Source – theepochtimes.com
– “…Efforts by high-ranking officials in the CIA, FBI, Department of Justice (DOJ), and State Department to portray President Donald Trump as having colluded with Russia were the culmination of years of bias and politicization under the Obama administration”
Spygate: The Inside Story Behind the Alleged Plot to Take Down Trump (Part 2) – By Jeff Carlson
Obama Officials Used Unmasking to Target the Trump Campaign
On Tuesday, March 21, 2017, the chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), met a classified source who showed him “dozens” of intelligence reports. Contained within these reports was evidence of surveillance on the Trump campaign. Nunes held a press conference on March 22 highlighting what he had found:
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
“I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition. Details about persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting.”
In a series of rapid-fire questions and answers, Nunes attempted to elaborate on what he had been shown:
“From what I know right now, it looks like incidental collection. We don’t know exactly how that was picked up but we’re trying to get to the bottom of it…I think the NSA’s going to comply. I am concerned – we don’t know whether or not the FBI is going to comply. I have placed a call, I’m waiting to talk to Director Comey, hopefully later today.
“I have seen intelligence reports that clearly show the President-elect and his team were at least monitored and disseminated out in intelligence, in what appears to be raw—well I shouldn’t say raw—but intelligence reporting channels.
“It looks to me like it was all legally collected, but it was essentially a lot of information on the President-elect and his transition team and what they were doing.”
The documents Nunes had been shown highlighted the unmasking activities of the FBI, the Obama administration, and CIA Director Brennan in relation to the Trump campaign. Although March 2017 would prove chaotic, the Trump administration had survived the first crucial months, and would now begin to slowly assert its administrative authority.
Comey Testifies No Obstruction by Trump Administration
On May 3, 2017, James Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Under oath, Comey stated that his agency—and the FBI’s investigation—had not been pressured by the Trump administration:
Sen. Hirono: “So if the attorney general or senior officials at the Department of Justice opposes a specific investigation, can they halt that FBI investigation?”
Mr. Comey: “In theory, yes.”
Sen. Hirono: “Has it happened?”
Mr. Comey: “Not in my experience. Because it would be a big deal to tell the FBI to stop doing something that – without an appropriate purpose. I mean where oftentimes they give us opinions that we don’t see a case there and so you ought to stop investing resources in it. But I’m talking about a situation where we were told to stop something for a political reason. That would be a very big deal. It’s not happened in my experience.”
Less than a week later, on May 9, Trump fired Comey based on a May 8 recommendation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Rosenstein would later tell members of Congress: “In one of my first meetings with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions last winter, we discussed the need for new leadership at the FBI. Among the concerns that I recall were to restore the credibility of the FBI, respect the established authority of the Department of Justice, limit public statements and eliminate leaks.”
Regarding the recommendation, Rosenstein said: “I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it.”
McCabe’s FBI Reaches Out Again to Steele
Within days of Trump’s firing of Comey, the FBI, now under the leadership of acting-FBI Director Andrew McCabe, suddenly decided to reestablish direct contact with Christopher Steele through DOJ official Bruce Ohr.
The re-engagement attempt came six months after Steele had been formally terminated by the FBI on Nov. 1, 2016.
The FBI’s re-engagement of Ohr was highlighted during a congressional review of some text messages between Ohr and Steele:
Mr. Ohr: “The FBI had asked me a few days before, when I reported to them my latest conversation with Chris Steele, they had had would he—next time you talk with him, could you ask him if he would be willing to meet again.”
Rep. Jordan: “So this is the re-engagement?”
Mr. Ohr: “Yes.”
The texts being referenced were sent on May 15, 2017, and refer to a request that Ohr received from the FBI to ask Steele to re-engage with the FBI in the days after Comey had been fired on May 9.
This was the only time the FBI used Ohr to reach out to Steele
The Battle Between McCabe and Rosenstein
Two days after Comey was fired, on May 11, 2017, McCabe testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. While the hearing’s original intent had been to focus on national security threats, Trump’s firing of Comey completely altered the topic of the hearing.
