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[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

The Frothy Right Proves Trump Buried 7 Details of Russian Outreach by Wailing about Carter Page

The other day, the government released a spreadsheet that the FBI used to validate the Steele dossier.

The spreadsheet shows that, if the Steele dossier included disinformation, the disinformation was really well crafted, because the disinformation was close enough to the truth to make known events — like Paul Manafort’s expanding corruption scandal — appear to confirm the dossier.

It also shows that when John Solomon claimed, in 2019, that the spreadsheet “was a sea of blanks,” he was wrong.

Multiple sources familiar with the FBI spreadsheet tell me the vast majority of Steele’s claims were deemed to be wrong, or could not be corroborated even with the most awesome tools available to the U.S. intelligence community. One source estimated the spreadsheet found upward of 90 percent of the dossier’s claims to be either wrong, nonverifiable or open-source intelligence found with a Google search.

In other words, it was mostly useless.

“The spreadsheet was a sea of blanks, meaning most claims couldn’t be corroborated, and those things that were found in classified intelligence suggested Steele’s intelligence was partly or totally inaccurate on several claims,” one source told me.

Given the redactions, it is unclear whether the redacted material affirmatively disproves claims from the dossier or provides partial corroboration. Since I’ve argued the dossier was problematic for longer than even the frothers, I don’t have a stake in that. But the spreadsheet in no way was full of blanks. There are relatively few blank entries in the spreadsheet.

Which means, if it was disinformation, it succeeded in wasting a lot of the FBI’s time.

But a potentially more important detail from the spreadsheet is that it shows the Carter Page FISA collection was useful in testing the dossier’s claims. Probably, given other soft corroboration and Igor Danchenko’s claims to have two independent sources backing the claim, the FISA collection produced evidence that made it harder to rule out a meeting between Igor Sechin and Page (which is what the Mueller Report ultimately concluded, that they couldn’t rule it out; 302s show there was time in Page’s schedule he didn’t account for).

And Trump has succeeded in burying that useful intelligence, even the intelligence collected during a period when — the bipartisan SSCI Report concluded — the FISA application targeting Page was appropriate.

In September, the FISA Court unsealed an opinion explaining its decision to sequester the intelligence collected under the Carter Page orders. The order reveals that, when the Court asked whether it should treat the first two applications targeting Page the same way it would treat the two for which DOJ had withdrawn probable cause determination, DOJ declined to do so.

In fact, in response to the Conrt’s directive to explain why retaining the Page FISA information “in the manner intended by the government, and any contemplated use or disclosure of it,” comport with§§ 1809(a)(2) and 1827(a)(2), Jan. 7, 2020, Order at 2, the government declined to argue, even alternatively, that those provisions do not apply ( or apply differently) to information obtained under the first two dockets. See Feb. 5, 2020, Resp. at 28-29. Under the circumstances, the Court will assume that§§ l 809(a)(2) and l 827(a)(2) apply to information acquired under color of the first and second dockets just as, per the government’s admission, they apply to information acquired under color of the third and fourth.

This had the result that, even though DOJ itself did not withdraw its probable cause determination, and even though a bipartisan committee at SSCI believed the initial applications were merited, all four applications targeting Page would be treated as if the applications were improper.

DOJ did not tell the FISC that it was (and probably still is) criminally investigating several people involved in these applications, meaning the FISC opinion sequestering case file information would be make necessary source information unavailable for anyone targeted in that investigation to show that the applications were reasonable.

That may have been part of the point.

And the Steele dossier spreadsheet shows in tangible form that useful information — whether it corroborated suspicions against Page or disproved them — has been sealed permanently as a result. The spreadsheet redacts information on the following topics because of FISC’s decision to sequester everything collected under the Page applications:

I get why the FISC would want to rule aggressively to protect Carter Page’s privacy, and I’m fine with the decision.

But this intelligence seems like it would be really useful to understanding the Russian operation, even if Page was targeted by Russian disinformation. Indeed, this intelligence would be really important to understand the nature of the disinformation Russia fed the US.

