By ROBERT ROMANO
The investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections by hacking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta emails and putting them on Wikileaks, and whether the Trump campaign conspired with Moscow in that endeavor, is over.
And it turns out that what President Donald Trump said all along, that there was no collusion with Russia by his campaign, was true. He was innocent after all.
According to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report to the Attorney General, “the evidence was not sufficient to charge that any member of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with representatives of the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election.”
Not on the hacking, not on disseminating the emails, none of it. Nobody in the Trump campaign or any American had a thing to do with the interference operation.
Which, by the way, is not news at all. Nor should it be to anyone who has been paying attention to the indictments Mueller was filing and to public statements particularly by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
The appointment of Mueller as special counsel by Rosenstein on May 17, 2017 was to investigate, mainly, “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential elections” and “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” according to Rosenstein.
On July 13, 2018, when Russian intelligence officers were indicted by Mueller of hacking the DNC and Podesta emails and putting them on Wikileaks, although at times the Russians were allegedly in contact with Americans, Rosenstein had flatly noted, “There is no allegation in this indictment that the Americans knew they were corresponding with Russian intelligence officers.” Rosenstein added, “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American citizen committed a crime,” nor was there any indication the hacks had altered any votes or the outcome of the election.
Which raises the question, when did Mueller figure out there was no conspiracy by Trump, his campaign or any Americans for that matter with Russia? At least since July 2018, if not sooner. If so, why didn’t the investigation end right then and there?
Furthermore, if there was no conspiracy by Trump or any American with Russia to interfere with the election, then why was the Justice Department investigating it so publicly in the first place? What made it so sure there was a conspiracy?
This is where the Mueller report falls very short. We now know, based on the disclosure to Judicial Watch via the Freedom of Information Act that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants taken out against the Trump campaign starting in October 2016 relied on the dossier by former British spy Christopher Steele paid for by the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Steele had alleged that not only had Russia hacked the Democrats and put the emails on Wikileaks, which was already public knowledge since June 2016, but that Trump and his campaign helped with “full knowledge and support” of the operation. Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, as well as campaign advisor Carter Page when he traveled to Moscow in July 2016, were both named by Steele as the key intermediaries to the Kremlin. Steele said then-Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen had traveled to Prague in the summer of 2016 to meet with Russian agents to mop up the fallout of the supposed operation.
Now we know based on the Mueller report that it was all false. The report stated, “In particular, the Office did not find evidence likely to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Campaign officials such as Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Carter Page acted as agents of the Russian government — or at its direction, control or request — during the relevant time period.”
Manafort was brought up on unrelated tax and bank fraud charges. Cohen has his own set of problems, but being a Russian agent is not one of them. Per the Mueller report, “Cohen had never traveled to Prague…” And so, he very well could not have been there meeting with Russian intelligence officials. By the way, we knew that as early as Jan. 2017 when Buzzfeed published the dossier.
As for Page, he was never charged with anything. A footnote justifying the issuance of the FISA warrants against him stated, “On four occasions, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) issued warrants based on a finding of probable cause to believe that Page was an agent of a foreign power. 50 U.S.C. §§ 1801(b), 1805(a)(2)(A). The FISC’s probable-cause finding was based on a different (and lower) standard than the one governing the Office’s decision whether to bring charges against Page, which is whether admissible evidence would likely be sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Page acted as an agent of the Russian Federation during the period at issue. Cf United States v. Cardoza, 713 F.3d 656, 660 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (explaining that probable cause requires only ‘a fair probability,’ and not ‘certainty, or proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or proof by a preponderance of the evidence’).”
Perhaps it was a “fair probability” in Oct. 2016, but now it is a zero probability.
To the extent that Mueller references the FISA warrants and the Cohen trip to Prague that never happened, he was thus examining some of the core allegations of the Steele dossier that were used to obtain the FISA warrants. The Steele dossier is mentioned again later by Mueller, but mostly in the context of former FBI Director James Comey briefing it to then-President-elect Trump in Jan. 2017, it being published by Buzzfeed and then the President’s reactions to the allegations contained therein.