McCabe, who agreed that he would notify the committee “of any effort to interfere with the FBI’s ongoing investigation into links between Russia and the Trump campaign,” told members of Congress that there had been “no effort to impede our investigation to date.” In other words, McCabe testified that he was unaware of any evidence of obstruction from Trump or his administration. Notably, Comey’s May 3 testimony may have left McCabe with little choice other than to confirm there had been no obstruction.
McCabe, however, failed to inform the committee that he was actively considering opening an obstruction-of-justice probe of Trump—a path he would initiate in a meeting with Rosenstein just five days later.
On the morning of May 16, 2017, Rosenstein allegedly suggested to McCabe that he could secretly record Trump. It was at this meeting that McCabe was “pushing for the Justice Department to open an investigation into the president,” according to witness accounts reported by The Washington Post.
In addition to McCabe, Rosenstein, and McCabe’s special counsel, Lisa Page, there were one or two others present, including Rosenstein’s chief of staff, James Crowley, and possibly Scott Schools, the senior-most career attorney at the DOJ and a top aide to Rosenstein.
An unnamed participant at the meeting, in comments to The Washington Post, framed the conversation between McCabe and Rosenstein in an entirely different light, noting that Rosenstein had responded with angry sarcasm to McCabe, saying, “What do you want to do, Andy, wire the president?”
This was just five days after McCabe had publicly testified that there was no obstruction on the part of the Trump administration.
Sometime later that same day, both Rosenstein and Trump met with former FBI Director Robert Mueller in the Oval Office. The meeting was reported as being for the FBI director position, but the idea that Mueller would be considered for the FBI director role seems highly unlikely.
Mueller had previously served as the FBI director from 2001 to 2013—two years beyond the normal 10-year tenure for an FBI director. In 2011, Obama requested that Mueller stay on as FBI director for an additional two years, which required special congressional approval.
Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel the following day, on May 17, 2017, and in doing so, Rosenstein removed control of the Trump–Russia investigation from McCabe and put it in the hands of Mueller.
This was confirmed in a recent statement by a DOJ spokesperson, who said, “The deputy attorney general in fact appointed special counsel Robert Mueller, and directed that Mr. McCabe be removed from any participation in that investigation.”
Following the appointment of Mueller as special counsel, it also appears the FBI’s efforts to re-engage with Steele abruptly ended.
‘There’s No Big There There’
We know the FBI hadn’t found any evidence of collusion in the May 2017 timeframe. While McCabe was attempting to open an obstruction investigation, Peter Strzok—who played a key role in the counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign—texted Lisa Page about lacking evidence of collusion:
“You and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely, I’d be there, no question. I hesitate, in part, because of my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.”
Page, who was asked about this text during her July 2018 testimony, said, “So I think this represents that even as far as May of 2017, we still couldn’t answer the question.”
James Baker, who was questioned about the Strzok text, was then asked if he’d seen any evidence to the contrary. He stumbled a bit in his reply:
Rep. Meadows: “Do you have any evidence to the contrary that you observed personally in your official capacity?”
Mr. Baker: “So the difficulty I’m having with your question is, what does ‘collusion’ mean, and what does ‘prove’ mean? And so I don’t know how to respond to that.”
FBI Leadership Speculates on New Trump–Russia Collusion Narrative
In his testimony, Baker disclosed the actual substance of discussions taking place at the upper echelons of the FBI immediately following Comey’s firing—that Vladimir Putin had ordered Trump to fire Comey:
Mr. Baker: “We discussed, so to the best of my recollection, with the same people I described earlier: Mr. McCabe, possibly Mr. Gattis [Carl Ghattas, executive assistant director of the National Security Branch], Mr. Priestap, possibly Lisa Page, possibly Pete Strzok. I don’t remember that specifically.”
Rep. Ratcliffe: “So there was—there was a discussion between those folks, possibly all of the folks that you’ve identified, about whether or not President Trump had been ordered to fire Jim Comey by the Russian Government?”
