At the beginning of this month DoJ released a copy of Rod Rosenstein's "scope memo" for Team Mueller, the one dated August 2, 2017 (Rod Rosenstein's Second "Scope Memo" For Team Mueller). The released copy was largely unredacted--in fact, as regards the well known "four Americans" (Flynn, Page, Manafort, Papadopoulos) who were the original subjects of Crossfire Hurricane, the scope memo was totally unredacted. But there was a fifth subject, and that person was totally redacted. Speculation as to the identity of this 'Fifth Man' centered on familiar persons such as Michael Flynn, Jr.
This evening the NYT is reporting:
Investigators scrutinized ties between Walid Phares and the Egyptian government. He was never charged with a crime.
Wow! "Ties" to Egypt--that sounds pretty serious, and yet he was never charged with a crime. Isn't there some statute in the criminal code that criminalizes "ties"? Am I missing something? Was Walid Phares that mysterious 'Fifth Man'?
While the NYT doesn't offer an absolutely categorical answer to that last question, they certainly hint very strongly that that is the case.
The F.B.I. and the special counsel’s office investigated whether a former Trump campaign adviser secretly worked for the Egyptian government to influence the incoming administration in the months before President Trump took office, according to several people familiar with the inquiry.
The former adviser, Walid Phares, was one of five Trump campaign aides investigated over their ties to foreign countries. Robert S. Mueller III took over the investigations after he was appointed special counsel in May 2017.
The decision to investigate Mr. Phares was based on highly classified information, the people said. Investigators examined the matter for months but ultimately brought no charges.
Though Mr. Mueller’s primary mandate was to examine Russia’s covert operation to sabotage the election and whether any Trump associates conspired, several Trump campaign advisers and transition team members elicited concerns at the F.B.I. because of their overseas contacts and the possibility that a variety of foreign governments might have been trying to secretly use the advisers to advance their agendas.
If you're wondering whether, once Phares signed on to the Trump campaign, the FBI started scrambling to find out: Who is this guy? Who is Walid Phares? The answer to that question is, Probably not.
This is Walid Phares:
Walid Phares is a Lebanese-born American scholar and conservative political pundit. He worked for the Republican presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016. He has also served as a commentator on terrorism and the Middle East for Fox News since 2007, and for NBC from 2003 to 2006. A Maronite Christian, Phares has gained notoriety for his association with Lebanese Christian militias in the 1980s during the Lebanese Civil War, and for his anti-Islam views.
Hmmmm. That sounds like an unlikely candidate for an agent of the Egyptian government. Here's some more background:
Since 2008, he has lectured at the National Intelligence University in Washington DC, at the Center for Counterintelligence and Security Studies (CI Center) in Virginia, and at the Daniel Morgan Academy, a Graduate School of National Security in Washington DC. He teaches at BAU International University in Washington, D.C. also serving as a university provost and as Director of Graduate Studies at the university.
Phares's resume says that he "taught Global Strategies at the National Defense University in Washington DC since 2006".
Not only that, but:
Phares has testified before committees of the U.S. State, Justice, Defense and Homeland Security and the United States Congress. He briefed and testified to international bodies like the European Parliament and the United Nations Security Council on matters related to international security and Middle East conflict. He serves as an adviser to the Anti-Terrorism Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2007 and is a co-secretary general of the Transatlantic Legislative Group on Counter Terrorism, a Euro-American Caucus, since 2009. He has served on the Advisory Board of the Task Force on Future Terrorism of the Department of Homeland Security in 2006-2007 as well as on the Advisory Task force on Nuclear Terrorism in 2007. He lectures at defense and national security institutions and serves as a consultant on international affairs in the private sector.
To say that Phares is certainly a known quantity to the FBI is most likely a significant understatement.
So what was the nature of these "ties" that the Islamophobe Phares had with Egypt? The NYT is notably vague on that:
Mr. Phares had high-level contacts in the Egyptian government and connections to a deputy minister for education, another Trump campaign official, Sam Clovis, told Mr. Mueller’s investigators. Mr. Phares told Mr. Clovis that he had friends who could broker meetings between the campaign and the Egyptian government, but Mr. Clovis rejected that idea, he said.
Mr. Clovis and Mr. Phares had met with an Egyptian official at a hotel in Georgetown, according to Mr. Clovis, who could not recall the man’s name for investigators. Mr. Phares tried to set up another meeting with the official, but Mr. Clovis demurred.
Another campaign official, Rick Dearborn, told investigators that Mr. Phares was involved in reaching out to Egypt on behalf of the campaign and had an “existing relationship” with the Egyptians.
Then the Republican nominee for president, Mr. Trump met in September 2016 with Mr. el-Sisi. Mr. Phares took credit for that meeting, telling Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka in an email shortly beforehand that he had traveled to “Egypt last week, worked with them on the meeting between President Sisi and your father.”
That is very thin gruel. Did Rod Rosenstein really write that August, 2017, scope memo to expand the Mueller Witchhunt to include Phares based on that? I defy any fair-minded person to try to take that information and articulate predication for a Full Counterintelligence investigation. To articulate a reasonable belief based on that that Phares was an agent of the Egyptian government. There is no logical basis for such an investigation. The allegation is so threadbare that the NYT is reduced to offering dark hints of "highly classified information" about Phares. And the fact that "ultimately" no charges were brought--what does that tell us about the value of the "highly classified information"? Maybe Chris Steele did a dossier on Phares, too.
All of which makes one wonder, just why was Team Mueller so interested in Phares, anyway?
The real motive for the Obama forces going after Phares may have had more to do with Phares' policy views than with his acquaintance with an Egyptian Deputy Minister of Education. This account of an interview that Phares gave to an Egyptian website very shortly after the election is rather suggestive in that regard:
Donald Trump's foreign policy adviser has signalled major shifts in Middle East strategy, including a review of the Iran nuclear deal, the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and stating that the Muslim Brotherhood will be designated a "terrorist" organisation by the United States.
According to an interview with the pro-Egyptian government news website, Youm7, Walid Phares said on Wednesday that Trump would pass legislation to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a "terrorist group".
The US House Judiciary Committee in February approved legislation calling on the State Department to designate the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a foreign terrorist organisation. The Senate has referred a partner bill to its foreign relations committee.
According to Youm7, Phares said the delay in a decision was due to the Obama administration’s support for the group.
Phares strongly condemned the US's nuclear agreement with Iran in August, describing it as “the worst deal in history ever”.
In other words, Phares was a sort of Middle East version of Michael Flynn. He was a vocal critic of Obama's entire Middle East policy, regarding Obama as soft on radical Islamists and especially soft on Iran. He may not have had the type of insider's knowledge of the USIC that Flynn had, but his possible ability to influence Trump's Middle East policy views and to disrupt the Obama legacy was enough to draw the evil eye of Team Mueller. After all, the dynamics of the situation were not dissimilar to the Russia Hoax. Among other things, the Russia Hoax had served to hinder Trump's desire for a better relationship with Russia. If Phares--a Trump adviser specializing in the Middle East--could be portrayed as the agent of a repressive military regime, then that could be used to pressure Trump to reconsider his plans to scrap Obama's Middle East policies, too.
Hopefully the senators will be asking Rod Rosenstein some pointed questions on the subject of Walid Phares. If they do I'll be pleasantly surprised.