‘We have not seen evidence of any individuals affiliated with the Trump team in contact with [Russian intelligence officers].”
How much wasted time on pointless investigations could have been prevented had Peter Strzok, then one of the FBI’s top counterintelligence officials who was spearheading the Bureau’s Trump-Russia investigation, said this publicly one month into President Trump’s term?
But no, it was a private note by Strzok, for consumption within the FBI, to debunk a Feb. 14, 2017, New York Times article. The news story, a compilation by five of the Times’s top reporters, working four unnamed sources (the usual “current and former American officials”), claimed that members of the Trump campaign had “repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials” before the 2016 election.
This was false. Just as important, the FBI knew it was false.
But we, the American people, only know that now, in 2020, because Strzok’s notes were finally made public on Friday.
The Times article centrally identified former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort as a key adviser in communication with Kremlin spies. Strzok, however, countered that the Bureau was “unaware of any calls with any Russian government official in which Manafort was a party.”
Significantly, the Times report was part of a tireless campaign of government leaks, mostly from current and former intelligence operatives (undoubtedly, from officials who either worked in agencies still teeming with Obama holdovers or left government after serving the Obama administration).
The story was published just after the firing of Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national-security adviser. As part of the Trump transition, Flynn had engaged in perfectly appropriate contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, but had been publicly portrayed as if he were a clandestine agent working for Moscow against the country he’d bled for as a decorated U.S. army commander.
The narrative of “Trump collusion with Russia” was pure fiction. The public officials who peddled it to a voracious anti-Trump press had to know it was bunk. Yet they fed the beast anyway, regardless of the cloud this created, regardless of how much it harmed the administration’s capacity to govern.
Worse: This was not merely a media scam. The FBI and the Obama Justice Department made similar representations, under oath, to the federal court that oversees secret government surveillance programs.
By the time of the Times report, the Bureau and Obama DOJ had obtained warrants to monitor former Trump campaign advisor Cater Page in October 2016 and January 2017.
In each warrant, the court was told: “The FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential campaign were being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with [Trump’s] campaign.” Moreover, the warrant applications painted a picture of a “conspiracy of cooperation” between Donald Trump and the Putin regime, with Manafort at the hub, using such underlings as Page and Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, as intermediaries.
It was complete nonsense, largely based on the so-called dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, working on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign. Strzok’s notes attest that the FBI knew Steele’s reporting was highly suspect.
And that’s not the half of it. The Senate Judiciary Committee, at the same time it disclosed Strzok’s notes, also released a lengthy internal FBI memorandum detailing that Steele had immense credibility problems. In particular, his reporting was based on third-hand (or even less reliable) hearsay and innuendo. It was funneled to him through a sub-source who told the FBI, in a lengthy February 2017 interview, that the dossier claims were exaggerations and innuendo gussied up to seem like real intelligence.
Yet, despite knowing that, far from dropping its bogus investigation, the FBI doubled down, seeking new warrants in April and June, failing to correct its misrepresentations.
It is a shocking black eye for American law-enforcement and intelligence agencies. The Justice Department’s criminal investigation is said to be reaching its conclusion. Americans need answers.
Andrew C. McCarthy is a former federal prosecutor, National Review contributing editor and author of “Ball of Collusion: The Plot To Rig and Election and Destroy a Presidency.”
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