For me, the question long has been: Were FBI agents so eager to get President Donald Trump that they ignored the signs that the story about the Trump campaign colluding with Moscow was a dirty political smear, or did they see the warning signs and ignore them?
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The 306-page report by special counsel John Durham answers the question. FBI brass knew the Russia-gate story was packaged by Democratic operatives yet continued a probe fueled on misinformation. They wanted to accuse Trump of interfering with the 2016 election, by interfering in the election.
Their case was flimsy and not up to the FBI’s seventh floor’s purported standards, but they couldn’t help themselves.
British intelligence agents were gobsmacked to learn that the probe, codenamed “Crossfire Hurricane,” was predicated on casual bar banter between volunteer Trump foreign-policy adviser George Papadopoulos and an Australian diplomat. The Hurricane began without the feds so much as trying to interview Papadopoulos.
Had G-men looked into the matter, they could have learned from Australian diplomat Alexander Downer that Papadopoulos made no mention of Clinton emails or Moscow approaching Trump Tower. Papadopoulos simply said, “The Russians have information.”
Crossfire Hurricane was launched three days later.
While FBI biggies were in a hurry to launch their probe, they took the slow train to gather information on Carter Page, a Navy veteran who also was an informal Trump campaign adviser.
On Sept. 23, 2016, Yahoo! News reported that U.S. intelligence officials were looking into possible ties between Page and Russian officials. Two days later, Page sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey in which he offered to be interviewed by the FBI.
“The FBI, however, did not take Page up on his offer to be interviewed,” Durham reported, “and, indeed, the Crossfire Hurricane investigators were prohibited by FBI senior executives from approaching Page until former Director Comey finally authorized an interview in March 2017, almost six months after Page’s written offer.”
The stonewalling did not play well with some old-school FBI agents.
The money in this corrupt scheme bares a profligate federal bureaucracy. According to Durham, U.S. officials told Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence official turned author of the bogus “Russian dossier,” that the FBI might be willing to pay him in excess of $1 million if he could corroborate allegations in his handiwork.
That’s a payday Steele never saw.
The dirt in the dossier didn’t survive fact checks — including the notorious claim that Trump hired prostitutes to pee on a bed in a Moscow suite in which former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, once stayed.
Steele responded to the report on Twitter, saying: “John Durham’s long-awaited report merely repeats the allegations he failed to prosecute in court. It reveals further an investigation driven by a partisan conspiracy theory to which he bent unclear testimony. It also contains various factual errors.”
It’s true: Jurors acquitted two individuals who Durham charged with lying to the FBI.
But former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty to altering a document to justify government surveillance of Page, so Steele is misleading the public as well. Again.
The “Steele dossier” always smelled off to me, but I assumed the FBI pursued it in good faith. While the Durham report cited agents who objected to what they saw, they were up against a machine run by unaccountable bureaucrats who thought they were so much better than Trump that they could outplay him and come out looking like heroes. They thought they could get away with it, and they were right.
Debra J. Saunders is a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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