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The Nuances of the Carter Page Application

I’ve now finished a close read of the last Carter Page FISA application. I think the contents bring a lot more nuance to the discussion of it over the last three years. This post will try to lay out some of that nuance.

Hot and cold running Carter Page descriptions

In most ways, the declassified application tracks the DOJ IG Report and shows how the problems with the application in practice. One newly declassified example conservatives have pointed to shows that FBI Agents believed that Page’s media appearances in spring 2017 were just an attempt to get a book contract.

The FBI also notes that Page continues to be active in meeting with media outlets to promote his theories of how U.S. foreign policy should be adjusted with regard to Russia and also to refute claims of his involvement with Russian Government efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. [redacted–sensitive information] The believes this approach is important because, from the Russian Government’s point-of-view, it continues to keep the controversy of the election in the front of the American and world media, which has the effect of undermining the integrity of the U.S. electoral process and weakening the effectiveness of the current U.S. Administration. The FBI believes Page also may be seeking media attention in order to maintain momentum for potential book contracts. (57)

Even if Page were doing media to get a book contract, short of being charged and put under a court authorized gag, there’s nothing that prevents him from telling his story. He’s perfectly entitled to overtly criticize US foreign policy. And as so often happens when intelligence analysis sees any denials as a formal Denial and Deception strategy, the FBI allowed no consideration to the possibility that some of his denials were true.

Julian Sanchez argued when the IG Report came out that FBI’s biases were probably confirmation bias, not anti-Trump bias, and this is one of the many examples that supports that.

One specific Page denial that turned out to be true — that he was not involved in the Ukraine platform issue — is even more infuriating reading in declassified form. As the IG Report noted, by the time FBI filed this last application, there were several piece of evidence that JD Gordan was responsible for preventing any platform change.

An FBI March 20, 2017 Intelligence Memorandum titled “Overview of Trump Campaign Advisor Jeff D. [J.D.] Gordon” again attributed the change in the Republican Platform Committee’s Ukraine provision to Gordon and an unnamed campaign staffer. The updated memorandum did not include any reference to Carter Page working with Gordon or communicating with the Republican Platform Committee. On May 5, 2017, the Counterintelligence Division updated this Intelligence Memorandum to include open source reporting on the intervention of Trump campaign members during the Republican platform discussions at the Convention to include Gordon’s public comments on his role. This memorandum still made no reference to involvement by Carter Page with the Republican Platform Committee or with the provision on Ukraine.

On June 7, 2017, the FBI interviewed a Republican Platform Committee member. This interview occurred three weeks before Renewal Application No. 3 was filed. According to the FBI FD-302 documenting the interview, this individual told the FBI that J.D. Gordon was the Trump campaign official that flagged the Ukrainian amendment, and that another person (not Carter Page) was the second campaign staffer present at the July 11 meeting of the National Security and Defense Platform Subcommittee meeting when the issue was tabled.

Although the FBI did not develop any information that Carter Page was involved in the Republican Platform Committee’s change regarding assistance to Ukraine, and the FBI developed evidence that Gordon and another campaign official were responsible for the change, the FBI did not alter its assessment of Page’s involvement in the FISA applications. Case Agent 6 told us that when Carter Page denied any involvement with the Republican Platform Committee’s provision on Ukraine, Case Agent 6 “did not take that statement at face value.” He told us that at the time of the renewals, he did not believe Carter Page’s denial and it was the team’s “belief” that Carter Page had been involved with the platform change.

But the application’s treatment of this issue doesn’t just leave out that information. The utterly illogical explanation of why the FBI believed he had a role in the platform — which was quoted in the IG Report — appears worse in context.

During these March 2017 interviews, the FBI also questioned Page about the above-referenced reports from August 2016 that Candidate #1’s campaign worked to make sure Political Party #1’s platform would not call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces [this matter is discussed on pgs. 25-26]. According to Page, he had no part in the campaign’s decision. Page stated that an identified individual (who previously served as manager of Candidate #1’s campaign) more likely than not recommended the “pro-Russian” changes. As the FBI believes that Page also holds pro-Russian views and appears to still have been a member of Candidate #1’s campaign in August 2016, the FBI assesses that Page may have been downplaying his role in advocating for the change to Political Party #1’s platform. (55)

(Here’s the March 16, 2017 interview.)

It’s not just that the FBI had about five other pieces of evidence that suggested Page was not involved, but for the FBI, it was enough that he was pro-Russian to suggest Page would have had the influence and bureaucratic chops to make it happen, even in the absence of any evidence to the fact. Add in the fact that FBI obtained a pen register on Page as part of this application (as reflected by notations in the margin of redacted material), and the fact that FBI didn’t track what communications he did or did not have at any time is particularly inexcusable.

So there’s abundant evidence in the Page applications that FBI acted like they normally do, seeing in every denial yet more evidence of guilt.

That said, the application does show more to explain why the FBI suspected Page in the first place and continued to have questions about his veracity until the end. For example, here’s the full explanation of how Page came to tell a Russian minister he had been the guy that Viktor Podobnyy was recruiting.

Based on information provided by Page during this [March 2016] interview, the FBI determined that Page’s relationship with Podobnyy was primarily unidirectional, with Page largely providing Podobnyy open source information and contact introductions. During one interview, Page told the FBI that he approached a Russian Minister, who was surrounded by Russian officials/diplomats, and “in the spirit of openness,” Page informed the group that he was “Male-1” in the Buryakov complaint. (16-17)

The FBI took this both as Page’s own confirmation that he was the person in the complaint, which in turn meant that Page knew he was being recruited, and, having learned that, sought ought well-connected Russians to identify himself as such.

As the application laid out later, Page at first denied what he had previously told the FBI about this incident and the Russians who had previously tried to recruit him in his March 2017 interviews. (This occurred in his March 16, 2017 interview.)

In a reference to the Buryakov complaint, Page stated that “nobody knows that I’m Male-1 in this report,” and also added that he never told anyone about this. As discussed above, however, during a March 2016 interview with the FBI regarding his relationship with Podobnyy, Page told the FBI he informed a group of Russian officials that he (Page) was “Male-1” in the Buryakov complaint. Thus, during the March 2017 interview, the FBI specifically asked Page if he told any colleague that he (Page) was “Male-1.” In response, Page stated that there was a conversation with a Russian Government official at the United Nations General Assembly The FBI again asked Page if he had told anyone that he was “Male-1.” Page responded that he “forgot the exact statement.”

Note, Page’s 302 quotes Page as telling the Minister, “I didn’t do anything [redacted],” but it’s unclear (given the b3 redaction) whether that relays what Page said in March 2017 or if the b3 suggests FBI learned this via other means. But the redacted bit remains one of the sketchier parts of this.

The application also describes how Page denied having a business relationship with Aleksandr Bulatov, the first presumed time Russia tried to recruit him, claiming he may have had lunch with him in New York. That Page claimed only to have had lunch with him is all the more absurd since this was the basis for his supposed cooperation with the CIA.

Having seen how Page handled his HPSCI interview and TV interviews, it’s not surprising to see he denied ties he earlier bragged about (which, in any case, undermines any claim he was operating clandestinely). But at best, Page didn’t deny the key thing he could have to avert suspicion: to admit (as George Papadopoulos readily did) that he was overselling his access in Russia to the Trump campaign, in emails the FBI presumably obtained using FISA. Nothing in the IG Report rebuts the claim that Page claimed things in communications that provided basis to believe he was lying (the actual communications are redacted in the applications because all of the FISA collection targeted at Page has been sequestered). So while the FBI did a bunch of inexcusable things with Page, there were things that Page did — and never explained — that explain the FBI’s sustained suspicion of him.

An explanation for some of the GOP’s core beliefs about the dossier and the investigation

The release of the full application also helps to explain how Republicans came to have certain beliefs about the Steele dossier and the Russian investigation. Take this passage:

Source #1 reported the information contained herein to the FBI over the course of several meetings with the FBI from in or about June 2016 through August 2016.

The passage is slightly inaccurate: Mike Gaeta first got reports from Christopher Steele in early July.

Shortly before the Fourth of July 2016, Handling Agent 1 told the OIG that he received a call from Steele requesting an in-person meeting as soon as possible. Handling Agent 1 said he departed his duty station in Europe on July 5 and met with Steele in Steele’s office that day. During their meeting, Steele provided Handling Agent 1 with a copy of Report 80 and explained that he had been hired by Fusion GPS to collect information on the relationship between candidate Trump’s businesses and Russia.

Since initial details of Steele’s reporting have been made public, the frothy right has been unable to understand that information doesn’t necessarily flow instantaneously inside of or between large bureaucracies. And having read this line, I assume Kash Patel would have told Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy that it was proof that the FBI predicated the investigation on the Steele dossier, because “the FBI” had Steele’s reports a month before opening the investigation into Trump’s aides (though, in fact, that was months after NYFO had opened an investigation into Page). The IG Report, however, explains in detail about how there was a bit of a delay before Steele’s handler sent his reports to the NY Field Office, a delay there for a while, and a further delay after a member of the Crossfire Hurricane team asked NYFO to forward anything they had. As a result, the CH team didn’t receive the first set of Steele reports until September 19, over a month after the investigation started.

On August 25, 2016, according to a Supervisory Special Agent 1 (SSA 1) who was assigned to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, during a briefing for then Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on the investigation, McCabe asked SSA 1 to contact NYFO about information that potentially could assist the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. 225 SSA 1 said he reached out to counterintelligence agents and analysts in NYFO within approximately 24 hours following the meeting. Instant messages show that on September 1, SSA 1 spoke with a NYFO counterintelligence supervisor, and that the counterintelligence supervisor was attempting to set up a call between SSA 1 and the ADC. On September 2, 2016, Handling Agent 1, who had been waiting for NYFO to inform him where to forward Steele’s reports, sent the following email to the ADC and counterintelligence supervisor: “Do we have a name yet? The stuff is burning a hole.” The ADC responded the same day explaining that SSA 1 had created an electronic sub-file for Handling Agent 1 in the Crossfire Hurricane case and that he

In any other world, this delay — as well as a delay in sharing derogatory information freely offered by Bruce Ohr and Kathleen Kavalec — would be a scandal about not sharing enough information. But instead, this passage about when FBI received the files likely plays a key part of an unshakeable belief that the dossier played a key role in predicating the investigation, which it does not.

Similarly, declassification of the application helps to explain why the frothy right believes that claims George Papadopoulos made to Stefan Halper and another informant in fall 2016 should have undermined the claims FBI made.

To be clear: the frothy right is claiming Papadopoulos’s denials should be treated as credible even after he admitted to a second informant that he told the story he did to Halper about Trump campaign involvement in the leaked emails because he believed if he had said anything else, Halper would have gone to the CIA about it. The FBI, however, believed the claims to be lies in real time, and on that (unlike Carter Page’s denials) the record backs them. There’s even a footnote (on page 11) that explicitly said, “the FBI believes that Papadopoulos provided misleading or incomplete information to the FBI” in his later FBI interviews.

That said, the way Papadopoulos is used in this application is totally upside down. A newly declassified part of the footnote describing Steele’s partisan funding claims that Papadopoulos corroborates Steele’s reporting (the italicized text is newly declassified).

Notwithstanding Source #1’s reason for conducting the research into Candidate #1’s ties to Russia, based on Source #1’s previous reporting history with the FBI, whereby Source #1 provided reliable information to the FBI, the FBI believes Source #1’s herein to be credible. Moreover, because of outside corroborating circumstances discussed herein, such as the reporting from a friendly foreign government that a member of Candidate #1’s team received a suggestion from Russia that Russia could assist with the release of information damaging to Candidate #2 and Russia’s believed hack and subsequent leak of the DNC e-amils, the FBI assesses that Source #1’s reporting contained herein is credible.

This is the reverse of how the IG Report describes things, which explains that the DNC emails came out, Australia decided to alert the US Embassy in London about what Papadopoulos had said three months earlier, which led the FBI to predicate four different investigations (Page, Papadopoulos, Mike Flynn, and Paul Manafort; though remember that NYFO had opened an investigation into Page in April) to see if any of the most obvious Trump campaign members could explain why Russia thought it could help the Trump campaign beat Hillary by releasing emails. The Steele dossier certainly seemed to confirm questions raised by the Australia report (which explains why the FBI was so susceptible, to the extent this was disinformation, to believing it, and why, to the extent it was disinformation, it was incredibly well-crafted). The Steele dossier seemingly confirmed the fears raised by the Australia report, not vice versa. It seems like circular logic to then use Papadopoulos to “corroborate” the Steele dossier. That has, in turn, led the right to think undermining the original Australian report does anything to undermine the investigation itself, even though by the end of October Papadopoulos had sketched out the outlines of what happened with Joseph Mifsud and discussed wanting to cash in on it, and Papadopoulos continued to pursue this Russian relationship, including a secret back channel meeting in London, well into the summer.

Finally, I’m more sympathetic, having read this full application, to complaints about the way FBI uses media accounts — though for an entirely different reason than the frothy right. The original complaint on this point misread the way the FBI used the September 23 Michael Isikoff article reporting on Page, suggesting it was included for the facts about the meeting rather than the denials from Page and the campaign presented in it. The discussion appears in a section on “Page’s denial of cooperation.”  And — as I’ve noted before — the FBI always sourced that story to the Fusion GPS effort, even if they inexcusably believed that Glenn Simpson, and not Steele, was the “well-placed Western intelligence source” cited in the article.

But with further declassification, the way the application relied on two articles about the Ukraine platform to establish what the campaign had actually done (see page 25), rather than refer to the platform itself — or, more importantly, Trump’s own comments about policy, which I’ll return to — appears more problematic (not least because FBI confused the timing of one of those reports with the actual policy change.

Steele and Sergei Millian as uniquely correct about WikiLeaks

There’s another thing about sourcing in this application (which carries over to what I’ve often seen in FBI affidavits). While there are passages discussing the larger investigation into Russia’s 2016 operation that remain redacted (and indeed, there’s a substitution of a redaction with “FBI” on page 7 which probably hides that the IC as a whole continued to investigate Russian hacking), key discussions of that investigation cite to unclassified materials, even in a FISA application that would have under normal circumstances never been shared publicly. For example, the discussion describing attribution of the operation to Russia from pages 6 to 10 largely relies on the October 7 joint statement and Obama’s sanctions statement, not even the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment, much less (with the exception of two redacted passages) anything more detailed.

Even ignoring secret government sources, there was a whole lot more attributing Russia and WikiLeaks’s role in the hack-and-leak, especially by June 2017. Yet the Page application doesn’t touch any of that.

And that makes the way the application uses the allegations — attributed to Sergei Millian — to make knowable information about the WikiLeaks dump tie to unsupported information in the dossier all the more problematic. As parroted in the application, this passage interlaces true, public, but not very interesting details with totally unsupported allegations:

According to information provided by Sub-Source [redacted] there was a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them [assessed to be individuals involved in Candidate #1’s campaign] and the Russian leadership.” Sub-Source [redacted] reported that the conspiracy was being managed by Candidate #1’s then campaign manager, who was using, among others, foreign policy advisor Carter Page as an intermediary. Sub-Source [redacted] further reported that the Russian regime had been behind the above-described disclosure of DNC e-mail messages to WikiLeaks. Sub-Source [redacted] reported that WikiLeaks was used to create “plausible deniability,” and that the operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of Candidate #1’s team, which the FBI assessed to include at least Page. In return, according to Sub-Source [redacted], Candidate #1’s team, which the FBI assessed to include at least Page, agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise U.S.NATO defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine.

The DOJ IG report describes how FBI responded to this report by (purportedly) examining the reliability of Steele and his sources closely.

The FISA application stated that, according to this sub-source, Carter Page was an intermediary between Russian leadership and an individual associated with the Trump campaign (Manafort) in a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation” that led to the disclosure of hacked DNC emails by Wikileaks in exchange for the Trump campaign team’s agreement, which the FBI assessed included at least Carter Page, to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue. The application also stated that this same sub-source provided information contained in Steele’s Report 80 that the Kremlin had been feeding information to Trump’s campaign for an extended period of time and that the information had reportedly been “very helpful,” as well as information contained in Report 102 that the DNC email leak had been done, at least in part, to swing supporters from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. 300 Because the FBI had no independent corroboration for this information, as witnesses have mentioned, the reliability of Steele and his source network was important to the inclusion of these allegations in the FISA application.

Except there would seem to be another necessary step: to first identify how much of this report cobbled together stuff that was already public — which included Russia’s role, the purpose of using WikiLeaks, Carter Page’s trip to Russia (but not specifics of his meetings there), and — though the application got details of what happened with Ukraine in the platform wrong — the prevention of a change to the platform. On these details, Steele was not only not predictive, he was derivative. Putting aside the problems with the three different levels of unreliable narrators (Steele, his Primary Subsource, and Millian), all of whom had motives to to package this information in a certain way, the fact that these claims clearly included stuff that had been made available weeks earlier should have raised real questions (and always did for me, when I was reading this dossier). Had the FBI separated out what was unique and timely in these allegations, they would have looked significantly different (not least because they would have shown Steele’s network was following public disclosures on key issues).

This is not the kompromat you’re looking for

Which brings me to perhaps the most frustrating part of this application.

As I started arguing at least by September 2017 (and argued again and again and again), to the extent the dossier got filled with disinformation, it would have had the effect of leading Hillary’s campaign to be complacent after learning they had been hacked, because according to the dossier, the Russians planned to leak years old FSB intercepts from when Hillary visited Russia, not contemporaneous emails pertaining to her campaign and recent history. It might even have led the Democrats to dismiss the possibility that the files Guccifer 2.0 was releasing were John Podesta files, delaying any response to the leak that would eventually come in October.

To the extent the dossier was disinformation, it gave the Russian operation cover to regain surprise for their hack-and-leak operation. At least with respect to the Democrats, that largely worked.

And, even though the Australians apparently believed the DNC release may have confirmed Papadopoulos prediction that Russia would dump emails, it appears to have partly worked with the FBI, as well. This passage should never appear in an application that derived from a process leading from the DNC emails to the shared tip about Papadopoulos to a request to wiretap Page:

According to reporting from Sub-Source [redacted] this dossier had been compiled by the RIS over many years, dating back to the 1990s. Further, according to Sub-Source [redacted] his dossier was, by the direct instructions of Russian President Putin, controlled exclusively by Senior Kremlin Spokesman Dmitriy Peskov. Accordingly, the FBI assesses that Divyekin received direction by the Russian Government to disclose the nature and existence of the dossier to Page. In or about June 2016, Sub-Source [redacted] reported that the Kremlin had been feeding information to Candidate #1’s campaign for an extended period of time. Sub-Source [redacted] also reported that the Kremlin had been feeding information to Candidate #1’s campaign for an extended period of time and added that the information had reportedly been “very helpful.” The FBI assesses the information funneled by the Russians to Page was likely part of Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.