Mr. Baker: “I wouldn’t say ordered. I guess I would say the words I sort of used earlier, acting at the behest of and somehow following directions, somehow executing their will, whether—and so literally an order or not, I don’t know. But—”
Rep. Ratcliffe: “And so—”
Mr. Baker: “As a—it was discussed as a theoretical possibility.”
Rep. Ratcliffe: “When was it discussed?”
Mr. Baker: “After the firing, like in the aftermath of the firing.”
The FBI, with no actual evidence of collusion after 10 months of investigating, began discussing a complete hypothetical at the highest levels of leadership as a means to possibly open an obstruction-of-justice investigation of the president of the United States.
During his testimony, Baker told lawmakers: “I had a jaundiced eye about everything, yes. I had skepticism about all this stuff. I was concerned about all of this. This whole situation was horrible, and it was novel and we were trying to figure out what to do, and it was highly unusual.”
McCabe was later fired for lying to the DOJ inspector general and is currently the subject of a criminal grand jury investigation.
Despite the ongoing assault from the intelligence community and holdovers from the Obama administration, Trump was not entirely without allies.
Dana Boente, one of the nation’s highest-profile federal prosecutors, served in a series of critical shifting roles within the Trump administration. Boente, who remained the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia until early 2018, concurrently became the acting attorney general following the firing of Sally Yates. Boente, who was specifically appointed by Trump, was not directly in the line of succession that had been previously laid out under an unusual executive order from the Obama administration.
Upon the confirmation of Sessions as attorney general, Boente next served as acting deputy attorney general until the confirmation of Rod Rosenstein as deputy attorney general on April 25, 2017. Boente then became the acting head of the DOJ’s National Security Division on April 28, 2017, following the sudden resignation of Mary McCord.
Boente was appointed as FBI general counsel on Jan. 23, 2018, replacing Baker, who was demoted and reassigned. Baker is currently the subject of a criminal leak investigation. Boente remains in his position as FBI general counsel.
On March 31, 2017, the Trump administration asked for the resignations all 46 holdover U.S. attorneys from the Obama administration. Trump refused to accept the resignations of just three of them—Boente, Rosenstein, and John Huber.
As Sessions noted in a March 29, 2018, letter to congressional chairmen Chuck Grassley, Bob Goodlatte, and Trey Gowdy, Huber was assigned by Sessions to lead a prosecution team and is currently working with DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz:
“I already have directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate certain issues previously raised by the Committee. … Specifically, I asked United States Attorney John W. Huber to lead this effort.”
John Carlin’s Race With Admiral Rogers
The Carter Page FISA application has been the subject of significant media attention, but there’s another element to the story that, although largely ignored, is equally important. It involved what amounted to a surreptitious race between then-NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers and DOJ National Security Division (NSD) head John Carlin.
Following a March 9, 2016, discovery that outside contractors for the FBI had been accessing raw FISA data since at least 2015, Rogers directed the NSA’s Office of Compliance to conduct a “fundamental baseline review of compliance associated with 702” at some point in early April 2016 (Senate testimony & pages 83–84 of court ruling).
On April 18, 2016, Rogers moved aggressively in response to the disclosures. He abruptly shut down all FBI outside-contractor access. At this point, both the FBI and the DOJ’s NSD became aware of Rogers’s compliance review. They may have known earlier, but they were certainly aware after outside-contractor access was halted.
The DOJ’s NSD maintains oversight of the intelligence agencies’ use of Section 702 authority. The NSD and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) jointly conduct reviews of the intelligence agencies’ Section 702 activities every 60 days. The NSD—with notice to the ODNI—is required to report any incidents of agency noncompliance or misconduct to the FISA court.
Instead of issuing individual court orders, the attorney general and the director of national intelligence (DNI) are required by Section 702 to provide the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) with annual certifications that specify categories of foreign intelligence information the government is authorized to acquire, pursuant to Section 702.