But the Mueller report makes no effort to corroborate the Steele dossier or to vindicate its sources. Steele said they were Russian, but they are not named: Source A was a “former top Russian intelligence officer”; Source B was a “senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure”; Source C was a “senior Russian financial official”; Source D was a “close associate of Trump” (golden showers source); Source E was an “ethnic Russian close associate” of Trump (golden showers source); Source F was a “female staffer of the hotel”; and source G was a “senior Kremlin official”.
If Steele was telling the truth, that these Russian government sources had passed this information along to him, who was working for the DNC and Clinton campaign, which Mueller then discovered was not true, then it should have been considered by Mueller that it was potential Russian disinformation and another effort to interfere in the election. Yet, there is not a single mention of this potential in the Mueller report, despite the fact that Steele himself had concluded it was possible in court testimony, stating “all material contained this risk” of being disinformation.
Further, Steele didn’t go to Russia himself, and was said to have relied on a network to relay information, stating that the allegations needed to be “further corroborated and verified.”
So, the possibilities appear to be that Steele’s sources were Russian disinformation intended to create chaos in the U.S., and Mueller did not bother to include that in his report about Russian interference in the elections, despite the fact that the Justice Department acted on those allegations when going in for FISA surveillance of the Trump campaign. Or, the allegations were fabrications, which were acted upon by the Justice Department, and Mueller did not bother to examine it in his report.
Either way — neither really speaks well to the Justice Department — Attorney General William Barr needs to get to the bottom of it. Who were Steele’s sources?
And then there’s Papadopoulos. He was convicted of lying to investigators after he was promised Hillary Clinton private server emails by Joseph Mifsud in 2016, supposedly by Russia. But Papadopoulos now alleges in his new book, “Deep State Target,” that the meetings he participated in were set up, not by Russian intelligence, but Western intelligence agencies to create the appearance that he was coordinating with Russia. In a Wall Street Journal oped published on April 18, Papadopoulos names Stefan Halper as an FBI informant, as well as Australian diplomat Alexander Downer and Mifsud, as all being individuals who spied on him to hurt the Trump campaign as a part of this plot.
The Mueller report identifies Papadopoulos as being the origin of the Russia collusion investigation by the FBI. Per Mueller: “On May 6, 2016, 10 days after that meeting with Mifsud, Papadopoulos suggested to a representative of a foreign government that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release of information that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton… The foreign government conveyed this information to the U.S. government on July 26, 2016, a few days after WikiLeaks’s release of Clinton-related emails. The FBI opened its investigation of potential coordination between Russia and the Trump Campaign a few days later based on the information.”
But Papadopoulos says he was encouraged to meet Mifsud in the first place. On Twitter on March 30, he wrote, “a woman in London, who was the FBI’s legal attaché in the U.K. … encouraged me to meet Joseph Mifsud in Rome in March 2016…”
So, if Papadopoulos was the genesis of this investigation because he spoke about his meeting with Mifsud to Downer, but the Mifsud meeting was a sting operation against him, then the investigation had to start before he spoke to Downer. Papadopoulos says he believes Downer was recording him. How did he know to do that? Barr needs to look into this.
In the process, the Attorney General can determine if the investigation began much earlier than that. U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), ranking member on the U.S. House Select Committee on Intelligence already stated in March that the official origin story is false, “It all stems from the fact that we know that this investigation started long before the end of July … We are quite confident that this investigation started long before they told us that it did.”
Meaning, the Mueller report may not be the final word on this matter after all. Was the Justice Department looking at former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn? Like Trump who openly campaigned on Flynn’s idea, Flynn was in favor of more cooperation with Moscow in counter-terrorism specifically. It was no mystery. He spoke about it at the Russia Today event in Dec. 2015.