Note, the FBI contemporaneously — though not after December 9, 2016 — would not have had something Hillary’s team did, the July Steele report on Russia’s claimed lack of hacking success that the FBI should have recognized as utterly wrong. Still, the earliest Steele reports they did have said the kompromat the Russians were offering was stale intercepts. At the very least, one would hope that would raise questions about why someone with purported access to top Kremlin officials didn’t know about the hack-and-leak operation. But the FBI seems to have expected there might be something more.

Trump clearly was not, but should have been, the target earlier than he was

There’s an irony about the complaints I lay out here: they suggest that Trump should have been targeted far earlier than he was.

The Page application rests on the following logic: One of the notably underqualified foreign policy advisors that Trump rolled out to great fanfare in March 2016 told someone, days later, that Russia had offered to help Trump by releasing damaging information on Hillary. The July dump of DNC emails suggested that Papadopoulos’ knowledge foreknowledge may have been real (and given Mifsud’s ties to someone with links to both the IRA and GRU people behind the operation, it probably was). The temporal coincidence of his appointment and that knowledge seemed to tie his selection as an advisor and that knowledge (and in his case, because Joseph Mifsud only showed an interest in Papadopoulos after learning he was a Trump advisor, that turned out to be true). That made the trip to Russia by another of these notably underqualified foreign policy advisors to give a speech he was even more underqualified to give, all the more interesting, especially the way the Trump people very notably reversed GOP hawkishness on Ukraine days after Page’s return.

In other words, the FBI had evidence — some of it now understood to be likely disinformation, and was trying to understand, how, after Trump shifted his focus to foreign policy, he shifted to a more pro-Russian stance in seeming conjunction with Russia delivering on their promise (shared with foreign policy advisor Papadopoulos) to help Trump by releasing the DNC emails.

It turns out the change in policy was real. And JD Gordan attributed his intervention on the RNC platform, in contravention of direction from policy director John Mashburn, to Trump’s own views.

Gordon reviewed the proposed platform changes, including Denman’s.796 Gordon stated that he flagged this amendment because of Trump’s stated position on Ukraine, which Gordon personally heard the candidate say at the March 31 foreign policy meeting-namely, that the Europeans should take primary responsibility for any assistance to Ukraine, that there should be improved U.S.-Russia relations, and that he did not want to start World War III over that region.797 Gordon told the Office that Trump’s statements on the campaign trail following the March meeting underscored those positions to the point where Gordon felt obliged to object to the proposed platform change and seek its dilution.798

[snip]

According to Denman, she spoke with Gordon and Matt Miller, and they told her that they had to clear the language and that Gordon was “talking to New York.”803 Denman told others that she was asked by the two Trump Campaign staffers to strike “lethal defense weapons” from the proposal but that she refused. 804 Demnan recalled Gordon saying that he was on the phone with candidate Trump, but she was skeptical whether that was true.805 Gordon denied having told Denman that he was on the phone with Trump, although he acknowledged it was possible that he mentioned having previously spoken to the candidate about the subject matter.806 Gordon’s phone records reveal a call to Sessions’s office in Washington that afternoon, but do not include calls directly to a number associated with Trump.807 And according to the President’s written answers to the Office’s questions, he does not recall being involved in the change in language of the platform amendment. 808

Gordon stated that he tried to reach Rick Dearborn, a senior foreign policy advisor, and Mashburn, the Campaign policy director. Gordon stated that he connected with both of them (he could not recall if by phone or in person) and apprised them of the language he took issue with in the proposed amendment. Gordon recalled no objection by either Dearborn or Mashburn and that all three Campaign advisors supported the alternative formulation (“appropriate assistance”).809 Dearborn recalled Gordon warning them about the amendment, but not weighing in because Gordon was more familiar with the Campaign’s foreign policy stance.810 Mashburn stated that Gordon reached him, and he told Gordon that Trump had not taken a stance on the issue and that the Campaign should not intervene.811

[snip]

Sam Clovis, the Campaign’s national co-chair and chief policy advisor, stated he was surprised by the change and did not believe it was in line with Trump’s stance.816 Mashburn stated that when he saw the word “appropriate assistance,” he believed that Gordon had violated Mashburn’s directive not to intervene.817

Sam Clovis would ultimately testify there had been a policy change around the time of the March 31 meeting (though Clovis’ testimony changed wildly over the course of a day and conflicted with what he told Stefan Halper).

Clovis perceived a shift in the Campaign’s approach toward Russia-from one of engaging with Russia through the NATO framework and taking a strong stance on Russian aggression in Ukraine.

But (as noted above), to lay this out in the Page application, the FBI sourced to secondary reporting of the policy change rather than to the platform itself. More notably, in spite of all this happening after late July 2016, there’s no mention of Trump’s press conference on July 27, 2016, where he asked Russia to go find more Hillary emails (and they almost immediately started hacking Hillary’s personal accounts), said he’d consider recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea and lifting sanctions, and lied about his ongoing efforts to build a tower in Russia.

Trump directed Mueller to a transcript of the press conference, I’ve put excerpts below. They’re a good reminder that at the same press conference where Trump asked Russia to find Hillary’s emails (and in seeming response to which, GRU officers targeted Hillary’s personal office just five hours later), Trump suggested any efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow were years in the past, not ongoing. After the press conference, Michael Cohen asked about that false denial, and Trump “told Cohen that Trump Tower Moscow was not a deal yet and said, ‘Why mention it if it is not a deal?’” He also said they’d consider recognizing Russia’s seizure of Crimea, which makes Konstantin Kilimnik’s travel — to Moscow the next day, then to New York for the August 2 meeting at which he and Paul Manafort discussed carving up Ukraine at the same meeting where they discussed how to win Michigan — all the more striking. Trump’s odd answer to whether his campaign “had any conversations with foreign leaders” to “hit the ground running” may reflect Mike Flynn’s meetings with Sergei Kislyak to do just that.

In other words, rather than citing Trump’s language itself, which in one appearance tied ongoing hacking to an even more dramatic policy change than reflected in the platform, the Carter Page application cited secondary reporting, some of it post-dating this appearance.

Mueller asked Trump directly about two of the things he said in this speech (the Russia if you’re listening comment and the assertion they’d look at recognizing Crimea) and obliquely about a third (his public disavowals of Russian business ties). Trump refused to answer part of one of these questions entirely, and demonstrably lied about another. Publicly, Mueller stated that Trump’s answers were totally inadequate. And these statements happened even as his campaign manager and Konstantin Kilimnik were plotting a clandestine meeting to talk about carving up Ukraine.

The FBI may have done this to stay way-the-fuck away from politics — though, to be clear, Trump’s call on Russia to find more Hillary emails in no way fits the bounds of normal political speech.

But by doing do, they ended up using far inferior sourcing, and distracting themselves from actions more closely implicating Trump directly — actions that remain unresolved.

The Carter Page application certainly backs the conclusions of the DOJ IG Report (though it also shows I was correct that DOJ IG did not know what crimes Page was being investigated for, and as such likely got the First Amendment analysis wrong). But it also shows that the Steele dossier, which fed the FBI’s inexcusable confirmation biases, undermined the FBI investigation into questions that have not yet been fully answered.

DOJ Is Abusing FOIA Exemptions to Hide Later, More Damning Testimony of Trump Aides

The government has now “released” around 200 302s (FBI interview reports) in response to BuzzFeed/CNN’s FOIA. The vast majority of those, however, are heavily and at times entirely redacted. DOJ is using an unprecedentedly broad interpretation of the already badly abused b5 (deliberative) FOIA exemption to keep much of this hidden. This includes treating communications with the following people as “presidential communications:”

a. Donald Trump, President

b. Michael Pence, Vice President

c. John Kelly, Chief of Staff

d. Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff

e. Donald McGahn, Counsel to the President

f. Michael Flynn, National Security Advisor

g. Emmett Flood, Special Counsel to the President

h. Sean Spicer, Press Secretary

i. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Deputy Press Secretary; Press Secretary

j. Robert Porter, Staff Secretary

k. Stephen Bannon, Chief Strategist and Senior Adviser to the President

l. Richard Dearborn, Deputy Chief of Staff

m. John Eisenberg, Deputy Counsel to the President and Legal Adviser to the National Security Council

n. K.T. McFarland, Deputy National Security Advisor

o. Uttam Dhillon, Deputy Counsel to the President

p. Annie Donaldson, Chief of Staff to the Counsel to the President

q. Jared Kushner, Senior Adviser to the President

r. Ivanka Trump, Senior Adviser to the President

s. Hope Hicks, Director of Strategic Communications; Director of Communications

t. Stephen Miller, Senior Adviser to the President

DOJ has offered a similar — albeit smaller — list (pages 16-17) of people covered by “Presidential” privileges during the Transition (yes, both Ivanka and Jared are on that list, too).

This is outright abuse, and given yesterday’s opinion stating he will review the existing redactions in the Mueller Report, I expect Judge Reggie Walton to deem it as such once the litigation rolls around to that point.

All the more so given that it can be demonstrably shown that DOJ is selectively releasing 302s such that Trump aides’ false statements are public, but their later more accurate (and damning) statements are hidden. There are at least three examples (Steve Bannon, KT McFarland, and Mike Flynn) where DOJ is still withholding later, more accurate statements while releasing earlier deceitful ones, and two more cases (JD Gordon and Sam Clovis) where DOJ may be hiding discussions of Trump pro-Russian policy stances. And in one case (Clovis), DOJ appears to have used a b3 (protected by statute) exemption that doesn’t appear to be justifiable.

Steve Bannon

Steve Bannon was interviewed on at least five occasions:

  • February 12, 2018: large swaths unredacted
  • February 14, 2018: Heavily redacted under both b5 and (pertaining to WikiLeaks, Stone, and Cambridge Analytica, ongoing investigation), but with key passages revealed
  • October 26, 2018: Not yet released
  • January 18, 2019: Proffer released, but 302 not yet released
  • Unknown date (in advance of Stone trial): Not yet released

There are significantly redacted discussions (protected under ongoing investigation redactions) in Bannon’s February 14 302 that conflict with his later public admissions. And Bannon’s testimony in the Roger Stone trial shows that his 302s — including the trial prep one — conflict with his grand jury testimony. What has thus far been made public includes denials of coordination on WikiLeaks that both his October 2018 and January 2019 302s must contradict. Yet DOJ has not released the later, more damning 302s yet.

KT McFarland

As has been publicly reported, KT McFarland at first lied to the FBI but — in the wake of Mike Flynn’s plea deal — unforgot many of the key events surrounding discussions about sanctions during the Transition. While DOJ has not yet released her first 302, the others are, in general, lightly redacted. They show how she appears to have told a cover story about discussions about sanctions during the Transition. The 302 in which she cleaned up her testimony, which would show what really happened during the Transition, is largely redacted.

  • August 29, 2017: Not yet released
  • September 14, 2017: Lightly redacted (though hiding details of Tom Bossert email and her claims about the Flynn sanctions discussion)
  • October 17, 2017: Lightly redacted, though with some Mar-a-Lago and sanctions cover story details redacted
  • October 19, 2017: Significantly redacted
  • December 5, 2017: Lightly redacted; this captures McFarland’s panic in the days after Flynn’s plea
  • December 22, 2017: Very heavily redacted

Mike Flynn

Mike Flynn’s initial 302, from January 24, 2017, has been public for some time. Flynn has twice admitted, under oath, that he lied in that 302.

None of his other Russia-related 302s, including those where he corrected his story in November 2017, have been made public (though DOJ may be withholding these because he has not yet been sentenced). Among the 302s DOJ is withholding involves at least one describing how the Trump campaign discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks after the John Podesta emails dropped.

JD Gordon

JD Gordon’s testimony was critical to Mueller’s finding that Trump and Paul Manafort had no personal involvement in preventing convention delegate Diane Denman from making the RNC platform more hawkish on Ukraine. Details of this investigation into Gordon’s role appear entirely unredacted in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page as part of the case that FBI should have removed any claim that Page was involved in the platform.

Gordon’s first interview is largely unredacted. It soft-pedals Trump’s pro-Russian stance on the campaign.

GORDON flagged DENMAN’s amendment because TRUMP had mentioned not wanting to start World War III over Ukraine. TRUMP had mentioned this both in public and in private, including at the campaign meeting on March 31, 2016. This was not GORDON’s stance but TRUMP’s stance on Ukraine.

[snip]

DENMAN [redacted] and asked GORDON what he had against the free people. GORDON explained TRUMP’s statements regarding World War III to her. She asked why they were there and who GORDON was on the phone with. GORDON told her he was on the phone with his colleagues but didn’t provide names.

But Gordon’s final 302 is largely redacted, though it leaves unredacted the World War III excuse. Some of the redactions appear to hide Gordon’s testimony about the things Trump said in campaign appearances that Gordon used to explain his intervention in the Convention.

There is also discussion in his last interview about whether he consulted with Jeff Sessions on the platform issue during phone calls placed at the time (which he denied he had).

The Mueller Report also describes how Sergey Kislyak invited Gordon to his residence in DC shortly after the convention; that reference is based entirely on emails exchanged between the two; it would be worthwhile to know what he said if he was asked about the invite in his FBI interviews, but if so, it is redacted.

Sam Clovis

Sam Clovis appears to have had three interviews, though it seems Mueller’s team may never have trusted his testimony. The interviews are cited just three times in the Mueller Report, and he makes denials in his interviews that conflict with communication-based evidence laid out in the Mueller Report and what he is reported to have told Stefan Halper in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page (PDF 367-370). Clovis’ testimony is particularly important because he claims there was a shift in policy towards Russia during the campaign, but his released testimony is inconsistent on that point.

Clovis was first interviewed on October 3, 2017 at his office at USDA. The 302 makes clear that “about a quarter of the way through the interview, CLOVIS was warned that lying to the agents could constitute a federal offense.” In that interview, Clovis makes extremely strong denials about Russia.

CLOVIS started off the interview by explaining that he hates Russia and that should be clear throughout his interview.

[snip]

Russia was never a topic between CLOVIS and TRUMP. They would occasionally discuss it in debate prep. CLOVIS did most of the debate prep during the primaries. They talked about a Ukrainian policy and discussed having a bipartisan approach to this because of the divided based on Ukraine.

[snip]

A lot of people approached the campaign with ideas about foreign policy topics. Some of them wanted to approach and engage Russia but CLOVIS never trusted RUSSIA.

[snip]

CLOVIS thought interacting with Russia was a bad idea on any level because of comments TRUMP made.

[snip]

CLOVIS thinks the Special Counsel investigation is more political than practical. From CLOVIS’ perspective he didn’t see anything that warranted an investigation. CLOVIS said the campaign didn’t have anything to do with Russians. No one advised anyone to meet with Russians. CLOVIS wanted nothing to do with Russia and would never approve a meeting with the Russians. CLOVIS explained that Russians are different with Russia. You can’t just sit down at the table with them.

[snip]

CLOVIS does not recall Russia being brought up in the March 31, 2016 meeting.

[snip]

PAGE had an interesting background, including time in the Navy, experience in energy policy and Russian business. They were rushed into putting a foreign policy team together. CLOVIS thought PAGE was pretty harmless but also didn’t provide much value. CLOVIS said he never talked to PAGE about meetings with Russia and doesn’t remember PAGE ever bringing up Russia.

[snip]

CLOVIS didn’t think the change [in platform] was in line with TRUMP’s stance. CLOVIS thought their plan was to support Ukraine in their independence by engaging their NATO allies. CLOVIS is concerned PUTIN is trying to establish a Soviet empire.

That very same day, the FBI interviewed Clovis a second time, also in his USDA office. In the second interview, Clovis made comments that probably conflict with what Clovis told Stefan Halper in August 2016.

CARTER PAGE and GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS were not involved with the campaign team. They were not players in the campaign.

More importantly, in the second interview — on the same day!! — Clovis admitted that Trump did want better ties with Russia.

TRUMP wanted improved relations with Russia. The “bromance” TRUMP had with PUTIN bothered CLOVIS but the press and the public fed on it. CLOVIS felt like he had to cleanup with a shovel because TRUMP played up his bromance with PUTIN for the public.

Clovis also denied discussions of a trip to Russia that the FBI had proof he was personally involved in.

CLOVIS was asked about emails regarding an “unofficial trip” to Russia which were discussed in a Washington Post article. CLOVIS indicated this was info he was not privy to. CLOVIS said he doesn’t know who would have authorized such meetings but he never gave PAPADOPOULOS any indication to setup meetings.

CLOVIS denied learning about any dirt on Hillary, something that Papadopoulos provided conflicting testimony on.

CLOVIS was asked if he ever heard anyone discuss Russians having dirt on HILLARY CLINTON. CLOVIS said he wasn’t aware of that and if someone had that info they probably wouldn’t bring it to CLOVIS. CLOVIS pointed out that he was never asked to do anything untoward.

And in this second interview, Clovis softened on whether anyone had been compromised by Russia.

CLOVIS further explained how Russia can be very sneaky and will try to distract you on one side while sneaking by you on the other side. They will use any mechanism they can. CLOVIS fought them for years. CLOVIS didn’t feel like there was anything going on with the campaign though.

The interview ends with what may to be a discussion about a subpoena.

CLOVIS asked the agents [redacted] since he had cooperated. He was concerned about his travel plans and indicated he planned on leaving [redacted] and returning to D.C. [redacted] Agents agreed to [redacted] but said they would contact him later with information [redacted].

Note, the most substantive redactions in these two 302s have b3 redactions, which covers information “exempted from disclosure by statute.” While some of the last paragraph might be a discussion about serving a grand jury subpoena, none of the rest of it should be. And in other 302s, discussions of the same events (such as the March 31 meeting) are not redacted under b3 exemptions. It is hard to see how that redaction is permissible.

Clovis’ October 26 interview is entirely redacted under b5 exemptions.

Why Hasn’t George Papadopoulos Outed “Source 3”?

There’s something I’ve been wondering about the DOJ IG Report into Carter Page.

