Crossfire Hurricane (FBI investigation)

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Crossfire Hurricane was the code name for the counterintelligence investigation undertaken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2016 and 2017 into links between Trump associates and Russian officials and "whether individuals associated with Donald Trump's presidential campaign were coordinating, wittingly or unwittingly, with the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election".[1]

The investigation was officially opened on July 31, 2016, initially due to information on Trump campaign member George Papadopoulos's early assertions of Russians having damaging material on Donald Trump's rival candidate Hillary Clinton. From late July to November 2016, the joint effort between the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security Agency (NSA) examined evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 United States presidential election. The FBI's team enjoyed a large degree of autonomy within the broader interagency probe.

The FBI's work was taken over on May 17, 2017, by the Special Counsel investigation of 2017–2019, which eventually resulted in the Mueller Report. Mueller concluded that Russian interference occurred in a "sweeping and systematic fashion" and that there were substantial links with the Trump campaign, but the evidence available to investigators did not establish that the Trump campaign had "conspired or coordinated" with the Russian government.

Trump and his allies repeatedly promoted conspiracy theories asserting that the Crossfire Hurricane investigation was opened on false pretenses for political purposes.[2] A subsequent review done by Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz, released in redacted form in December 2019, did not find political bias in the initiation of the FBI investigation.[3] The Inspector General also determined that the FBI made 17 errors or omissions—some of them severe—in its FISA warrant applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) for surveillance of Trump aide Carter Page.[2][4] Inspector General Horowitz found no testimonial or documentary evidence that political bias against Trump tainted the initiation of the investigation.[5][6][7][8][9].[3] On January 23, 2020, two of the four FISA warrants were declared invalid by the Department of Justice.[10] In addition, James E. Boasberg, a Washington D.C. federal judge, also said surveillance collected against Page lacked a legal basis.[11]

Origins[edit]

After working on the Ben Carson campaign as a foreign policy adviser, in early February 2016 George Papadopoulos, codenamed "Crossfire Typhoon" by the FBI,[12] left the Carson campaign. Also in early February, he reached out to the London Centre of International Law Practice (LCILP) asking if it was hiring, agreed to join, and arrived in London to begin work. On March 6, Papadopoulos accepted an offer to work with the Trump campaign.[13] As part of his duties with the LCILP, on March 12 he traveled to the Link Campus University in Rome to meet officials with the University. While on this trip, on March 14 he met Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud and informed the professor about his joining the Trump campaign.[14] On March 21, the Trump campaign told the Washington Post that Papadopoulos was one of five foreign policy advisers for the Trump campaign.[14] Mifsud took more interest in Papadopoulos, and met him in London on March 24 with a Russian woman posing as "Putin's niece".[15]

Mifsud traveled to Moscow in April 2016, and upon his return he told Papadopoulos that Russian government officials were in possession of "thousands of emails" that could be politically damaging to Hillary Clinton.[15][16] On May 6, Papadopoulos met Alexander Downer, the Australian High Commissioner to Britain in a London bar, and told him about the Clinton emails over drinks.[15] After WikiLeaks released hacked Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails on July 22, the Australian government on July 26 advised American authorities of the encounter between Downer and Papadopoulos, which spurred the FBI into launching the Crossfire Hurricane investigation on July 31.[17][18]

In March 2017, FBI Director James Comey confirmed in a congressional hearing that the FBI had been investigating Russian interference as part of its counterintelligence mission. He further confirmed that the probe included links between Trump campaign members and the Russian government, and "whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts".[19] Comey added in a June Senate hearing that President Trump had not been personally under investigation until Comey's departure from the FBI.[20][21]

In his May 2017 testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, CIA director John Brennan stated that he had convened in late July 2016 a group of officials from the CIA, NSA and FBI to investigate Russian interference.[22][23] In a July 2017 interview, Brennan described this group effort as a "fusion cell".[24] Brennan also testified that he gave the FBI leads involving "contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign" that were beyond the CIA's mandate to pursue. He said this information "served as the basis for the FBI investigation to determine whether such collusion [or] cooperation occurred".[25]

In February 2018, the Nunes memo, written by staff for U.S. Representative Devin Nunes, stated: "The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent Pete Strzok",[26] rather than the Steele dossier as asserted by, among others, President Donald Trump, Nunes, and several Fox News hosts such as Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity.[27][28][29] A rebuttal memo by Democrats in the House Intelligence Committee confirmed that the investigation was opened on July 31, 2016, and stated that Christopher Steele's memos "played no role in launching the counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference and links to the Trump campaign". The counter-memo added that the FBI investigative team only received the Steele dossier in mid-September, "because the probe's existence was so closely held within the FBI".[30][31] The New York Times reported in April 2019 that investigators received the dossier on September 19, 2016.[32]

