by Chuck Ross
In a book to be released Tuesday, a former FBI aide to James Comey describes the lead-up to a briefing where then-President-Elect Donald Trump was first told about allegations in the unverified Steele dossier.
Josh Campbell, who served as special assistant to Comey and is now a CNN analyst, traveled with the then-FBI chief to the Trump Tower meeting, where top intelligence community officials briefed Trump about an assessment of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
But Comey was prepared in advance for another more intimate briefing with Trump regarding the salacious claims made in the Steele dossier, Campbell writes in a preview of his book.
“Although the FBI director travels with an array of specialized equipment that keeps him connected 24/7 to the White House and the rest of the nation’s command authority, this was the first time in my nine months working directly for him that Comey had ever asked me to make a laptop available to him immediately following a meeting,” writes Campbell.
“Aware of the unprecedented nature of an FBI director confronting a newly elected president with explosive material about his personal life, coupled with the fact that the president’s campaign was secretly under investigation for its possible ties to Russia, Comey wanted to make certain that he fully documented the interaction in writing.”
The book highlights one of the more eye-catching findings in a Justice Department inspector general’s report about Comey released on Aug. 29.
The report revealed that Comey and the FBI hatched a plan before the briefing about how to use the one-on-one session in order to collect information from Trump for an investigation into whether the campaign worked with Russia to influence the election.
The report said that FBI witnesses told the inspector general’s office that top officials strategized about the briefing ahead of time. And after the meeting, Comey typed up notes and held a video conference call with other FBI officials back at bureau headquarters to discuss what Trump said.
Comey also shared his memo with the FBI counterintelligence team working the Trump-Russia probe, saying that it should be included in the investigative file. The report also said that Comey told FBI officials that the information from Trump should be treated as if it were derived under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.
Republican lawmakers have said that Comey’s preparation for the meeting conflicts with what he has claimed in public about the purpose of the dossier-related briefing.
“They went up there trying to set up the president, trying to trap the president, all while they were telling the president he wasn’t under investigation,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan said Monday on Fox News.
Comey has said that the purpose of the briefing with Trump was to make the incoming president aware of salacious allegations against him. He has also said that he told Trump about the dossier because he believed the media was about to release it.
But it turned out that Comey’s briefing itself was the catalyst for the release of the dossier.
Four days after the briefing, CNN published a leak from unidentified sources that the meeting took place. Hours later, BuzzFeed News cited that report as its rationale to publish the dossier in full.
After the briefing, Comey grabbed his laptop and memorialized his interaction with Trump. Comey wrote that Trump denied the allegation from the dossier that he had used Russian prostitutes during a visit to Moscow.
Steele, a former MI6 officer, alleged in the dossier that the Kremlin was blackmailing Trump with video of him with prostitutes in Moscow in 2013. Steele’s sources claimed that the footage showed the prostitutes urinating on each other as Trump watched.
Trump has vehemently denied the allegation, and a video has never surfaced. Steele himself reportedly told associates that he believed there was only a “fifty-fifty” chance that the video existed. People with Trump during his lone visit to Moscow have said he stayed only one night in the Russian capital, and was alone in his room for only five or six hours, enough time to sleep.
Comey and three other intelligence officials, Jim Clapper, John Brennan and Mike Rogers, briefed Trump on an intelligence community assessment of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Comey was hand-picked to have a one-on-one briefing with Trump regarding the dossier, which Steele compiled as part of an opposition research project funded by the Clinton campaign and DNC.
Steele had provided memos from his dossier to numerous government officials and members of the press. The FBI relied heavily on Steele’s information in applications to spy on Trump aide Carter Page.
But Steele and the dossier have since come under scrutiny because the special counsel’s investigation undercut its core claim that the Trump campaign and Kremlin were involved in a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation” to influence the 2016 election.
Campbell’s book, “Crossfire Hurricane: Inside Trump’s War on the FBI,” appears to be a defense of Comey and the FBI.
Campbell has been an outspoken defender of the FBI’s Russia probe since joining CNN in February 2018. The Daily Caller News Foundation reported on Feb. 9, 2018 that an FBI flier touted Campbell’s new job, where he would “defend the bureau.”
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Chuck Ross is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.