The report revealed details (though not all details) about Stefan Halper’s interactions with George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, and Sam Clovis, which had been previously reported. It debunked Papadopoulos’ claims that some other people — some US defense personnel in the UK, Alexander Downer, Joseph Mifsud, and Israelis offering cash — were FBI informants attempting to entrap him.

But it also revealed that another informant, described as Source 3 in the report, had multiple meetings with Papadopoulos. The person is described as someone with access to Papadopoulos that they recruited — in accelerated fashion — for this purpose.

Case Agent 3 and an Intelligence Analyst identified Source 3 as an individual with a connection to Papadopoulos who may be willing to act as a CHS, based on statements Source 3 had made to the FBI several years prior, during an interview in an unrelated investigation. Source 3 had never previously worked for the FBI as a CHS, and the Delta records for Source 3 state that the opening of this CHS “was accelerated due to operational necessity.”

Case Agent 3 said that he considered Source 3 to be a reliable CHS because Source 3 was always available when the FBI needed Source 3, provided good descriptions of the conversations with Papadopoulos, and the summaries that Source 3 provided to the FBI were corroborated by the consensual monitoring. The FBI performed a human source validation review on Source 3 in 2017, and recommended Source 3 for continued operation.

Papadopoulos and Source 3 met multiple times between October 2016 and June 2017, all of which occurred after the FBI understood that Papadopoulos had ceased working on the Trump campaign. 471 All but one of their meetings were consensually monitored by the FBI; however, not all of them were transcribed by the FBI. Instead, Case Agent 3 said that he and the Intelligence Analyst would review the recordings to find portions that were of investigative interest, and those portions were written up or reviewed.

Papadopoulos clearly trusted this person more than Halper. He told Source 3 that he told Halper the story he had about ties to WIkiLeaks because he expected Halper would, “tell the CIA or something if I’d have told him something else. I assume that’s why he was asking.” He told Source 3 about Sergei Millian (whose ties to Papadopoulos the FBI had already identified). He told Source 3 a version of the Joseph Mifsud story and admitted he was going to try to monetize that relationship.

Source 3 asked Papadopoulos if he had ever met Putin, Papadopoulos said that he was invited “to go and thank God I didn’t go though.” Papadopoulos said that it was a “weird story” from when he “was working at … this law firm in London” that involved a guy who was “well connected to the Russian government.” Papadopoulos also said that he was introduced to “Putin’s niece” and the Russian Ambassador in London. 472 Papadopoulos did not elaborate on the story, but he added that he needed to figure out

how I’m going monetize it, but I have to be an idiot not to monetize it, get it? Even if [Trump] loses. If anything, I feel like if he loses probably could be better for my personal business because if he wins I’m going to be in some bureaucracy I can’t do jack … , you know?

For years, Papadopoulos has been trying to dismiss his guilty plea by saying he was set up by a network of nefarious informants.

And yet he hasn’t revealed who Source 3 — someone he obviously met on multiple occasions — is.

The claims of Marcus DiPaola — someone who claimed to be an informant for the FBI until he recently got exposed by Fox News, before leaking a damning internal Fox report about its own susceptibility to propaganda — got me thinking about this question again. While my own interactions with the FBI make me very skeptical that FBI would work with someone acting as a journalist as an informant, which is what he claims happened. And the timing — DiPaola claims he approached the FBI in January 2016, not earlier as the IG Report describes Source 3 did — doesn’t line up.

So I don’t think DiPaola is Source 3.

But it made me all the more cognizant that Papadopoulos, who never met a real or suspected informant he didn’t burn, has been silent about this person.

Which may hint that Papadopoulos suspects Source 3 could tell a whole lot of truths if he or she were identified that would blow his current schtick.

Update: I just realized that the date of a Fox Report that seems to have come from DiPaola is December 9, the date of the IG Report. So that might support the possibility that he was Source 3.

Mike Flynn Seizes the Rope to Hang Himself With: Flynn’s Motion to Dismiss Carter Page’s Non-Existent Plea

As I noted yesterday, Mike Flynn’s legal team and the government submitted a bunch of filings yesterday.

I’m collectively titling my posts on them, “Mike Flynn Seizes the Rope to Hang Himself,” which is the advice Rob Kelner gave his then-client in December 2018 when Judge Emmet Sullivan swore him in to reallocute his guilty plea, effectively arguing that if Flynn withdrew his plea, it would lead to worse consequences. Flynn’s current lawyer, Sidney Powell, argues that advice was objectively incompetent. I predict the outcome of the next few weeks will show Kelner had the better judgment.

This post from yesterday covers the government reply to Flynn’s sentencing memo.

This post will focus on Flynn’s motion to dismiss for misconduct, a 27-page motion that Flynn submitted yesterday with neither warning nor pre-approval from Sullivan. Flynn has made much of this argument before (and Sullivan has rejected it) in a filing that argued,

The government works hard to persuade this Court that the scope of its discovery obligation is limited to facts relating to punishment for the crime to which Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty. However, the evidence already produced or in the public record reveals far larger issues are at play: namely, the integrity of our criminal justice system and public confidence in what used to be our premier law enforcement institution. When the Director of the FBI, and a group of his close associates, plot to set up an innocent man and create a crime—while taking affirmative steps to ensnare him by refusing to follow procedures designed to prevent such inadvertent missteps—this amounts to conduct so shocking to the conscience and so inimical to our system of justice that it requires the dismissal of the charges for outrageous government conduct.

[snip]

As new counsel has made clear from her first appearance, Mr. Flynn will ask this Court to dismiss the entire prosecution based on the outrageous and un-American conduct of law enforcement officials and the subsequent failure of the prosecution to disclose this evidence— which it had in its possession all along—either in a timely fashion or at all.

In a footnote in yesterday’s filing, Flynn lawyer Sidney Powell explains that, no, the last time she tried this argument, which Sullivan rejected in an unbelievably meticulous 92 page opinion, wasn’t actually her motion to dismiss, this is,

Contrary to a suggestion in this Court’s recent opinion, Mr. Flynn did not previously move to dismiss the case against him. ECF No. 144 at 2. As the docket sheet and this Court’s recital of motions show, this is Mr. Flynn’s only Motion to Dismiss. In Mr. Flynn’s previous filings, he made clear he would ultimately move for dismissal, that the evidence requested in his Brady motion would further support the basis for dismissal, and that the case should be dismissed.

Particularly given that much of this repeats what Powell said in the earlier motion, the claim that this is the real motion to dismiss probably won’t sit well with Judge Sullivan. But Powell has to try again, because (as I’ll show) her motion to dismiss doesn’t actually claim that Flynn is innocent of lying to the FBI about his call with Sergey Kislyak — he says the opposite. So this motion to dismiss appears designed to explain why Flynn should not be held accountable for that lie.

Powell justifies doing so because she claims she found new damning information in the IG Report on Carter Page. (She also complains that she received Flynn’s 302s since the prior motion, but presents not a single piece of evidence from them; as I’ll show in my third post on these filings, she’s probably going to regret raising them.)

Such exculpatory evidence and outrageous misconduct includes that on December 9, 2019, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) issued its 478-page report on the “Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation” (“IG Report”).2 The IG Report illustrates the misconduct by the government as further detailed below.

[snip]

Additionally, the IG Report shows that the government long suppressed evidence of shocking malfeasance by the leadership of the FBI and Supervisory Special Agent 1 (“SSA 1”) that was favorable to Mr. Flynn’s defense. For these reasons, and those outlined in prior briefing, Mr. Flynn moves to dismiss this entire prosecution for outrageous government misconduct and in the interest of justice.

In a probably ill-considered move, Powell blames Sullivan for not considering the IG Report in his previous opinion.

Despite the defense, the government, and this Court agreeing to abate the schedule in this case because of the pending and admittedly-relevant IG Report (ECF No. 140 and this Court’s Minute Order of November 27, 2019), this Court denied Mr. Flynn’s Motion to Compel Production of Brady Evidence without allowing for additional briefing in light of that report or considering any of the deliberate government misconduct it disclosed. ECF Nos. 143 and 144. Mr. Flynn now moves to dismiss the indictment for the additional egregious misconduct documented in the IG Report, other recently produced materials, all previously briefed issues, and in the interest of justice.

A week passed between the time the IG Report came out — which has just one small section relating to Flynn — and the date Sullivan issued his opinion. It is Powell’s job to ask him to consider any new information in it, not his job to cull through the report and find out if anything is relevant. She did not do so. Which is one of many reasons why Sullivan would be in his right to just dismiss this as untimely.

As I note in this thread, much of what follows is either a repetition of complaints that Sullivan already rejected or a claim that Mike Flynn, honored General of thirty years, is actually Carter Page, maligned gadfly, because they describe things that did injure Page but did not injure Flynn and are utterly irrelevant to the lies Flynn told on January 24, 2017.

  • Asks that Sullivan rely on a Ninth Circuit opinion on the Bundy family to reconsider Brady violations he already ruled did not happen.
  • Revisits a Jim Comey comment that was briefed before Flynn pled guilty the last time and Powell’s conspiracy theories about a draft 302 that she claims differs from the notes and the released 302s which are all consistent.
  • Invokes Ted Stevens by invoking the Henry Shuelke report, which laid out problems with the Senators prosecution, but which Sullivan has already said is an inapt comparison.
  • Mixes up the 2017 FISA order that shows (in part) that Flynn, personally, presided over FISA abuses with the 2018 FISA order that shows Chris Wray’s FBI committed querying violations that affected thousands (quite possibly in an attempt to find out who leaked details of Flynn’s comments to Sergei Kislyak).
  • Claims that the Carter Page FISA allowed the FBI to illegally obtain the communications of “hundreds of people, including Mr. Flynn,” which is a claim that doesn’t show up in the IG Report (Powell cites to it “generally,” which is her tell in this motion that she’s making shit up); while it’s possible emails from the campaign (possibly group emails on National Security) involving both Page and Flynn were collected, there is zero chance any of them pertain to the lies Flynn told on January 24, 2017. Moreover, there is virtually no chance that Flynn was communicating with Carter Page after April 2017 via encrypted messaging apps — months after both had been ousted from Trump’s circles because of their problematic interactions with Russians — which is what it likely would have taken to have been collected under the applications deemed problematic by FBI.
  • Twice claims that Flynn’s obligation (which he fulfilled) to tell DIA when he went traipsing off to RT Galas in Russia equates to CIA’s designation of Carter Page as an acceptable contact and notes that Sullivan already ruled that wasn’t exculpatory on the charges before him (the government has made it clear Flynn’s DIA briefing was actually inculpatory).
  • Claims SSA1 — whom Powell asserts, probably but not necessarily correctly, is the second Agent who interviewed Flynn — supervised Crossfire Hurricane, but doesn’t note that was only until December 2016, at least four weeks before Flynn lied to FBI agents on January 24, 2017; Powell repeatedly claims, falsely, that SSA1 supervised Crossfire Hurricane during the entire period when Carter Page was under surveillance.
  • Insinuates, with no evidence, that SSA1 knew that Case Agent 1 had excluded comments from George Papadopoulos that the frothy right believes are exculpatory but which the FBI judged correctly at the time were just a cover story.
  • Claims falsely that Lisa Page had a role in opening an investigation into Flynn.
  • Complains that the FISA applications made statements about Stefan Halper that were true but not backed by paperwork in the Woods File, even though (contrary to Flynn’s conspiracy theories) Halper never spoke with Flynn as part of tihs investigation.

Pages and pages into this, Powell admits that actually all of this would matter if she were representing Carter Page, but she claims (with no evidence, and given the scope of the Page warrants, there would be none) that it nevertheless injures her client.

While Mr. Flynn’s case is not even the focus of the IG Report, the Report reveals illegal, wrongful, and improper conduct that affected Mr. Flynn, and is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation by United States Attorney John Durham.

Even where the IG Report does describe something that affected Flynn directly — in SSA1’s inclusion in Trump’s first briefing, in part, to see what kinds of questions he was asking — Powell manages to lard it with false claims. On top of misrepresenting how long SSA1 oversaw the investigation into Trump’s flunkies (noted above and exhibited specifically below), Powell suggests that SSA1 snuck into the August 17, 2016 intelligence briefing Flynn attended as Trump’s top national security advisor and had no purpose but to observe her client.

There were two FBI agents who interviewed Mr. Flynn in the White House on January 24, 2017—Agent Peter Strzok and SSA 1. The IG Report confirms both participated in government misconduct. As explained in further detail below, not only was Strzok so biased, calculated, and deceitful he had to be terminated from Mueller’s investigation and then the FBI/DOJ, but it has also now been revealed that SSA 1 was surreptitiously inserted in the mock presidential briefing on August 17, 2016, to collect information and report on Mr. Trump and Mr. Flynn. Moreover, SSA 1 was involved in every aspect of the debacle that is Crossfire Hurricane and significant illegal surveillance resulting from it. Further, SSA 1 bore ultimate responsibility for four falsified applications to the FISA court and oversaw virtually every abuse inherent in Crossfire Hurricane— including suppression of exculpatory evidence. See generally IG Report.

[snip]

Shockingly, as further briefed below, SSA 1 also participated surreptitiously in a presidential briefing with candidate Trump and Mr. Flynn for the express purpose of taking notes, monitoring anything Mr. Flynn said, and in particular, observing and recording anything Mr. Flynn or Mr. Trump said or did that might be of interest to the FBI in its “investigation.” IG Report at 340

[snip]

More specifically, as the Inspector General explained further in his testimony to Congress on December 11, 2019, SSA 1 surreptitiously interviewed and sized-up Mr. Flynn on August 17, 2016, under the “pretext” of being part of what was actually a presidential briefing but reported dishonestly to others as a “defensive briefing.”

[snip]

Strzok and Lisa Page texted about an “insurance policy” on August 15, 2016.20 They opened the FBI “investigation” of Mr. Flynn on August 16, 2016. IG Report at 2. The very next day, SSA 1 snuck into what was represented to candidate Trump and Mr. Flynn as a presidential briefing. IG Report at 340. [my emphasis]

The overwhelming bulk of her complaint about this is that — she claims — SSA1’s participation was secret. Reading this motion, you’d think he was hidden under the couch while the briefing was conducted. His presence, of course, was in no way surreptitious. What was secret was that Flynn was under investigation and SSA1 was overseeing it.

In one of her discussions of the briefing, Powell quotes the part of the IG Report that refutes her suggestions that SSA1 was only in this briefing to observe Flynn.

In August 2016, the supervisor of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, SSA 1, participated on behalf of the FBI in an ODNI strategic intelligence briefing given to candidate Trump and his national security advisors, including Flynn, and in a separate briefing given to candidate Clinton and her national security advisors. The stated purpose of the FBI’s participation in the counterintelligence and security portion of the briefing was to provide the recipients ‘a baseline on the presence and threat posed by foreign intelligence services to the National Security of the U.S.’ However, we found the FBI also had an investigative purpose when it specifically selected SSA 1, a supervisor for the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, to provide the FBI briefings. SSA 1 was selected, in part, because Flynn, who would be attending the briefing with candidate Trump, was a subject in one of the ongoing investigations related to Crossfire Hurricane. SSA 1 told us that the briefing provided him ‘the opportunity to gain assessment and possibly some level of familiarity with [Flynn]. So, should we get to the point where we need to do a subject interview…I would have that to fall back on.’

As the passage she quotes makes clear, that was just part of the reason why he was selected. She doesn’t mention that, as a senior counterintelligence agent, SSA1 was appropriate to give the briefing in any case, and in fact did give the equivalent first briefing to Hillary, as well.

In one place, however, Powell totally misrepresents what the purpose of this briefing was claiming that it was the defensive briefing about specific threats to the candidate.

While SSA 1’s stated purpose of the presidential briefing on August 17, 2016, was “to provide the recipients ‘a baseline on the presence and threat posed by foreign intelligence services to the National Security of the U.S,’” IG Report at xviii (Executive Summary), the IG Report confirmed that, in actuality, the Trump campaign was never given any defensive briefing about the alleged national security threats. IG Report at 55. Thus, SSA 1’s participation in that presidential briefing was a calculated subterfuge to record and report for “investigative purposes” anything Mr. Flynn and Mr. Trump said in that meeting. IG Report at 408. The agent was there only because Mr. Flynn was there. IG Report at 340. Ironically, Mr. Flynn arranged this meeting with ODNI James Clapper for the benefit of candidate Trump.

As the IG Report makes clear, these are different things. The IG Report even provides several different explanations for why the FBI did not give Trump a defensive briefing that Russia was trying to influence his campaign, but which Powell doesn’t include. Andrew McCabe’s explanation was particularly prescient.

[T]he FBI did not brief people who “could potentially be the subjects that you are investigating or looking for.” McCabe told us that in a sensitive counterintelligence matter, it was essential to have a better understanding of what was occurring before taking an overt step such as providing a defensive briefing.

You couldn’t brief Trump on a potential Russian threat with Flynn present because Flynn was considered — because of his past close ties to the GRU and his paid appearances with Russian entities, including one where he met Putin — one of the most likely people for Russia to have alerted about the email hack-and-dump plan. And, as I noted, there was a bunch of language about counterintelligence issues in the government’s original sentencing memo specifically pertaining to Flynn that should concern him if he weren’t so busy producing fodder for the frothy right. So, in fact, the FBI was right to worry (and I suspect we may hear more about this).

Moreover, as this entire effort to blow up the plea deal emphasizes, Flynn turned out to be an egregious counterintelligence risk for other reasons, as well: the secret deal he was arranging with Turkey even as this briefing occurred, which he explained, at length, under oath, to the grand jury. That is, this proceeding makes it clear that the FBI was right not to trust Mike Flynn, because, days before this briefing, his firm had committed, in secret to working on a frenemy government’s payroll.

This is tangential to Powell’s trumped up complaints about the only thing the IG Report says that directly affected her client. But — as with so much of this stunt — my suspicion is that if she presses this issue it will backfire in spectacular fashion.

In any case, the main takeaway from this motion to dismiss the plea is that virtually all the new stuff that Judge Sullivan hasn’t already ruled was irrelevant in meticulous fashion doesn’t affect Mike Flynn, it affects Carter Page. And the stuff that does affect Flynn directly is probably not something he wants to emphasize before Sullivan weighs the gravity of his lies.

More importantly, for the motion to withdraw his plea, nothing here undercuts the fact that Mike Flynn pled guilty to his lies about Russia.

