Posts Tagged ‘House Intelligence Committee’

Mueller Gets a New Boss Who’s Blasted His Russia Investigation

November 8, 2018
Acting Attorney General Whitaker could fire him or limit probe
Whitaker would decide whether findings can be made public
Matt Whitaker.  Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is answering to a new boss, Matthew Whitaker, who has openly criticized his Russia investigation — and has the power to constrain it or end it, just as President Donald Trump wishes.

Trump never forgave Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the probe that Mueller now runs, and the president delivered on that long-festering frustration a day after the midterm elections were over.

He forced Sessions to resign and named Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney whose criticisms of Mueller have echoed the president’s, as acting attorney general until Trump nominates someone who would need Senate confirmation.

Whitaker, who became Sessions’s chief of staff last year, has left a paper trail of his views on Mueller’s inquiry.

In July 2017, Whitaker said during an interview on CNN that he could envision a scenario in which an acting attorney general doesn’t fire Mueller but “just reduces his budget to so low that his investigations grind to almost a halt.”

‘Witch Hunt’

The next month, Whitaker wrote an opinion article posted on CNN’s website arguing that Mueller’s investigation appeared to be going too far and may constitute a “witch hunt,” embracing one of Trump’s favorite descriptions to discredit the probe.

Citing reports that Mueller was looking into Trump’s finances and those of his family, Whitaker wrote, “If he were to continue to investigate the financial relationships without a broadened scope in his appointment, then this would raise serious concerns that the special counsel’s investigation was a mere witch hunt.”

Also last year, Whitaker tweeted “Worth a read” with a link to a newspaper commentary headlined, “Note to Trump’s lawyer: Do not cooperate with Mueller lynch mob.”

Matt Whitaker 🇺🇸


Worth a read. “Note to Trump’s lawyer: Do not cooperate with Mueller lynch mob”  via @phillydotcom

Note to Trump’s lawyer: Do not cooperate with Mueller lynch mob

Even if the prosecutor can’t prove that your client committed the crime supposedly being investigated, he will be charged with obstruction of justice or some similar offense for providing false…

Demands to Recuse

There was no indication that Whitaker intended to follow Sessions’s lead and recuse himself from the Russia investigation, despite Democratic demands that he do so. That means he will supplant Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and has defended his performance, in overseeing the inquiry.

“Protecting Mueller and his investigation is paramount,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, citing Whitaker’s “previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation.”

Senator Susan Collins of Maine was one of the several Republicans who publicly expressed concern about what may happen. “Special Counsel Mueller must be allowed to complete his work without interference — regardless of who is AG,” she said in a tweet without mentioning Whitaker by name.

Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said he was certain Mueller’s probe will be allowed to “continue to its end” because the Senate won’t confirm a new attorney general otherwise.


Whitaker, 49, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, received his law degree from the University of Iowa in 1995. Before that, he was an All-American football player and played on the university’s Rose Bowl team in 1991.

In 2014, the Des Moines native ran for the Senate in Iowa, losing in the Republican primary to Joni Ernst, who went on to win the general election.

He also previously directed the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a nonprofit watchdog group supported by conservatives that focused mostly on allegations of conflicts and wrongdoing by Democrats including Hillary Clinton.

Whitaker also worked as chairman of Sam Clovis’s failed campaign for Iowa state treasurer in 2014. Clovis had run for the Senate as well and later worked on Trump’s presidential campaign. He has been interviewed as part of Mueller’s Russia probe.

While many Republican lawmakers were silent Wednesday on Whitaker’s appointment and the future of the Mueller probe, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley praised him.“A fellow Iowan, who I’ve known for many years, Matt will work hard and make us proud,” he said in a statement.

Whitaker, in a Justice Department statement released on Wednesday evening, said, “I am committed to leading a fair department with the highest ethical standards, that upholds the rule of law, and seeks justice for all Americans.” He added that it had “been a privilege” to work under Sessions.

Here Are All the Officials Who Have Left the Trump Administration

The shake-up at the Justice Department comes at a crucial point, as Mueller is seeking to wind down parts of his inquiry and deliver some key findings, according to two officials familiar with his plans. As Mueller’s supervisor, Whitaker would decide whether those findings remain secret, are shared with congressional committees, or released to the public.

