The first thing that caught my attention was when Nunes stated that, while the whole ball of the Russia Hoax had started rolling in late 2015 to early 2016, at a certain point the conspirators "really needed the umbrella investigation." That "umbrella investigation," of course, was Crossfire Hurricane, the "enterprise CI investigation" of "four Americans" (Manafort, Flynn, Page, Papadopoulos) that Comey referred to in his Congressional testimony in March, 2017.
In evaluating Nunes' statement, it's important to understand that Nunes is very clear that the FBI began it's investigation before Crossfire Hurricane was opened. In essence, he confirms what I've long maintained, that Crossfire Hurricane was, in fact, an "umbrella" that took under it earlier investigations. Whether those investigations were preliminary or ful investigations made little difference, at least initially, because a "full" was only needed for the purpose of obtaining a FISA--otherwise, the same investigative techniques could be used. I was at pains, back when this was a hot topic, to insist that the FBI had almost certainly followed the rules by insuring that it had open case files before conducting investigative activities--they were always going to cover their behinds administratively.
But, says Nunes, at a certain point--sometime between early May and the end of July when Crossfire Hurricane was actually opened, that framework--separate investigations on each of the Trump campaign associates were no longer enough. Was there some precipitating event that led to this change of perspective? It stands to reason that there was, and I believe that we can tentatively identify that event as the action Admiral Mike Rogers of NSA took to shut down the FBI's unauthorized "about" queries of 702 material. It was at this time that Strzok complained to Lisa Page that their investigation was now restricted to what are known as "consensual" recordings--informants recording conversations with targets. This development meant that the FBI would need to get a standard FISA on an investigative subject, going through the painstaking application process, if they wanted to get a broader look inside the Trump campaign. They could no longer rely on datamining NSA records.
I believe that one point of the "umbrella" investigation was to circumvent "minimization" restrictions arising from a FISA. Those restrictions might have prevented the FBI from utilizing to the full the two hop principle, especially with regard to following communications throughout the Trump campaign. The concept of an "umbrella" or "enterprise" investigation meant that, by identifying the FISA subject--Carter Page, as it developed--as part of an enterprise within the campaign, following all communications into the campaign would not be thwarted by minimization requirements. While this might not fully compensate for the lost NSA information, it was a big help. Thus also, the push to get the FISA in place before Rogers went to the FISC with his damning report in October, 2016 (end of the fiscal year).
It's in this context that Nunes and Bongino discuss Alexander Downer's approach to George Papadopoulos. Both Nunes and Bongino are on the same page here, although Nunes isn't as forthright as Bongino (Nunes: "It's likely they," i.e., CIA, FBI, "were all in on it."). What's at issue is this. The FBI wants us to believe that they never heard about Downer's approach until days before opening Crossfire Hurricane. Bongino asserts--and Nunes appears to me to go along with this--that in fact the FBI did know about Downer's approach to Papadopoulos in May, but that at the time they thought it had been a bust. Instead, in July they resurrected the concept but doctored the reporting to look more interesting, more supportive of a "Russia" angle, of the need for an "umbrella" investigation.
The question for us, though, is: Why Papadopoulos? Why not just go with the Steele "dossier" narratives about Carter Page? Here, I think, two factors are at play. I think the FBI felt that another target inside the Trump campaign was needed to make the theory of an "enterprise" more plausible. Resurrecting and spicing up the Papadopoulos story worked for that. With the introduction of Papadopoulos they now had "four Americans", not just three, and a corroborative claimed link to the Hillary emails.
The second factor is this. At this point the FBI, I believe, still wanted to avoid relying overtly on the Steele "dossier" to justify such a major intrusion into the Trump campaign. The Papadopoulos angle allowed them to instead use the story of gaining information from a Friendly Foreign Government (FFG - and Nunes is quite humorous on this), rather than dodgy stories that could be traced to the Hillary campaign. In the end, of course, they were forced to get the FISA through the Steele "dossier" stories about Carter Page.
But this still leaves us asking, Why does Nunes believe that the conspirators "really needed the umbrella investigation"? The need for a FISA is part of the answer, but there may be another part. While Nunes doesn't directly tie the two together, I believe the answer may lie in an event that Lee Smith covers--and to which Nunes directly refers--in his book, The Plot Against The President (92-94). The event was an extraordinary meeting of Congressional leaders called by Obama regarding a supposed Russia threat to the election. Simply having an FBI investigation regarding a big Russian intrusion into the Trump campaign was, I believe, a key part of this ploy. Smith writes:
On September 8, Comey, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, and Obama's homeland security advisor, Lisa Monaco, summoned congressional leaders for an unusual briefing. Obama had sent them, reportedly to urge a "show of solidarity and bipartisan unity" against Russian interference in the election.