The attorney general and the DNI also must certify that Intelligence Community agencies will follow targeting procedures and minimization procedures that are approved by the FISC as part of the certification.
Carlin filed the government’s proposed 2016 Section 702 certifications on Sept. 26, 2016. Carlin knew the general status of the compliance review by Rogers. The NSD was part of the review. Carlin failed to disclose a critical Jan. 7, 2016, report by the NSA inspector general and associated FISA abuse to the FISA court in his 2016 certification. Carlin also failed to disclose Rogers’s ongoing Section 702-compliance review.
On Sept. 27, 2016, the day after he filed the annual certifications, Carlin announced his resignation, which would become effective on Oct. 15, 2016.
On Oct. 4, 2016, a standard follow-up court hearing was held (Page 19), with Carlin present. Again, he made no disclosure of FISA abuse or other related issues. This lack of disclosure would be noted by the court later in the April 2017 ruling:
“The government’s failure to disclose those IG and OCO reviews at the October 4, 2016 hearing [was ascribed] to an institutional ‘lack of candor.’”
On Oct. 15, 2016, Carlin formally left the NSD.
On Oct. 20, 2016, Rogers was briefed by the NSA compliance officer on findings from the 702 NSA compliance audit. The audit had uncovered a large number of issues, including numerous “about query” violations (Senate testimony).
Rogers shut down all “about query” activity on Oct. 21, 2016. “About queries” are particularly worrisome, since they occur when the target is neither the sender nor the recipient of the collected communication; rather, the target’s “query,” such as an email address, is being passed between two other communicants.
On the same day, the DOJ and FBI sought and received a Title I FISA warrant on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. At this point, the FISA court still was unaware of the Section 702 violations.
On Oct. 24, 2016, Rogers verbally informed the FISA court of his findings:
“On October 24, 2016, the government orally apprised the Court of significant non-compliance with the NSA’s minimization procedures involving queries of data acquired under Section 702 using U.S. person identifiers. The full scope of non-compliant querying practices had not been previously disclosed to the Court.”
Rogers appeared formally before the FISA court on Oct. 26, 2016, and presented the written findings of his audit:
“Two days later, on the day the Court otherwise would have had to complete its review of the certifications and procedures, the government made a written submission regarding those compliance problems … and the Court held a hearing to address them.
“The government reported that the NSA IG and OCO were conducting other reviews covering different time periods, with preliminary results suggesting that the problem was widespread during all periods under review.”
The FISA court was unaware of the FISA “query” violations until they were presented to the court by then-NSA Director Rogers.
Carlin didn’t disclose his knowledge of FISA abuse in the annual Section 702 certifications, apparently in order to avoid raising suspicions at the FISA court ahead of receiving the Carter Page FISA warrant.
The FBI and the NSD were literally racing against Rogers’s investigation in order to obtain a FISA warrant on Carter Page.
FISA Abuse & the FISC
Rogers presented his findings directly to the FISA court’s presiding judge, Rosemary Collyer. Collyer and Rogers would work together for the next six months, addressing the issues that Rogers had uncovered.
It was Collyer who wrote the April 26, 2017, FISA court ruling on the entire episode. It also was Collyer who signed the original FISA warrant on Carter Page on Oct. 21, 2016, before being apprised of the many issues by Rogers.
The litany of abuses described in the April 26, 2017, ruling was shocking and detailed the use of private contractors by the FBI in relation to Section 702 data. Collyer referred to it as “a very serious Fourth Amendment issue.” The FBI was specifically singled out by the court numerous times in the ruling:
“The improper access previously afforded the contractors has been discontinued. The Court is nonetheless concerned about the FBI’s apparent disregard of minimization rules and whether the FBI may be engaging in similar disclosures of raw Section 702 information that have not been reported.”
Rogers informed Collyer of the ongoing FISA abuses by the FBI and NSD just three days after she personally signed the Carter Page FISA warrant.
Virtually every FBI and NSD official with material involvement in the original Carter Page FISA application would later be removed—either through firing or resignation.