But there’s no sign that the special counsel is ready to close up shop anytime soon — unless he’s forced to do so.

Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee who will likely be the panel’s chairman when his party takes over the House next year, said Wednesday that interference with the investigation “would cause a constitutional crisis.”

Adam Schiff

Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican critic of Trump, urged Senate action on long-stalled legislation intended to safeguard Mueller’s inquiry.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has argued in the past that there was no need for such measures because Mueller wasn’t at risk of being ousted. He didn’t comment on that prospect on Wednesday.


Demonstrators gather outside White House to protest Sessions’ ouster, shouting “Trump is a dictator.”

November 8, 2018

Image result for Jeff sessions, at justice department, photos

Shouts of “Trump is a dictraitor”

A group of demonstrators gathered outside the White House on Wednesday night to protest Attorney General Jeff Sessions resignation at President Trump’s request.

Footage from local CBS News affiliate, WUSA9, showed protesters spelling out “Protect Mueller” in neon letters in front of the White House late Wednesday evening. Others held signs, which included messages such as, “Trump is a dictator.”

By Justin Wise
The Hill

Demonstrators gather outside White House to protest Sessions' ouster

The protests came just hours after Sessions submitted his formal, resignation at Trump’s request. Trump announced on Twitter that Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’s chief of staff, would take over as acting attorney general.

Sessions’s dismissal drew swift backlash from Democratic lawmakers, many of whom voiced concerns about what his resignation as the top Justice Department official could mean for special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Whitaker, who has publicly criticized certain elements of the investigation, will now oversee the investigation.

“The Acting Attorney General is in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice,” DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement to The Hill.

The move means that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will no longer oversee the federal Russia investigation, which he has supervised since Sessions recused himself early last year, citing his work on Trump’s campaign.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee responded to the news by saying that Mueller’s probe is in “new and immediate peril.” Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who is set to become the House Judiciary Committee chairman, said that Americans “must have answers immediately” on why Sessions resigned.

Trump has repeatedly called the Mueller probe a “witch hunt,” an expression which Whitaker himself has echoed.

The president on Wednesday said he could fire everybody with ties to the special counsel’s office. He added that he would not take that step because of political reasons.

“I could fire everybody right now, but I don’t want to stop it because politically I don’t like stopping it,” Trump said. “It’s a disgrace. It should never have been started, because there is no crime.”

Another demonstration, organized by groups connected with the Nobody Is Above the Law network, is planned to take place on Thursday outside the White House.

“Donald Trump just crossed a red line, violating the independence of the investigation pursuing criminal charges in the Trump-Russia scandal and cover-up,” the group says in a statement on its website.

“We’re mobilizing immediately to demand accountability, because Trump is not above the law.”

Hundreds of groups are planned to protest at 5 p.m. Thursday, according to the group’s website.

The Hill has reached out to the group for comment.



See also:

CNN reporter Jim Acosta loses White House access after clash with Trump

How House Democrats Plan to Investigate Trump’s Russia Ties

November 3, 2018

Gains in the congressional election next week would give Democrats crucial subpoena power.

During Trump’s first two years in office, House Republicans used the committee largely to protect him. In an interview with Foreign Policy, one of the committee’s ambitious young Democrats, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, explained exactly how that would change.

House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) speaks at a news conference about the Trump-Putin Helsinki summit in Washington on July 17. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) speaks at a news conference about the Trump-Putin Helsinki summit in Washington on July 17. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

If Democrats win control of the U.S. House of Representatives in Tuesday’s midterm elections, they will take over a prize possession: the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, with full subpoena power to investigate President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

During Trump’s first two years in office, House Republicans used the committee largely to protect him. In an interview with Foreign Policy, one of the committee’s ambitious young Democrats, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, explained exactly how that would change.

The Democrats’ investigation would focus on bank and travel records of Trump lieutenants and businesses. It would also attempt to resolve questions about the president’s knowledge of a Russian offer during the 2016 campaign to provide political dirt on his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. And in the aftermath of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, the committee might also scrutinize Trump’s business ties to the Gulf.

While Senate committees typically require the assent of the chairman and ranking member to issue a subpoena, House committees grant that authority to the chairman alone. This makes the House Intelligence Committee, with its jurisdiction over the massive U.S. intelligence community, a uniquely powerful tool in the hands of a savvy investigator.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Foreign Policy: If Democrats take over Congress and control of the House Intelligence Committee, what are your investigative priorities?

