Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson Waste Taxpayer Dollars Looking for Foreign Hackers the One Place They Aren’t

Last Wednesday, majority staffers for the Senate Finance and Homeland Security Committees wrote Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson a memo that purports to update those Committee chairs of the status of an investigation into —  well, the purpose of the investigation is actually not clear, but ultimately it’s an investigation designed to keep hopes of finding some smoking gun in Hillary’s servers that several other investigations haven’t found, an investigation that Grassley has been pursuing for four years.

As the memo describes, the most recent steps in this “investigation” involve some interviews that were completed and all related backup documentation obtained in April, four months ago.

We pursued this issue by requesting interviews with the two ICIG officials. On December 4, 2018, your staff, along with staff from Senators Feinstein and McCaskill, interviewed ICIG employees Mr. Rucker and Ms. McMillian. On December 20, 2018, you transmitted a copy of an interview summary of the Majority’s questions and the witness’s answers to the ICIG for a classification review. On January 30, 2019, the ICIG provided classified and unclassified versions of the interview summary, and the Office of Senate Security redacted the classified information. On February 28, 2019, the ICIG provided documentary evidence including copies of emails and notes from meetings. On April 9, 2019, the DOJ IG and ICIG provided a summary of their findings related to these Chinese hacking allegations.

The staffers use these investigative steps, completed four months ago, to make two insinuations: that State tried to classify Hillary’s emails as deliberative rather than classified (something long known, and easily explained by the known debate over retroactive classification for the emails).

In addition, the staffers report that one but not a second Intelligence Committee Inspector General employee remarked that FBI Agents seemed non-plussed by their concerns that China had hacked Hillary. The description of that claim in the topline of the memo drops Peter Strzok’s name as its hook.

[A]ccording to one ICIG official, some members of the FBI investigative team seemed indifferent to evidence of a possible intrusion by a foreign adversary into Secretary Clinton’s non-government server. The interview summary makes clear exactly what information Mr. Rucker and Ms. McMillian knew regarding the alleged hack of the Clinton server, as well as the information they shared with the FBI team, including Peter Strzok, the Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division in charge of the Clinton investigation.

Wow, that Peter Strzok is some devious asshole, showing no concern about Hillary being hacked by a foreign government, huh? Presumably, that’s the headline the taxpayer funded staffers wanted: BREAKING Peter Strzok doesn’t care about foreign hacking or State trying to protect Hillary.

To the credit of press outlets that did cover this report, they did get what the more relevant conclusion to these documents is: After spending a year double-checking the work of the FBI, these Senate staffers found that the FBI was right when it said it had found no evidence Hillary’s server had been hacked.

What the backup actually shows is that an ICIG Inspector, Phil Rucker, found an “anomaly” while reviewing Hillary Clinton’s emails, an unknown Gmail for a company called Carter Heavy Industries in her email headers, which he thought could have been used to steal her emails as sent. At a meeting largely designed to explain the ICIG efforts to review Hillary’s email for classified information to Strzok, who had just been promoted to the DAD position at FBI a week earlier, Rucker shared what he found with Strzok and the FBI agent he had already been liaising with, Dean Chappell. The FBI already knew of it, and that same day would confirm the explanation: that tech contractor Paul Combetta had used a dummy email to copy over Hillary’s emails as he migrated Hillary’s email onto a Platte River server.

When interviewed about all this three years later, after Peter Strzok had become the villain in Donald Trump’s Deep State coup conspiracy, Rucker accused Strzok of being “aloof and dismissive” of his concerns.

Mr. Rucker said that Mr. Chappell was normal and professional as he had come to know him to be, but that he didn’t know anything about Mr. Strzok prior to the meeting. Mr. Rucker said that Mr. Strzok seemed to be “aloof and dismissive.” He said it was as if Mr. Strzok felt dismissive of the relationship between the FBI and ICIG and he was not very warm. He said that Mr. Strzok didn’t ask many questions including any about SAP related issues. He said the meeting lasted approximately 30 to 60 minutes and that only people from the FBI attended; there were no employees from DOJ. Mr. Rucker said that he knows that an FBI attorney was present, but he cannot remember the person’s name or even whether it was a man or a woman.


