The Washington press corps seems engaged in a collective demonstration of the legal concept of willful blindness, or deliberately ignoring facts, following the release of yet another declassified document that directly refutes past statements about the Russia collusion investigation. The document shows the FBI used a security briefing of then candidate Donald Trump and top aides to gather possible evidence for Crossfire Hurricane, its code name for the Russia investigation.
What is astonishing is that the media has refused to see what should be one of the biggest stories in decades. The Obama administration targeted the campaign of the opposing party based on false evidence. The media endlessly covered former Obama administration officials ridiculing suggestions of spying on the Trump campaign or of improper conduct in the Russia investigation. When Attorney General William Barr told the Senate last year that he believed spying did occur, he was lambasted in the media, including by James Comey and others involved in that investigation. The mocking “wow” response of the fired FBI director received extensive coverage.
The new document shows that, in the summer of 2016, FBI agent Joe Pientka briefed Trump campaign advisers Michael Flynn and Chris Christie on national security issues, a standard practice ahead of the election. It included a discussion of Russia interfering in the election. But this was different. The document detailing the questions asked by Trump and his aides and their reactions was filed a few days after the meeting under Crossfire Hurricane and Crossfire Razor, the FBI investigation of Flynn. The two FBI officials listed who approved the report are Kevin Clinesmith and Peter Strzok.
Clinesmith is the former FBI lawyer responsible for the FISA surveillance conducted on members of the Trump campaign. Clinesmith opposed Trump and sent an email after the election declaring “viva the resistance.” He is reportedly under review for possible criminal charges for altering a FISA court filing. The FBI had used Trump adviser Carter Page as a basis for the original FISA application, due to his contacts with Russians. Soon after that surveillance was approved, however, federal officials discredited the collusion allegations and noted that Page was a CIA asset. Clinesmith had allegedly changed the information to state that Page was not working for the CIA.
Strzok is the FBI agent whose violation of FBI rules led Justice Department officials to refer him for possible criminal charges. Strzok did not hide his intense loathing of Trump and famously referenced an “insurance policy” if Trump were to win the election. After FBI officials concluded there was no evidence of any crime by Flynn at the end of 2016, Strzok prevented the closing of the investigation as FBI officials searched for any crime that might be used to charge the incoming national security adviser.
Documents also show Comey briefed President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on the investigation shortly before the inauguration of Trump. When Comey admitted the communications between Flynn and Russian officials appeared legitimate, Biden reportedly suggested using the Logan Act, widely viewed as unconstitutional and never used to successfully convict a single person, as an alternative charge against Flynn. The memo of that meeting contradicts claims that Biden he did not know about the Flynn investigation. Let us detail some proven but mostly unseen facts.
First, the Russia collusion allegations were based in significant part on the dossier funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The Clinton campaign repeatedly denied paying for the dossier until long after the election, when it was confronted with irrefutable evidence that the money had been buried among legal expenditures. New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman wrote, “Folks involved in funding this lied about it and with sanctimony for a year.”
Second, FBI agents warned that dossier author Christopher Steele may have been used by Russian intelligence to plant false information to disrupt the election. His source for the most serious allegations claims that Steele misrepresented what he had said and that it was little more than rumors recast by Steele as reliable intelligence.
Third, the Obama administration was told that the basis for the FISA application was highly dubious and likely false. Yet it continued the investigation as someone leaked its existence to the media. Another declassified document shows that, after the New York Times ran a leaked story on the investigation, even Strzok balked at the account as misleading and inaccurate. His early 2017 memo affirmed that there was no evidence of any individuals in contact with Russians. This information came as the collusion stories were turning into a frenzy that would last years.
Fourth, the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller and inspectors general found no evidence of collusion or knowing contact between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. What inspectors general did find were false statements or possible criminal conduct by Comey and others. While unable to say that it was the reason for their decisions, they also found extensive statements of animus against Trump and his campaign by the very FBI officials directing the investigation. Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has recently testified he never would have approved renewal of the FISA surveillance and encouraged further investigation into such bias.