Eric Swalwell: The first would be to fill in the gaps that exist between what we wanted to pursue in the Russia investigation and what the Republicans allowed us to pursue, which was almost zero when it came to using subpoena power to get documents, bank records, cell-phone records, travel logs, etc. There are a lot of gaps to fill in there.

More broadly, we’ll be looking at what we can do to protect and secure the 2020 presidential election. That will be a major target, we expect, based on what the Russians did in 2016 and what they are doing now. We want to make sure that Americans have the awareness they need when they go to the polls in 2020.

FP: Are there specific documents that you plan to use the committee’s subpoena power to seek?

ES: There are a lot of unanswered questions around the Trump Tower meeting [with a Russian lawyer close to the Kremlin]. What happened with Don Jr. [Trump’s son, who attended the meeting] and his father when the offer was made a couple days before the meeting of compromising information on Hillary Clinton?

There was a blocked number that was called in the phone records we have from Donald Trump Jr. We know from other testimony that candidate Trump had a number that would come up as blocked. If Donald Trump Jr. told his father of the offer, that would change everything, because they always denied that that was the case.

Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen was in negotiations during the early part of the primary to put a Trump Tower in Moscow. And there are still questions about whether he went over during the campaign to Eastern Europe to meet with Russians, as the Steele dossier alleges. Getting those travel logs would be important.

Deutsche Bank has come up a number of times as a lender to the Trump Organization. They have a history of being fined for essentially laundering money for the Russians. At a time when Donald Trump was not receiving loans from any U.S.-based bank, he was getting help from Deutsche Bank.

We’d like to understand the true financial relationship there and whether any Russian money was involved.

Those are just a few, but they should have been pushed through in the last two years. Every request to do so was denied by Republicans on the committee.

FP: Do you plan to examine Michael Cohen’s business activities following the inauguration?

ES: We want to see if he colluded or cooperated. It looks like he was offering to work with Russians or Russian-connected individuals to be a consultant and perhaps someone who could influence the administration.

Our primary interest is in lines of inquiry that tell us what the relationships are between the Trump family, the business, and the campaign with the Russians—whether it was during the campaign or even ongoing today.

FP: Do you plan to examine reports that Gulf states attempted to influence the Trump campaign through fundraisers and other wealthy individuals?

ES: The Trump family and organization, based on press accounts, have had puzzling relationships with the Qataris, the Emiratis, and the Saudis. Before the Jamal Khashoggi tragedy, there may have been an argument that that’s not as relevant as other priorities that we have.

However, now we are learning more about Mr. Khashoggi and how he was killed, the lack of a response from the Trump team, and the long-standing financial interests that Donald Trump had with the Saudis.

And then put into perspective that the first trip the president made internationally was to Saudi Arabia, and right after that trip is when this split with Qatar happened and the blockade occurred.

There’s a lot of questions about what happened with those three countries and the Trump campaign, and whether the administration, the campaign, and the business were viewed as essentially for sale. Did foreign adversaries beyond Russia see them as easy marks because they didn’t have any scruples or code of ethics? I think those are fair lines to pursue.

FP: The recent history of the House Intelligence Committee has been deeply politicized, and its Republican leaders have been accused of running political interference on behalf of the president. How do you avoid the same charge if you plan an aggressive investigation of the president?

ES: You demonstrate with your deeds that you’re only interested in a serious investigation. You don’t do things just because you can. You don’t do things that have already been done. You aren’t out to seek a pound of flesh.

Ranking member [Adam] Schiff has a sincere interest in trying to heal some of the wounds that were inflicted by the way that Chairman [Devin] Nunes led the committee. We want to get back to the comity that we’ve had in the past.

But we have a job to do as well. We’re not going to have the shovels out and bury the evidence as was done in the last two years.

FP: The great weapon of the current Republican majority on the committee is the use of the unilateral subpoena power and the ability of the chairman to act unilaterally. Is there a part of you that’s a little bit excited to have unilateral subpoena power?

ES: There’s a lot of evidence that we want to pursue. The investigation was essentially a “take them at their word” investigation. We weren’t able to test the accounts that were given to us to see if they could be corroborated or contradicted. And subpoena power will allow us to do that.

