This week Department of Justice (DOJ) Special Counsel John Durham will begin presenting evidence in the trial of Igor Danchenko, the serial liar whom the FBI used as its “source” to justify spying on the Trump campaign. Durham has already made a bombshell disclosure that the FBI secretly put Danchenko on the bureau’s payroll despite knowing that the information he fed them was fabricated. There is much speculation that more evidence of the bureau’s misconduct will be revealed as the Danchenko trial unfolds.
Danchenko was the principal “source” for bogus tales about former President Donald Trump, including the infamous (and fictional) pee tape. Danchenko’s lurid fiction was the centerpiece of the discredited Steele dossier. The dossier was not verified intelligence; rather, it was a political hit job compiled by the Clinton campaign and paid for by the Democratic National Committee. Yet, then–FBI Director James Comey and his “Crossfire Hurricane” team were so eager find a way to spy on the Trump campaign that they applied for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants without even checking to verify Danchenko’s outlandish claims.
Comey and his HQ team did far more than deceive the FISC; they worked overtime to mislead the public through sustained and deceptive leaks.
As soon as the feds realized that Danchenko had played them for fools, they made a surprising (and hidden) move to designate him a Confidential Human Source (CHS) and put him on the payroll. It makes no sense for the FBI to start paying a man it knew had repeatedly lied to it — until you realize that, by designating him as a CHS, his identity and record of lies would be hidden from the prying eyes of the inspector general, the special counsel, and Congress.
And, of course, by naming him a CHS, the bureau avoided exposure of its inept handling of Danchenko, which would have further degraded the FBI’s already tarnished reputation. It also prevented the public from finding out that the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign was based entirely on false information fed to it by a source it knew was unreliable.
Even worse, Comey and gang lied to the court, telling the judges that their sources were reliable. Their duplicity extended to doctoring a document submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for which a DOJ lawyer was later convicted. The many misdeeds of the FBI and the DOJ were so outrageous that Michael Horowitz, the inspector general of the DOJ, in his report on “Crossfire Hurricane,” cited 17 significant errors in the FISA applications. In fact, the inspector general determined that the court was deceived by inaccuracies and omissions “from top to bottom” in each of the four FISA applications. Horowitz found the violations so egregious that he referred all of the FBI and DOJ employees involved for disciplinary action.
Former U.S. Attorney Andrew McCarthy wrote:
While the bureau used inane, unverified information from Steele and Danchenko to suggest to a court that the president of the United States might be a Russian asset, the FBI had intelligence indicating that Danchenko himself might actually have been a Russian asset.
Comey and his HQ team did far more than deceive the FISC; they worked overtime to mislead the public through sustained and deceptive leaks. The stories they planted were intended to convince the public that their investigation was legitimate and, at the same time, to dispirit Trump’s supporters.
The strategy of using leaks to undercut their target wasn’t a tactic dreamed up for the investigation of Trump. Leaking misleading information is a tried-and-true FBI tactic. While FBI spokespeople solemnly proclaim that they can neither confirm nor deny an investigation, their agents at the same time are feverishly at work planting stories to paint their targets in a bad light. Frequently these leaks are false or misleading. The press, ever eager to curry favor with their FBI sources, print the stories without verifying them. In one investigation, the FBI planted a story that it “had [its target] on tape,” implying he had done something illegal. Technically, it did have him on tape. However, what its target said on that tape was totally innocuous. Its target called its bluff and made the tape public. Yes, he had been taped, but it was clear he had done nothing wrong.
FBI leaks are intended to put their targets on the defensive from day one. Jonathan Moffa, an FBI special agent, admitted to Congress that the bureau plants stories in the news media and then uses those stories as “evidence” in warrant applications.
Comey himself was singled out by Horowitz for leaking sensitive information to force the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Horowitz criticized Comey for “not safeguarding sensitive information obtained during the course of his FBI employment, and by using it to create public pressure for official action.” In addition, court documents reveal that Comey leaked several memos that included sensitive and classified information, including disclosing the “code name and true identity” of a confidential source.
The inspector general also found that Bryan Paarmann, then deputy assistant director of the FBI’s international operations division, had “improperly disclosed court-sealed and law enforcement sensitive information to the media.” Horowitz found that Paarmann illegally passed on this information in hundreds of communications with at least six reporters. Yet, Paarmann was never prosecuted; he was allowed to quietly resign.
I want to be clear: These political hit jobs are directed by FBI officials at the highest level, not by regular field agents. The Counterintelligence Division and the Washington Field Office do all the dirty work. They are the equivalent of the mob’s hitmen and cleaners.
I emphasize the difference between field agents and the execs on the seventh floor in D.C. because anyone who criticizes the politically charged actions of the FBI executives is accused of attacking the field agents rather than the bad actors at the top of the FBI hierarchy.
I was stunned to learn that several members of the HQ team continue to work on highly political cases even though they are under investigation by both the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and the bureau’s Office of Professional Responsibility. This has prompted Sen. Chuck Grassley to write to the director of the FBI that “political considerations [are] infecting the decision-making process at the Justice Department and FBI.”
As the Danchenko trial unfolds this week, we may see further disclosures of political involvement by the FBI. Durham is doing the nation a great service in exposing this corruption. Sunlight is, indeed, the best disinfectant, and the FBI is overdue for a good housecleaning.
Pat Nolan is the founder of the Nolan Center for Justice at the American Conservative Union Foundation.