In April 2018, the House Intelligence Committee, then in Republican control, released a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as the American response to it. The report stated that the FBI opened its counterintelligence probe in late July 2016 "following the receipt of derogatory information about foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos".[33][34][35]

In June 2018, the Office of the Inspector General released a report on its counter-investigation into the FBI's investigation of the Hillary Clinton email controversy. This report stated: "On July 31, 2016, just weeks after the conclusion of the Midyear investigation [into Clinton], the FBI opened its investigation of Russian interference in the ongoing presidential election [...] the Russia investigation, which touched upon the campaign of then candidate Trump."[36]

The Mueller Report of the Special Counsel investigation, completed in March 2019, states that the Papadopoulos information about Russia having acquired damaging material on Clinton "prompted the FBI on July 31, 2016, to open an investigation into whether individuals associated with the Trump Campaign were coordinating with the Russian government in its interference activities".[37][38]

A review of Crossfire Hurricane done by Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz resulted in a report released in December 2019. The report stated that the following information from a Friendly Foreign Government triggered the investigation: George Papadopoulos "suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama)."[39]

Horowitz's review also found that the FBI electronic communication opening the investigation into Papadopoulos said that Papadopoulos "made statements indicating that he is knowledgeable that the Russians made a suggestion to the Trump team that they could assist the Trump campaign with an anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to the Clinton campaign."[40]

The "Crossfire Hurricane" codename was taken from the opening line of "Jumpin' Jack Flash", a Rolling Stones song.[41]

Investigations[edit]

The FBI's concerns became clear after Brennan shared intelligence about Russian interference with Comey in mid-August 2016. The FBI investigation, code named Crossfire Hurricane, had a large degree of independence from inter-agency efforts to investigate Russian interference.[42] According to an April 2018 House Intelligence Committee report, a "fusion cell on Russian election interference, which was comprised of analysts from the CIA, FBI, and NSA [...] operated through the election". The report also wrote that the fusion cell itself stood down in mid-November 2016.[35]

Crossfire Hurricane initially targeted several people connected to the Trump campaign: Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Roger Stone.[42][43] During the investigation, the FBI used national security letters to obtain phone records and other documents. FBI agents, believing Trump would lose the election, and cognizant of Trump's claims that the election was rigged against him, were careful to ensure the investigation did not become public, as they feared that if Trump lost he would blame his defeat on the revelation of the investigation.[42] However, after the election, texts on December 15, 2016, from the FBI lead investigator Peter Strzok to FBI attorney Lisa Page showed that Strzok was likely aware of what he took to be politically motivated leaks from other intelligence agencies, although the texts showed Strzok and Page themselves typically coordinated their public communications with the FBI press office.[44]

The Office of the Inspector General's June 2018 report states that Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, "and several others from the Midyear investigation [by the FBI into Hillary Clinton] were assigned to the Russia investigation, which [the Office was] told was extremely active during this September and October [2016] time period." Strzok "was assigned to lead the Russia investigation in late July 2016", and E. W. Priestap had a supervisory role over the Russia investigation during an unspecified time period.[36]

This investigation's work continued into May 2017.[45] In May 2019, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff told The Washington Post that after Comey was fired, congressmen were no longer briefed on the status of the FBI counterintelligence investigation into Trump associates, despite the multiple criminal investigations spawning from it.[46]:328

FISA warrants[edit]

The FBI had surveilled Carter Page under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant beginning in 2013 or 2014, on concerns that Russian intelligence was attempting to recruit him.[43][47] Trump announced his candidacy for President in June 2015, and Page joined his campaign on March 21, 2016.[48][49] After Michael Isikoff of Yahoo! News reported on September 23, 2016, that Page was being investigated by American intelligence for his contacts with Russian agents,[50] Page immediately left the Trump campaign, while two campaign spokesmen denied he had ever been a part of it.[51][52]

During the summer of 2016, the FBI applied for a warrant to conduct surveillance on four members of the Trump campaign, but this application was rejected by the FISA court as too broad.[53]

On October 21, 2016, the FBI filed a new FISA warrant application for Page alone, expressing the FBI's belief that the Russian government was collaborating with Page and possibly others associated with the Trump campaign,[54] and that Page had been the subject of targeted recruitment by Russian intelligence agencies.[55] The rationale advanced in support of this warrant relied in part on Page's prior activities, in part on intercepts of Russian communications or confidential human intelligence sources, and in part on a "dossier" of raw intelligence findings gathered by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele.[42] The Steele dossier alleged that Page had originated the idea of leaking the DNC emails,[56] and that he was negotiating a share of Rosneft in exchange for Trump lifting sanctions against Russia if elected.[57] The application disclosed that the dossier had been compiled by someone "likely looking for information that could be used to discredit" the Trump campaign, but did not disclose that it was indirectly funded as opposition research by the DNC and the Clinton campaign.[58] Steele had previously worked with the FBI and was considered trustworthy.[42]