Mr. Rucker said that he discussed SAP with the FBI. He said he discussed another of Secretary Clinton’s emails that they were never able to quite figure out. He said he verbally presented this information to Mr. Strzok which lasted only for a minute or so. He said that he doesn’t think he mentioned Carter Heavy Industries by name, but only the appearance of a Gmail address that seemed odd. He said that Mr. Strzok seemed “nonplused” by the info, and that he didn’t ask any follow-up questions. He said that Mr. Chappell seemed familiar with the discovery and he felt like Mr. Chappell was walling Mr. Rucker off intentionally as an investigator would, to protect the investigation.

That last detail — that Chappell seemed familiar with the discovery — is key. In fact, the emails sent in advance of the February 18, 2016 meeting reveal that several weeks earlier, Rucker had already shared this anomaly with Chappell, and Chappell had told him then that he already knew about it.

Along with making accusations about Strzok, Rucker changed his story about how strongly he believed that he had found something significant. The day before Chappell told him the FBI was already aware of the email, Rucker had emailed him that the anomaly was probably nothing.

Additionally, he wanted me to run something that I found in my research of the email metadata past you or someone on the team. It’s probably nothing, but we would rather be safe than sorry.

But when interviewed last year by Senate staffers seeking more evidence against Strzok, Rucker claimed that until a news report explained the anomaly in 2018, he had 90% confidence he had found evidence that China had hacked Hillary’s home server, and still had 80% confidence after learning the FBI had explained it.

Rucker: Mr. Rucker said that he didn’t find any evidence in the remainder of the email review they conducted, but that based on the subpoena issued by the FBI in June 2016 which he learned about this year through a news article, it decreased his confidence level from 90% to 80%.

Meanwhile, the one other ICIG employee interviewed last year, Jeanette McMillan, described what Rucker claimed was dismissiveness as adopting a poker face.

[T]hey provided the information to Mr. Strzok who found it strange. Even before their meeting with Mr. Strzok, Dean Chappell of the FBI informed them that he was aware of the Carter Heavy Industries email address. She said that she doesn’t know whether Mr. Chappell knew before they dropped off the original packet in January 2016, or if he learned of it afterward. News of this email address being found on Secretary Clinton’s emails wasn’t shocking to them, she said, but they took It seriously.


[T]he FBI employees in attendance were “poker faced.”

In other words, what the backup released last week actually shows is a tremendous waste of time trying to second guess what the FBI learned with the backing of subpoenas and other investigative tools. To cover over this waste of time, Grassley and Johnson instead pitch this as a shift in their investigation, this time to examine claims that Strzok wasn’t concerned about State arguing that emails weren’t classified (and probably an attempt to examine the document, believed to be a fake, suggesting Loretta Lynch would take care of the Hillary Clinton investigation).

Staff from the Intelligence Community Inspector General’s office (ICIG) witnessed efforts by senior Obama State Department officials to downplay the volume of classified emails that transited former Secretary Hillary Clinton’s unauthorized server, according to a summary of a bipartisan interview with Senate investigators.

In fact, in the “summary” released, McMillan told Senate investigators that, “If anything, there were problems at State with upgrading of information,” exactly the opposite of what Grassley and Johnson claim in their press release.

And that word — summary — should raise a lot of questions. It’s not a transcript; in most cases, the report is a paraphrase of what the witnesses said. Moreover, it’s only a “summary” of what Majority staffers asked. Minority staff questions were not included at all, as best demonstrated by this nearly hour-long gap in the “summary.”

Because of the way Grassley brought this “investigation” with him when he assumed the Chairmanship of the Finance Committee, this release — from Chuck Grassley as Finance Committee Chair and Ron Johnson as Homeland Security Chair — effectively did not involve the Ranking members of the committees that did the work — Dianne Feinstein as Judiciary Ranking member and Claire McCaskill as HSGAC Ranking member.

To put what a colossal misuse of taxpayer funds this is, consider, first of all, that Grassley has been pursuing this for over four years.

Last fall, Majority staffers actually asked Rucker how ICIG came to be involved in the Hillary investigation.