Because of that, Flynn appeared in the Steele dossier because of his appearance at the event. Steele wrote in Aug. 2016: “Kremlin engaging with several high profile U.S. players, including… former DIA Director Michael Flynn… and funding their recent visits to Moscow.”
But it was a public event. You can see for yourself Flynn being interviewed at the event by a journalist.
Flynn also reportedly briefed the Defense Department both before and after the event and had his security clearance reupped in April 2016 after the fact. But what if Flynn’s Moscow trip caught the eye of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigators? What if the Logan Act investigation began in late 2015, not 2016?
What Flynn spoke about was the potential for U.S.-Russian cooperation to defeat Islamic State, focusing on “mutual interests” and restoring “strategic stability” to the Middle East. Flynn was selling the idea that there was a common enemy in Islamic State and more broadly radical Islam, a proposal candidate Trump would adopt in 2016.
Flynn stated, “This back and forth, and I do appreciate it… and I respect it, because we have to have this debate, we absolutely have to have this debate, and we have to have it now. And we can’t—the United States—and I’m speaking as a really a private citizen—the United States can’t sit there and go, Russia, you’re bad, and Russia can’t sit there and say, the U.S., you’re bad. What we have to do, like we have done in the past, and I could go into a couple of historical examples where Europe would not be the Europe that it is today, thriving, had it not been for Russia and the United States working together 75 years ago, and in other places [is] where we have worked together. So, this idea of us not being able to work together is a misnomer, and I think we have to step back and we have to say, okay, what are the common interests, and then, what are the common goals that we want to achieve, and those goals I believe the number one goal is to… eliminate the cancerous idea that exists inside of the Islamic religion, we must do that.”
Flynn called on Arab leaders to work with the U.S. and Russia toward that end, and added, “the second common goal is to then, to keep some level of stability in the Middle East that creates a new set of economic conditions, to deal with these… frankly, theses 15-to-35-year-old young men that exist…” So, in Flynn’s perspective, the destabilizing wars of regime change in the Middle East, of which the U.S. is a major actor, have created the conditions favorable to groups like al Qaeda and Islamic State.
Flynn was critical of the U.S. and Russia: “Stop being like two bullies in a playground. Quit acting immature… with each other and know that I have… a disagreement with you, you have a disagreement with me. You know, this is a funny marriage between Russia and the United States, but it’s a marriage… whether we like it or not. And, that marriage is very, very rocky right now, and what we don’t need is we don’t need that marriage to break up. We’ve had our break ups in the past, but we need to… look at this, I mean, I’m deadly serious about this, because I know this enemy… and I think there’s some in this country that know this enemy from having dealt with it in Chechnya and Dagestan and other places. This is a very, very deadly enemy.”
Flynn wanted a new ally in the fight against terrorism: “My wish and my hope is that we figure out a way strategically to work together, I think that that’s the way ahead. Whether or not we work together 20 years from now, I don’t know, but I know if we don’t work together right now, the potential for going to a larger conflict against each other or the potential for this enemy to do far more damage than they already have is very, very real.”
When Flynn came into the Trump campaign, this plan was adopted by Trump, who campaigned to the American people about the strategy. After Nov. 2016, Trump named him National Security Advisor to accomplish this. The goal was to make in-roads and make it easier to isolate terrorist groups in the region and also Iran. That’s probably why Flynn told Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak not to overreact to the Obama sanctions in Dec. 2016, because he was getting ready to implement the strategy. The Trump team wanted to defuse tensions with Russia.
But so what? If you propose détente with Russia, now you’re “pro-Russia”? That’s the treason?
Was Henry Kissinger pro-Russia, too, who was the architects of many summits with Moscow? What about Reagan, who signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and negotiated the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)? Are the military tasked to the deconfliction channels in Syria to keep us out of war with Russia suspect, too? When did promoting peace become treason?