Horowitz

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

Update, January 6: After much haranguing from bmaz, I’m updating this post with a new section discussing whether any of the problems with Carter Page’s FISA application would have mattered, had be been criminally charged. I argue that, given precedents about reviewing FISA applications and suppressing warrants, none of the problems with Page’s FISA application would have mattered were it used in a criminal prosecution. As the IG carries out further review of FBI’s FISA work — and as policy makers decide how to integrate the lessons of this IG Report — that reality needs to be part of the consideration, and, in part because Horowitz dodged the issue of these precedents, that’s missing from this discussion.

I’ve spent the last week doing a really deep dive into the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and am finally ready to start explaining what it shows (and what it does not show or where it demonstrably commits the same kinds of errors it accuses the Crossfire Hurricane team of). This post will be a summary of what the IG Report shows about the Carter Page FISA process (with some comment on the FISA process generally).

I will do follow-up posts on — at a minimum — how the report treats “exculpatory” information and the biases of this report, what the report says about Bruce Ohr (where I think this report fails, badly), the details the Report offers on the Steele reports, and what it implies about Oleg Deripaska. I’ll probably do one more demonstrating how this IG Report radically deviates from past history on similar reports in ways that are remarkable and troubling. Eventually I’ll do some posts on what should be done to fix FISA.

This post will address the following topics:

  • The predication of the investigation
  • The errors impacting Carter Page
  • The details about whether Carter Page should have been targeted
  • Whether Page would have been able to suppress these warrants had he been charged

The predication of the investigation

The Report is quite clear: “Crossfire Hurricane,” as the investigation was called (henceforth, CH), started in response to the tip Australia provided in the wake of the release of the DNC emails on WikiLeaks.

The FBI opened Crossfire Hurricane in July 2016 following the receipt of ·certain information from a Friendly Foreign Government (FFG). According to the information provided by the FFG, in May 2016, a Trump campaign foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, “suggested” to an FFG official that the Trump campaign had received “some kind of suggestion” from Russia that it could assist with the anonymous release of information that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton (Trump’s opponent in the presidential election) and President Barack Obama. At the time the FBI received the FFG information, the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC), which includes the FBI, was aware of Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections, including efforts to infiltrate servers and steal emails belongfng to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The FFG shared this information with the State Department on July 26, 2016, after the internet site Wikileaks began releasing emails hacked from computers belonging to the DNC and Clinton’s campaign manager.

The WikiLeaks release made Papadopoulos’ comments to Alexander Downer (and, probably, his aide Erica Thompson, who had an earlier meeting with him in May 2016 before one she attended with Downer) look like the campaign had advance knowledge from the Russians about that release. That it did has since been confirmed with respect to Papadopoulos and — evidence in Roger Stone’s trial suggests — possibly Stone, too.

Australia provided the tip first to the US embassy in London (which may or may not have involved the CIA), which then passed it on to the Philadelphia Field Office, which passed it to the Section Chief of Cyber Counterintelligence Coordination at FBI HQ, where it arrived on July 28. People at HQ, including Peter Strzok, spent the next three days discussing what to do, after which Bill Priestap opened a full investigation to determine whether the Trump campaign was coordinating with the government of Russia.

On July 31, 2016, the FBI opened a full counterintelligence investigation under the code name Crossfire Hurricane “to determine whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Government of Russia.”

A big part of that was trying to figure out how Papadopoulos might have gotten advance notice of the email dump, which is why, over the next 16 days, the FBI opened counterintelligence investigations into the four most likely sources of that information: Papadopoulos himself, Carter Page (who was already the subject of a counterintelligence investigation opened in April 2016), Paul Manafort (who was already the subject of a money laundering investigation opened in January 2016), and Mike Flynn (who had met with Putin the previous December and had ongoing communications with the GRU).

Of the four, Page is the only one not charged with or judged to have lied to obstruct the investigation (though the FBI believed he was not telling the full truth in his March 2017 interviews). The government still has questions about what Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos did during the campaign period. And a counterintelligence investigation into Flynn remained ongoing as of May. In other words, not only was the investigation justified, but it still is, because questions about everyone originally included remain.

The IG found no bias in the opening of the investigation, and everyone asked said the FBI would have been derelict had they not done so.

That’s worth keeping in mind as Bill Barr lies about the reasons for and results of this investigation, not least because had FBI made different decisions early in the investigation, it might have had more success in figuring out what (especially) Paul Manafort was up to.

The errors impacting Carter Page

In part because the FBI already had substantiated concerns about Page’s willingness to work with known Russian intelligence officers, it moved immediately to get a FISA order on him in August 2016. Lawyers deemed it premature. Then, days after the CH belatedly got the first Christopher Steele reports (which had been churning around FBI for two months), they moved to get a FISA order on him. By the time they applied for the order, they had additional damning information about his July 2016 trip to Russia (that he believed he had been offered an “open checkbook” to form a pro-Russian think tank in the US), but it is true that the dossier was the precipitating event that led the CH team to start the FISA process.

The decision to get a FISA order relying on an unverified tip from an existing “Confidential Human Source” was, per the report, no unusual. Not only does that happen, but Steele is a more credible informant than lots of sources for intelligence targeting. Moreover, by the time of the application, FBI had laid out who his assumed sub-sources were (including Sergei Millian, whom they knew to be interacting closely with Papadopoulos by the time the order was approved).

That said there were clear errors with Page’s applications. Those fall into three areas:

  • The FBI did not tell FISC that Page had been an approved contact for CIA until 2013
  • The FBI did not describe Steele accurately and failed to update the application as it discovered problems with the dossier
  • The FBI did not include information that the IG deemed exculpatory to either Page (correctly) or Papadopoulos (less convincingly)

Notice about Page’s past CIA contacts

Before the FBI first applied for a FISA targeting Page, and again in June 2017, it learned that Page had been approved for “operational contact” from 2008 until 2013. Per a footnote, an operational contact is someone the CIA can talk to about information he has, but not someone they can task to collect information.

According to the other U.S. government agency, “operational contact,” as that term is used in the memorandum about Page, provides “Contact Approval,” which allows the other agency to contact and discuss sensitive information with a U.S. person and to collect information from that person via “passive debriefing,” or debriefing a person of information that is within the knowledge of an individual and has been acquired through the normal course of that individual’s activities. According to the U.S. government agency, a “Contact Approval” does not allow for operational use of a U.S. person or tasking of that person.

While the details are not entirely clear, Page appears to have told CIA honestly about his contacts with the first Russian intelligence officer who recruited him after he returned to the US from Russia, but not another (probably Victor Podobnyy). His last contact with CIA was in July 2011, which seems to suggest he did not reveal his ongoing ties to Russian intelligence officers to CIA. Moreover, the FBI would come to have concerns about his earlier ties with Russian spies that would not be excused by this CIA designation, not least because after Podobnyy and his fellow Russian intelligence officers were indicted, Page told a Russian stationed at the UN and some others that he knew he was the person described in the indictment, which they discovered when preparing for trial in 2016. The FBI would come to believe Page was less than honest about Page’s comments about showing up in the indictment in 2017.

The FBI did not provide notice of the CIA designation, at all, to FISC. That’s a big problem because the FBI had included both Russian recruitment attempts in its application without explaining that Page had been candid about the first one with the CIA. Worse still, in advance of the last reauthorization in June 2017, FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith — who is one of the people who had sent anti-Trump texts using his FBI phone — altered an email to hide the relationship.

None of that changes that Carter Page, throughout this period, told anyone who asked that he thought it was okay to provide non-public information to people he knew to be Russian intelligence officers, nor that he enthusiastically considered taking money from Russia to set up a pro-Russian think tank. But it does raise real questions about whether Page was acting clandestinely, a key requirement for a FISA application.

Inaccurate descriptions of Steele

The IG Report also shows a number of problems with the way the FBI described Steele.

For the first application, that consisted of two problems. First, the FBI didn’t ask Steele’s handler, Mike Gaeta, for his description of Steele’s reliability. As a result, the description overstated how much of his past reporting to the FBI had been corroborated (some of it had been, but much of it was, like the Trump dossier, based on single sources in Russia who couldn’t easily be replicated), and falsely stated that his earlier reporting had been used in court cases, which would have signaled that prosecutors had found it reliable. His reporting had been key to starting the FIFA investigation, but mostly to start the investigation, not to substantiate evidence for trial. Unlike the non-notice about this CIA relationship, this is an error that would have been fixed had the FBI rigorously adhered to the Woods procedures (though the FBI Agent who did the application did have a document — an intelligence report on Steele — he relied on, just not the proper one).

The other initial problem is that the FBI claimed that Steele had not been behind a September 23 Michael Isikoff story relying on Steele’s reporting, something I’ve always found inexcusable. That said, the FBI did alert FISC to the article — they just ridiculously assumed that Glenn Simpson had been the source for the story, not Steele, and did so after initially stating that Steele was behind it. Had they attributed the story to Steele, they would have had to close him as a source weeks before they otherwise did, but it probably wouldn’t have affected the initial approval for the order.

The far more egregious error, however, came on reauthorizations (see this post for a timeline of the events laid out in the report). Starting immediately after they closed Steele as a source, the FBI started getting more details — initially from Bruce Ohr, then Steele’s former colleagues, then his primary sub-source — about his reporting. And most of the things they learned should have raised general concerns about Steele and serious concerns about the reliability of the dossier. Of the ten additional problems DOJ IG found with the applications on the renewals, six of them pertain to providing no notice of increasing reason to doubt the Steele dossier.

I’ll write about the Steele fiasco in a follow-up post. But one detail is worth noting here. There was disagreement between Steele and the FBI about his work dating back to 2013, with Steele understanding he was a contractor and the FBI treating him (partly for bureaucratic reasons) as a CHS. Then, in October 2016, when the CH team tried to task him to answer specific questions about the investigation — about the predicated subjects of the investigation, physical evidence, sub sources who might serve as cooperating witnesses — there was again a misunderstanding about whether Steele was working exclusively for the FBI or simply providing information he was providing to Fusion. As a result, Steele believed he could speak to the press about anything he wasn’t doing for FBI exclusively (which included the dossier), but the FBI considered that cause to stop using him altogether.

Failure to include exculpatory information

Finally, the FBI failed to include exculpatory information pertaining to denials from Page, Papadopoulos, and Joseph Mifsud, and reliability questions about Millian (who was himself the subject of a counterintelligence investigation).

The DOJ IG is absolutely right that FBI should have included Page’s denials in these applications, which include denials that he had ever spoken to Paul Manafort (as alleged in the dossier), had a role in the Republican platform on Ukraine (also alleged in the dossier), or had a role in the email release (the question they were supposed to be answering). All those denials are, as far as we know, absolutely correct. It also excluded his denials of meeting Igor Sechin and Igor Diveykin (as alleged in the dossier), which is probably true, though FBI obtained RUMINT supporting a Sechin meeting.

I’ll address DOJ IG’s stance on the Papadopoulos and Mifsud denials later, both of which were (and were deemed to be by the FBI) at least partly false. But it raises a key problem with a FISA application that — unlike a criminal warrant affidavit — will never be shared with the target of it. Excluding this kind of stuff is generally deemed acceptable in a normal criminal warrant. It is not (and should not be) here, because there will never be discovery. But that raises real questions about what gets counted as exculpatory, which is a topic I’ll return to.

Ultimately, the IG Report judged it should all have been noticed to DOJ which, for the most part, it was not.

Note, Julian Sanchez argues — convincingly, I think — that many of these errors come not from malice or political bias, but from confirmation bias.

Whether Carter Page should have been targeted

The errors in the Page applications are inexcusable.

But they don’t address (and the IG Report pointedly avoids addressing) whether he should have been targeted, from a Fourth Amendment, prudential, or investigative focus standpoint.

Without the full application, it’s impossible to say with certainty whether it would meet probable cause had FBI addressed the problems laid out in the IG Report. But a summary of what the IG Report says appeared in the applications (which I’ve laid out here) suggests there probably was probable cause to support the first two applications. In the first one, the derogatory evidence against Steele’s reporting was not yet known to the agents submitting the application (more on that in a follow-up), so he would have been deemed a credible informant by any measure. And by the second one, the FBI had obtained enough information on Page’s trips to Moscow that likely would have supported a probable cause finding without the dossier — though that finding would have far less to do with whether the Trump campaign had foreknowledge of the email dump, which is unsurprising given that FBI already had an investigation into Page in April 2016. The third and fourth application, however, are much closer calls.

That’s a separate question from whether it was a good idea to get a FISA order on Page, something that multiple people at DOJ raised even before the first application, including Stu Evans (the same guy who ensured there’d be a footnote clarifying that Steele likely was working for a political candidate). As the IG Report describes, everyone at FBI responded by saying they could not pull their punches because of political risk.

According to Evans, he raised on multiple occasions with the FBI, including with Strzok, Lisa Page, and later McCabe, whether seeking FISA authority targeting Carter Page was a good idea, even if the legal standard was met. He explained that he did not see a compelling “upside” to the FISA because Carter Page knew he was under FBI investigation (according to news reports) and was therefore not likely to say anything incriminating over the telephone or in email. On the other hand, Evans saw significant “downside” because the target of the FISA was politically sensitive and the Department would be criticized later if this FISA was ever disclosed publicly. He told the OIG that he thought there was no right or wrong answer to this question, which he characterized as a prudential question of risk vs. reward, but he wanted to make sure he raised the issue for the decision makers to consider. According to Evans, the reactions he received from the FBI to this prudential question were some variations of-we understand your concerns, those are valid points, but if you are telling us it’s legal, we cannot pull any punches just because there could be criticism afterward.

It’s easy to say Evans was right on this. But if you go there, it also raises the question that no Trump supporter ever wants to answer (when discussing this FISA or the use of CHSes): what should FBI have done when faced with evidence that Trump was amenable to the help from Russia and might be coordinating with them?

That’s a debate we really need to have but won’t because Barr is trying mightily to pretend the correct answer is “nothing.”

Which is a pity, because I suspect there are key policy issues that trying to answer the question would raise. For example:

  • Aside from the National Security Letters FBI had already served on Page’s providers in the spring, were there other less intrusive kinds of legal process that would have answered some of the questions about Page (and Papadopoulos) without obtaining content?
  • Given FBI’s success at gagging providers, why couldn’t it have used normal criminal process?
  • Are CHSes really as unintrusive as FBI claims, or should they be reserved for higher predication in the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (though because CH was a full investigation, they would have achieved that level of predication anyway)
  • Why did FBI wait to obtain Page’s financial records — which, for someone working for “free” for the campaign didn’t implicate the campaign at all — until the spring?
  • If FBI believed — because this was clearly a counterintelligence investigation — it had to use FISA, did something prevent it from using Section 215 first to obtain more probable cause?
  • Was Page even the key person they should have been focusing on?

The last question gets into whether targeting Page with a FISA was the right question — both on the first application, and on the fourth — from an investigative standpoint.

In an effort to ensure the investigation would not leak, from its inception through December 2016, CH was done out of FBI Headquarters (for diagrams of the three different organizations used before Mueller took over, see PDF 117-119), meaning it didn’t have the investigative resources it would have had if it had left the investigations in the field offices. That may have necessitated some resource allocation questions.

Then, by the time of (at least) the second renewal, Page had not only been spun well free of the Trump Administration, but the FBI investigation into everyone but Papadopoulos had already become public.

Because it was not its job, DOJ IG only reported on questions about whether getting a FISA on Page was the right investigative choice — both focusing on him more aggressively than the others, and obtaining a FISA on him.

Start with the former question. By the time CH decided to obtain a FISA order on Page, Papadopoulos had given answers to Stefan Halper that Republicans like to claim were exculpatory but were in fact correctly identified as a cover story and — I think but am awaiting response from the IG’s office — actually could be provably shown to be a lie in real time. Had CH obtained the call records on Papadopoulos at that point rather than a full content warrant on Page, they would have identified Papadopoulos’ ties with Joseph Mifsud, someone already suspected of being a Russian asset. Papadopoulos then laid out the outlines of his interactions with Mifsud in an October conversation with an informant. Had FBI focused on this more closely, they would have known before they interviewed Papadopoulos in January that he had these ties and was lying about them, which might have led FBI to obtain enough information about Mifsud in time to detain him rather than just interview him in early 2017.

The same could be said of Paul Manafort. Had CH focused on him, they might have obtained call records reflecting his ongoing communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, who (as a foreigner overseas) could be targeted under Section 702 and EO 12333. That might have revealed Manafort’s ongoing coordination in real time, which he continues to lie about.

Perhaps they did some of this, or perhaps they could have done it all. But it’s worth asking whether, because the prior concerns about Page meant they could get a FISA on him, they chose that path rather than other less intrusive but potentially more productive approaches.

Then there’s the question of whether ongoing FISAs on Page had merit. The Report suggests the FBI believed the first and, probably, the second order were really productive (the IG only reviewed those comms that were pertinent to its study, but based on that partial review, seemed more skeptical).

But by the later applications, the FBI was not keeping up with the incoming FISA materials, something we’ve seen in FISA collections in the past. There ought to be a rule: if you can’t keep up with incoming surveillance collection, it probably means it’s not important enough to justify the impact on an American.

Although there were no recent relevant FISA collections the team found useful, we were told that the FBI was still reviewing FISA collections identified prior to Renewal Application No. 2.

Finally, by the last collections, the FBI admitted that it was no longer getting anything from the FISA (in part, they believed, because Page knew he was being surveilled).

Case Agent 6 told us, and documents reflect, that despite the ongoing investigation, the team did not expect to renew the Carter Page FISA before Renewal Application No. 2’s authority expired on June 30.  Case Agent 6 said that the FISA collection the FBI had received during the second renewal period was not yielding any new information. The OGC Attorney told us that when the FBI was considering whether to seek further FISA authority following Renewal Application No. 2, the FISA was “starting to go dark.” During one of the March 2017 interviews, Page told Case Agent 1 and Case Agent 6 that he believed he was under surveillance and the agents did not believe continued surveillance would provide any relevant information.

There’s an exchange in the Report that leads me to suspect they kept targeting Page not because he remained interesting, but because there were new facilities they had IDed in April 2017 that would be easier to target using FISA than criminal process, including encrypted communications. First, they describe finding out that he used an encrypted app.

NYFO sought compulsory legal process in April 2017 for banking and financial records for Carter Page and his company, Global Energy Capital, as well as information relating to two encrypted online applications, one of which Page utilized on his cell phone.

Then, the report describes “previously unknown locations” they could target, which led them to seek a renewal.