How did ICIG come to be involved with the Secretary Clinton email investigation?

Rucker: – Mr. Rucker said ·that on March 12, 2015, the Senate sent a letter to ICIG requesting assistance regarding a Russian hacker who allegedly broken into Sidney Blumenthal’s email account. He said that the Sidney Blumenthal emails looked legitimate and were not at the SSRP level. He said that [redacted], a former CIA employee who worked with Blumenthal, was the author of most of the material. That was determined in part, he said, based on his writing style. Shortly after wards, he said, ICIG received another Senate request for assistance, this timein relation to the email practices of several former Secretaries of State including Secretary Clinton. He said that through ICIG, he was brought in to assist State in reviewing the email information in June 2015.

But they knew the answer to that. As their own staffers tacitly reminded Grassley and Johnson, Grassley has been pursuing this since 2015.

Your investigation began in March 2015 with an initial focus on whether State Department officials were aware of Secretary Clinton’s private server and the associated national security risks, as well as whether State Department officials attempted to downgrade classified material within emails found on that server. For example, in August 2015, Senator Grassley wrote to the State Department about reports that State Department FOIA specialists believed some of Secretary Clinton’s emails should be subject to the (b)(1), “Classified Information” exemption whereas attorneys within the Office of the Legal Advisor preferred to use the (b)(5), “Deliberative Process” exemption. Whistleblower career employees within the State Department also reportedly notified the Intelligence Community that others at State involved in the review process deliberately changed classification determinations to protect Secretary Clinton.1 Your inquiry later extended to how the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) managed their investigation of the mishandling of classified information.

That means that this effort — to misrepresent an interview conducted in December as a way to introduce new (and obviously bogus) allegations against Strzok — is a continuation of Barbara Ledeen’s efforts to prove some foreign government had hacked Hillary’s home server, as laid out in the Mueller Report.

Ledeen began her efforts to obtain the Clinton emails before Flynn’s request, as early as December 2015.268 On December 3, 2015, she emailed Smith a proposal to obtain the emails, stating, “Here is the proposal I briefly mentioned to you. The person I described to you would be happy to talk with you either in person or over the phone. The person can get the emails which 1. Were classified and 2. Were purloined by our enemies. That would demonstrate what needs to be demonstrated.”269

Attached to the email was a 25-page proposal stating that the “Clinton email server was, in all likelihood, breached long ago,” and that the Chinese, Russian, and Iranian intelligence services could “re-assemble the server’s email content.”270 The proposal called for a three-phase approach. The first two phases consisted of open-source analysis. The third phase consisted of checking with certain intelligence sources “that have access through liaison work with various foreign services” to determine if any of those services had gotten to the server. The proposal noted, “Even if a single email was recovered and the providence [sic] of that email was a foreign service, it would be catastrophic to the Clinton campaign[.]” Smith forwarded the email to two colleagues and wrote, “we can discuss to whom it should be referred.”271 On December 16, 2015, Smith informed Ledeen that he declined to participate in her “initiative.” According to one of Smith’s business associates, Smith believed Ledeen’s initiative was not viable at that time.272


In September 2016, Smith and Ledeen got back in touch with each other about their respective efforts. Ledeen wrote to Smith, “wondering if you had some more detailed reports or memos or other data you could share because we have come a long way in our efforts since we last visited … . We would need as much technical discussion as possible so we could marry it against the new data we have found and then could share it back to you ‘your eyes only.'”282

Ledeen claimed to have obtained a trove of emails (from what she described as the “dark web”) that purported to be the deleted Clinton emails. Ledeen wanted to authenticate the emails and solicited contributions to fund that effort. Erik Prince provided funding to hire a tech advisor to ascertain the authenticity of the emails. According to Prince, the tech advisor determined that the emails were not authentic.283

Remember, Ledeen was willing to reach out to hostile foreign intelligence services to find out if they had hacked Hillary, and she joined an effort that was trawling the Dark Web to find stolen emails. She did that not while employed in an oppo research firm like Fusion GPS, funded indirectly by a political campaign, but while being paid by US taxpayers.

