by Adam Mill
One can imagine the unspoken question hanging in the darkness during the January 2017 ride back to the airport. A small gaggle1 of FBI agents had just concluded their long-overdue interview with Christopher Steele’s primary sub-source. The silence must have been deafening. Steele had tried to conceal2 his source from the FBI. But the FBI knew his identity and set up an interview behind Steele’s back, and the interview contradicted several Steele assertions. The downcast agents waited for somebody to ask the question on all of their minds: “Now what?”
The right answer would have been to admit to the court that Steele was an unreliable source who exaggerates and lies and put an end to spying on Americans in pursuit of the mirage of Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia.
When presented one last opportunity to do the right thing, the FBI instead pushed harder for their now-discredited hypothesis justifying the investigation. Peter Strzok had promised his lover, Lisa Page, he would “save” the country from Donald Trump. Given a choice between bringing the FBI back into the light of the Constitution or the darkness of blind hatred of Donald Trump, the conspirators choose darkness. It was at this precise moment that the FBI left behind any plausible deniability of “mistake” or “sloppiness.” From this point on, the FBI’s participation in the Trump-Russia collusion hoax became willful and intentional.
This is the FBI’s darkest hour. The next time the FBI prepared a warrant renewal application, it misrepresented the interview to make it appear as though the source confirmed Steele’s fairytale. It wasn’t a mistake. It was a deliberate defrauding of a court.
According to the recent inspector general’s report on the conduct of the FBI’s collusion investigation, several agents met with Steele’s primary source in early 2017 in order finally to get to the bottom of the Russia collusion claims Steele initiated. It would be another four months before then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would launch the reign of terror known as the “Mueller investigation.” Countless Americans would have their privacy invaded by 500 search warrants, 2,800 subpoenas, and 500 FBI interrogations.
Every one of those 500 search warrants must have been supported by an affidavit swearing the FBI had probable cause to suspect Trump was conspiring with Russia to affect the outcome of the 2016 election. Since we now know the FBI deceived the court in the Carter Page warrant applications at the dawn of the Trump/Russia collusion investigation, we have reason to wonder about the next 500 warrants issued in the same investigation.
Remember when Roger Stone was dragged from his house at gunpoint to search for evidence of Russia collusion? That was one of 500 warrants executed. The probe terrorized its political enemies at a rate of approximately one warrant per business day.
Too Good to Be True
Even before Steele’s primary sub-source disavowed the entire smear against Trump, there had been signs.
The inspector general recounted how the FBI’s spies (confidential human sources) already had approached Papadopolous, Page, and at least one unnamed high-level Trump campaign official.3 Without knowing he was being interviewed by an FBI informant, Page said he never met4 Manafort and didn’t know two of the three Russians5 with whom Steele accused him of conspiring.
Papadopolous, who also didn’t know he was being interviewed by an informant, insisted6 that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. These revelations directly contradicted Steele’s reporting. Which is why the FBI kept them from the FISA court.
The FBI had gone out on a limb, betting that evidence would materialize like a lucky card completing the inside straight laid out by the too-good-to-be-true Steele reporting. But these increasingly slim hopes were completely dispelled in January 2017. And the bad news came shortly after the FBI filed the Carter Page FISA Renewal. The FBI/Steele source interview should have happened before the first warrant application to spy on Carter Page. But the FBI wanted so badly to believe Trump was guilty that it didn’t bother taking this basic corroborating measure until after the first Page warrant renewal in January 2017.
The results of the interview must have inspired panic and dread in the Russia collusion investigators. Steele’s primary source told the FBI that he had not even seen what Steele fed to the FBI. In reaction to the Buzzfeed account of the Steele dossier, he said Steele misstated or exaggerated the information he gave to Steele. The stories of Trump’s sexual activities in a Moscow hotel were never confirmed and were merely the result of “rumor and speculation.” Steele told the FBI that the Russians offered Carter Page a bribe of a 19 percent stake in Russian energy giant Rosneft in return for securing the lifting of sanctions against Russia. But Steele’s source denied ever telling Steele this.
Later, Steele’s source would tell the FBI that he never expected Steele to put their conversations into reports and represent them as facts. They were just, “word of mouth and hearsay . . . conversation that he had with friends over beers;” and that some of the information, such as allegations about Trump’s sexual activities, were statements he/she heard made in “jest.”