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace. @EliasGroll

Russian oligarch, Justice Department and a clear case of collusion

August 30, 2018

In a 20-month search for evidence of collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, none that is compelling has emerged.

Former FBI Director James Comey told Congress he found none. The U.S. intelligence community has given a similar assessment, though it did prove convincingly that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election through cyber warfare. And, so far, special counsel Robert Mueller has not offered any collusion evidence, though his work continues.

But, for the first time, I can say there is evidence of collusion between Russians and Americans — specifically, the sort that is at the heart of counterintelligence work.

Before we review that evidence, let’s define collusion. The Collins Dictionary says its original British meaning was “secret or illegal cooperation, especially between countries or organizations.” Using that definition, collusion can be secret but good, if the outcome is well-intended. Or, it can be bad, if it is meant to defraud, deceive or create illegality.

By John Solomon

Now for the evidence, as presented to me by several sources, American and foreign:

In September 2015, senior Department of Justice (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr and some FBI agents met in New York with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to seek the Russian billionaire’s help on organized crime investigations. The meeting was facilitated — though not attended — by British intelligence operative Christopher Steele.

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Oleg Deripaska

In 2012, Steele’s private firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, was hired as a subcontractor by a law firm working for Deripaska, who then headed Russia’s largest aluminum company. Steele’s firm was asked to do research to help the law firm defend a lawsuit filed against Deripaska by a business rival.

By 2015, Steele’s work had left him friendly with one of Deripaska’s lawyers, according to my sources. And when Ohr, then the associate deputy attorney general and a longtime acquaintance of Steele, sought help getting to meet Deripaska, Steele obliged.

Deripaska, who frequently has appeared alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at high-profile meetings, never really dealt with Steele, but he followed his lawyer’s recommendations and met with Ohr, my sources say.

By that time, Deripaska already had proven himself helpful to the FBI. As I’ve written previously, based on numerous U.S. sources, he cooperated with the bureau from 2009 to 2011 and spent more than $25 million of his own money on an FBI-supervised operation to try to rescue retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who was captured in Iran while working as a CIA contractor.

U.S. officials and Levinson’s family told me that Deripaska’s efforts came close to securing Levinson’s freedom before the State Department scuttled a deal. The former agent has never been heard from again.

The 2015 meeting between Ohr, the FBI and Deripaska is captured cryptically in some of Ohr’s handwritten notes, recently turned over to Congress.

People familiar with the meeting said U.S. officials posed some investigative theories about suspected Russian organized crime and cyber espionage activity, theories that Deripaska indicated he did not believe were accurate.

The sources stressed that the 2015 meeting had nothing to do with any allegation about Russian meddling in the upcoming 2016 election but, rather, was an “outreach” about other types of suspected activity overseas that concerned U.S. officials.

A year later, Deripaska would get another visit from his FBI friends in New York. But this time the questions were about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Specifically, the agents told Deripaska they believed Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was secretly coordinating the election with Moscow.

Steele had planted that theory with the FBI. By that time the former MI6 agent was working for the American opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which had been hired by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee to find Russian dirt on Trump. Steele’s theories, of course, are contained in the so-called Steele dossier provided to the FBI.

Ohr had his own connection to Fusion, which was paying his wife, Nellie, to work on the anti-Trump research project, according to congressional testimony.

Deripaska once had a business relationship with Manafort, but it ended in lawsuits. Despite that acrimony, Deripaska told the agents in that September 2016 meeting that he thought the theory that Manafort was colluding with Russia to help Trump win the election was preposterous.

Deripaska — like the many foreign business figures to whom U.S. intelligence has turned for help over the decades — is not without controversy or need. The State Department tried to keep him from getting a U.S. visa between 2006 and 2009 because they believed he had unspecified connections to criminal elements in Russia as he consolidated power in the aluminum industry. Deripaska has denied those allegations and claims FBI agents told him in 2009 that the State Department file blocking his entry to the country was merely a pretext.

Whatever the case, it is irrefutable that after he began helping the FBI, Deripaska regained entry to the United States. And he visited numerous times between 2009 and 2017, visa entry records show.

We now know that, on multiple occasions during those visits, the DOJ and FBI secretly collaborated with Deripaska in the hope of getting help, first regarding Levinson, then on Ohr’s matters, and finally on the Manafort case. U.S. officials told me they assumed Deripaska let Putin’s team know he was helping the U.S. government and that his motive for helping was to keep visiting America.

