Yesterday John Solomon made available the recently declassified asset (Confidential Human Source, or CHS) reports regarding the use of Stefan Halper ("Mitch") in the Crossfire Hurricane (CH) investigation--mostly as it pertained to the Carter Page FISA. Thanks to the actions of disgraced former AG Bluto Barr, this material is essentially only of historical interest at this point. Nevertheless, it may be of interest to readers here for the insights that it offers into how FBI counterintelligence (CI) investigations are run. I say that, knowing that CH is an example of the abuse of the FBI's CI authorities--because what we see in this paperwork is the attempt to make CH *look* normal, even as the investigative guidelines were honored in their breach.
First of all, here's the link to the John Solomon article:
Goal was to find "anyone" inside GOP campaign tied to Russia who could be get dirt "damaging" to Clinton, newly declassified memos reveal.
Before I go through the actual Halper memos, I'll simply state the big picture that emerges from them. What becomes very apparent is that the background to this series of memos--which begin in mid-August, 2016, shortly after CH was opened--is the Steele dossier. Even though there is discussion of George Papadopoulos as a target--after all, we're supposed to believe that his conversation with Aussie "diplomat" Alexander Downer is what got CH started--the real interest, beyond any doubt, is Carter Page. And that means the Steele dossier, with it's farcical allegations.
The point of roping Halper into this operation was to try to come up with support for the Steele dossier. That effort was a total failure. And that means that the Carter Page FISA applications were essentially based on two things: 1) the unverified Steele dossier, and 2) knowing misrepresentations about Carter Page's years of cooperation with the CIA and the FBI.
Seen in this light, the whole question of whether CH was properly predicated becomes acute. I've spent a lot of time on that issue in the past, so I won't review that except to restate my conclusion that CH was not properly predicated, and thus lacked legal authorization.
However, John Solomon quotes a former FBI Ass't Director, Kevin Brock, in that regard, and it's worth listening to what Brock has to say. Brock, as I've noted previously, was a prime mover behind the drawing up of the FBI's intelligence guidelines. In that role he would have cooperated closely with other officials and, in particular, with government lawyers. It goes without saying that the predication for every investigation has to be evaluated on the specific facts of the case. I'm not claiming that Brock's judgment is infallible in that regard, but I think his view should carry particular weight because he is very familiar with what we could call the 'spirit' of the guidelines. Here's what he told Solomon about CH's predication:
Ordinarily, FBI counterintelligence investigations that target Americans legally must be predicated on specific allegations that narrowly focus the bureau's spy powers on limited targets to avoid unnecessary infringement of privacy and civil liberties. But the Halper documents reveal a large, unfocused FBI search with little substantiation of alleged wrongdoing, and significant evidence that undermined the core allegations, experts told Just the News.
Former FBI Assistant Director for Intelligence Kevin Brock said the information about Papadopoulos' foreign lobbying that the bureau used to open the Russia collusion probe failed to meet the bureau's own legal standards to justify the larger dragnet that encompassed Page and many other Trump officials.
"Normally when the FBI opens an investigation on a U.S. citizen, it has specific facts justifying an investigation of that person," explained Brock, who led the implementation of many of the bureau's current rules for informants and intelligence gathering. "But here what the ECs are saying is they don't know who is involved and they are just conjecturing that someone in the Trump campaign might be in a position to receive help from Russia. You just can't open a full field investigation on conjecture.
"If you look at the FBI's ECs dispassionately, there is no clearly predicated basis for investigation for U.S. citizens, so it looks instead like subterfuge to justify an open-ended inquiry. The only sane, logical explanation why the Crossfire Hurricane team would doggedly perpetuate such an unfounded investigation is political bias,” Brock added.
Brock's comments echo the words of one of the lead FBI agents in the Russia case, William Barnett, who last year told the Justice Department in a lengthy interview that there was never any credible evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, and that the investigation only persisted because there was a "get Trump" attitude among investigators.
"BARNETT and others joked about how the investigation into collusion could be made into a game, which they referred to as 'Collusion Clue,'" the DOJ summary of Barnett's interview read. "In the hypothetical game, investigators are able to choose any character conducting any activity in any location and pair this individual with another character and interpret it as evidence of collusion."
Bear this in mind as we turn to the Halper memos. The decision to use Halper to target individuals in CH appears to have been just about the first substantive action taken in the investigation. As I--and Brock--are saying, what's clearly going on here is that Halper is being used in an effort to come up with solid predication for CH.
