A New York Times story apparently confirms the widely ridiculed claim by President Trump that the Obama administration’s intelligence community spied on his 2016 presidential election campaign.
The operation, codenamed “Crossfire Hurricane,” the Times reported, “obtained phone records and other documents using national security letters — a secret type of subpoena.”
The report, noted the blog Legal Insurrection, said that at least one “government informant” met several times with Trump campaign volunteers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.
The Times also said the FBI was worried that disclosure of its surveillance of the Trump campaign would “only reinforce his claims that the election was being rigged against him.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel said in a series of tweets that the Times story, which “all of us following this knew had to be coming,” was an attempt by FBI and Justice Department leakers “to get in front of the facts” that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes “is forcing out, to make it not sound so bad.”
“Don’t buy it. It’s bad,” she writes, noting the Times slipped in the information “far down” in the story to make out “like it isn’t a big deal.”
“It is a very big deal.”
Likewise, former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino said the Times story is a “timed leak” to “head off the damaging information about to come out in the IG report.”
The reference is to the long-awaited report of the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, on the FBI’s and DOJ’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to transmit classified information. The IG’s review uncovered the anti-Trump texts of Peter Strzok, an FBI official and a former member of Robert Mueller’s special counsel team, who referred to an “insurance policy” to prevent a Trump presidency.
Horowitz announced Wednesday to members of Congress that the draft report has been completed, but he did not say when the results will be officially released to the FBI, DOJ and congressional committees.
“Crossfire Hurricane” began just days after the FBI closed the Clinton investigation.
Former U.S. attorney Andrew McCarthy wrote in a National Review column that the Times’ “buried lede” makes “explicit, with studious understatement” that the Obama administration “used its counterintelligence powers to investigate the opposition party’s presidential campaign.”
“That is, there was no criminal predicate to justify an investigation of any Trump-campaign official,” McCarthy said. “So, the FBI did not open a criminal investigation. Instead, the bureau opened a counterintelligence investigation and hoped that evidence of crimes committed by Trump officials would emerge.”
He wrote it is “an abuse of power to use counterintelligence powers, including spying and electronic surveillance, to conduct what is actually a criminal investigation.”
Trump responded to the Times story and McCarthy’s assessment in a tweet Thursday: “Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI “SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.’ Andrew McCarthy says, ‘There’s probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.’ If so, this is bigger than Watergate!”
Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI “SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.” Andrew McCarthy says, “There’s probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.” If so, this is bigger than Watergate!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018
In May 2017, Trump accused President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower shortly before the 2016 election. White House press secretary Sean Spicer later clarified that Trump “used the word ‘wiretap’ in quotes to mean broadly surveillance and other activities.”
“There is no question that the Obama administration, that there were actions about surveillance and other activities that occurred in the 2016 elections,” Spicer said.
In an interview with MSNBC about the Times article, John Brennan, who was Obama’s CIA director when the FBI counter-intelligence probe began, said he knew in the early days of August 2017 that an investigation was under way.
Brennan said that he, along with FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “wanted to make sure that we handled this matter appropriately, but also delicately, because we were in the midst of a presidential campaign, and it involved a very sensitive and ongoing counter-intelligence investigation that involved, potentially, U.S. persons.”
He said it was important not to “widen the circle of knowledge” of the investigation “beyond what was absolutely necessary.”
Times confirms ‘dossier’ prompted probe?
Strassel commented that the DOJ and its leakers “have shredded what little credibility they have” in claiming they cannot comply with congressional subpoenas.
“They are willing to provide details to friendly media, but not Congress? Willing to risk the very source they claim to need to protect?”
In December, she pointed out, the New York Times insisted it was the May 2016 meeting of Papadopoulos with Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in London that prompted the FBI to launch an official counter-intelligence investigation on July 31, 2016, diminishing the role of the anti-Trump “dossier” funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
But now, Strassel noted, the Times is reporting the FBI didn’t debrief Downer until Aug. 2, three days after the operation began.
The House Intelligence Committee investigation led by Nunes found that no “official intelligence” from allies was delivered to the FBI about the Papadopoulos-Downer meeting prior to July 31.
The intel committee’s majority Republicans disclosed in their February report that then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe testified to the panel that the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court would not have approved surveillance warrants to wiretap former Trump policy adviser Carter Page if not for the dossier. The committees probe also concluded senior DOJ and FBI officials knew about the political origins of the Steele dossier but didn’t state that fact in the FISA applications.
So how, Strassel asked, did the FBI obtain the Downer information, and what prompted the counter-intelligence investigation?
Strassel noted that the main source in the Times article for the contention that the FBI operated judiciously in 2016 is Sally Yates, who “was in middle of it all” as Obama’s deputy attorney general.
“A bit like asking Putin to reassure that Russia didn’t meddle in our election,” Strassel wrote.