SSA 5 and SSA 2 said that further investigation yielded previously unknown locations that they believed could provide information of investigative value, and they decided to seek another renewal.

There’s very good reason to believe that the FBI either has techniques (probably including hacking phones to get encrypted chat texts) that are easier to conduct using FISA, or techniques they’d like to hide by using FISA.

That’s a policy question that needs to be answered. If FBI is choosing to use FISA to hide techniques, it changes the import and use of the law. But it seems clear: by the time of the fourth if not the third order on Page, they really should have stopped for investigative reasons, but may not have because it’s too easy to avoid the risk of detasking against someone who might be a risk.

Whether Page would have been able to suppress these warrants

Finally, there’s the question of whether, had Carter Page been prosecuted using information obtained under these FISA warrants, he would have gotten any of the information thrown out. As bmaz has been screaming since this IG Report became public, the standard for suppression would require Page to argue that this affidavit didn’t meet the probable cause he was an agent of a foreign power, that the FBI Agents who submitted the application knew or should have known there was a problem with the claims they made in the affidavit, and — because this was a FISA order — he’d have to get a judge to allow him to review the affidavit where no prior defendant has been able to. 

And that’s assuming Page even got notice. Often, the FBI will build criminal cases without relying on information obtained under FISA at all. In such cases (as seems to be the case with Lev Parnas and his co-defendants), the government doesn’t have to notice their use of FISA, meaning the defendant never gets the opportunity to try to challenge the FISA warrant. Given how high profile this case is, FBI likely would have tried to avoid giving notice.

Had Page gotten notice, I feel safe in saying he would not have gotten to review his FISA application, because that never has happened, not even in cases with more obviously problematic affidavits

The IG Report carefully avoids saying whether the applications against Carter Page met the threshold of probable cause, either with or without the errors it lays out. Generally, if a magistrate has found probable cause, defendants have a tough time getting those warrants suppressed; and here, four different District Court judges had approved his applications. 

In Page’s case, the way to do this would be to show that stuff in the applications was knowingly false or omitted. In this hypothetical prosecution, Page should have gotten the detail that he was an approved contact with the CIA until 2013, evidence to support his claim that he hadn’t done two of the things in the dossier (interact with Paul Manafort and change the platform), and possibly some of the evidence undermining the Steele dossier (though sometimes the FBI can withhold stuff pertaining to informants). 

As for the first, with his efforts to sustain contact with Russia after CIA’s approved contact lapsed and his interactions with a second Russian intelligence officer CIA didn’t know about, it’s not clear that’d be enough to convince a judge that the prior approvals were improper. 

As to information proving the dossier wrong, because FBI took such a conservative investigative approach prior to the election, it took some time before the FBI discovered it. The FBI first appears to have gotten evidence that would prove Carter Page wasn’t involved in changing the platform in March 2017, though it appears DOJ’s NSD had better information at the time than FBI. Had FBI taken a more aggressive approach prior to Mueller taking over, they might have developed call records to support Carter Page’s claim that Manafort never returned his emails, but it’s not sure that’s enough. The IG Report doesn’t focus as much on the Manafort exculpatory evidence, perhaps because the FBI plausibly believed Page could have been working with Manafort indirectly, as George Papadopoulos had suggested to Stefan Halper. And, as the IG Report notes but minimizes, one reason the FBI didn’t take details undermining the Steele dossier that seriously is because they believed Steele’s Sub-Informant was withholding information from them, which (given the political firestorm at the time and the claims that the Sub-Source might be in danger are quite likely, even ignoring the possibility the Sub-Source had been involved in disinformation).

Then there’s the standard that would apply to both Fourth Amendment and Franks challenges: whether the FBI affiant on the application knew or should have known their claims were wrong.

In this case, a supervisory special agent who wasn’t closely involved in the investigation was the affiant on the first application. He wouldn’t have known, personally, of any problems with the application. He said he relied on the case agent’s Woods review (though said he routinely does review Woods files). So in that first case, the FBI’s policy of having more senior FBI agents sign FISA applications actually make it harder to challenge the warrant, because it would be harder to claim he knew the application was deficient. 

The affiant on the other three applications, called SS2 in the IG Report, was more closely involved in the case. The IG Report provides two specific examples where he swore to something that the IG Report presents as knowably untrue. The first pertains to claims Steele’s Sub-Source made about Millian. But the IG Report said specifically that, “the investigators believed at the time that the Primary Sub-source was holding something back about his/her interaction with [Millian],” which actually accords with what Steele said. Which is to say, the FBI had reason (which may actually have been justified) to believe that the Sub-Source’s comments did not need to be added to the application. 

The other thing SS2 might have known by the last application is Page’s past relationship with the CIA; indeed, he made an effort to nail that down for that application. But Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of the email that thereby hid that Page had been an approved contact for the CIA specifically prevented SS2 from learning that information. So while Clinesmith can (and is in this case) be disciplined, that doesn’t change that the affiant specifically tried to clarify Page’s relationship with the CIA, but got bad information preventing him from being able to.

And it’s not just the two affiants (though they would be the ones at issue in a suppression motion of Franks hearing). The IG Report specifically says that the agents providing that information did not believe they were withholding relevant information.

In most instances, the agents and supervisors told us that they either did not know or recall why the information was not shared with OI, that the failure to do so may have been an oversight, that they did not recognize at the time the relevance of the information to the FISA application, or that they did not believe the missing information to be significant. 

The reality is it is usually enough, in criminal prosecutions, for FBI agents to attest to such belief in the case of suppression motions, and probably would be here too, even if Carter Page had succeeded in getting the first ever review of his FISA application.

Finally, there’s the standard for Franks challenges, the means by which, on very rare occasions, defendants argue that the law enforcement officers who obtained a warrant on them were so negligent or malicious in their application so as to merit the warrant and its fruit being thrown out.

Franks challenges require the defendant to prove that false statements in a warrant application are false, were knowing, intentional, or reckless false statements, and were necessary to the finding of probable cause (as this law review article explains at length).

Franks challenges involve heavy burdens for defendants to meet, even at the earliest stages. First, the defendant must make “a substantial preliminary showing that a false statement knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth, was included by the affiant in the warrant affidavit.”79 A defendant’s claim will fail if it only alleges innocent or negligent misrepresentation;80 it will similarly fail if the court determines that the evidence fails to demonstrate falsity.81 At this stage, the defendant must also show that “the allegedly false statement is necessary to the finding of probable cause.”82 Many Franks challenges fail at this stage because the court determines that the allegedly false statement is not important enough to affect the probable cause analysis.83 If the defendant’s “preliminary showing” clears all three of these hurdles (falsity, intent, and materiality), then the defendant is entitled to a hearing on the allegations.84 At the evidentiary hearing, the defendant has to establish by a preponderance of the evidence the same three things; only then will the evidence be suppressed “to the same extent as if probable cause was lacking on the face of the affidavit.”85 Reviewing courts presume the affidavit’s validity and require the defendant to provide specific allegations and an offer of proof.86

As noted, the IG Report itself notes that the agents believed they had submitted what was necessary for the application, so Page could not show they were knowing falsehoods, meaning he’d have to prove that such a belief was reckless, which — particularly for the matter of relying on Steele — would be hard to do, given that he’s a more credible informant than most FISA informants. 

Moreover, aside from Page’s alleged involvement in the platform, it’s not even clear Page could prove that some of the key allegations were false. The FBI did obtain evidence — weak, RUMINT, but nevertheless evidence — that Page may have met with Igor Sechin, and the fact that he met with related people would make disproving those details difficult. Ultimately, the FBI suspected Page was not entirely truthful in his March 2017 interactions with them, and Mueller found that, “Page’s activities in Russia-as described in his emails with the Campaign-were not fully explained.” 

Finally, in addition to the Trump-related allegations about Page in his application, the FBI showed that Page willingly remained a recruitment target of known Russian intelligence officers, shared non-public information (possibly deemed trade secrets) with them, and enthusiastically considered an offer of an “open checkbook” to start a pro-Russian think tank. That’s not enough to prove he was an agent under 18 USC 951, but it probably reaches probable cause in any case. 

I’m not saying any of this is the way it should be — for FISA warrants or traditional criminal warrants. But that’s the way it is. It is virtually guaranteed that if Carter Page had been prosecuted, he would never have been able to challenge his FISA applications and even if he had, he likely would not have succeeded with either a Franks challenge or a Fourth Amendment suppression motion. That suggests that the way FISA works right now raises the bar well further than it already is for criminal defendants to ensure that the searches against them were proper in the first place. 

Update: Corrected post to indicate last contact between Page and CIA was in July 2011.

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

 

Horowitz

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

I want to start this post by reiterating that I agree with the conclusion of the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page that there were significant errors with the Carter Page FISA applications, especially the reauthorizations. I think the Report provides a lot of valuable detail about the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, though not necessarily the details about the FISA process or keeping the country safe that policy makers need (which I’ll return to). I think its recommendations are worthwhile but insufficient to fix the problems identified by the review.

So I find the IG Report an important review of the FISA process.

But it is also the case that the IG Report commits precisely the kinds of errors it finds inexcusable in the FBI.

As I lay out here, the major problems with the Carter Page FISA applications all amount to FBI not providing (first) DOJ’s Office of Intelligence and then the FISA Court critical information (regarding Page’s 2009-2013 ties to the CIA, information that undermine claims that Christopher Steele and the dossier were reliable, and other information — some that contradicted the dossier — that the IG Report deems exculpatory). The IG Report also found 17 items over the course of four applications that did not meet the Woods procedure requirement of being backed by documentation in the file (this table lays out that information, along with all the derogatory information in Page’s applications). Some of these Woods procedure problems reflect bureaucratic sloppiness in the procedure that’s supposed to guarantee reliability on FISA issues; some are more significant errors.

Given those errors (again, errors I significantly agree are shown in the Report), then, DOJ IG ought to make damn sure they don’t commit the same kinds of errors they deem serious enough to refer the entire FBI chain of command for discipline up to and including firing). But they did.

Errors identified on publication

Let’s start with the corrections made to the report, first on December 11 and then on December 20. On December 11, there were three changes, one of which reflected prior declassification of the dates of the FISA orders targeting Page and additional declassification regarding Sergei Millian, The other two changes are corrections of inaccurate claims made in the first release of the report.

The first involves an utterly central part of DOJ IG’s inquiry: at what point in time the FBI got informants to interview Carter Page, Sam Clovis, and George Papadopoulos. When the report was initially released, it falsely claimed that Page and Papadopoulos had been targeted with informants before FBI had formally opened its investigation on July 31, 2016.

On pages iv, xvi, 400, and 407, we changed the phrase “before and after” to “both during and after the time.” In all instances, the phrase appears in connection to the time period during which we found that the Crossfire Hurricane team used Confidential Human Sources (CHSs) to interact and consensually record conversations with Page and Papadopoulos. The corrected information appearing in this updated report reflects the accurate information concerning these time periods that previously appeared, and still appears, on pages 305 and 313 (e.g., the statement on page 305 that “the Crossfire Hurricane team tasked CHSs to interact with Page and Papadopoulos both during the time Page and Papadopoulos were advisors to the Trump campaign, and after Page and Papadopoulos were no longer affiliated with the Trump campaign”).

Based in part on the fact that Stefan Halper met Carter Page before he was formally tasked as an informant to collect information from him, and in part on George Papadopoulos’ paranoid rants, the frothy right had been accusing the FBI of using informants before the investigation was opened. And when then Report was initially released, it stated that that had, in fact occurred, even though the narrative in the Report made it clear that that did not happen (though it did show that the FBI had used informants before either Page or Papadopoulos had been kicked off the campaign). So the initial report falsely claimed the Report confirmed a frothy right conspiracy, but within days DOJ IG corrected that false claim. In other words, before subjected to the scrutiny of public review, the Report made a false claim about a core topic of its investigation.

Another of the corrections made on December 11 involves information about what an interview of Christopher Steele’s Sub-Source said when the FBI interviewed him or her to assess the credibility of Steele’s reporting. The report originally stated that the Sub-Source affirmatively stated he or she had no discussion with Steele about WikiLeaks, but the revised Report instead stated that the Sub-Source did not recall having such a discussion.

On pages xi, 242, 368, and 370, we changed the phrase “had no discussion” to “did not recall any discussion or mention.” On page 242, we also changed the phrase “made no mention at all of” to “did not recall any discussion or mention of.” On page 370, we also changed the word “assertion” to “statement,” and the words “and Person 1 had no discussion at all regarding WikiLeaks directly contradicted” to “did not recall any discussion or mention of WikiLeaks during the telephone call was inconsistent with.” In all instances, this phrase appears in connection with statements that Steele’s Primary Sub-source made to the FBI during a January 2017 interview about information he provided to Steele that appeared in Steele’s election reports. The corrected information appearing in this updated report reflects the accurate characterization of the Primary Sub-source’s account to the FBI that previously appeared, and still appears, on page 191, stating that “[the Primary Sub-Source] did not recall any discussion or mention of Wiki[L]eaks.”

The distinction is important because Steele claimed — plausibly — that his Sub-Source was shading how much he gave Steele, given how controversial things had become by 2017; Steele also claims to have documentation of what his Sub-Source claimed when.

Whatever the truth on this point, as the correction acknowledges, the FBI’s 302 of the interview uses the “did not recall” language.

[The Primary Sub-source] recalls that this 10-15 minute conversation included a general discussion about Trump and the Kremlin, that there was “communication” between the parties, and that it was an ongoing relationship. (The Primary Sub-source] recalls that the individual believed to be [Source E in Report 95] said that there was “exchange of information” between Trump and the Kremlin, and that there was “nothing bad about it.” [Source E] said that some of this information exchange could be good for Russia, and some could be damaging to Trump, but deniable. The individual said that the Kremlin might be of help to get Trump elected, but [the Primary Sub-source] did not recall any discussion or mention of Wiki[L]eaks. [my emphasis]

In other words, the FBI had an official source for the Sub-Source’s comments, the 302, and the DOJ IG, in its first release, used language that deviated from what the official source said.

This is precisely the kind of error the Report pointed to as Woods procedure violations, such as the FBI’s description of Steele’s reporting as “corroborated and used in criminal proceedings,” when in fact the official document said something different. The Report complains about a similar variance of phrasing in the renewals specifically as they pertain to whether Steele was “high-ranking” or “moderately senior.”

One might excuse the discrepancy because — after all — DOJ IG fixed this language almost as soon as it became public. Except that language pertaining to Steele’s Sub-Source was declassified the night before the Report release, without Steele having had an opportunity to read it. Thus, it is language that appeared in public in violation of DOJ IG’s rules on document reviews, so might have been avoided if it had followed its normal process.

Finally, one of the corrections made on December 20 — fixing of an error of fact regarding the laws that criminalize acting as an agent of a foreign government or principal without registration, but claiming falsely the correction just amounted to adding a reference to the statute in question — would also be the same kind of error that, in the FISA context, would amount to a Woods procedure violation, as it asserts the statute said something it didn’t. Furthermore, a later discussion of the Senate Report on FISA (still) miscites a page discussing FARA, something else that would count as a Woods violation, particularly given that the passage of the Senate Report cited actually undermined the point DOJ IG was trying to make, explaining why Carter Page’s direct ties to known Russian intelligence officers got well past (according to the intent of Congress) the concerns about him being targeted for his First Amendment activities.

Information excluded from the Bruce Ohr discussion

As this post lays out, the IG Report left out at least two key details in its discussion of Bruce Ohr’s communications with Christopher Steele. First, it made no explicit mention of the at least five communications Ohr had with Steele in 2016 prior to their July 30, 2016 brunch meeting. Those contacts were significantly about — but probably not limited to — Oleg Deripaska. Including those contacts would make it clear that the Deripaska reference during their July 30 meeting was a continuation of past discussions, not a new reference tied to the dossier (indeed, nothing that could relate to the Deripaska feud with Paul Manafort showed up in the dossier until October 19, and even then it would have simply been a reference to his Russian ties). Moreover, it would show that all of the contacts between them were a continuation of past information sharing tied to Ohr’s job.

In addition, the IG Report’s discussion of the July 30 meeting omits a Steele mention about Russian doping. That reference, like the multiple references to topics other than Trump in 2017 that the IG Report does acknowledge, make it clear that Ohr and Steele’s communications always included information about their mutual concerns about transnational organized crime.

In other words, DOJ IG twice left out or glossed over details that would have made it clear the Ohr – Steele communications consisted of more than just dirt on Trump, the equivalent of leaving out exculpatory information in the Carter Page application. And the IG Report’s entire presentation of their Deripaska discussions overstate the degree to which those discussions amounted to to information from the dossier (though there are a lot of other problems with the Deripaska-related communications between the two men).

Possible information excluded from the George Papadopoulos transcript

This post shows that, rather than being exculpatory (as the frothy right has long claimed), the substance of Papadopoulos’ conversations with Stefan Halper and another informant were actually fairly damning. The IG Report does not complain that the Carter Page applications leave out the damning details of these interactions (including that both he and Page spoke similarly about an October surprise).

It does, however, complain that the Carter Page applications leave out Papadopoulos’ denials that the campaign was trying to optimize the WikiLeaks releases, even though those denials were internally inconsistent and Papadopoulos explained to the second informant he had made a categorical denial to Halper because he worried Halper might tell the CIA if had made anything but such a categorical denial.

So the IG Report’s case that these denials should have been included in the Carter Page applications is not all that convincing (though it does therefore endorse one of the frothy right complaints that led to this investigation). DOJ lawyer Stu Evans, who generally always supported more disclosure, treated Papadopoulos’ denials like Joseph Mifsud’s later claims not to have had advance knowledge of the email release, as cover stories, which is precisely what the FBI team believed them to be in real time.

As part of its investigation, the FBI interviewed Mifsud in February 2017, after Renewal Application No. 1 was filed but before Renewal Application No. 2. According to the FD-302 documenting the interview, Mifsud admitted to having met with Papadopoulos but denied having told him about any suggestion or offer from Russia.403 Additionally, according to the FD-302, Mifsud told the FBI that “he had no advance knowledge Russia was in possession of emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and, therefore, did not make any offers or proffer any information to Papadopoulos.”