Steele, the inspector general concluded, did not know whether any of the information in his dossier was reliable. As Horowitz’s report notes, “it could have been multiple layers of hearsay upon hearsay.”7
Steele’s report very nearly led to an electoral disaster. The inspector general told us that the fools leading our intelligence agencies appended his reporting to the national intelligence assessment. In December 2016, shortly before the electors formally cast their votes to make Trump the president-elect, the Clinton campaign manager made an appeal to the Intelligence Community to provide an “intelligence briefing” to the electors. He meant the Steele dossier which Clinton allies knew to be in the hands of the FBI.
Of course they knew. The Clinton campaign bought the dossier and paid Steele to give it to the FBI. Without any way for the Trump campaign effectively to rebut the smears, it’s hard to see how the electors could have resisted officials peddling Steele’s smears as official intelligence.
Horowitz revealed, “[t]he Primary Sub-source also informed [the FBI] that Steele tasked him/her after the 2016 U.S. elections to find corroboration for the election reporting and that the Primary Sub-source could find none. According to WFO Agent 1, during an interview in May 2017, the Primary Sub-source said the corroboration was ‘zero.’ The Primary Sub-source had reported the same conclusion to the Crossfire Hurricane team members who interviewed him in January 2017.”8
Dead-Ends and Desperation
The hoax conspirators might have started as unwitting patsies to Steele. But their participation soon became intentional . . . and criminal.
The information began to flow backward as FBI agents started sharing intelligence with Steele.9 This further contaminated Steele as a source and may have led to the FBI relying on their own speculation after Steele repackaged it and gave it back to them.
It is also particularly alarming because “by no later than November 21, 2016, Ohr had advised FBI officials that Steele’s reporting had been given to the Hillary Clinton campaign,”10 meaning that Steele might have also passed along what the FBI told him about her political opponent. FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith altered11 evidence to fool the court into extending the Carter Page warrant. As I wrote, Clinesmith changed an email regarding Carter Page to hide the fact that the warrant against Page was totally unnecessary. Carter Page voluntarily provided intelligence on Russia to the CIA. The FBI is legally required to use the least intrusive method possible.12
Since Page truthfully and completely would have answered any questions the FBI asked, it became necessary to hide this cooperation from the FISA court in order to get their warrant.
Thus, before Mueller was even appointed, the FBI had reached a dead end. They went to the horse’s mouth, Steele’s primary sub-source, only to find out that the source himself couldn’t vouch for the information. Nevertheless, on May 17, 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to investigate, “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.”
By this point, the FBI had already interviewed Michael Flynn, George Papadopolous, and Carter Page – either directly or through undercover informants. It knew then what its lead agent, Peter Strzok, wrote to Lisa Page at the inception of the Mueller probe, “you and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.”
The Mueller investigation was never about investigating anything. Rosenstein’s signature on the last Carter Page warrant extension application sealed his fate as a co-conspirator. No wonder he threatened congressional staffers to keep his secret safe.
As I wrote in 2018, the Justice Department turned the Russia investigation into a puzzle never to be solved. It soon became apparent why the investigation was not reaching a swift conclusion. It became a way of keeping key facts hidden rather than getting to the bottom of anything. I wrote, “DOJ cited the ‘ongoing’ nature of the investigation to block Congressional Oversight here, here, here, and here to name just a few examples.”
Mueller was a figurehead. At the end of the probe that he supposedly supervised, he knew little about the report that bore his name. The real probe masters were insider Justice Department attorneys, including some who were in on it from the very beginning. Names like Andrew Weissman and Brandon Van Grack were the real leaders, the latter of whom repositioned himself to reprise his abuses in his new powerful role as the chief of the Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Act unit. Rumor has it that Van Grack already has a new project underway to target the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. Viva la resistance, 2020 edition.
In the early months of the Trump Administration, the whiff of a coup was in the air. Talk of deposing Trump using the 25th Amendment was given serious currency by both the FBI and Rosenstein himself. Yet Rosenstein dithered and hesitated, ultimately deciding to hand-off the assault on Trump to Mueller.
Instead of a quick-moving coup, the plotters got a slow-moving campaign of harassment and resistance to the peaceful transfer of power to the duly-elected president. This is not what Steele wanted and in August of 2017, Steele tried to rejoin the “get Trump” team to hurry things along. As The Hill reported, “Steele mentioned Mueller by name to Ohr. And the intelligence operative tried to instill a sense of urgency, suggesting he had new intel that could assist the Russia case. ‘There are some new, perishable, operational opportunities which we do not want to miss out on,’ he wrote.”