The request was signed by Comey and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, and Judge Rosemary M. Collyer issued the warrant, concluding there was probable cause to believe Page was a foreign agent knowingly engaging in clandestine intelligence for the Russian government.[59] The warrant on Page was renewed three times, each for an additional 90 days.[42][55][59] The extensions were issued by three different District Court judges: Michael W. Mosman, Anne C. Conway and Raymond J. Dearie. The first two extensions were signed by Comey, and the last one by his deputy Andrew McCabe after Comey was fired. In addition, Acting Attorney General Dana Boente signed the first extension, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein signed the last two.[42][55]

Confidential human sources and informants[edit]

Shortly after the opening of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation on July 31, 2016, the FBI used confidential human sources (CHS) to conduct meetings with individuals affiliated with the Trump campaign.[60][61] During the 2016 Trump Campaign, the FBI used four CHSs and "a few" undercover agents as part of Crossfire Hurricane, and this "resulted in interactions with Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, and a high-level Trump campaign official who was not a subject of the investigation".[1][39]

Stefan Halper, FBI's "Source 2"[edit]

The New York Times reported that agents involved in the Russia investigation asked Stefan Halper to approach Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, and it was unclear whether he had been asked to contact Sam Clovis, who was vice-chairman of the Trump campaign.[62] Halper was a retired Cambridge professor at the time, and had long been an informant connected to the intelligence world.[63][64][65] The IG report never uses Halper's name, but refers to a "Source 2", whom The Telegraph identified as Halper.[1][66]

The IG report says "the Crossfire Hurricane team conducted three CHS operations prior to the team's initial receipt of Steele's reporting on September 19, 2016", and describes how FBI CHS "Source 2" contacted three individuals "who were still with the Trump campaign."[1] Halper spoke separately to Page, Clovis, and Papadopoulos,[65][67] and the three men have acknowledged that they agreed to meet with him.[66] Halper's activities were reported by Andrew C. McCarthy in a May 12, 2018, National Review article, and Donald Trump referred to this report in a tweet accusing the Obama administration of planting a "spy" in his campaign, thus launching the Spygate conspiracy theory.[68][failed verification]

First FBI operation - Page[edit]

The first FBI CHS operation[1] was at least four meetings between Halper and Carter Page.[66] Page said he "had extensive discussions" with Halper on "a bunch of different foreign-policy-related topics".[65][67] The Washington Post reported Page told The Daily Caller his last contact with Halper was in September 2017, which was the month the last FISA warrant on Page expired.[65]

Page and Halper also met at a London symposium on July 11–12, 2016, before the meetings mentioned above. An anonymous former federal law enforcement official told The New York Times that this earlier contact was coincidental.[69]

Second FBI operation - Clovis[edit]

The second FBI CHS operation took place between "Source 2" and "a high-level official in the Trump campaign who was not a subject of the investigation" on September 1, 2016.[1] The IG report never names that "high-level official", but Sam Clovis stated in a radio interview that he met a professor at a DoubleTree hotel in Arlington, Virginia on September 1, 2016, and that the professor had already met Carter Page and later met Papadopoulos.[70][71]

The New York Times reported Page had urged Halper to meet with Sam Clovis, and, according to an anonymous source for the Times, the FBI was aware of the meeting but had not instructed Halper to ask Clovis about issues related to the Russia investigation.[63] Clovis said that he and Halper discussed China, not Russia, during their sole meeting.[65] Clovis also said that while Halper only indicated that he was offering his assistance to the Trump campaign, Clovis was concerned that Halper was creating an audit trail to justify continued surveillance of the campaign.[72] The Washington Post reported that Halper requested a second meeting, but it never happened.[65]

Third FBI operation - Papadopoulos[edit]

The IG report describes two meetings between "Source 2" and Papadopoulos on September 15, 2016: a brunch meeting and a pre-dinner meeting.[1] The Washington Post reports that Halper met Papadopoulos in London on September 15, 2016, after Halper invited Papadopoulos on September 2, 2016 to come to London and to write a paper on Mediterranean oil fields.[65]

The New York Times reports that Halper was not alone in London; the FBI had sent a female investigator using the pseudonym Azra Turk to meet with Papadopoulos while posing as Halper's assistant.[63] The Times states that Turk's assignment suggests that the FBI wanted a trained investigator to provide a "layer of oversight".[73] The Times further suggests that Turk may have been assigned to serve as a witness in the event the investigation was ultimately prosecuted and the government needed the credible testimony of such an individual without exposing Halper as a longtime confidential informant.[74] Papadopoulos said that Halper arranged for him to go out for drinks with Turk, who he said was a "Turkish National."[75] The New York Times said that Halper accompanied Turk "in one of her meetings" with Papadopoulos.[76]