I suppose you can disagree with the diplomatic approach that was proposed but those are policy disagreements and clearly Presidents have the power and indeed the responsibility to engage in diplomacy. In the post-World War II era, the President’s biggest job is to prevent World War III. Trump is no different.
We should not be using the FBI via the Russia collusion investigation to go after presidential campaigns and then administrations to undermine a President whose policies they disagree with. That’s what happened here. And it is hard to imagine that the investigation would have continued into 2017, complete with the FISA warrants, if it had not been for the Steele dossier, paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC.
You had a FISA investigation based principally on Steele’s charges, which despite the most highly technological surveillance system in the world, after Mueller, could not be corroborated and appears to have been a politically motivated dirty trick all along. That was much, much worse and we can say that with certainty now since Mueller concluded there was in fact no conspiracy or coordination by Trump with Russia to interfere in the elections, hack the DNC and Podesta or anything else. Those were false charges.
Should the FBI drop everything and wreck the country every time a political campaign accuses their opponents of being foreign agents if the campaign simply pays enough money to a former intelligence officer to make the trumped up allegations?
What you had were pro-détente figures in the campaign who thought, based on the experience of past administrations, that a deal could be made with Russia, and Flynn was leading the foreign policy end of that. Page thought Trump could help bring an end to this new Cold War and was critical of U.S. sanctions. Manafort came later, and then the reason appears to have been specific to his experience in winning the Republican convention but it is possible his past work in Ukraine might have been seen as an additional asset to the campaign but when the story broke about his relationships there it became a liability and he was promptly let go, bringing in Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon to run the campaign.
What began as a policy disagreement and turned into a witch hunt for a crime that was not committed has torn the country in half, undermined trust in the nation’s national security apparatus, intelligence agencies and the FBI that appears to have its own agenda and apparently acts against its opponents if and when deemed necessary and which has done far more to interfere in U.S. politics than anything Russia was accused of, and undermined trust in the President for the other half of the country that was falsely led to believe that he was a Russian agent.
The fact is, the FBI appears to have spent far more time and energy investigating Trump than the Russian hacks on the DNC server, which it never even bothered to take possession of. That is not to excuse Russian actions in the election. Mueller’s indictment seems pretty clear on the hacking side of things. After it came out last year, it at least provided a comprehensive account of what may have happened. Wikileaks said Russia was not their source but since 2016 they have not bothered to disclose any new information. If they had something to prove otherwise, you would think it would have come out by now. We are left simply with the charges by Mueller, Crowdstrike and the DNC that Russia was behind it all that have remained largely unchallenged. And if Wikileaks is not going to defend itself, that might be the final word on that matter.
As for why Julian Assange was not charged with publishing the DNC emails, in Mueller’s indictment of the Russian intelligence officers, quite simply, there was never an allegation that he had helped with the hacking, whereas in the Chelsea Manning case, that is precisely the allegation. Assange is being charged with hacking classified information with Manning, not publishing it.
And if not even Assange is getting prosecuted for the DNC and Podesta email hacks or coordinating with Russia, then why would anyone in the Trump campaign?
Sadly, we’ll be feeling the impacts of this for years if not decades. Hack or no hack, now the INF Treaty is kaput. START could be next. We are in a new nuclear arms race with Russia which is very dangerous and might have been avoided had we just listened to Flynn’s advice in the first place. I suppose we’ll never know.
We also still don’t know how that’s going to turn out. History will be the judge. Hopefully, there is still an opportunity to defuse this brewing conflict with Russia, and for President Trump to repair the damage to relations that has been caused. Even with the hacks and Wikileaks, we still have nuclear security issues to contend with globally which are really more important. We’re not going to start World War III over emails getting published.
Fortunately, the investigation into Trump is over. For about three years, the Justice Department and U.S. intelligence agencies pursued a theory of a crime, conspiracy by Trump with Russia to interfere in the elections, which was never committed. It really was fake news. Now, it’s time for the investigation of the investigation. Stay tuned.
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government. You can read more of his articles at www.dailytorch.com.
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