But Rosenstein wanted to hedge his bets. Or perhaps he suspected the FBI had lied to him and might be using the ongoing Mueller investigation to cover its tracks. In May of 2018, “in response to Rosenstein’s request, the OIG added to the scope of this review to determine whether the FBI infiltrated or surveilled the Trump campaign. Accordingly, we examined the FBI’s use of [FBI spies] in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, up through November 8, 2016 (the date of the 2016 U.S. elections) to evaluate whether the FBI had placed any [spies] within the Trump campaign or tasked any CHSs to report on the Trump campaign.”13
The Bureau Is Bankrupt
The business of the FBI is to protect and defend our Constitution. And how is business? The FBI is operating at a loss if the preservation of the Constitution is its objective.
The Constitution provides, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” We know that the FBI violated its oath or affirmation in securing the Carter Page warrants. That’s what each of those 17 “mistakes” noted by the Horowitz report is: a deception to gain a warrant. A warrant is only as valid as the truth of the information relied upon by the judge issuing it.
Adding to the injury of Mueller’s probe is the parallel public relations operation it apparently coordinated against the president using false and misleading information sourced to “officials familiar with the investigation.” Leak after leak after leak smeared the president and the people around him. It was lawless and un-American.
It’s the greatest scandal in U.S. legal history. Most chilling of all is that the current FBI chief, Christopher Wray, recently shrugged-off FBI agents lying to the FISA court. He said of the damning Horowitz report that, in his mind, what was “important that the inspector general found that, in this particular instance, the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization.”
If that’s what he believes and thinks is important, then the FBI is truly constitutionally bankrupt. Russia is ruled by an alumnus of the FBI’s Russian counterpart. Our Constitution won’t protect us unless our own cops with guns respect it. After 2016, one wonders whether the FBI looks upon Vladimir Putin with fear – or envy.
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Adam Mill is a pen name. He works in Kansas City, Missouri as an attorney specializing in labor and employment and public administration law.
The endnotes below refer to detailed passages from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the FBI’s handling of the counterintelligence investigation into President Trump’s 2016 campaign. It is linked here and embedded below, and we encourage readers to examine it in full for themselves.
- Pages 186-187: “During the FBI’s January interview, at which Case Agent 1, the Supervisory Intel Analyst, and representatives of NSD were present.”
- Ibid.: “The FBI employed multiple methods in an effort to ascertain the identities of the sub-sources within the network, including meeting with Steele in October 2016 (prior to him being closed for cause) and conducting various investigative inquiries….by January 2017 the FBI was able to identify and arrange a meeting with the Primary Sub-source.”
- Page 3: “We determined that the Crossfire Hurricane team tasked several CHSs and Undercover Employees (UCEs) during the 2016 presidential campaign, which resulted in interactions with Carter Page, Papadopoulos, and a high-level Trump campaign official who was not a subject of the investigation. All of these interactions were consensually monitored and recorded by the FBI.”
- Page 127: “During the meeting in August, Carter Page stated, among other things, that he had “literally never met” or “said one word to” Paul Manafort, and that Manafort had not responded to any of Page’s emails.”
- Page 146: “…in October 2016, before the FBI obtained the initial FISA authority targeting Carter Page, an FBI CHS had a consensually monitored meeting with Page….Page said that the ‘core lie’ concerned ‘Sechin [who] is the main guy, the head of Rosneft…[and] there’s another guy I had never even heard of, you know he’s like, in the inner circle.’ When asked about that person’s name, Page said “’ can’t even remember, it’s just so outrageous.’
- Page 80: “[W]hen the CHS asked Papadopoulos whether help ‘from a third party like Wikileaks for example or some other third party like the Russians, could be incredibly helpful’ in securing a campaign victory, Papadopoulos responded that the ‘campaign, of course, [does not] advocate for this type of activity because at the end of the day it’s . . . illegal.’ Papadopoulos also stated that the campaign is not ‘reaching out to Wikileaks or to whoever it is to tell them please work with us, collaborate because we don’t, no one does that . . . .’
- Page 188.
- Pages 113-114: “Case Agent 2 said that he believed he had authority from CD to discuss classified information with Steele, though he agreed that in the ‘heat of the moment’ he made a mistake and provided more information than he should have provided about the role of the FFG. He explained that his disclosure resulted from ‘trying in good faith to accomplish the mission.’”
- Page 259.
- Pages 254-255.
- Page 18.
- Page 9.