The decision by Trump’s DOJ not to stand by its earlier decision that the first two applications were appropriate had the effect, then, of burying intelligence on Trump and the Russian operation.

Which was likely part of the point.

The Desperation of the Jeffrey Jensen Investigation Already Made Clear that John Durham Won’t Indict

Yesterday, a sick man called into Maria Bartiromo’s show and wailed that his opponents had not been indicted.

Bartiromo: Mr. President. We now know from these documents that John Ratcliffe unveiled that it was Hilary Clinton’s idea to tie you to Russia in some way. It was successful. The whole country was talking about it for two and a half years. But what comes next, Mr. President? We can have all of these documents, we can see exactly what happened but unless John [Durham] comes out with a report or indictments unless Bill Barr comes out with a — a — some kind of a ruling here, do you think this is resonating on the American people?

Trump: Unless Bill Barr indicts these people for crimes, the greatest political crime in the history of our country, then we’re going to get little satisfaction unless I win and we’ll just have to go, because I won’t forget it. But these people should be indicted, this was the greatest political crime in the history of our country and that includes Obama and it includes Biden. These are people that spied on my campaign and we have everything. Now they say they have much more, OK? And I say, Bill, we’ve got plenty, you don’t need any more. We’ve got so much, Maria, even — just take a look at the Comey report, 78 pages of kill, done by Horowitz, and I have a lot of respect for Horowitz, and he said prosecute. He recommended prosecute and they didn’t prosecute. I was — I couldn’t believe it, but they didn’t do it, because they said we have much bigger fish to fry. Well, that’s OK, they indicted Flynn for lying and he didn’t lie. They destroyed many lives, Roger Stone, over nothing. They destroyed lives. Look at Manafort, they sent in a black book, it was a phony black book, phony, they made up a black book of cash that he got from Ukraine or someplace and he didn’t get any cash.

In the comment, he described speaking directly to Billy Barr about the urgency of prosecuting his political opponents.

In response to this attack, Billy Barr has started telling Republican members of Congress that John Durham isn’t going to indict before the election.

Attorney General Bill Barr has begun telling top Republicans that the Justice Department’s sweeping review into the origins of the Russia investigation will not be released before the election, a senior White House official and a congressional aide briefed on the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Republicans had long hoped the report, led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, would be a bombshell containing revelations about what they allege were serious abuses by the Obama administration and intelligence community probing for connections between President Trump and Russia.

  • “This is the nightmare scenario. Essentially, the year and a half of arguably the number one issue for the Republican base is virtually meaningless if this doesn’t happen before the election,” a GOP congressional aide told Axios.
  • Barr has made clear that they should not expect any further indictments or a comprehensive report before Nov. 3, our sources say.

Barr is excusing the delay by saying that Durham is only going to prosecute stuff he can win.

What we’re hearing: Barr is communicating that Durham is taking his investigation extremely seriously and is focused on winning prosecutions.

  • According to one of the sources briefed on the conversations Barr said Durham is working in a deliberate and calculated fashion, and they need to be patient.
  • The general sense of the talks, the source says, is that Durham is not preoccupied with completing his probe by a certain deadline for political purposes.

This back and forth represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what must be going on.

The Durham investigation should not, at this point, be considered separately from the Jeffrey Jensen investigation attempting to invent a reason to blow up the Flynn prosecution. That’s been true since Barr appointed Jensen because Durham hadn’t yet discovered anything to dig Sidney Powell out of the hole she had dug Flynn. But it’s especially true now that documents that would be central to the Durham inquiry are being leaked left and right — whether it’s the report that the FBI knew that Igor Danchenko had been investigated (like Carter Page and Mike Flynn) as a possible Russian agent, or specific details about when the FBI obtained NSLs on Mike Flynn.

The investigative integrity of the Durham investigation has been shot beyond recovery.