Today, Deripaska is banned anew from the United States, one of several Russians sanctioned in April by the Trump administration as a way to punish Putin for 2016 election meddling. But he wants to be clear about a few things, according to a statement provided by his team. First, he did collude with Americans in the form of voluntarily assisting and meeting with the FBI, the DOJ and people such as Ohr between 2009 and 2016.

He also wants Americans to know he did not cooperate or assist with Steele’s dossier, and he tried to dispel the FBI notion that Russia and the Trump campaign colluded during the 2016 election.

“The latest reckless media chatter proposes that I had some unspecified involvement in the so-called dossier. Like most of the absurd fantasies and smears that ricochet across the internet, it is utterly false. I had absolutely nothing to do with this project, and I never had any knowledge of it until it was reported in the media and I certainly wasn’t involved in any activity related to it,” Deripaska said in the statement his team provided me.

Americans can form their own conclusions about the veracity of those claims. But they now have a pretty convincing case of collusion between U.S. officials and Russians, one that isn’t necessarily all that harmful to the American interest.

And the tale of Ohr, Steele, Deripaska, the FBI and the DOJ is a cogent reminder that people looking for black-and-white answers on Russia are more likely to find lots of gray — the favorite color of the murky counterintelligence world.

John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He is The Hill’s executive vice president for video.

Includes video:



House Committee to Interview Bruce Ohr and Wife, Nellie Ohr, About Steele Dossier

August 11, 2018

The House Judiciary Committee is looking to interview—and will subpoena if necessary—Justice Department (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr and his wife, Nellie Ohr, along with several current and former FBI and DOJ officials.

“We plan to interview the people noted in the coming weeks and we will issue subpoenas to compel their attendance if necessary,” a committee aide wrote in an email to The Epoch Times.

The DOJ confirmed that the committee reached out to them in regard to the interviews.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte could issue orders as early as the coming week, according to the Hill. Goodlatte’s committee is part of a joint investigation with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into decisions made by the FBI and the DOJ during the 2016 election.

Bruce Ohr on March 18, 2014. (Italy in US via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0])

The committee’s interview requests come on the heels of revelations that Bruce Ohr maintained contact with former British spy Christopher Steele for more than a year after the FBI terminated ties with Steele for leaking to the media. Ohr then became Steele’s back-door conduit for feeding information to the FBI.

Ohr also attempted to reinstate Steele with the bureau and link him into special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. The pair remained in contact until mid-November 2017.

The revelations are problematic because Ohr has no official role in the Russia investigation and Steele had been prohibited from collecting intelligence on behalf of the FBI. The problem is compounded by the fact that Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for the same opposition research firm as Steele, Fusion GPS.

Steele authored the opposition research dossier on then-candidate Donald Trump that was used to secure a warrant to spy on former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page. Many of the dossier’s claims have been debunked while the rest remain unverified.

It was the Hillary Clinton Campaign and the Democratic National Committee that ultimately paid for Steele’s work. FBI and DOJ officials who used the dossier to apply for a secret court surveillance warrant on Page failed to mention that fact to the judge.

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Peter Strzok

Ohr met with FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page shortly after meeting Steele in late November 2016. Strzok, Page, and Steele were found to be strongly biased against Trump. Congressional investigators have reviewed text messages that show Steele and Strzok were willing to take action to stop Trump from becoming president. The messages show Strzok musing about impeaching Trump days after joining special counsel Mueller’s team.

The committee is also looking to interview current and former FBI and DOJ officials James Baker, Sally Moyer, Jonathan Moffa, and George Toscas.

In January, Goodlatte reached a deal with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to interview a number of DOJ and FBI officials, including Ohr, Baker, Moyer, Strzok, Page, FBI assistant directors Gregory Brower and Bill Priestap, and FBI special agent James Rybicki. Since then, only Page, Priestap, and Strzok are publicly known to have testified.

Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes referred several of the above officials to Goodlatte in a letter in late June.

Baker, Brower, Page, and Rybicky have resigned from the FBI.