The IG report says that, according to Crossfire Hurricane case agents, the September 15 meetings that it describes involved an attempt to recreate the conditions of an earlier meeting between Papadopoulos and an FFG (Friendly Foreign Government) official in which they said Papadopoulos had made comments about Russian assistance to the Trump Campaign.[77] In May 2016,[15][78] Australian FFG officials Alexander Downer[79] and Erika Thompson[80][81] had met Papadopoulos at a London bar, where Papadopoulos told them that the Russians were in possession of hacked Democratic Party emails containing derogatory information about Hillary Clinton.[82] Two months later, Australian reports to the FBI about this meeting triggered the opening of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.[15]

During these meetings, Halper asked if Papadopoulos knew of any Russian efforts to interfere in the election; Papadopoulos said he did not.[65] The Crossfire Hurricane team assessed that his denials seemed to be a "rehearsed response", and they "discounted Papadopoulos' denials for a number of reasons".[83]

Stuart Evans, then head of the office of intelligence at DOJ, later said the denial was material to the FISA court case.[1] The denials, and FBI team's assessment of the denials, "should have been shared with Justice Department's office of intelligence (OI) 'in order for [OI] to make the determination whether [those denials] should be in the application'" to the FISA court.[83]

FBI "Source 3"[edit]

Another FBI CHS named "Source 3", "an individual with a connection to Papadopoulos", was used to interact with Papadopoulos "multiple times between October 2016 and June 2017".[1] In a meeting with Source 3 in late October 2016, Papadopoulos denied that Russia was "playing a big game" in the American presidential election. When he was next asked whether Russia had "special interests", Papadopoulos declared: "that's all bullshit". He added that he knew "for a fact" that the Trump campaign was not involved in the DNC hack, adding that such involvement would have been illegal. When asked if Russia had "interest in Trump", Papadopoulos replied: "no one knows how a president's going to govern anyway". The FBI failed to include these statements in their subsequent FISA warrant applications. In his report, Horowitz included this failure as among the seventeen "inaccuracies or omissions" in the FBI's handling of the FISA warrant application.[12][83]

Christopher Steele[edit]

Christopher Steele served as a paid CHS for the FBI prior to his work related to the election, receiving $95,000 for this work, which an FBI handling agent found "to be valuable and that it warranted compensation". Steele received no compensation from the FBI for the later work he did related to the election.[84] The IG report found that Steele and the FBI had differing views about his role related to Crossfire Hurricane. The FBI initially considered him a CHS, a role in which he was told not to discuss what he found with the media. But Steele was also working for Fusion GPS, a private firm that directed him to share his findings with the media. Steele's contact with the media alarmed the leadership at the FBI, which led them to formally end the FBI's relationship with him in November 2016. However, the FBI continued to receive information from Steele indirectly via senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr through May 2017.[85][86][1]

In early August 2016, he made a trip to Rome,[87] where he briefed four American FBI officials about some of his research, including the first memo from his dossier.[88][89] During its intense questioning of Steele, the FBI "alluded to some of their own findings of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign"[88] and asked Steele about Papadopoulos, but he said he knew nothing about him.[90]

The agents also "raised the prospect of paying Steele to continue gathering intelligence after Election Day",[88] but Steele "ultimately never received payment from the FBI for any 'dossier'-related information".[30] The subsequent public release of the dossier interrupted discussions between Steele and the FBI.[91] The IG report later confirmed the FBI had initially offered to pay Steele $15,000 for his trip to Rome, but the payment was halted in November 2016 when the FBI formally closed Steele as a CHS because they learned that Steele had shared his research with Mother Jones magazine.[1]

Other sources not used[edit]

The Inspector General's report[1] determined the FBI had "several other" confidential sources "with either a connection to candidate Trump or a role in the Trump campaign",[39][92][93] but that the FBI did not task these sources as a part of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.[39][94] One of these FBI sources "held a position in the Trump campaign", but this source did not inform the FBI about their role until they had left the campaign, according to the Inspector General.[39][93]

The Inspector General wrote his review "found no evidence that the FBI attempted to place any" FBI source in the Trump campaign.[95][96] The review also "found no evidence" the FBI had tried to "recruit members of the Trump campaign" to serve as their sources.[96] Finally, the review did not produce evidence "political bias or improper motivations influenced" the FBI's usage of confidential sources or undercover agents for interactions with members of Trump's campaign.[95]