[snip]

Evans told us that he could not say definitively whether QI would have included this information in subsequent renewal applications without discussing the issue with the team (the FBI and QI), but Evans also said that Mifsud’s denial as described by the QIG sounded like something “potentially factually similarly situated” to the denials made by Papadopoulos that QI determined should have been included. 405

In other words, Evans would have treated both of these denials (correctly, as subsequent investigation would prove) as lies, and dealt with them however such lies are treated in FISA applications. Probably, they would be used to suggest that the individuals in question were trying to keep any interactions secret, therefore supporting rather than undermining a claim that clandestine intelligence cooperation was happening.

But there’s a detail that Papadopoulos has claimed he also included in his comments to Halper that doesn’t show up in the ellipsis-filled excerpts of Papadopoulos’ conversations with Halper. Along with admitting that he likened optimizing the WikiLeaks releases to “treason,” Papadopoulos claimed he pushed back by saying, “I really have nothing to do with Russia.” If Papadopoulos did, in fact, say anything like that, it would have amounted to proof he was lying, especially since the FBI was tracking his ongoing interactions with Sergei Millian at the time, whom they would soon open a counterintelligence investigation into. The IG’s office could not tell me whether such language appeared in the full transcript. But if such language was excluded, then it would amount to an exclusion of a material detail of the sort that the IG Report complains about FBI excluding in Page’s applications.

What makes it into a 302 or not

One of the Woods procedure errors the IG Report rightly describes is that the FBI 302 that purportedly included a discussion of Carter Page being picked up in a limo in Moscow in July 2016 does not actually include the reference.

A June 2017 interview by the FBI of an individual closely tied to the President of the New Economic School in Moscow who stated that Carter Page was selected to give a commencement speech in July 2016 because he was candidate Trump’s “Russia-guy.” This individual also told the FBI that while in Russia in July 2016, Carter Page was picked up in a chauffeured car and it was rumored he met with Igor Sechin. However, the FD-302 documenting this interview, which was included in the Woods File for Renewal Application No. 3, does not contain any reference to a chauffeured car picking up Carter Page. We were unable to locate any document or information in the Woods File that supported this assertion.

371 We asked both agents that interviewed this individual, Case Agent 6 and Case Agent 7, if this individual stated during the interview that Page was picked up in a chauffeured car. Case Agent 6 told us he did recall the individual making this statement; Case Agent 7 did not recall and stated he may have made the statement during a telephone interview that occurred later.

Confusingly, in the appendix where it lists this, it attributes the comment to US person 1, which is presumably how DOJ referred to the source in the application. This is not a reference to Sergei Millian, though he is referred to as Person 1 in the IG Report.

Rather, this was a reference to Yuval Weber, the son of the Schlomo Weber, the rector of the New Economic School in Moscow who invited Page to Moscow in 2016. Per the Mueller Report, Yuval Weber was interviewed on June 1, 2017 (his father was interviewed on July 28, 2017).

This is absolutely a fair complaint.

But the IG Report does not, similarly, complain about or fully incorporate something else that didn’t make an FBI 302. As it describes, the notes from at least one of the attendees at the November 21, 2016 meeting where Bruce Ohr provided context about the Steele dossier included background to Ohr’s description that Steele was “desperate” Trump not be elected.

Steele was “desperate” that Trump not be elected, but was providing reports for ideological reasons, specifically that “Russia [was] bad;”

That is, Ohr’s observation was not about a political view on the part of Steele, but was instead a comment about his concerns about Russia.

This accords with what Steele told the IG’s investigators.

When we interviewed Steele, he told us that he did not state that he was “desperate” that Trump not be elected and thought Ohr might have been paraphrasing his sentiments. Steele told us that based on what he learned during his research he was concerned that Trump was a national security risk and he had no particular animus against Trump otherwise.

Mind you, Steele’s concerns about Trump’s election should have been included in the Carter Page applications in any case. But the context of why Steele was so concerned doesn’t appear in the balance of the IG Report’s discussion of this reference, which thereby treats what the investigation showed was a concern about national security as, instead, political bias.

The FBI is always wrong and DOJ is always right

The IG Report shows remarkable consistency for treating similar behavior from people at FBI as damning while brushing off similar behavior from DOJ lawyers or managers. As I noted in this post, for example, it suggests Jim Comey should have demanded to learn more details about Bruce Ohr’s interactions with Christopher Steele in a November 2016 briefing where Ohr was mentioned, but doesn’t ask why no one in DOJ’s chain of command who got briefed in February 2017 on Ohr’s role didn’t demand more information. Effectively Comey gets held accountable for something mentioned in a briefing, but DOJ lawyers are not. The IG Report admits this explicitly, saying that because FBI would have access to more information, they should be held accountable for more.

Thus, while we believe the opportunities for learning investigative details were greater for FBI leadership than for Department leadership, we were unable to conclusively determine whether FBI leadership was provided with sufficient information, or sufficiently probed the investigative team, to enable them to effectively assess the evidence as the case progressed.

The IG Report applies the same standard to more junior people as well. For example, an Office of Intelligence lawyer excuses himself from including Carter Page’s (truthful) denials in the FISA application because the FBI agent did not flag statements for him, including in a 163-page transcript.

We found that information about the August 2016 meeting was first shared with the 01 Attorney on or about June 20, 2017, when Case Agent 6 sent the 01 Attorney a 163-page document containing the statements made by Page during the meeting. As described in Chapter Seven, Case Agent 6, to bolster probable cause, had added to the draft of FISA Renewal Application No. 3 statements that Page made during this meeting about an “October Surprise” involving an “email dump” of “33 thousand” emails. The OI Attorney told us that he used the 163-page document to accurately quote in the final renewal application Page’s statements concerning the “October Surprise,” but that he did not read the other aspects of the document and that the case agent did not flag for him the statements Page made about Manafort. The OI Attorney told us that these statements, which were available to the FBI before the first application, should have been flagged by the FBI for inclusion in all of the FISA applications because they were relevant to the court’s assessment of the allegations concerning Manafort’s use of Page as an intermediary with Russia. Case Agent 6 told us that he did not know that Page made the statement about Manafort because the August 2016 meeting took place before he was assigned to the investigation. He said that the reason he knew about the “October Surprise” statements in the document was that he had heard about them from Case Agent 1 and did a word search to find the specific discussion of that topic.

Regarding the similar statement Page made during one of his March 2017 interviews with the FBI, the 01 Attorney told us that Case Agent 6 also did not flag this statement for him, but added that he (OI Attorney) should have noticed the statement himself in the interview summary Case Agent 6 forwarded to him on March 24, 2017, since it was only five pages, and the 01 Attorney had read the entire document.

[snip]

Case Agent 6 told us that he did not know that Page made the statement about Manafort because the August 2016 meeting took place before he was assigned to the investigation. He said that the reason he knew about the “October Surprise” statements in the document was that he had heard about them from Case Agent 1 and did a word search to find the specific discussion on that topic. Case Agent 6 further told us that he added the “October Surprise” statements in consultation with the 01 Attorney after the 01 Attorney asked him if there was other information in the case file that would help support probable cause.

In reality, both the FBI Agent and the OI lawyer should be held to the standard of reading the materials in question.

A more remarkable example comes in a passage where the IG Report claims NSD had “no indication” of seven problems it found in the first Carter Page application, but then describes that the FBI Agent had included details on one of them in an email to the OI lawyer in support of the application.

3. Omitted information relevant to the reliability of Person 1, a key Steele sub-source (who, as previously noted, was attributed with providing the information in Report 95 and some of the information in Reports 80 and 102 relied upon in the application), namely that (1) Steele himself told members of the Crossfire Hurricane team that Person 1 was a “boaster” and an “egoist” and “may engage in some embellishment” and (2) the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation on Person 1 a few days before the FISA application was filed;

[snip]

We found no indication that NSD officials were aware of these issues at the time they prepared or reviewed the first FISA application. Regarding the third listed item above, the OI Attorney who drafted the application had received an email from Case Agent 1 before the first application was filed containing the information about Steele’s “boaster” and “embellishment” characterization of Person 1, whom the FBI believed to be Source E in Report 95 and the source of other allegations in the application derived from Reports 80 and 102. This information was part of a lengthy email that included descriptions of various individuals in Steele’s source network and other information Steele provided to the Crossfire Hurricane team in early October 2016. The OI Attorney told us that he did not recall the Crossfire Hurricane team flagging this issue for him or that he independently made the connection between this sub-source and Steele’s characterization of Person 1 as an embellisher. We believe Case Agent 1 should have specifically discussed with the OI Attorney the FBI’s assessment that this subsource was Person 1, that Steele had provided derogatory information regarding Person 1, and that [redacted], so that OI could have assessed how these facts might impact the FISA application.

Later, the IG Report explicitly admits that it is doing this, holding the FBI responsible because the DOJ lawyers didn’t read what the FBI provided them.

While we found isolated instances where a case agent forwarded documentation to the OI Attorney that included, among other things, information omitted from the FISA applications, we noted that, in those instances, the Crossfire Hurricane team did not alert the OI Attorney to the information.

It then claims that FBI did not give OI a chance to consider information it shared with OI.

We do not speculate as to whether or how this additional information might have influenced the decisions of senior leaders who supported the applications, if they had known all of the relevant information. Nevertheless, we believe it was the obligation of the agents who were aware of the information to ensure that OI and the decision makers had the opportunity to consider it, both to decide whether to proceed with the applications and, if so, how to present this information to the court.

From a policy perspective, the IG Report provides a more useful observation about the FBI-OI relationship that explains and should be fixed to address the problem of OI not integrating information FBI provided them: that the lawyers in OI aren’t involved in an investigative role like prosecutors who would file a criminal warrant application.

As described in Chapter Five, NSD officials told us that the nature of FISA practice requires that 01 rely on the FBI agents who are familiar with the investigation to provide accurate and complete information. Unlike federal prosecutors, OI attorneys are usually not involved in an investigation, or even aware of a case’s existence, unless and until OI receives a request to initiate a FISA application. Once OI receives a FISA request, OI attorneys generally interact with field offices remotely and do not have broad access to FBI case files or sensitive source files. NSD officials cautioned that even if OI received broader access to FBI case and source files, they still believe that the case agents and source handling agents are better positioned to identify all relevant information in the files. In addition, NSD officials told us that OI attorneys often do not have enough time to go through the files themselves, as it is not unusual for OI to receive requests for emergency authorizations with only a few hours to evaluate the request.

Rather than incorporating this important observation into its findings, thereby identifying a process failure with FISA that likely applies to all FISA applications, the IG Report instead just blames the FBI. This is equivalent to downplaying honest explanations for Carter Page’s enthusiasm for sharing non-public information with Russian intelligence officers — that CIA said it was okay (which would not explain all of his interactions with Russian spies in any case).

Again, I’m not knocking the report as a whole. In much the same way that there was a lot of evidence against Carter Page even given the problems with his FISA applications, the IG Report is important and valuable in spite of these problems.

But the problems probably provide a far better answer to the question posed by the IG Report as a whole: what explains the errors or missing information in the Carter Page FISA applications. In a really worthwhile podcast on the report, Stewart Baker suggests the disproportionate blame on FBI may arise from the scope of DOJ IG’s authority; it is not permitted to criticize the work of prosecutors. Assessed along with DOJ IG’s past reports on Trump targets, these errors may raise questions of bias, whether that bias stems from a failure to reframe investigative missions the IG receives to eliminate the assumptions who assign them (as almost certainly happened in the IG Report’s treatment of Bruce Ohr), or a more general willingness to serve as Trump’s hatchetman (I’ll return to this in a post on Andrew McCabe’s lawsuit).

But the explanation could be and — for many of these errors — likely is more simple. As Julian Sanchez argued convincingly, the better explanation is probably confirmation bias. Once DOJ IG came to believe FBI fucked up (possibly as early as the report on the Hillary investigation), everything it found seemed to confirm that conclusion. That’s natural and not something I am immune to either (and I’m sure I’ll have my share of embarrassing errors in this post!). But particularly with FISA — which disproportionately is used with people with Chinese or Islamic ties — that kind of confirmation bias can end up being discriminatory.

That, again, provides perhaps the most important lesson this report offers about FISA. DOJ IG was able to fix several of its errors because making the report public subjected its work to scrutiny that identified the errors; I’ve been able to point to others simply by an extended deep dive or consulting other public records on these matters, like a Judicial Watch FOIA or the Mueller Report. The problem with FISA applications, however, is they never get exposed to such scrutiny, so that errors that might be addressed in criminal affidavits aren’t for FISA applications. In that Baker podcast, David Kris argued that one way to fix these problems is to let any defendants against whom FISA is used in a prosecution access their application (something that could be done under the CIPA process).

Committing the same kinds of errors it criticizes doesn’t make this IG Report useless or wrong about its key findings on the problems with the Carter Page application (though it does make the recommendations that the FBI and Bruce Ohr be disciplined far weaker). But it does make a meta point about the value of transparency for counteracting confirmation bias.

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

I’m still working through my deep dive of the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page (see the list below for links to my prior posts). But to prep for a post showing that DOJ IG did not meet the standard it held the FBI to in its investigation, I want to first lay out what the IG Report shows about George Papadopoulos.

Why Papadopoulos matters in an IG Report on Carter Page

Papadopoulos is discussed in this IG Report for three reasons. First, the investigation into whether anyone on the Trump campaign was coordinating with Russia, called Crossfire Hurricane, was opened after the Australian government passed on a report about what Papadopoulos said to their representative to the UK, Alexander Downer, over drinks in May 2016. The tip raised legitimate questions about whether the Trump campaign was coordinating with Russia and if so via what channels, so FBI opened an investigation to find out. So Papadopoulos is in the IG Report because his big mouth predicated the investigation.

Papadopoulos is also included because after the GOP embraced conspiracy theories that FBI had “spied” on Trump’s campaign by introducing informants into it, the IG reviewed Papadopoulos’ interactions with two Confidential Human Sources (CHS; along with interactions Carter Page and Sam Clovis had with informants), ultimately showing that no CHSes were infiltrated into the campaign, but were instead used as what FBI believed was the most discrete but efficient way to investigate whether there was something behind Papadopoulos’ blather.

Finally, the review into the interactions between informants and Page and Papadopoulos led the IG to conclude that the FBI should have highlighted information from those interactions in Carter Page’s FISA applications. That judgment is undoubtedly true for Page’s meetings with informants, as he denied several of the specific allegations from the Steele dossier that made up a key prong in the probable cause against him.

But it’s a closer call with regards to Papadopoulos, even just based off the information included in the IG Report (and all the more so when matched up with information in other public documents). Two of the seventeen “significant inaccuracies and omissions” that the IG Report faults FBI for pertain to information on Papadopoulos, and a third pertains to Joseph Mifsud’s denials of telling Papadopoulos about the emails:

5. Omitted Papadopoulos’s statements to an FBI CHS in September 2016 denying that anyone associated with the Trump campaign was collaborating with Russia or with outside groups like WikiLeaks in the release of emails;

[snip]

15. Omitted Papadopoulos’s statements to an FBI CHS in late October 2016 (after the first application was filed) denying that the Trump campaign was involved in the circumstances of the DNC email hack;

16. Omitted Joseph Mifsud’s denials to the FBI that he supplied Papadopoulos with the information Papadopoulos shared with the FFG (suggesting that the campaign received an offer or suggestion of assistance from Russia); and

Given that FISA applications never get shared with defendants, this information should be shared, at least with DOJ’s Office of Information that does the applications. But all of these references were deemed to be — for good reason — cover stories. So I think they deserve more attention in any analysis of how to “fix” (or scrap) FISA moving forward, because they demonstrate one problem with warrant affidavits that will never see the light of day, what to consider exculpatory or not.

As background for that (and to rebut Papadopoulos’ claims that this Report backs any of the fevered claims he has made about the investigation into him), I want to lay out what the IG Report reveals about the investigation into Papadopoulos.

July 28 through August 10 2016: FBI receives the tip from Australia then opens the investigation

Days after WikiLeaks released the DNC emails, on July 26, Australia told someone in London (probably CIA, but the report describes the State Department being involved) about what George Papadopoulos told Alexander Downer (and, probably, his aide Erica Thompson, who had an earlier meeting with Papadopoulos as well as the one she attended with Downer) in May 2016.

The Report does not include the full text of the Australian tip, which has led people from the Attorney General on down to diminish the import of it based off a partial quote. In addition, DOJ has — at its own discretion — kept a few words reflecting other details from the Australian tip that the FBI used to predicate the investigation classified.

What the IG Report does include from the Australian report explains that Papadopoulos had,

suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process [damaging Hillary] with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama). It was unclear whether he or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly of [sic] through other means. It was also unclear how Mr. Trump’s team reacted to the offer. We note the Trump team’s reaction could, in the end, have little bearing of what Russia decides to do, with or without Mr. Trump’s cooperation.

A later quote from Bill Priestap, the FBI Manager who opened the investigation, reveals part of what DOJ chose to exclude from Papadopoulos’ quote: before mentioning the detail about Russia to Downer, Papadopoulos had expressed confidence that Trump would win because there was so much dirt on Hillary.

In fact, the information we received indicated that Papadopoulos told the [FFG] he felt confident Mr. Trump would win the election, and Papadopoulos commented that the Clintons had a lot of baggage and that the Trump team had plenty of material to use in its campaign.

So Papadopoulos said, in May 2016, that Trump would win by throwing a ton of dirt at Hillary, and then said that the Russians were going to anonymously release dirt of their own. Two and a half months later, material Russia stole got released via WikiLeaks, hiding the Russian role, seemingly (and, the evidence shows, in fact) confirming that Papadopoulos had had advance knowledge of the dump.

It took two days for this tip to make its way from the UK to FBI HQ, which means Australia would have shared it before but it would have arrived after Trump made his “Russia if you’re listening” comment on July 27 suggesting he’d be happy to get help from Russia.

FBI HQ then spent 3 days deciding what to do about the tip. On July 31, the FBI opened an investigation to try to figure out whether the Trump campaign had gotten advance notice of the email drop and if so via what channel.

The next day, August 1, Peter Strzok and a Supervisory Special Agent went to London to find out more from Australian officials, plural, which suggests Thompson was included in the interview. The interview gave the FBI no clarity about whom Russia may have told about the emails and it did not rule out Papadopoulos being told himself.

According to Strzok and SSA 1, during the interview they learned that Papadopoulos did not say that he had direct contact with the Russians; that while his statement did not include him, it did not exclude him either; and that Papadopoulos stated the Russians told “us.” Strzok and SSA 1 also said they learned that Papadopoulos did not specify any other individual who received the Russian suggestion

That information led the FBI to do some intelligence analysis using database and name searches to draw up possible candidates. As a result of that analysis, the FBI opened investigations into Papadopoulos himself, as well as Mike Flynn, Carter Page, and Paul Manafort, the latter three of of whom had known ties to Russia.