Christopher Steele fed bogus Trump-Russia allegations to FBI on at least twelve difference occasions

August 5, 2018

Congressional investigators know that Christopher Steele, the former British spy who compiled the Trump dossier on behalf of the Clinton campaign, kept supplying allegations to the FBI after the 2016 election — and even after he was terminated as a source by the bureau for giving confidential information to the media.

Because he had broken his agreement with the FBI, bureau procedure did not allow agents to keep using Steele as a source. But they did so anyway — by devising a system in which Steele spoke regularly with Bruce Ohr, a top Obama Justice Department official whose wife worked for Fusion GPS, which hired Steele to search for dirt on Donald Trump in Russia. Ohr then passed on Steele’s information to the FBI.

In a highly unusual arrangement, Ohr, who was the fourth-highest ranking official in the Justice Department, acted as an intermediary for a terminated source for the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe. His task was to deliver to the FBI what Steele told him, which effectively meant the bureau kept Steele as a source.

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Peter Strzok

Agents made a record of each time Ohr gave the bureau information from Steele. Those records are in the form of so-called 302 reports, in which the FBI agents write up notes of interviews during an investigation.

There are a dozen 302 reports on FBI post-election interviews of Ohr. The first was Nov. 22, 2016. After that, the FBI interviewed Ohr on Dec. 5; Dec. 12; Dec. 20; Jan. 23, 2017; Jan. 25; Jan. 27; Feb. 6; Feb. 14; May 8; May 12; and May 15. The dates, previously unreported publicly, were included in a July letter from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to the FBI and Justice Department.

Congressional investigators have read the Ohr-Steele 302s. But the FBI has kept them under tight control, insisting they remain classified and limiting access to a few lawmakers and staff. Congress is not allowed to physically possess copies of any of the documents.

Now, Grassley says there is “no continuing justification for the FBI to keep the documents secret.” Grassley, who exercises oversight authority over the FBI, is formally challenging the bureau’s decision to keep the Ohr-Steele 302s under wraps. Grassley’s insistence has been met, unsurprisingly, with no cooperation from the FBI.

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James Comey

One small bit of the Ohr 302s has already been made public. The House Intelligence Committee, in its memo focusing on the FBI’s application to the secret FISA court to win a warrant to wiretap onetime Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, included a 16-word passage from an Ohr 302 in which Ohr described Christopher Steele’s motivation to stop candidate Trump. (Even though Ohr’s interviews with the FBI took place after the election, he apparently described things Steele told him during their contacts in the months before the election, as well as new information.) Here is the relevant portion of the House memo:

Before and after Steele was terminated as a source, he maintained contact with DOJ via then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, a senior DOJ official who worked closely with Deputy Attorneys General Yates and later Rosenstein. Shortly after the election, the FBI began interviewing Ohr, documenting his communications with Steele. For example, in September 2016, Steele admitted to Ohr his feelings against then-candidate Trump when Steele said he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” This clear evidence of Steele’s bias was recorded by Ohr at the time and subsequently in official FBI files — but not reflected in any of the Page FISA applications.

After the release of the House memo, Sen. Grassley, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wrote to the FBI noting the existence of “numerous FD-302s demonstrating that Department of Justice official Bruce Ohr continued to pass along allegations from Mr. Steele to the FBI after the FBI suspended its formal relationship with Mr. Steele for unauthorized contact with the media, and demonstrating that Mr. Ohr otherwise funneled allegations from Fusion GPS and Mr. Steele to the FBI.”

Grassley also noted other documents of interest: In addition to the 302s, written by the FBI agents who interviewed Ohr, Ohr himself also made notes of his talks with Steele. Those notes, which were never classified, have apparently been given to Congress; in his letter, Grassley referred to “63 pages of unclassified emails and notes documenting Mr. Ohr’s interactions with Mr. Steele.”

Grassley’s argument for declassification of the Ohr-Steele 302s is that the existence of the documents is widely known. Also, some of the material in them has been included in congressional documents and reported in the press. And Ohr’s own notes of the meetings, in the possession of Congress, are not classified. So now, there is no reason for the 302s to remain classified and for the FBI to withhold copies from Congress. The ultimate goal, given Grassley’s statement that there is no reason for the FBI to “keep the documents secret,” is for the public to see them.

What would all of that show? It’s likely that the 302s and notes, if released, would show that the FBI was both still trying to get new information out of Steele after the election and that it was also trying to verify the information Steele had already provided in the dossier installments he handed over in preceding months. Remember, the FBI had already presented some of the dossier’s allegations as evidence to the FISA court. After going out on a limb like that, the bureau wanted to know if the allegations were true or not.