Chuck Grassley is now Chair of the Finance Committee, the Committee that should pursue new transparency rules to make it easier to track foreign interference via campaign donations. Ron Johnson is and has been Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, from which legislation to protect elections from foreign hackers should arise.

Rather than responding to the real hacks launched by adversaries against our democracy, they’re still trying to find evidence of a hack where there appears to have been none, four years later.

Update: For some reason I counted 2015-2019 as five years originally. That has been fixed.

20 replies
  1. PSWebster says:

    These guys are so focking bad, dangerous to our democracy. A plausible explanation of this shit starting back in the 60s is given by Wason
    This lady Rachel “The Doc” Bitecofer explains in her PHD dissertation the background of the effect of extreme polarization of the elctorate.

    I are thinking you guys know about this but Rachel “The Doc” just hit on twitter when some good media mentioned her on Madow.

    The dissertation is dense and I’m still struggling through it.
    Cheers: we WILL get these fockers.

    • Justlp says:

      PSWebster – I just learned of Rachael in the last few weeks. Her insights into the political divide in the country & how it impacts voter turnout make sense to me, and the accuracy of her 2016 forecast compared to others makes her someone to watch. Her 2020 general election forecast gives me hope!

  2. ThomasHA says:

    Thank you for this analysis of Grassley and Johnson’s willingness to keep pouring taxpayer moneys down the rabbit hole they’ve dug labeled “But Her Emails!” Tangentially, reading this, I kept thinking: the republicans are running out of time to come up with a conspiracy to hang on whom ever they think is the leading democratic candidate for the upcoming presidential race.

    • Americana says:

      I’m curious if IG Horowitz is going to find some way to shame these conspiracy theorists who are defending Trump via all sorts of malignant and scurrilous conspiracy theories by including some smackdown of them in his report on the genesis of the Trump-Russia investigation. It would not be the usual dry, technical, factual legal redress that’s expected of the IG if Horowitz ventured into such territory. But the Trump-Russia situation certainly requires Horowitz to address the conspiracists in the room considering just how many conspiracies Republicans keep linking together hoping to doom the Clintons, Pres. Obama, etc. Or perhaps we need a Special Counsel investigation on the conspiracy theorists in Congress? (Depressed sarcasm.)

    • harpie says:

      Decades ago adults thought it was funny to tell kids that if they persevered, they could dig a hole all the way to China.

    • emptywheel says:

      It wasn’t the name of a Chinese company. But since it wasn’t the name of any company, the name of a Chinese company came up when he tried to Google it.

  3. Vicks says:

    Am I the only one that is worried about this shit?
    One of the Trumpaganda outlets said Lindsey was going to be meeting with Barr to strategize on how present this crap for maximum impact.
    We have already discussed that political figures are free to say whatever they want about whomever they choose with zero legal consequences.
    If the truth has not been able to save us from the menace in our white house and his methodical shredding of our systems what is going to protect us from this “promised” carnage?

    1. I don’t think calling it a “witch hunt” will help
    2. “Methodical shredding” that has to be the first time “methodical” has been used in a sentence to describe Trump, which leads back to why we should be worried. Clearly this strain of cancer is bigger than Trump and the United States. Excuse the drama, but if we can fight these monsters in our country and win, it could (and should) have a big impact on the rest of the world

  4. Savage Librarian says:

    I would much prefer my tax dollars be spent on investigating Grassley for suppressing Glenn Simpson’s (Fusion GPS) transcript of testimony before the Senate. Thank goodness Sen. Feinstein released it. That info was already available to DOJ through Bill Broward’s letter (July 2016) that he sent months (2years?) previous to Simpson’s testimony!!!

    • Americana says:

      Did you mean Bill Browder, former CEO of Hermitage Capital? Otherwise, I’m having a brain fart and I can’t think of who Bill Broward is.

      Bill Browder is the guy Putin was trying to nail via his “incredible offer” to Trump of an expansion of an existing Russian-American law enforcement agreement to now include extradition of American citizens to Russia for interrogation by Russians. What Putin was ignorant of is that Bill Browder is now a British citizen and therefore wouldn’t be sucked down the Kremlin rabbit hole via this tactic.