August 10 to November 8: FBI pursues no legal process to collect on Papadopoulos

The Report confirms, obliquely, something I have long noted: the FBI did not do basic things like getting call records on Papadopoulos or anyone else (though the NY Field Office had gotten two basic National Security Letters on Carter Page earlier in the year). The Report notes that FBI did not ask NSD to help it submit criminal legal process on anyone in conjunction with this investigation before the election.

the FBI did not ask CES to assist with criminal legal process at any time before the 2016 U.S. elections

This is an important issue for both the political and policy debate. The FBI actually might have discovered really damning details about both Papadopoulos (who was planning a back channel meeting with Putin when the investigation was opened) and Paul Manafort (who was sharing campaign strategy in a meeting discussing how to carve up Ukraine) had they chosen to investigate more aggressively. By waiting, the FBI gave both men an opportunity to cover these activities up. Even if they had just gotten call detail records — something not considered any more intrusive than using informants — they would have discovered Joseph Mifsud’s ongoing communications with Papadopoulos.  They chose not to take those steps, in part, to prevent any word of the investigation from leaking. But as a result, the FBI failed to collect details about suspicious behavior in real time, potentially forgoing the possibility of mitigating follow-on damage from the Russian attack.

And rather than reviewing a report about why the FBI failed to prevent these ongoing activities, we’re instead reading a 400-page report about why, in an attempt to avoid doing the kind of damage it had already done to Hillary’s campaign, it did the bare minimum.

August 20: Stefan Halper asks Page about Papadopoulos

So instead of collecting communications and other records (the FBI didn’t even obtain Page’s financial records until the following spring), the FBI instead used informants. As it happened, Stefan Halper, who was a lifelong Republican and had worked prior presidential campaigns, had met Carter Page and knew Manafort and Flynn. He was a perfectly situated informant. So FBI asked him to collect more information.

In an August 20 meeting with Halper, Carter Page issued some of the first denials that should have been included in the FISA applications. Halper also asked him about the other subjects of the investigation. Page didn’t have much to say about Papadopoulos, aside from giving a telling “no comment” in response to a Halper question about how easily Papadopoulos can be set off emotionally.

Page said that Papadopoulos was the youngest guy on the campaign, that he used to live in London, and that he had not been to the last campaign meeting. Page also said he had “no comment” on whether Papadopoulos was easily triggered emotionally.

September 1: Stefan Halper asks Sam Clovis about Papadopoulos

Next, using an introduction from Page, Halper reached out to Sam Clovis, who had been closely involved with managing both Page and Papadopoulos on the campaign. Clovis had warm things to say about Page (even while admitting he was hard to pin down). Clovis described Papadopoulos, by contrast, as overly ambitious, which made Clovis suspicious of him.

Source 2 also asked about George Papadopoulos, who the high-level Trump campaign official described as “very eager” and “a climber.” The high-level campaign official added that he was “always suspicious of people like that.”

September 15: Two interviews with Stefan Halper

Next, Halper invited Papadopoulos to London to discuss doing a paper on Mediterranean energy issues for him, a ploy designed (the FBI hoped) to recreate the kinds of circumstances that had led Papadopoulos to make the comments he did to Downer four months before. Halper and Papadopoulos (and an undercover FBI Agent using the name Azra Turk) actually had two meetings. At the first, Halper started by eliciting Papadopoulos’ thoughts on other subjects of the investigation, which led Papadopoulos to describe both Page and Flynn as interested in ties with Russia.

During the meeting, Source 2 told Papadopoulos that Carter Page “always says nice things about you.” Papadopoulos told Source 2 that although Carter Page was one of the campaign’s “Russian people,” Page “has never actually met Trump … [and] hasn’t actually advised him on Russia … [but] [h]e might be advising him indirectly through [another campaign official].” Papadopoulos also told Source 2 that General Flynn “does want to cooperate with the Russians and the Russians are willing to … embrace adult issues.”

Then Halper asked Papadopoulos about his own ties to Russia. According to the parts of the transcript excerpted in the IG Report, he admitted he had been invited to a “faith talk” (an invitation I haven’t heard of before), but said it was too sensitive to go, particularly given what “is going with Paul Manafort.” In response to an initial question, Papadopoulos suggested that Julian Assange had predicted an October Surprise but “no one knows” what that means.

As for Papadopoulos’s own connections with Russia, Papadopoulos told Source 2 he thought that “we have to be wary of the Russians” and mentioned that “they actually invited me to their .. .faith talk. I didn’t go though.” Papadopoulos explained to Source 2 that he made the decision not to go because it is “just too sensitive … [as an] advisor on the campaign trail…especially with what is going [on] with Paul Manafort.” Source 2 also asked Papadopoulos about the possibility of the public release of additional information that would be harmful to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Papadopoulos responded that Julian Assange of Wikileaks had said in public statements to “get ready for October … [but] [w]hatever that means no one knows.”

Papadopoulos’ answer about an October Surprise was not that different than — but almost a month after — a similar response to Halper from Page, though that comment did not get added to his FISA applications until his last renewal. The IG Report does not talk about this similar answer, which is particularly interesting given details about the campaign’s knowledge of Roger Stone’s claimed ties to WikiLeaks.

Then there are questions about whether DOJ IG included all the parts of the transcript that would be relevant to this analysis. In Papadopoulos’ own depiction of these meetings with Halper, he claimed he pushed back by saying, “I really have nothing to do with Russia.” It’s possible that was a self-serving claim, or it’s possible that the transcript included here does not include it. I asked and did not receive an answer about about whether such a phrase appeared in the full transcript or how much of that full transcript they had excerpted. Whether it is or not is actually fairly significant for the DOJ IG case about what should have been included in Page’s FISA applications, but alas, it’s not available. It would also be useful to see whether these topics followed closely or not, but again, this is just a selection from the transcript that doesn’t even offer guidance about what the ellipses are.

Anyway, that’s what happened at a brunch meeting between Halper and Papadopoulos. After it, the FBI deemed the meeting sufficiently successful to try to push further in an evening meeting over drinks.

At that evening meeting, Papadopoulos questioned whether the Russians had really done the hack, and then said a bunch of things about Israel that would lead to FBI digging up significant details of Papadopoulos’ influence peddling with Israel that almost turned into a Foreign Agent charge.

When Source 2 initially asked about Wikileaks, Papadopoulos commented that with respect to Assange “no one knows what he’s going to release” and that he could release information on Trump as a “ploy to basically dismantle … [ or] undercut the … next President of the United States regardless of who it’s going to be.” Papadopoulos also stated that “no one has proven that the Russians actually did the hacking,” then continued to discuss hacking by pointing out that he had “actually had a few .. .Israelis trying to hack” his cell phone, which Papadopoulos said “shocked” him because he had “done some sensitive work for that government,” and he said the Israelis had “allowed [him] quite a high level of access.” Papadopoulos also stated that “no one else” did the work that he did for the Israelis, and that it had led “some folks [to] joke … [that Papadopoulos] should go into the CIA after this if [Trump] ends up losing.”

Then, Halper asked about WikiLeaks for what would be the third and fourth time that day, this time more directly. Papadopoulos gave the answer that the frothy right has claimed, bizarrely, was exculpatory. By the time he gave this answer, had had already admitted receiving a non-public invitation from Russia and offered two different responses about WikiLeaks, along with a claim doubting that Russia had done the hack. That’s particularly notable given that Papadopoulos’ claim that WikiLeaks would have an interest in undercutting whoever might be the next President makes no sense unless Russia were the source.

So having expressed meeting with Russia was “sensitive” in the wake of disclosures about Paul Manafort and given inconsistent answers about WikiLeaks already that day, in response to more direct questions, Papadopoulos angrily stated that optimizing the WikiLeaks releases — which Rick Gates and Stephen Miller had been preparing to do leading up to the DNC release, and which Roger Stone had made even more extensive efforts to do, though there’s no evidence Papadopoulos knew of either effort — would amount to treason. Both times he made this denial, Papadopoulos raised Trump’s “Russia if you’re listening” comment.

Later in the conversation, Source 2 asked Papadopoulos directly whether help “from a third party like Wikileaks for example or some other third party like the Russians, could be incredibly helpful” in securing a campaign victory. Papadopoulos responded:

Well as a campaign, of course, we don’t advocate for this type of activity because at the end of the day it’s, ah, illegal. First and foremost it compromises the US national security and third it sets a very bad precedence [sic] …. So the campaign does not advocate for this, does not support what is happening. The indirect consequences are out of our hands…. [F]or example, our campaign is not. .. engag[ing] or reaching out to wiki leaks or to the whoever it is to tell them please work with us, collaborate because we don’t, no one does that…. Unless there’s something going on that I don’t know which I don’t because I don’t think anybody would risk their, their life, ah, potentially going to prison over doing something like that. Um … because at the end of the day, you know, it’s an illegal, it’s an illegal activity. Espionage is, ah, treason. This is a form of treason …. I mean that’s why, you know, it became a very big issue when Mr. Trump said, “Russia if you’re listening …. ” Do you remember? … And you know we had to retract it because, of course, he didn’t mean for them to actively engage in espionage but the media then took and ran with it.

When Source 2 raised the issue again, Papadopoulos added:

to run a shop like that. .. of course it’s illegal. No one’s looking to … obviously get into trouble like that and, you know, as far as I understand that’s, no one’s collaborating, there’s been no collusion and it’s going to remain that way. But the media, of course, wants to take a statement that Trump made, an off-the-cuff statement, about [how] Russia helped find the 30,000 emails and use that as a tool to advance their [story]. .. that Trump is … a stooge and if he’s elected he’ll permit the Russians to have carte blanche throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East while the Americans sit back and twiddle their thumbs. And that’s not correct.

There are a lot of reasons why, in context, this denial not only is not credible, but should have raised alarms. All the more so given that, according to the FBI team, Papadopoulos demeanor changed when he made it.

Case Agent 1 added that at these points in the conversation, Papadopoulos “went from a free-flowing conversation with [Source 2] to almost a canned response. You could tell in the demeanor of how [Papadopoulos] changed his tone, and to [the Crossfire Hurricane team] it seemed almost rehearsed.” Case Agent 1 emailed SSA 1 and others to report that Papadopoulos “gave … a canned answer, which he was probably prepped to say when asked.” According to Case Agent 1, it remained a topic of conversation on the Crossfire Hurricane team for days afterward whether Papadopoulos had “been coached by a legal team to deny” any involvement because of the “noticeable change” in “the tenor of the conversation.”

Granted, it would take a fairly extensive discussion to lay out how Papadopoulos’ denial was inconsistent with his earlier comments. The FBI team did not do that and instead left it out, which is one of the things DOJ IG criticized them for.

Early October/a few days before Page FISA filed: FBI learns that Papadopoulos has a sustained relationship with Sergei Millian

Meanwhile, there was one other significant investigative development, one which gets uneven coverage in the IG Report: the FBI came to focus on Sergei Millian.

Millian appears in the IG Report largely because he was an identifiable source in the Steele dossier whom Steele’s Sub-Source disclaimed a direct relationship with. Along the way, however, the Report provides details of an investigation into Millian in his own right. For example, one passage describes him as someone, “previously known to the FBI.” Other passages (including a heavily redacted footnote 302 describing a document circulating in early October) reveal the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Millian in either early October or just days before the Page FISA application was approved on October 21. Not only did the FBI have an investigation into Millian, but they knew that he had been in close contact with Papadopoulos since at least August.

The Crossfire Hurricane team had information available to it by early October 2016 that the two reporting streams could have connectivity because they had learned that Person 1, an important Steele election reporting sub-source, had been engaging in “sustained” contact with Papadopoulos since at least August 2016.

The IG Report’s treatment of Millian is fairly confusing (partly, presumably, due to DOJ decisions). It deems his possible role as a Steele source to discredit the dossier but does not discuss the possibility he had a role in any disinformation in it (even while it does consider Oleg Deripaska’s role in seeding disinformation). It doesn’t reflect on what that means for Papadopoulos’ comments in fall 2016, including any denials of ongoing involvement in Russian matters. Additionally, whereas elsewhere, DOJ declassified the names of people discussed extensively in the Mueller Report, they don’t do that here.

The investigation into Millian would almost certainly be more aggressive than it was with Papadopoulos. So it’s possible DOJ accessed Papadopoulos’ comments to Millian — which were fairly damning, per the Mueller report — at a time when they were otherwise not collecting communications of anyone besides Page.

Third week of October: First interview with Source 3

DOJ’s odd treatment of Millian in the Report is notable for Papadopoulos’ comments to the one other informant used with him during the election.

FBI didn’t use Stefan Halper with Papadopoulos after September 15. They tried, but failed, to use several other informants with him. But with an informant the IG Report calls Source 3, they did succeed in getting meetings with Papadopoulos, just the pre-election ones which the IG Report describes.

Whoever Source 3 is, Papadopoulos appears to have trusted — and bragged to — him or her far more than he did Halper. In their first conversation, which took place in the week during which Page’s first FISA application was being finalized, Papadopoulos provided conflicting information about whether he really had left the Trump campaign in the wake of a very pro-Russian Intefax piece. He also refers to Millian as a friend and indicates a plan to travel to Russia the next summer.

In the first consensually monitored conversation, during the third week of October 2016, Papadopoulos described how he had worked for the presidential campaign of Ben Carson before joining the Trump campaign, and that when he was with the Trump campaign, he “set up a meeting with … [t]he President of Egypt and Trump.” Papadopoulos also told Source 3 that, since leaving the Trump campaign, Papadopoulos had “transitioned into like my own private brand.” Papadopoulos later stated he was “still with … the campaign indirectly” and that he had made “a lot of cool [connections] and I’m going to see what’s going to happen after the election.” He added that he had learned “[i]t’s all about connections now days, man.” Papadopoulos did not say much about Russia during the first conversation with Source 3, other than to mention a “friend Sergey … [who] lives in … Brooklyn,” and invite Source 3 to travel with Papadopoulos to Russia in the summertime.

Late October: Second interview with Source 3

Papadopoulos met — and continued to brag to — Source 3 once more before the election, just after the first Page FISA order. The IG Report focuses more on Papadopoulos unabashed plan to sell access. It focuses less on the fact that, before he issued denials that anyone in the campaign was involved with WikiLeaks, he basically laid out the outline of his interactions with Mifsud and claimed to have been invited to meet Putin. Papadopoulos then went on to admit that he told Halper what he did because he expected him to go tell the CIA unless he issued a full-throated denial.

In the second consensually monitored conversation, at the end of October 2016, Papadopoulos told Source 3 that Papadopoulos had been “on the front page of Russia’s biggest newspaper” for an interview he had given 2 to 3 weeks earlier. Papadopoulos said that he was asked “[w]hat’s Mr. Trump going to do about Russia if he wins, what are your thoughts on ISIS, what are your thoughts on this?” and stated that he did not “understand why the U.S. has such a problem with Russia.” Papadopoulos also said that he thinks Putin “exudes power, confidence.” When Source 3 asked Papadopoulos if he had ever met Putin, Papadopoulos said that he was invited “to go and thank God I didn’t go though.” Papadopoulos said that it was a “weird story” from when he “was working at … this law firm in London” that involved a guy who was “well connected to the Russian government.” Papadopoulos also said that he was introduced to “Putin’s niece” and the Russian Ambassador in London. 472 Papadopoulos did not elaborate on the story, but he added that he needed to figure out

how I’m going monetize it, but I have to be an idiot not to monetize it, get it? Even if [Trump] loses. If anything, I feel like if he loses probably could be better for my personal business because if he wins I’m going to be in some bureaucracy I can’t do jack … , you know?

Papadopoulos added that there are plenty of people who aren’t even smart who are cashing in, and asked Source 3 “Do you know how many Members of Congress I’ve met that know jack … about anything? Except what their advisors tell them? … They can barely put a sentence together …. I’m talking about Members of Congress dude.” In other portions of the conversation with Source 3, Papadopoulos repeated that what he really wanted to figure out was how to “monetize … [his] connections” because Papadopoulos felt like he knew “a lot of Ambassadors … [and] a lot of Presidents.” Papadopoulos said that once the election was over, Papadopoulos was going

to sit down and systematically write who I know, what they want, and how I can leverage that because if you know like government guys and ambassadors you should be making money, that’s all I know because there’s not one person I know who has those connections that isn’t making … money.

He observed that what he had to “sell is access,” and “[t]hat’s what people pay millions of dollars for every year. It’s the cleanest job.”

However, when Source 3 asked Papadopoulos whether Papadopoulos thought “Russia’s playing a big game in this election,” Papadopoulos said he believed “That’s all bull[].” Papadopoulos said “[n]o one knows who’s hacking [the DNC] …. Could be the Chinese, could be the Iranians, it could be some Bernie … supporters.” Papadopoulos added that arguments about the Russians are “all…conspiracy theories.” He said that he knew “for a fact” that no one from the Trump campaign had anything to do with releasing emails from the DNC, because Papadopoulos said he had “been working with them for the last nine months…. And all of this stuff has been happening, what, the last four months?” Papadopoulos added that he had been asked the same question by Source 2. Papadopoulos said he believed Source 2 was going to go

and tell the CIA or something if I’d have told him something else. I assume that’s why he was asking. And I told him, absolutely not …. it’s illegal, you know, to do that.. .. [my emphasis]

There’s more from that October 2016 interview that remains redacted, according to the discussion of the Rule 13 Letter informing the FISC of information that should have been included in the Page applications (as well as several other things).

Again, Papadopoulos’ comments, even just to Halper alone, are internally inconsistent particularly as it pertains to WikiLeaks. Depending on how much the FBI had learned about Papadopoulos’ communications with Millian by this point, the FBI made have had good reason to doubt some of the things he said (his ongoing ties with Millian, for example, would undermine his claim to have nothing to do with Russian, if in fact he made it). He made it clear to Source 3 that he said what he did to Halper because he believed saying anything else would alert law enforcement. And he made these denials to Source 3 while laying out a network of relationships that should have alerted the FBI that he had been in a situation to learn of the emails in advance.

That’s all aside from the comments Papadopoulos made about Page specifically, which should have been in the FISA applications.