In a larger sense, the Ohr-Steele 302s could shed some light on how an effort — it certainly included Steele, but also others — to keep Trump from being elected morphed into an effort to keep Trump from being inaugurated and then morphed into an effort to remove Trump from office. A version of that effort is still going on, of course, even as some in Congress try to find out how it started.

The FBI’s FISA Faults

July 24, 2018

The documents show the bureau relied heavily on the Steele dossier.

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© Getty Images



The FBI over the weekend finally released its Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications for warrants against former Trump aide Carter Page, and now we know why the bureau resisted disclosure. Even in heavily redacted form, the applications confirm that the FBI relied on dubious partisan evidence to justify its warrant and withheld relevant information from the court.

The applications also vindicate the criticism of the FBI’s surveillance requests that were laid out in February by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes. The committee’s findings were based on a review of the FISA applications, which were still classified at the time. The main Nunes claim was that the FBI made the Steele dossier—which was commissioned by the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee—“an essential” part of its initial application. The FISA documents confirm this.

More than half of the first FISA application’s 66 pages are devoted to technical matters and a history of Russian electoral interference. Of the roughly 25 pages that focus on Mr. Page, much of it reports his dealings with Russians, his response to the news that he was under investigation, and a largely redacted conclusion.

The guts of the application is titled “Page’s Coordination With Russian Government Officials on 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Influence Activities.” This is the FBI’s evidence section, and, though heavily redacted, it looks to be almost entirely dossier-related.

Its opening paragraph says that the “FBI has learned that Page met with at least two Russian officials” on a trip to Russia in 2016 and that it got this information from an “FBI confidential human source (Source #1),” who is dossier author Christopher Steele. Most of what is unredacted that follows details the dossier’s claims about these Russian meetings, with further reference to “Source #1.”

This is important given that FBI assistant director Bill Priestap told Congressional investigators in October 2017 that the FBI’s efforts to corroborate the dossier were still in their “infancy” at the time of the first application. Months later former FBI Director Jim Comey referred to the dossier as “salacious and unverified.” To date no investigator has offered public proof of the dossier’s most damaging claims. Yet on the basis of an uncorroborated document commissioned by a rival presidential campaign, the FBI accused a U.S. citizen of being an “agent of a foreign power” who should be wiretapped.

Mr. Nunes also reported that the FBI did not inform the FISA court that the dossier and trusted “source” (Christopher Steele) were paid by the Clinton campaign. And sure enough, nowhere do the FISA applications mention the words Clinton, Democratic National Committee, Fusion GPS (the Clinton-financed oppo research firm that hired Mr. Steele), or Fusion co-founder Glenn Simpson.

Several convoluted footnotes refer to “Source #1” (Mr. Steele) and a “U.S.-based law firm” (Clinton firm Perkins Coie), as well as an “identified U.S. person” (Mr. Simpson) who was “likely” interested in discrediting Mr. Trump. These obscure references are quickly followed by another footnote in which the FBI says that, despite that motivation, it is confident that “Source #1” is “credible.” So the FBI was vouching for this partisan source.

It’s true that the first application doesn’t mention any names. But it does refer to “Candidate #1” (who is clearly Donald Trump ), “Candidate #2” ( Hillary Clinton ) and “Political Party #1” (Republicans). The FBI had an obligation to tell the court that the dossier and its “credible” source had been retained and paid for by “Candidate #2” and “Political Party #2” (Democrats), but it didn’t. By the way, Mr. Comey signed three of these applications, yet he claimed on his recent book tour that he “still” didn’t know who paid for the dossier.

The FISA documents also confirm that the FBI cited a Sept. 23, 2016 story in Yahoo News to buttress its Steele dossier information with the court—even though Mr. Steele was also the source for the Yahoo News story.

Democrats insist that the FBI used the Yahoo story only to describe Mr. Page’s response to the investigation, not for corroboration. The applications show otherwise. The FBI cites the Yahoo News story after its dossier-evidence section, noting that the story said that “intelligence reports” and a “well-placed Western intelligence source” had also made claims like those in the dossier. But the “reports” were the dossier, and the “Western intelligence source” was Mr. Steele.