Plus, the sheer desperation of the Jensen investigation raises real questions about whether a credible investigation could ever find anything that could sustain a prosecution, in any case. That’s because:

  • Jensen has repeatedly provided evidence that proves the opposite of what DOJ claims. For example, the Bill Priestap notes that DOJ claimed were a smoking gun actually show contemporaneous proof for the explanation that every single witness has offered for Mike Flynn’s interview — that they needed to see whether Flynn would tell the truth about his calls with Sergey Kisklyak. Plus, now there’s a Priestap 302, one DOJ is hiding, that further corroborates that point. That evidence blows all the claims about the centrality of the Logan Act to interviewing Flynn out of the water, and it’s already public.
  • Jensen’s investigators submitted altered exhibits to sustain easily disprovable claims. DOJ has claimed that this tampering with evidence was inadvertent — they simply forgot to take sticky notes off their files. That doesn’t explain all the added dates, however, undermining their excuse. Moreover, if they didn’t intentionally tamper with evidence, they’re left claiming either that they haven’t read the exhibits they’ve relied on thus far in this litigation, or that they’re so fucking stupid that they don’t realize they’ve already disproven their own assumptions about dates. Add in the way their “errors” got mainlined to the President via a lawyer meeting with Trump’s campaign lawyer, and the whole explanation gets so wobbly no prosecutor would want to proceed toward prosecution with problems that could so easily be discoverable (or already public).
  • Jensen’s investigators got star witness William Barnett to expose himself as a partisan willing to forget details to help Trump. Along with an analyst that was skeptical of the Flynn case (but who was moved off before the most damning evidence came in), Barnett would need to be the star witness in any case alleging impropriety in the investigation. But rather than hiding Barnett’s testimony and protecting his credibility, Jensen made a desperate bid to get his claims on the record and make it public. And what the 302 actually shows — even without a subpoena of Barnett’s personal ties and texts sent on FBI phones — is that in his interview, Barnett claimed not to understand the case (even though documents he filed show that he did, contemporaneously), and either did not remember or deliberately suppressed key evidence (not least that Flynn told Kislyak that Trump had been informed of his calls).  The 302 further showed Barnett presenting as “truth” of bias claims that instead show his willingness to make accusations about people he didn’t work with, even going so far as to repackage his own dickish behavior as an attempt to discredit Jeannie Rhee. Finally, by hiding how many good things Barnett had to say about Brandon Van Grack, DOJ has made it clear that the only thing Barnett can be used for is to admit that he, too, believes Flynn lied, didn’t have a problem with one of the key investigators in the case, and that his views held sway on the final Mueller Report. Had Durham managed this witness, Barnett might have been dynamite. Now, he would be, at best, an easily discredited partisan.

Jensen is working from the same evidence that Durham is. And what the Jensen investigation has shown is that it takes either willful ignorance or deliberate manipulation to spin this stuff as damning. And in the process, Jensen has destroyed the viability of a witness and possibly other pieces of evidence that any credible prosecution would use.

DOJ might make one last bid in giving Trump what he wants, allegations against his adversaries, by using the initial response in the McCabe and Strzok lawsuits as a platform to make unsubstantiated attacks on them (DOJ got an extension in both cases, but one that is still before the election). But those attacks will crumble just like the Jeffrey Jensen case has, and do so in a way that may make it easier for McCabe and Strzok to get expansive discovery at the underlying actions of people like Barnett.

Billy Barr has largely shot his wad in drumming up accusations against Trump’s critics. And along the way, he has proven how flimsy any such claims were in the first place.

Lindsey Graham, Chuck Grassley, and Mike Lee Exhibit Utter Ignorance about FBI Certification on FISA Applications

Jim Comey’s testimony in Lindsey’s Graham’s purported investigation of FISA — by which Lindsey means using the Carter Page FISA application as a stand-in for the Russian investigation more generally while remaining silent about both DOJ IG findings that the problems identified with the Page application are true more generally, and about ongoing 702 abuses under Bill Barr and Chris Wray — just finished.

As a Comey hearing connoisseur, it wasn’t bad. Notably, he repeatedly refused to answer questions for which the presumptions were false.

But as a connoisseur of hearings on FISA and FBI oversight, it was an atrocity.