      From the above link:

      Putin offered to allow American investigators to interview the 12 Russian intelligence agents just indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in exchange for allowing Russians to have access to me and those close to me. This is no idle threat. For the last ten years, I’ve been trying to avoid getting killed by Putin’s regime, and there already exists a trail of dead bodies connected to its desire to see me dead. Amazingly, Trump stood next to him, appearing to nod approvingly. He even later said that he considered it “an incredible offer.”

  5. Peterr says:

    At a meeting largely designed to explain the ICIG efforts to review Hillary’s email for classified information to Strzok, who had just been promoted to the DAD position at FBI a week earlier, Rucker shared what he found with Strzok and the FBI agent he had already been liaising with, Dean Chappell.

    When I first scanned this, my brain read those last two words as “Dave Chappelle,” which made the rest of it rather interesting as I pictured Ahchoo from Robin Hood: Men in Tights as he was promoted by Cary Elwes/Robin:

    Robin Hood: As my first order of business, I would like to appoint a new Sheriff… my friend Ahchoo.
    Crowd: A black sheriff?
    Blinkin: He’s black?
    Ahchoo: And why not? It worked in Blazing Saddles.

  6. OldTulsaDude says:

    I am surprised that after 5 years they didn’t simply forge whatever it was they hoped to find.

  7. Rayne says:

    One very subtle thing Grassley and Johnson do with their overlong, ongoing hacker hunt: perpetuate the myth of the single server.

    The public doesn’t grasp the difference between Clinton’s and the DNC’s information technology equipment nor how many servers were involved, in no small part because of the profusion of server-server-server reporting. If Grassley, Johnson, and their staffers are publicizing their work, they are only going to further entrench the myth in the public’s perception.

    “But her emails…” continues.

    • J R in WV says:

      So why don’t you create a chart listing all the servers involved, and include the known security levels of all the servers, both .gov and private. In other words, name of owner, type of owner, a server ID, whether known hacked, known to be secure, unknown secure status. That would be useful, if possible.

      We’ve got three sets of servers, DNC, Clinton owned, government managed, right? And I think we know what the FBI determined about the secure status of all those servers — Clinton’s private servers were the most secure of all those, until they were forced to make copies of their private email available to less secure government servers.

      And I bet the .gov servers are actually managed by “contract” employees. So how secure is that, with many contractors turning out to be as secure as a screen-door?

      Just a thought, hoping it’s received as a constructive suggestion.

      • Rayne says:

        Thanks for the constructive suggestion but nope. This is exactly the kind of thing congressional investigations should have spelled out for the public over the last handful of years. I am not doing their fucking job for them for free when they’re already been leaching the public for their shit job to date.

        It’s only a great job if they’re generating propaganda or disinformation because damn, they have that down.

  8. Americana says:

    It’s frightening Republicans choose to focus on conspiracy theories they know will eventually be disproven but which are effective in the short term as propaganda while ignoring more rational evidence of misbehavior that, if pursued, would benefit the functioning of politics in our country.

    It’s hard to get dark money out of politics if Republican members of the FEC refuse to investigate credible claims of dark money.

    From the above link:

    New research by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (“CREW), however, shows an additional—and even more basic—area where a number of FEC commissioners are failing in their jobs: the three Republican commissioners have repeatedly failed to fulfill their legal obligation to explain their decisions to block enforcement.

    According to research by CREW, the three Republican commissioners have failed to issue an explanation for their votes against authorizing investigations of or sanctions for possible campaign finance violations in at least sixteen cases before the agency since 2009. Two commissioners, Caroline C. Hunter and Matthew S. Petersen, issued no explanation for their votes against FEC staff recommendations to pursue an investigation of or sanctions for possible campaign finance violations in all sixteen cases. Commissioner Lee E. Goodman, who was appointed in October 2013, failed to explain his votes against the FEC’s staff recommendation to investigate in six of those cases. Commissioner Goodman’s predecessor, Commissioner Donald F. McGahn, failed in nine of those cases to explain his votes against staff recommendations—with some votes now more than seven years old—before he left the agency.

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