The first memo is dated 8/15/2016, and it's from Stephen Somma in the NYO and is approved by Joe Pientka--a Washington Field (WFO) supervisor who was the head of the CH team. Four case numbers are listed, corresponding presumably to the "four Americans" described by disgraced former FBI Director James Comey in his House testimony. The purpose of the memo is to record Somma's meeting with Halper on 8/11/2016, and instructions that were given to Halper.
The first topic discussed was Papadopoulos (Crossfire Typhoon). Little of substance was recorded--two paragraphs covered it. Halper was not familiar with Papadopoulos. Somma told Halper that the FBI wanted Halper to meet with Papadopoulos "to obtain assessment information on Papadopoulos as well as possibly conduct an operation against Papadopoulos."
When discussion turned to Carter Page (Crossfire Dragon), Halper had much more to say, since he and Page were well acquainted. For our purposes, the only pertinent matter is this:
"Page was described by Halper as being 'very guarded' during the presentation and stating that his views were his own and not of the Trump campaign."
Which appears to be a sensible and proper distinction to make, if Page's expressed views differed in any way from the official views of the Trump campaign.
Beyond that, there is nothing of pertinence to CH. Halper was questioned about contacting Paul Manafort, but Halper doubted Manafort would have the time to meet with Halper. He was also asked about Michael Flynn, and repeated his earlier reported smear of Flynn and Lokhova. None of this advanced the predication issue.
There was also additional tittle tattle reported regarding the Trump campaign (Sam Clovis and Peter Navarro), none of which had anything to do with Russian connections. The inclusion of this tittle tattle tends to lead to the suspicion that Somma regarded the Trump campaign itself to be a target.
The second memo is also dated 8/15/2016, but it records a second meeting with Halper one day after the first meeting: this second meeting was on 8/12/2016. All administrative details are the same.
This time--one day later, so presumably after a discussion of the first meeting--the emphasis is all on Carter Page, not Papadopoulos, who is mentioned only perfunctorily. Somma records that he made the FBI's interest in Page explicit to Halper, due to "Page's ties to the Russian Federation (RF)." Somma explained to Halper that Page's ties to Russia somehow meant that "Page would be the logical conduit for the RF to message to the Trump campaign." This despite the fact that Somma would have been well aware of the history of Page's cooperation with the FBI and the CIA. Somma would also have been well aware that the Russian intelligence services knew (based on the New York prosecution of a Russian agent) that Page was an FBI asset--which would certainly preclude the Russians from using Page as a "conduit". It emerges from the memo that the FBI was eager for Halper to meet with Page and to ask "direct questions about the Trump campaign's alleged ties to the RF."
The Flynn/Lokhova situation was briefly discussed, with a view to future contacts. No new information was received.
More interestingly, the Somma directly raised the name of Senator Jeff Sessions to Halper. It appears from Halper's recorded response--that Halper wouldn't expect Sessions to be "friendly to Russia"--that Somma was directly probing for derogatory information against Sessions. This would be a violation of the FBI guidelines, if there was no investigation open re Sessions. This initiative was presumably based on Sessions having spoken briefly to Russian Ambassador Kislyak at the GOP convention in Cleveland. This looks like a real stretch, to implicate Sessions, since Kislyak's whole purpose in DC was to glad hand US politicians--which he did on a prodigious scale, with both GOPers and Dems. To call this inquiry regarding Sessions threadbare would be putting it mildly.
The third memo is dated 8/24/2016, and the sole file reference is to the Carter Page investigation. From the admin details we learn that the full investigation on Page was opened on 8/10/2016. That means that Halper was contacted re Page immediately after opening the investigation (the two contacts on 8/11 and 8/12), which is rather suggestive of the focus CH was taking.
There is no meeting with Halper to be recorded in this memo. Instead, the memo presents an "Operational plan for [Halper] to meet with [Carter Page] on [REDACTED]." This time there are three approving FBI officials: Pientka, [REDACTED], and Peter Strzok. The significance of this is that the use of Halper to target Page in the context of CH is tied directly to the top counterespionage levels at FBIHQ.