"They pulled us into the House Intelligence Committee room for an all-hands briefing," Nunes recalls. "They called it a Gang of Twelve meeting, which was out of the ordinary."
"... There had never been a Gang of Twelve meeting before. They were trying to create a stir."
The subject of the meeting was Russia and what the intelligence agencies said they were picking up about Russian efforts to shape the upcoming presidential election. However, they provided no details.
"They had no evidence of anything," Nunes said. ...
Comey and the others were trying to light a fuse. "They were trying to create the impression that there had been a major occurrence and the Russians were behind it," Nunes says. "They were trying to coerce Congress to come out with a joint statement of some kind: the Russians were up to something. And they orchestrated a bigger group--'Gang of Twelve'--to increase the likelihood of leaks."
Obama's intelligence chiefs succeeded in getting more leaks, but the Republicans refused to produce a joint letter. They weren't taking the bait.
"Comey and the others wanted to create a panic," Nunes says, "but I knew that something wasn't on the up-and-up. McConnell knew it was a setup. And Ryan knew it was a setup. I remember the Speaker talking to McConnell's people, asking what the hell are they doing?"
With Comey, Johnson, Monaco, and Brennan laundering the Trump-Russia story through Congress, Obama's intelligence community had merged with Clinton operatives.
Obviously, Comey couldn't go into a meeting of that sort with nothing but individual investigations on a handful of Trump associates--the first thing the Republicans would ask would be: Have you done a defensive briefing with Trump? The enterprise "umbrella" investigation provided the bigger buzz and the cover they needed.
Notice in all this, that although Nunes says in the interview that the meeting was to trick the Republicans and get them "to legitimize the shenanigans that were well under way by then," on the surface there would be nothing overtly illegal or criminal. This is where the conspiracy prosecutive theory comes in.
Toward the end of the interview Bongino tries to get Nunes to speculate about likely subjects of prosecution coming from the Barr/Durham investigation. Nunes obviously doesn't want to go into that realm of speculation too deeply--understandably. Instead, he discusses the likely prosecutive theory, which he (like me) sees as based on conspiracy charges. He stresses that most of the individual actions that they've been discussing aren't crimes in and of themselves. Rather, they're the types of things that can be passed off as "mistakes were made." Nunes gets it that that's what all those regulations--including the FISA ones--accomplish: immunization of officials from prosecution. However, he argues, if there is an overall conspiracy that has an illicit motive, those seemingly innocent acts will become criminal if they were done in furtherance of the conspiracy. And he provides examples of the types of conspiracies he has in mind: conspiring to abuse your power, to infringe on civil liberties, to manipulate intelligence for political purposes. To which I would add: conspiring to defraud the government of honest services.
From this standpoint Nunes makes a highly suggestive remark. We've heard over and over that Durham is looking into the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA), and especially whether Brennan improperly tried to shape its conclusions and whether Brennan lied about that. Nunes clearly views the ICA as an integral part of an overall conspiracy, and he refers to it as "Obama's dossier." Think about where that theory could take Durham!
So that's what I focused on during the interview. However, I got a kick out of some of what Nunes related about other aspects, especially about Robert "Bob" Mueller. Nunes obviously thinks Mueller was basically a figurehead, but ponder what Nunes says.
First, he states that by late January or early February, 2017, "We [the congressional committees] had everything on Russia that the Deep State had. They didn't withhold anything. There was nothing about Russia!" In other words, it was a hoax, and it was well known to be so by January/February 2017. That, says Nunes, leads to the joke:
So, Mueller gets there [his new special counsel office] on day one and asks the guys, Alright, where are all these Russians we've been chasing around? And they say, Sorry, Bob, we don't have any Russians.
That naturally leads Bongino to ask, Then what was Mueller doing all that time? Unfortunately, Nunes gets sidetracked and never really gets into that. However, the real question should be: If you knew that, and the FBI knew that, then what was Rod Rosenstein doing appointing a Special Counsel to investigate "the Russians"? That boy's got some 'splainin' to do!