our text message report about Page turning in the device on July 14,” Stephanie Logan, a senior public affairs specialist at the OIG, wrote in an email to The Epoch Times.
The report concluded that neither Mueller’s office nor the DOJ “had records reflecting who handled the device or who reset it after Page turned in her iPhone on July 14, 2017.”
Page’s phone notably never made it into the hands of the special counsel’s records officer, who told the OIG that she never received the phone to examine it for any government records that would need to be retained.
“Phone not found,” the records officer noted in a log she kept about the records on the phones assigned to the special counsel’s office staff.
The DOJ found the device more than a year later and turned it over to the OIG, which determined that all of the data was deleted from the device on July 31, 2017.
The records officer’s log shows that Page’s iPhone wasn’t the only device to elude an examination for government records. A total of at least 22 iPhones with unique asset tags used by the Mueller team were wiped before the records officer could review the contents, according to an Epoch Times review of four inventory logs and various forms released on Sept. 11.
The Mueller team offered a number of excuses for the deletions. Two people claimed the phones wiped themselves. Others said they erased all the data by accident or had to do so because they forgot their passwords. Andrew Weissmann, a prosecutor, wiped his iPhone twice.
Mueller’s team used a total of 92 iPhones, according to the documents. Four of the phones appear in the inventory logs, but not on the records officer’s log, suggesting they were either recorded without their unique asset tag or evaded the officer entirely. One of the four phones belonged to deputy special counsel Aaron Zebley. Another belonged to Zainab Ahmad, a special counsel attorney.
One phone was partially wiped. Four phones were improperly handed over to the OCIO and wiped before the records officer’s review. As many as seven phones with no asset tags noted by the records officer were either reassigned or wiped before the officer could assess the device for records.
The pattern of questionable deletions has drawn the attention of lawmakers. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the chairmen of the finance and oversight committees, respectively, sent a letter to the DOJ and the FBI last week asking for more information about what happened with the phones.
“It appears that Special Counsel Mueller’s team may have deleted federal records that could be key to better understanding their decision-making process as they pursued their investigation and wrote their report,” Grassley wrote. “Indeed, many officials apparently deleted the records after the DOJ Inspector General began his inquiry into how the Department mishandled Crossfire Hurricane.”
Crossfire Hurricane is the FBI codename for the investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign; Mueller took over the probe in May 2017.
Five months after Page left the special counsel’s office, the DOJ authorized a leak of 375 text messages between Page and Strzok, triggering a media firestorm over what the pair discussed. The initial and the subsequent releases of the texts showed that they expressed hatred for Trump and had a clear preference for his rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Strzok told Page that “we’ll stop” Trump from becoming president, discussed an “insurance policy” in case Trump won the election, and mused about impeachment around the time he joined the Mueller team.
Page’s attorneys didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.
The OIG discovered the biased Page-Strzok texts during an inquiry into the handling of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign. After the inspector general informed Mueller of the texts in late July, Mueller removed Strzok from the Russia investigation. Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told lawmakers that he learned of the text messages on July 27 and made the decision to remove Strzok the same day. Someone wiped Page’s phone four days later.
Strzok and Page played key roles in the FBI’s investigations of both the Trump campaign and Clinton’s use of an unauthorized email server. The OIG concluded that their bias cast a cloud over the email probe but didn’t ultimately influence the outcome of the investigation.
The OIG began looking for the phones belonging to Page and Strzok after being informed of a six-month gap in the text messages it had recovered. The inspector general received the pair’s four FBI Samsung phones in late January 2018.
On Jan. 26, 2018, Greer reached out to LFW to ask where Page’s SCO iPhone was, because the OIG wanted to speak to the official about the device.
“Yes. I know it is missing. We discovered that first,” LFW wrote back.
The DOJ tracked down the phone eight months later, in early September 2018 and handed it over to the OIG. The records officer later contacted the inspector general to find out if the phone was wiped.
“Yes that’s correct, the device had been reset to factory settings,” the OIG official wrote back.
Three months later, in December 2018, the OIG released the report on its hunt to recover additional text messages Page and Strzok sent on six phones they used, four of which were assigned by the FBI. The effort resulted in the discovery of hundreds of text messages, but none came from the special counsel’s office phones, both of which were wiped before investigators recovered them.
The following January, DOJ officials reached out to Verizon with a request for billing statements to check how many messages Page and Strzok sent on their special counsel’s office phones. Verizon responded by saying no text messages were sent, with a caveat that data did leave the device. Verizon’s report didn’t cover the most common way to send a message on an iPhone—the iMessage app—which uses an internet connection rather than the carrier’s text service.
“Both numbers did have data usage so it could mean that if any messages were sent, it could have been through some type of app but we would not know for sure from our end,” a message from Verizon stated.
Mueller concluded his 22-month investigation having found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.