This hearing was meant to talk about the dangers of counterintelligence investigations that unfairly treat people as Russian agents, meaning Page. But by my count, on at least 19 occasions, Republicans raised the investigation into Christopher Steele’s primary subsource, Igor Danchenko, for being a suspected Russian Agent. The investigation lasted from 2009 to 2011. It used many of the same tactics used against Page, Mike Flynn, and Paul Manafort. While the FBI closed the investigation in 2011 because Danchenko left the country — meaning they never affirmatively decided he wasn’t a Russian spy — neither did they decide he was.

That makes Danchenko exactly like Carter Page, someone once suspected of and investigated over a period for being a Russian Agent, but about whom the investigation was inconclusive, with remaining unanswered questions.

If you believe in due process in this country, you treat Igor Danchenko exactly like you’d like Carter Page to be treated.

And Republicans — starting and ending with Lindsey Graham — over and over again — stated that Danchenko was a suspected Russian agent in 2016 (which is plausible but for which there is no evidence) and even, repeatedly, stated as fact that he was a Russian spy. Lindsey claimed at one point that “the Primary Subsource was a Russian agent.” He later called Danchenko, “Igor the Russian spy.”

Republicans today did everything they complain was done with Carter Page, but they did so in a public hearing.

Danchenko may very well have been still suspect in 2016; that may very well have been something to consider when vetting the dossier (though as Comey noted, it could either corroborate that Danchenko had the sources he claimed or raise concerns about Russian disinformation). That absolutely should have been a factor to raise concerns about Russian disinformation. But everything in the public record shows that Danchenko was, in 2016, in exactly the same status Page will be in 2022, someone against whom an inconclusive foreign agent investigation was closed years earlier.

Still worse, at a hearing in which Lindsey Graham and other Republican Senators claimed they wanted to fix the problems in the FISA process identified as part of the Carter Page application, one after another — including Graham, Chuck Grassley, Mike Lee, Josh Hawley, and Joni Ernst — betrayed utter ignorance about the role of the FBI Director’s certification in a FISA application.

By statute, the FBI Director (or National Security Advisor) certification requires a very limited set of information, basically explaining why the FBI wants to and can use a FISA warrant rather than a criminal warrant, because they believe the desired information in part pertains to a national security threat.

(6)a certification or certifications by the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, an executive branch official or officials designated by the President from among those executive officers employed in the area of national security or defense and appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, or the Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, if designated by the President as a certifying official–

(A)that the certifying official deems the information sought to be foreign intelligence information;

(B)that a significant purpose of the surveillance is to obtain foreign intelligence information;

(C)that such information cannot reasonably be obtained by normal investigative techniques;

(D)that designates the type of foreign intelligence information being sought according to the categories described in section 1801(e) of this title; and

(E)including a statement of the basis for the certification that—

(i)the information sought is the type of foreign intelligence information designated; and

(ii)such information cannot reasonably be obtained by normal investigative techniques;

Thanks to the declassification of the Carter Page FISA applications, we can see what the declaration Comey signed looked like. In 8 pages tracking the statutory requirement, it explains (in redacted language) what kind of foreign intelligence information FBI hoped to obtain from the FISA, and why normal investigative methods are not sufficient to achieve those objectives.

Not a shred of that declaration pertains to the underlying affidavit.

And Comey tried to alert people to this, over and over, in the hearing, stating that his certification was very limited, even while taking responsibility in the affidavit that he didn’t sign (and once, in response to a question from Lindsey, stating explicitly that he had not signed). Rather than asking him what his certification entailed and how he thought about that responsibility, Republican Senators entrusted with overseeing FISA insinuated over and over, falsely, that he should have known the underlying pieces of evidence used to obtain the FISA.

Maybe he should have. He frankly exhibited some awareness of what was in that.

But that’s not what the law requires. And if the Senate Judiciary Committee wants FBI Directors signing FISA applications to have that kind of granular awareness of case, they need to rewrite the law to mandate it.

Instead, they simply exhibited their utter lack of awareness of what FISA law requires.

Some of these Senators, notably Grassley, have been overseeing FISA for decades. Lindsey heads this committee. Mike Lee is easily among the Senators who is best informed about FISA. And yet none of them know — not even with a declassified application to read — what it is that the FBI Director certifies.