It also emerged that, according to one agent, one of these FBI CHSs was a Trump supporter, as were the FBI employees who cultivated this source. These FBI employees exchanged text messages supporting Trump in the 2016 election.[96][97]

Transition to Trump administration[edit]

On January 5, 2017, FBI Director James Comey, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan, and NSA Director Mike Rogers briefed President Obama about an intelligence report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, which Obama had ordered in December.[98][99] The discussion touched on the Steele Dossier and the relationship between incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.[98] Following that briefing, President Obama met with Comey, Vice President Joseph Biden, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. Rice documented the meeting two weeks later, on January 20, in an email she sent just before leaving the White House for the last time.[98] According to Rice's email, during the meeting, President Obama stressed that the continuing investigation should be handled "by the book" and that he was not "asking about, initiating, or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective". The email also stated that Obama directed them to be "mindful to ascertain if there is any reason that we cannot share information fully as it relates to Russia" with members of the incoming administration.[100]

On January 6, Comey, Clapper, Brennan, and Rogers briefed President-elect Trump on the intelligence report.[101] Before the briefing, it was planned that Comey would separately brief Trump on the most salacious aspects of the Steele dossier "in the most discreet and least embarrassing way".[102] As Comey later described it: "At the conclusion of that briefing, I remained alone with the president-elect to brief him on some personally sensitive aspects of the information assembled during the assessment."[103] Comey also assured Trump he was not personally under investigation. He later testified that the FBI leadership had discussed the assurance in advance, and that one member of the team—later revealed to be FBI General Counsel James Baker—had raised concerns about it.[104] Specifically, according to Comey's testimony, Baker felt that although "it was technically true [that] we did not have a counterintelligence file case open on then-President-elect Trump" nevertheless because of the scope of the investigation, Trump's "behavior, his conduct will fall within the scope of that work."[105] Later, in August 2019, the Office of Inspector General released a report quoting witnesses who said Comey, along with the senior leadership at the FBI, "discussed Trump's potential responses to being told about the 'salacious' information, including that Trump might make statements about, or provide information of value to, the pending Russian interference investigation."[102]

Report of Investigation of Former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey's Disclosure of Sensitive Investigative Information and Handling of Certain Memoranda.pdf

Takeover by special counsel[edit]

On May 8, 2017, Trump dismissed Comey from his tenure as FBI Director.[106][107] More than 130 Democratic lawmakers of the United States Congress called for a special counsel to be appointed in reaction to Comey's firing.[108]

On May 17, 2017, Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel under the applicable Department of Justice regulation, and the Special Counsel investigation (also known as the Mueller probe) took over the Crossfire Hurricane efforts, which were still ongoing at the time.[17][45][107][109] Rosenstein's authority to appoint Mueller arose due to Attorney General Jeff Sessions's March 2017 recusal of himself from investigations into the Trump campaign.[107][109][110]

In June 2017, Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who had led the Crossfire Hurricane investigation up to this point, became a member of Mueller's team.[111] In August 2017, Strzok was removed from the team and reassigned to the FBI's Human Resources department following the Inspector General's discovery of text messages from Strzok expressing a low opinion of Trump and stating his preference that Clinton should win the election by an overwhelming majority.[112][113][114]

Criminal charges[edit]

George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty on October 5, 2017, to making false statements.[115] On January 27, 2017, Papadopoulos had lied to FBI investigators regarding his contacts with Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor with connections to Russian government officials.[116] The special counsel's office was unable to fully investigate Papadopoulos's activities with Sergei Millian, a Belarusian native turned American citizen, because Millian did not cooperate with investigators. Millian previously said he had "insider knowledge and direct access to the top hierarchy in Russian politics".[117]

Flynn pleaded guilty on December 1, 2017, to making false statements. On January 24, 2017, Flynn had lied to FBI investigators regarding his contacts with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador to the United States.[118]

Manafort pleaded guilty on September 14, 2018, to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice for witness tampering, and one count of participating in a conspiracy against the United States. NBC News wrote that Manafort's conspiracy charge was related to "money laundering, tax fraud, failing to file Foreign Bank Account Reports, violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and lying and misrepresenting to the Department of Justice".[119]

Stone was arrested on January 25, 2019, and charged on seven counts, including witness tampering and lying to investigators.[120]

Page was not charged with a crime by the special counsel investigation. Its report said: "The investigation did not establish that Page coordinated with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election".[121] However, with incomplete "evidence or testimony about who Page may have met or communicated with in Moscow [...] Page's activities in Russia—as described in his emails with the [Trump campaign]—were not fully explained."[117]

Conclusions[edit]

On March 22, 2019, the Special Counsel investigation was concluded, and the Mueller Report was submitted that day.[122]