Our media friends are dismissing all this as no big deal because they say Mr. Page’s history of personal Russian dealings justified his surveillance in any case. Yet so far no one has produced evidence that Mr. Page was anything but an innocent abroad who liked to boast about his contacts. He certainly was a minor figure in the Trump campaign.

And that still doesn’t justify the FBI’s use of uncorroborated partisan smears as part of its application. At best the FBI appears to have played fast and loose with the facts to stretch the ethical boundaries of the FISA statute. At worst the FBI dissembled to target a man because they wanted to unleash a counterintelligence campaign against a presidential campaign. Either one tarnishes the FBI’s reputation.

Democrats and their media allies won’t admit any of this because they are invested in the narrative that Russian meddling elected Donald Trump. But two years of investigation later we’re still waiting to see evidence of that. What the FISA applications show is that the FBI did abuse its surveillance powers. There’s still more to learn, and Mr. Trump should declassify and release everything that can be safely disclosed.

Appeared in the July 24, 2018, print edition.

Trump says Carter Page documents show DoJ and FBI misled courts — “Is there no there there?”

July 22, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Sunday that documents about his former presidential campaign adviser Carter Page confirmed with little doubt that the Department of Justice and FBI had misled the courts.

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U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

The FBI on Saturday released documents related to the surveillance of Page as part of an investigation into whether he conspired with the Russian government to undermine the 2016 U.S. election.

“Congratulations to @JudicialWatch and @TomFitton on being successful in getting the Carter Page FISA documents. As usual they are ridiculously heavily redacted but confirm with little doubt that the Department of “Justice” and FBI misled the courts. Witch Hunt Rigged, a Scam!” Trump tweeted.


Adam Schiff: Surveillance warrant docs show that Nunes memo ‘misrepresented and distorted’

July 22, 2018

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Saturday that the release of documents related to the surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser show that Republicans “misrepresented and distorted these applications” in their claims of bias at the Department of Justice.

“These documents affirm that our nation faced a profound counterintelligence threat prior to the 2016 election, and the Department of Justice and FBI took appropriate steps to investigate whether any U.S. persons were acting as an agent of a foreign power,” Schiff said in a statement. “FBI and DOJ would have been negligent had they not used all the tools at their disposal, including Court-authorized FISA surveillance, to protect the country.”

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© Getty Images

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Saturday released more than 400 pages of heavily-redacted documents on the surveillance of former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

The application documents state that FBI “believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government … to undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law.”

Page told The Hill that he’s “having trouble finding any small bit of this document that rises above complete ignorance and/or insanity.”

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee argued in a memo released in February that the DOJ and FBI were biased against Trump and his campaign, and abused their authority in obtaining the surveillance warrant against Page. Committee chair Devin Nunes‘s (R-Calif.) staff authored the document.

Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, and other Democrats released their own memo shortly afterward, pushing back against the GOP claims of bias.

Schiff said Saturday that while the documents show the FBI’s “legitimate concern” about Page, he said the materials should not have been released during a pending investigation.

“These national security considerations were cast aside by President Trump, whose decision to declassify the Nunes Memo — which misrepresented and distorted these applications — over the fervent opposition of the Department of Justice, was nakedly political and self-interested, and designed to  to interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation,” the lawmaker said.


Not Sure Where Trump’s Russia Diplomacy Goes? Yet It Could Easily Eclipse the Barack Obama Diplomacy and Hillary Clinton’s Reset Button and E-Mail Give Away…

July 16, 2018

Many Americans are tired of Putin’s Russia getting the best of the U.S. Russia stole Crimea away while everyone was looking, started a war in Ukraine, Invaded Syria and broke every promise it ever made.

Russia shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 due to ineptitude or just unvarnished meanness.

The Issues for President Trump in Helsinki couldn’t be bigger.

He has tried to downplay expectations.

But like most Americans, out expectations here at Peace and Freedom were very low already.


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The now famous reset button caper: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton smiles with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after she gave him a device with red knob during a meeting on March 6, 2009 in Geneva. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images) …. Reset was misspelled to the Russian word for “overcharge.”

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Did Hillary’s email security negligence as U.S. Secretary of State invite Russian cyber meddling?

Hillary Clinton was exonerated for mishandling classified email by:

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