In this summary Somma puffs up and misrepresents details about Page. The importance of this is that this memo would likely end up in a Woods file if a FISA were applied for. For example:
- Somma states that Page "has, in the past, been in direct contact with SVR officers and continued his contact after FBI defensive briefings." Somma omits the context of these contacts. It is also a fact that the FBI has no authority to forbid a US citizen to meet with Russian officials--Page was not required to drop those contacts and such contacts lead to no particular inference, since the Russian officials also have legitimate overt duties (diplomatic, commercial, etc.) just as our CIA officers do.
- Somma states, citing Halper, that when Page met with Madeline Albright he was "'guarded' during the presentation and [was] 'careful' while speaking with Albright." Well, naturally Page was 'careful' while speaking to such a super connected person as Albright! But more importantly, Somma omits what Halper told him about why Page was being 'careful': Page was careful to distinguish his own views from those of the Trump campaign. Which was proper and absolutely not a sign of having some secret pro-Russian agenda.
It would be interesting to know whether this memo went through a revision process that included any of the approving officials.
The next part of the memo is even more interesting. This is where Somma discusses the operational plans for the Halper/Page meeting, and what the investigative goals are:
"The main goal of the operation is to have CD admit that he has direct knowledge of and is either helping coordinate or assisting the RF [Russian Federation] conduct an active measure campaign with the 'Trump Team,'"
Further, Somma characterizes Page as an "opportune target."
The question to keep in mind is, Where is this investigation heading? The answer is, It's heading toward a FISA application--ASAP. If Page makes statements that can be interpreted as "direct knowledge or" of "helping coordinate or assisting the RF [Russian Federation] conduct an active measure campaign with the 'Trump Team,'" a FISA will be a slam dunk.
With that in mind, Somma sketches out two possible outcomes.
"Scenario 1" would be if Page makes the desired statements. In that case "the CH team will meet with FBIHQ and make a determination as to the next steps." I guarantee you that those next steps would lead to a FISA. That's what Somma means later in the memo when he states that "if the meeting is successful ... the FBI could obtain information ... which would allow for additional investigative techniques", i.e., FISA. FISA is the only investigative technique riding on new information here--all other techniques are fully authorized under the full investigation.
In the event, however, "Scenario 2" was what happened:
"If Page does not provide tangible information during the meeting, or if Page explicitly states he does not know of any RF involvement in the campaign the FBI will focus on a second target of the investigation."
Woops! That's not how this played out. If you read through the rest of the memos, and the transcript of the Halper/Page meeting, you'll see that Page did, indeed, explicitly deny any knowledge of the Steele dossier inspired (i.e., the Hillary campaign inspired) Russia Hoax. Page explicitly stated that he had ever met with the Russian officials in Moscow and that that allegation was "the core lie". There was nothing "evasive" about Page's responses.
But the FBI didn't move on to a second focus. They stayed focused on Page.
Now, what follows is interesting.
The meeting between Halper and Page didn't take place until 10/17/2016. As already noted, the meeting was a complete bust--Scenario 2 on steroids. However, in the meantime we learn that the FBI was well into preparing for a FISA application. Thus, there is a memo dated 10/5/2016 captioned "Observation of Carter Page using a Smartphone." That observation must have taken place back in August, because there were no further in person meetings between Halper and Page between August 20 and October 17. As part of the FISA application the FBI needed to document that the target--Carter Page--used electronic means of communication and to identify those means. That's what that memo is about. That observation is repeated in the memo dated 10/19/2016, two days after the meeting. So they weren't waiting for the meeting to go down before preparing the FISA--and yet they had almost nothing to go on at that point except the Steele dossier.
Now, here's another interesting aspect. It appears to be highly likely--given the time frame for putting a FISA package together--that the FBI in August wanted that Halper/Page meeting to happen ASAP. But it didn't, due to Page being busy with other things. In the meantime, all during the first two weeks of October the FBI was frantically trying to push through an expedited FISA on Page, but was getting pushback from Stu Evans at DoJ. The FBI, during this period, was meeting with Steele, supposedly to bolster the reliability of Steele's "sources", but the whole thing seemed to be blowing up. But then, mirabile dictu, in mid-October Steele came up with his stream of Michael Cohen to Prague reporting. Convenient? Collusive?
The rest is history.
Here's the bottom line, however. Once that Halper/Page meeting took place and the FBI had a recording of Page denying even knowing--much less meeting--Sechin or the other officials named by Steele, and with Steele seeking to be interviewed by the FBI on the whole matter, that FISA application should have been immediately withdrawn. Instead the FBI exerted extra pressure on Stu Evans to get it through.