The Mueller Report concluded that Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election did occur "in sweeping and systematic fashion" and "violated U.S. criminal law".[123][124] The first method detailed was "a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton",[125] which also sought to "provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States".[126] The second method of Russian interference saw the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU, hacking into email accounts owned by people associated with the Clinton presidential campaign or Democratic Party organisations, followed by the publication of damaging hacked material.[127][128][129]

To establish whether a crime was committed by members of the Trump campaign with regard to Russian interference, the special counsel's investigators used conspiracy law, and not the concept of "collusion".[130][131] They used the concept of "coordination": "an agreement—tacit or express—between the Trump campaign and the Russian government on election interference".[132]

The Mueller Report found that the investigation "identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign", that Russia "perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency" and that the 2016 Trump presidential campaign "expected it would benefit electorally" from Russian hacking efforts. Ultimately, "the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities".[133][134]

However, investigators had an incomplete picture of what had really occurred during the 2016 campaign, due to some associates of Trump campaign providing either false, incomplete or declined testimony, as well as having deleted, unsaved or encrypted communications. As such, the Mueller Report "cannot rule out the possibility" that information then unavailable to investigators would have presented different findings.[135][136]

Barr/Durham counter-investigation[edit]

As of May 2019, Attorney General William Barr is conducting an investigation into the origins of the FBI probe, whether surveillance was adequately predicated, potential overreach by FBI or Department of Justice (DOJ) leadership, and whether the Steele dossier was part of a Russian disinformation campaign.[137][138] Barr assigned John Durham, the United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, to lead the investigation.[139]

Upon the December 2019 release of the Justice Department Inspector General's findings that the investigation was properly opened on a factual and legal basis, Barr and Durham publicly stated their belief the evidence justified opening only a preliminary rather than a full investigation and indicated they would continue to investigate.[3]

2019 Justice Department Inspector General report[edit]

Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI's Crossfire Hurricane Investigation.pdf

In March 2018, the Justice Department's Inspector General, Michael E. Horowitz, announced that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) had opened a review of the origins of the FBI's Russia investigation, the informants used, and the process followed to authorize surveillance of Carter Page,[62][140] a foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign.[141]

On December 9, 2019, Horowitz released his report on the findings of the DOJ OIG investigation. The OIG found no indication that the investigation of Trump and Russia was motivated by political bias, but did make 17 "basic and fundamental" errors and omissions in its warrant applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to surveil Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign.[141][4][142][143][144] The report found that the FBI's investigation had a factual basis and was initiated for an authorized purpose,[143] stating: "We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced" the agency's decision to open the investigation.[145] The report did, however, criticize the FBI for mistakes related to the FBI's application to the FISA Court for a warrant to wiretap Carter Page, and found that in one application to renew the FISA warrant, an FBI lawyer had altered an email from a CIA liaison to make it appear Page had not been a source for the CIA,[143] although Page had in fact "been approved as an operational contact for the [CIA] from 2008 to 2013".[145][1] The report did not speculate on whether the warrant application would have been rejected had "any particular misstatement or omission, or some combination thereof" been corrected.[143] During Senate testimony after the report's release, Horowitz attributed the warrant problems to "gross incompetence and negligence" rather than intentional malfeasance or political bias,[3] and stated: "The activities we found don't vindicate anyone who touched this. The actions of FBI agents were not up to the standards of the FBI."[146] As a result of the findings, Horowitz announced a broader review of the FBI's FISA warrant application process, to study whether problems with the process are systemic.[143]

The report debunked claims, promoted by Trump and his allies, that the Steele dossier had prompted the Russia investigation, and reiterated that the FBI investigation had in fact started in late July 2016, based on a tip from Australian officials regarding Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.[2] The report also refuted Trump's assertions that Peter Strzok and Lisa Page had initiated the investigation; that decision was made by William Priestap, the assistant FBI director for the Counterintelligence Division.[147] The report criticized the FBI, however, for relying on information from the Steele dossier even though one of Steele's sources told the agency that his statements had been mischaracterized or exaggerated.[4][2] The OIG investigation found no support for Trump's claims that President Obama had ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower.[2] The OIG also found no support for Trump's claims that the FBI had implanted a "spy" within his 2016 campaign,[2] finding "no documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivations influenced the FBI's decision" to use informants (known within the FBI as "confidential human sources" or "undercover employees") "to interact with Trump campaign officials in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation".[147]