The Frothy Right Finally Finds a Counterintelligence Investigation They Love!!!

Along with a 302 that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny and some documents that appear to be revamped errors from weeks ago, the Trump Administration also released a report revealing that Igor Danchenko — Christopher Steele’s primary subsource for his dossier — had been under counterintelligence investigation in 2009-2010.

My beliefs about the shit-show of the dossier are well-known, and actually precede those of the frothy right. The fact that Danchenko had high level contacts with Russians in 2009 increases the likelihood his sources had the access that he claimed they did. But the possibility he was being cultivated also increases the chance Russia filled the dossier with disinformation, which I think they did. In any case, Danchenko was not under investigation when he was sharing information with Steele, and hadn’t been for years.

If the dossier is disinformation, though, then Republicans continue to be willful participants in it.

The report is remarkable, however, for the details it provides about how, after a tip about a weird comment Danchenko made (possibly at Brookings), the FBI opened a preliminary and then a full investigation into Danchenko.

After initiating the investigation, the FBI converted it from a preliminary to a full investigation based on the following open source and FBI information:

  • The Primary Sub-source was identified as an associate of two FBI counterintelligence subjects. The FBI assessed that the Primary Sub-source formed the associations with these individuals through a university student organization of which he/she was a member. The FBI identified no additional derogatory information pertaining to these associations.
  • A review of FBI databases revealed that the Primary Sub-source had contact in 2006 with the Russian Embassy and known Russian intelligence officers.
  • In September 2006, the Primary Sub-source was in contact with a known Russian intelligence officer. During these conversations, the Russian Intelligence Officer invited the Primary Sub-source to the Russian Embassy to see his office. The Primary Sub-source told the Russian Intelligence Officer that he/she was interested in entering the Russian diplomatic service one day. The two discussed a time when the Primary Sub-source was to visit. Four days later, the Russian Intelligence Officer contacted the Primary Sub-source and informed him/her they could meet that day to work “on the documents and then think about future plans.” Later in October 2006, the Primary Sub-source contacted the Russian Intelligence Officer seeking a reply “so the documents can be placed in tomorrow’s diplomatic mail pouch.”
  • FBI information further identified, in 2005, the Primary Sub-source making contact with a Washington, D.C.–based Russian officer. It was noted that the Russian officer and the Primary Sub-source seemed very familiar with each other.

INTERVIEWS TO SUPPORT THE INVESTIGATION As part of its investigation, the FBI conducted interviews with the Primary Sub-source’s associates. One individual indicated that the Primary Sub-source was not anti-American but wanted to return to Russia one day. Another described the Primary Sub-source as pro-Russia and indicated that he/she always interjected Russian opinions during policy discussions. While both stated that they did not recall the Primary Sub-source asking directly about their access to classified information, one interviewee did note that the Primary Sub-source persistently asked about the interviewee’s knowledge of a particular military vessel.

The FBI identified known Russian intelligence officers Danchenko was hanging out with, including one with whom he shared information. After finding that open source information, the FBI elevated the investigation to a full investigation and started talking to Danchenko’s associates.

That is, this report describes some of the same kinds of contacts that Mike Flynn (with Turkey), George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Rudy Giuliani, and Trump himself had which led to the opening of an investigation into them. And the FBI investigated Danchenko in the way that the FBI investigated Trump’s associates (though we only know that the Rudy investigation has extended to his grifters, not to Rudy himself yet).

And yet, with Danchenko, the frothy right is not only applauding the investigation, but suggesting that that investigation — though it was closed — should taint Danchenko for the foreseeable future.

BREAKING, Catherine Herridge blared in High Gaslight tone.

The primary sub-source for the Steele dossier was deemed a possible “national security threat” + the subject of 2009 FBI counter-intel probe. According to new records, those facts were known to Crossfire Hurricane team in December 2016.

BREAKING: Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor was deemed a possible “national security threat” and the subject of a 2016 counter-intel probe. According to public records, some of those facts were known to Donald Trump before he hired Flynn in November 2016.

According to the standard the frothy right is adopting with Danchenko, neither Trump nor many of his close associates have any business being anywhere near government.