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said he accepted the OIG's findings and had "ordered more than 40 corrective steps to address the Report's recommendations", and added it was "important that the inspector general found that, in this particular instance, the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization".[143] Trump responded by attacking Wray by name on Twitter.[148] Attorney General William Barr rejected the OIG's key conclusion and continued to assert that the FBI's investigation into Trump was unjustified.[149][150] James Comey, the director of the FBI who oversaw the Trump-Russia investigation and was fired in May 2017 by Trump, acknowledged the "significant mistakes" identified by the inspector general, but staunchly defended the FBI and criticized Trump's attacks on investigators.[141] In an op-ed published in the Washington Post, Comey wrote: "the truth is finally out, ... and those who smeared the FBI are due for an accounting" and called upon Attorney General Barr to "acknowledge the facts" and "stop acting like a Trump spokesperson."[151][152]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Campbell, Josh (September 17, 2019). Crossfire Hurricane: Inside Donald Trump's War on the FBI. Algonquin Books. ISBN 978-1616209506.
  • Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI's Crossfire Hurricane Investigation (redacted for public release) (PDF). Office of the Inspector General, United States Department of Justice. December 2019.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Office of the Inspector General U.S. Department of Justice (December 9, 2019). "Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI's Crossfire Hurricane Investigation" (PDF). justice.gov. Retrieved December 9, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Caitlin Oprysko, Here are the Russia probe conspiracy theories debunked by the DOJ inspector general report, Politico (December 9, 2019).
  3. ^ a b c d Savage, Charlie; Goldman, Adam (December 11, 2019). "Withering Criticism of F.B.I. as Watchdog Presents Russia Inquiry Findings". New York Times.
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  10. ^ https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/23/politics/fisa-carter-page-warrants/index.html
  11. ^ https://www.wsj.com/articles/justice-department-believes-it-lacked-legal-basis-for-continued-surveillance-of-trump-adviser-11579810061
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  13. ^ Mueller, Robert S. (2019-04-19). The Mueller Report: The Final Report of the Special Counsel into Donald Trump, Russia, and Collusion. Simon and Schuster. p. 82. ISBN 9781510750173. On March 3, 2016, Clovis arranged to speak with Papadopoulos by phone to discuss Papadopoulos joining the Campaign as a foreign policy advisor, and on March 6, 2016, the two spoke. Papadopoulos recalled that Russia was mentioned as a topic, and he understood from the conversation that Russia would be an important aspect of the Campaign's foreign policy. At the end of the conversation, Clovis offered Papadopoulos a role as a foreign policy advisor to the Campaign, and Papadopoulos accepted the offer.
  14. ^ a b Savage, Charlie (2017-10-30). "Highlights of the Special Counsel's Case Against George Papadopoulos". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-08-06. Approximately a week after signing on as a foreign policy advisor, Papadopoulos traveled to Rome , Italy, as part of his duties with LCILP. The purpose of the trip was to meet officials affiliated with Link Campus University, a for-profit institution headed by a former Italian government official. During the visit, Papadopoulos was introduced to Joseph Mifsud.
  15. ^ a b c d e LaFraniere, Sharon; Mazzetti, Mark; Apuzzo, Matt (December 30, 2017). "How the Russia Inquiry Began: A Campaign Aide, Drinks and Talk of Political Dirt". The New York Times. Retrieved April 25, 2020.
  16. ^ Stripling, Jack (April 18, 2019). "What the Mueller Report Reveals About the Globe-Trotting Professor Who Spoke of 'Dirt' on Clinton". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved April 20, 2019.
  17. ^ a b "Former Donald Trump aide George Papadopoulos, who was outed by Alexander Downer asks for prison delay". news.com.au. Retrieved March 27, 2019. This information has been described as the starting point that led to an FBI investigation and then the Mueller probe into Russia's efforts to interfere with the 2016 election.
  18. ^ Multiple sources:
    1. Zappone, Chris. "George Papadopoulos spreading disinformation to Australia". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved March 27, 2019. After Papadopoulos told Downer in 2016 that Russia possessed damaging material about then-US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Downer told US authorities, helping prompt the investigation led by Robert Mueller.
    2. "Ex-Trump adviser takes aim at Alexander Downer after Mueller report". The Guardian. Retrieved March 27, 2019. George Papadopoulos, who famously met Alexander Downer at a London bar in what some have said was a trigger for the Robert Mueller investigation into Trump-Russian collusion
    3. "Robert Mueller's report on Trump-Russia probe may name Australians". SBS World News. Retrieved March 27, 2019. The drinks—Downer and Papadopoulos say they only had one gin and tonic each—were credited with sparking the FBI investigation that eventually led to Mueller's appointment.
    4. "Alexander Downer interviewed by FBI over Russian interference in US election, report says". ABC News. Retrieved March 27, 2019. The results, summarised and sent to Washington on August 2 last year, reportedly laid the foundations for what is now special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. The breakthrough stemmed from a night of heavy drinking Mr Downer had with former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos at the Kensington Wine Rooms in London in May 2016.
    5. Mitchell, Peter. "Downer, Papadopoulos, a few gins and the Mueller probe". The Australian Financial Review. Archived from the original on September 12, 2018. Retrieved March 27, 2019. It was a meeting between Downer and Papadopoulos at London bar the Kensington Wine Rooms in May 2016 that has been credited with sparking the FBI investigation into Russia election interference that then led to the Mueller probe.
    6. "Russia probe a hangover from Downer bar talk". The Australian. Retrieved March 27, 2019. Alexander Downer, sparked the chain of events that led to Robert Mueller's probe into alleged Russian interference
    7. "Analysis | A (so far) complete timeline of the investigation into Trump and Russia". The Washington Post. July 31, 2016 The FBI begins investigating possible links between the Russian government and Trump's campaign. The investigation is triggered when Australian authorities contact the agency—realizing that Papadopoulos's May mention of Russian dirt to Downer, the diplomat, was validated by the release of stolen data.
  19. ^ Zengerle, Patricia; Strobel, Warren; Chiacu, Doina (March 20, 2017). "Key quotes from Congress' hearing on Russia and the U.S. election". Reuters. Retrieved April 4, 2019. I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts.
  20. ^ Dilanian, Ken (June 7, 2017). "Comey to Testify He Assured Trump He Was Not Personally Under Investigation". NBC News. Retrieved May 9, 2019.
  21. ^ "Full text: James Comey testimony transcript on Trump and Russia". June 8, 2017. Retrieved May 9, 2019. SEN. JAMES RISCH: I gather from all this that you're willing to say now that, while you were director, the president of the United States was not under investigation. Is that a fair statement?
    COMEY: That's correct.
    RISCH: All right, so that's a fact that we are rely on?
    COMEY: Yes, sir.
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  26. ^ Multiple sources:
    1. "We annotated the full Nunes memo on the Russia probe". PBS. Retrieved March 27, 2019. The memo underscores the intensifying partisan debate over special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia. ... The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent Pete Strzok.
    2. Emmons, Alex; Aaronson, Trevor. "Nunes memo accidentally confirms the legitimacy of the FBI's investigation". The Intercept. Retrieved March 27, 2019. Despite rhetoric that could help to undermine Mueller's investigation, the Nunes memo specifically says that George Papadopoulos sparked the counterintelligence investigation that ultimately led to the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and the appointment of Mueller as special counsel.
    3. French, David. "The Big Flaw in the Memo". National Review. Retrieved March 27, 2019. Well, if the newly released Nunes memo is correct, House Republicans and the Trump administration just confirmed the Times' scoop ... Ironically enough, the memo in fact confirms the necessity of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
    4. Yuhas, Alex. "What is the Devin Nunes memo about and how does it affect Trump?". The Guardian. Retrieved March 27, 2019. The four-page document released on Friday is at the heart of a firestorm over Donald Trump, Russia and special counsel Robert Mueller. What's in it? ... the memo acknowledges that Papadopoulos, not Page, "triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016".
    5. Easley, Jonathan. "Memo: Papadopoulos info triggered FBI's Russia investigation". The Hill. Retrieved March 27, 2019. according to the memo released Friday by House Intelligence Committee Republicans ... Russia investigation itself—and by extension, special counsel Robert Mueller's probe—was launched from ... "information" about Papadapoulos, rather than the dossier.
    6. Levitz, Eric. "6 Quick Takeaways From the Nunes Memo". New York. Retrieved March 27, 2019. But the memo doesn't just fail to discredit the investigation into the Trump campaign—it actually confirms its validity. The core of the GOP's argument against the Mueller probe has been that it was based on unsubstantiated allegations gathered by a Clinton operative. The memo suggests this might be true of the Carter Page warrant—but not of the broader investigation.
    7. Tucker, Eric; Jalonick, Mary; Day, Chad. "Trump claims memo 'totally vindicates' him in Russia probe". Associated Press. Retrieved March 27, 2019. Even as Democrats described it as inaccurate, some Republicans quickly cited the memo—released over the objections of the FBI and Justice Department—in their arguments that Mueller's investigation is politically tainted. A closer read presents a far more nuanced picture ... the memo confirms the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign began in July 2016, months before the surveillance warrant was sought, and was "triggered" by information concerning campaign aide George Papadopoulos.
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  71. ^ Beauchamp, Zack (May 25, 2018). ""Spygate," the false allegation that the FBI had a spy in the Trump campaign, explained". Vox. Retrieved May 1, 2020. Papadopoulos denied any knowledge of Russian outreach to the Trump team, which was a lie: Papadopoulos had drunkenly bragged to an Australian diplomat about Russia offering him 'dirt' on Hillary Clinton back in May, which led to the FBI beginning its counterintelligence investigation in the first place.
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