The frothy right claims the September 15 Halper interviews included exculpatory information, not just for Page, but also for Papadopoulos, were ridiculous even without knowing that the FBI knew of Papadopoulos’ ties to Millian. That’s all the more true given the details about his demeanor changing and his admission to Source 3 he was worried that Halper would report him to the CIA.

But that’s the problem with FISA. Under a normal warrant situation, it’d be easy to exclude Papadopoulos’ dubious denials in a warrant application targeting Page. But because of the ex parte nature of FISA, those rules don’t apply.

Perhaps the more pertinent point — one not made here — is that Papadopoulos’ denials should have led the investigation to focus on him far earlier than it did.

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

There’s a small detail in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page that deserves further mention.

When the FBI was sending informants — including Stefan Halper — to talk to people in conjunction with its investigation, it always asked them about what the campaign knew of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the election.

When Halper asked Carter Page on August 20, 2016, Page was — as he often is — hard to pin down, first suggesting there would be an October Surprise, then dodging, then suggesting the October Surprise pertained to the conspiracy theory that Russia had Hillary’s Clinton Foundation emails, then suggesting that the campaign would just “egg on” reporting on the topic (Rick Gates testified that he was doing just that, with Stephen Miller and Jason Miller).

When Source 2 raised the issue of an “October Surprise,” Carter Page said “there’s a different October Surprise … [a]lthough maybe some similarities” to the October Surprise in the 1980 Presidential Campaign. Page did not elaborate. Source 2 raised the issue again later in the meeting, and asked if the Trump campaign could access information that might have been obtained by the Russians from the DNC files. Source 2 added that in past campaigns “we would have used [it] in a heartbeat.” Page’s response was that, because he had been attacked by the media for his connections to Russia, he was “perhaps … [being] overly cautious.” When the October Surprise issue came up again, Page alluded to “the conspiracy theory about…the next email dump with … 33 thousand” additional emails, but did not further explain what he meant. Source 2 asked “[w]ell the Russians have all that don’t they?” to which Page responded “I don’t, 1-I don’t know.”

Page also said that “we were not on the front lines of this DNC thing” during the Philadelphia convention and wondered aloud “who’s better to do this?” Page asked Source 2 whether the Trump campaign should just leave it to the “other forces that be” and just let it “run its course,” with the Trump campaign “egg[ing] it a long a little bit” but without being “seen as the one advancing this in concert with the Russians.” Source 2 responded “it needs to be done very delicately and with no fingerprints” to which Page said “[o]kay.” Page asked Source 2 if “picking out a couple trusted journalists” and giving them “some ideas of … potential big stories” would be the right way to handle it. Page also suggested that “there may be people that kind of work this angle” but that Page was being “very cautious, you know, right now.”

When Halper asked George Papadopoulos about it on September 15, he also said something was coming in October, attributing that to Assange.

Source 2 also asked Papadopoulos about the possibility of the public release of additional information that would be harmful to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Papadopoulos responded that Julian Assange of Wikileaks had said in public statements to “get ready for October … [but] [w]hatever that means no one knows.”

In a second conversation that same day, Papadopoulos suggested trying to optimize the releases — what Stone spend part of July and August doing — would be illegal and would amount to treason.

Well as a campaign, of course, we don’t advocate for this type of activity because at the end of the day it’s, ah, illegal. First and foremost it compromises the US national security and third it sets a very bad precedence [sic] …. So the campaign does not advocate for this, does not support what is happening. The indirect consequences are out of our hands…. [F]or example, our campaign is not. .. engag[ing] or reaching out to wiki leaks or to the whoever it is to tell them please work with us, collaborate because we don’t, no one does that…. Unless there’s something going on that I don’t know which I don’t because I don’t think anybody would risk their, their life, ah, potentially going to prison over doing something like that. Um … because at the end of the day, you know, it’s an illegal, it’s an illegal activity. Espionage is, ah, treason. This is a form of treason …. I mean that’s why, you know, it became a very big issue when Mr. Trump said, “Russia if you’re listening …. ” Do you remember? … And you know we had to retract it because, of course, he didn’t mean for them to actively engage in espionage but the media then took and ran with it.

[snip]

to run a shop like that. .. of course it’s illegal. No one’s looking to … obviously get into trouble like that and, you know, as far as I understand that’s, no one’s collaborating, there’s been no collusion and it’s going to remain that way. But the media, of course, wants to take a statement that Trump made, an off-the-cuff statement, about [how] Russia helped find the 30,000 emails and use that as a tool to advance their [story]. .. that Trump is … a stooge and if he’s elected he’ll permit the Russians to have carte blanche throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East while the Americans sit back and twiddle their thumbs. And that’s not correct.

The FBI believed this was a rehearsed answer.

Case Agent 1 told the OIG that Papadopoulos’s “response to the direct questions seemed weird” to the Crossfire Hurricane team because it “seemed rehearsed and almost rote.” Case Agent 1 added that at these points in the conversation, Papadopoulos “went from a free-flowing conversation with [Source 2] to almost a canned response. You could tell in the demeanor of how [Papadopoulos] changed his tone, and to [the Crossfire Hurricane team] it seemed almost rehearsed.” Case Agent 1 emailed SSA 1 and others to report that Papadopoulos “gave … a canned answer, which he was probably prepped to say when asked.” According to Case Agent 1, it remained a topic of conversation on the Crossfire Hurricane team for days afterward whether Papadopoulos had “been coached by a legal team to deny” any involvement because of the “noticeable change” in “the tenor of the conversation.”

Even ignoring the way DOJ IG edited this conversation, which may have excluded a claim Papadopoulos has stated he made (that he had nothing to do with Russia) but would have been a demonstrable lie at the time, there’s good reason to believe it was, because Papadopoulos had, in fact, been instructed to avoid overt overtures to Russia.

Plus, in a conversation with another informant, Papadopoulos said he thought Halper would share his comments about WikiLeaks with the CIA, which suggests he was saying what he thought he should say.

So both Page and Papadopoulos answered a question about Russia by suggesting the October Surprise might be a dump of Clinton Foundation emails (which is what Stone had predicted in August).

In a conversation with Sam Clovis on September 1 (we know it was Clovis from Chuck Ross’ reporting), however, Halper got a very different answer.

We reviewed the consensual monitoring of the September 1, 2016 meeting between Source 2 and the high-level Trump campaign official who was not a subject of the investigation. 468 In the consensual monitoring, Source 2 raised a number of issues that were pertinent to the investigation, but received little information in response. For example, Source 2 asked whether the Trump campaign was planning an “October Surprise.” The high-level Trump campaign official responded that the real issue was that the Trump campaign needed to “give people a reason to vote for him, not just vote against Hillary.” When asked about the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, the high-level Trump campaign official told Source 2:

Honestly, I think for the average voter it’s a non-starter. I think in this city [Washington, D.C.] it’s a big deal. I think in New York it’s a big deal, but I think from the perspective of the average voter, I just don’t think they make the connection.

The high-level Trump campaign official added that in his view, the key for the Trump campaign “is to say what we have said all along-we need to raise the level of abstraction, we need to talk about the security of the election system, which includes things like voter IDs.”

The response is neither more nor less incriminating with regards to advance knowledge of the release than the responses from Page and Papadopoulos — it’s just different and arguably more sophisticated (remember that in one interview with the FBI in 2017, Papadopoulos said he had told Clovis about Russia planning to drop emails). It also might reflect Clovis’ experience running campaigns in Iowa and so a focus on what he understands Iowans to think about.

So it doesn’t say anything about who, on the campaign, were privy to Stone’s role in trying to optimize the releases.

But it does say something about the utter disdain one of the Trump flunkies with the most campaign experience has about democracy. He responded to a question about Russia’s efforts to influence the US election, posed by someone he perceived to be a friendly Republican, by saying the campaign should respond to concerns about Russia by raising voter IDs, a Republican effort to suppress the vote.

Do you think Russia is helping the Trump campaign, Halper asked, and Clovis answered, we’ve got our own way to undermine democracy.

 

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

 

While Republicans Continue to Claim Collusion Didn’t Happen, George Papadopoulos Labeled Roger Stone’s Actions as Treason

As part of its claim that the FBI withheld exculpatory information in Carter Page’s FISA application, the DOJ IG Report described George Papadopoulos’ interactions with Stefan Halper in mid-September 2016. When Halper twice asked Papadopoulos, “whether help ‘from a third party like Wikileaks for example or some other third party like the Russians, could be incredibly helpful’ in securing a campaign victory,” Papadopoulos categorically denied the campaign would reach out to WikiLeaks.

Well as a campaign, of course, we don’t advocate for this type of activity because at the end of the day it’s, ah, illegal. First and foremost it compromises the US national security and third it sets a very bad precedence [sic] …. So the campaign does not advocate for this, does not support what is happening. The indirect consequences are out of our hands…. [F]or example, our campaign is not. .. engag[ing] or reaching out to wiki leaks or to the whoever it is to tell them please work with us, collaborate because we don’t, no one does that…. Unless there’s something going on that I don’t know which I don’t because I don’t think anybody would risk their, their life, ah, potentially going to prison over doing something like that. Um … because at the end of the day, you know, it’s an illegal, it’s an illegal activity. Espionage is, ah, treason. This is a form of treason …. I mean that’s why, you know, it became a very big issue when Mr. Trump said, “Russia if you’re listening …. ” Do you remember? … And you know we had to retract it because, of course, he didn’t mean for them to actively engage in espionage but the media then took and ran with it.

When asked a second time, Papadopoulos called that “collusion.”

No one’s looking to … obviously get into trouble like that and, you know, as far as I understand that’s, no one’s collaborating, there’s been no collusion and it’s going to remain that way. [my emphasis]

When Papadopoulos has described this previously, he claimed he also denied having anything to do with Russia. If he did, it would be a lie. The very dates he was in London meeting with Halper, Papadopoulos had intended to conduct a secret meeting with Russia, something he failed to fully explain to Mueller. Even two weeks later, Papadopoulos was sharing an anti-sanction column in the Russian site Interfax with Joseph Mifsud.

It’s unclear whether Papadopoulos really believed that the campaign was not and would not coordinate with WikiLeaks. The most likely person he would have told that Russia planned to drop emails on Hillary back in April 2016 would be Stephen Miller, whom he emailed the day after learning of the emails and said, “Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.” According to Rick Gates’ testimony at Roger Stone’s trial, Miller was one of several people with whom he brainstormed months later on how to optimize the WikiLeaks releases.

Q. Without saying what they said, who was involved in those brainstorming sessions about what to do if information was leaked?

A. Sure. It was Mr. Manafort; myself; Mr. Jason Miller, who was our director of communications; and Mr. Stephen Miller, who was our director of policy at the time.

According to the DOJ IG Report, the investigation team believed Papadopoulos had rehearsed his answer to Halper (and indeed, the Mueller Report makes clear that in the wake of Trump’s “Russia, are you listening” comment, everyone but Manafort stopped pursuing previous plans to reach out to Russia).

Case Agent 1 told the OIG that Papadopoulos’s “response to the direct questions seemed weird” to the Crossfire Hurricane team because it “seemed rehearsed and almost rote.” Case Agent 1 added that at these points in the conversation, Papadopoulos “went from a free-flowing conversation with [Source 2] to almost a canned response. You could tell in the demeanor of how [Papadopoulos] changed his tone, and to [the Crossfire Hurricane team] it seemed almost rehearsed.”

Whether or not he lied about knowing about “collusion,” which he defined to include reaching out to WikiLeaks, Papadopoulos defined doing so as treason. He’s wrong, but that is, apparently, what he said.

And less than a month ago, the government laid out evidence that Roger Stone had attempted to reach out to WikiLeaks via cut-outs, including Jerome Corsi. At the trial, the government did not disclose how Corsi and Stone had learned of the John Podesta emails in advance, but Stone invented yet a new cover story for the trial to continue to deny that he had done so, this time that Corsi had been lying about obtaining such information, just like Credico.

Absent a pardon, Stone is headed to prison because he refused to reveal what really happened in July and August 2016.

And whatever it is that Stone is hiding, what’s clear is he definitely tried to reach out to WikiLeaks, something that Papadopoulos claimed to consider treason.

Stone did so with the enthusiastic encouragement of Donald Trump.

During the impeachment “debate,” Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee just repeated over and over that the Mueller Report showed no “collusion.” But the facts show that, at least according to Papadopoulos’ definition, it did.

As I disclosed last year, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

The Transcript the Frothy Right Claims Exculpates George Papadopoulos Instead Probably Inculpates Him

Last Monday, Republican huckster lawyer Joe Di Genova promised — among other things — that the documents the frothy right has been promising will blow up the Russian investigation would be released Wednesday — that is, a week ago. The frothy right — which for some unfathomable reason is following sworn liar and all around dope George Papadpoulos like sheep — believes that a transcript of the interactions between him and Stefan Halper somehow includes evidence that undercuts the case that there was probable cause that Carter Page was an agent of a foreign power.

An exchange from Sunday, however, confirms that the transcript in question shows that Papadopoulos was actively lying in September 2016 about his ties to Russia. In an exchange with Papadopoulos, Maria Bartiromo confirmed that the transcript in question is the one on which the former Trump flunkie told Stefan Halper that working with Russia to optimize the release of emails stolen from Hillary would be treason.

Bartiromo said that she had spoken with Papadopoulos on Saturday night, during which he told her that the recorded conversation in question involves him and FBI informant Stefan Halper in September 2016. Papadopoulos allegedly pushed back against Halper’s suggestion that he or the Trump campaign would have wanted Russia to release the Democratic National Committee emails it hacked in 2016.

[snip]

Bartiromo then said that “George Papadopoulos told me last night” that the transcript Gowdy was referring to is from a conversation Papadopoulos had with Halper in London at the Sofitel Hotel in London where she recounted that, according to Papadopoulos, Halper questioned Papadopoulos, saying, “Russia has all of these e-mails of Hillary Clinton and you know, and when they get out that would be really good for you, right? That would be really good for you and the Trump campaign, if all those e-mails got out, right?”

But Bartiromo says Papadopoulos responded to Halper by saying “that’s crazy,” “that would be treason,” “people get hanged for stuff,” and “I would never do something like that.”

That means it’s the same transcript that Mark Meadows — questioning Papadopoulos about what he learned not from his lawyers (who said there was no misconduct with Papadopoulos) but from the John Solomon echo chamber — asks about here.

Mr. Meadows. You say a transcript exists. A transcript exists of that conversation?

Mr. Papadopoulos. That’s I guess what John Solomon reported a couple days ago.

Mr. Meadows. So are you aware of a transcript existing? I mean —

Mr. Papadopoulos. I wasn’t aware of a transcript existing personally.

Mr. Meadows. So you have no personal knowledge of it?

Mr. Papadopoulos. I had no personal knowledge, no.

Mr. Meadows. But you think that he could have been recording you is what you’re suggesting?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Yes.

Mr. Meadows. All right. Go ahead.

Mr. Papadopoulos. And after he was throwing these allegations at me, I —

Mr. Meadows. And by allegations, allegations that the Trump campaign was benefiting from Hillary Clinton emails?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Something along those lines, sir. And I think I pushed back and I told him, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. What you’re talking about is something along the lines of treason. I’m not involved. I don’t know anyone in the campaign who’s involved. And, you know, I really have nothing to do with Russia. That’s — something along those lines is how I think I responded to this person.

By Papadopoulos’ own memory, he said three things in a mid-September meeting with Stefan Halper:

  1. He didn’t know anything about the Trump campaign benefitting from Hillary Clinton emails
  2. He believed if he did know about such a thing, it would amount to treason
  3. “I really have nothing to do with Russia”

Papadopoulos pled guilty, under oath, with the advice of counsel who knew the contents of this interview, that in fact he did know about the Trump campaign benefitting from Hillary Clinton emails, because he had been told about it in April 2016. So that’s one lie that this supposed exculpatory transcript records him telling.

I’m more interested in the second lie: that he “really has nothing to do with Russia.”

He made that statement sometime around September 16, 2016, in London. A month earlier, Papadopoulos had very different plans for a mid-September trip to London. He planned a meeting in London with the “Office of Putin,” that would hide any formal tie with the campaign.

The frothy right makes much of the fact that that meeting, as far as we know, did not take place. Though there is a written record of Sam Clovis — who probably was not entirely forthcoming in a grand jury appearance — encouraging Papadopoulos and Walid Phares to pursue such a meeting if feasible. More importantly, a year later, at a time when he was purportedly cooperating, Papadopoulos refused to cooperate in transcribing these notes, meaning he was still covering up the details about the fact that as late as mid-August the Trump campaign had plans to have a secret meeting at precisely the same time and in the same place that this Halper transcript was recorded.

Papadopoulos declined to assist in deciphering his notes, telling investigators that he could not read his own handwriting from the journal. Papadopoulos 9/19/17 302, at 21. The notes, however, appear to read as listed in the column to the left of the image above.

Worse still, Papadopoulos continued to show great enthusiasm for Russia even after the meeting where he claimed he “really has nothing to do with Russia.” He proudly alerted Joseph Mifsud of his September 30 column attacking sanctions against Russia.

On or about October 1, 2016, PAPADOPOULOS sent Mifsud a private Facebook message with a link to an article from Interfax.com, a Russian news website. This evidence contradicts PAPADOPOULOS’s statement to the Agents when interviewed on or about January 27, 2017, that he had not been “messaging” with [Mifsud] during the campaign while “with Trump.”

This column led the Trump campaign to sever ties with Papadopoulos.

Papadopoulos was dismissed from the Trump Campaign in early October 2016, after an interview he gave to the Russian news agency Inter/ax generated adverse publicity.492

492 George Papadopoulos: Sanctions Have Done Little More Than to Turn Russia Towards China, Interfax (Sept. 30, 2016).

And in spite of claiming he had “nothing to do with Russia” sometime in mid-September, immediately after the election Papadopoulos pursued deals with Russia, via Sergei Millian.

On November 9, 2016, shortly after the election, Papadopoulos arranged to meet Millian in Chicago to discuss business opportunities, including potential work with Russian “billionaires who are not under sanctions.”511 The meeting took place on November 14, 2016, at the Trump Hotel and Tower in Chicago.512 According to Papadopoulos, the two men discussed partnering on business deals, but Papadopoulos perceived that Millian’s attitude toward him changed when Papadopoulos stated that he was only pursuing private-sector opportunities and was not interested in a job in the Administration.5 13 The two remained in contact, however, and had extended online discussions about possible business opportunities in Russia. 514 The two also arranged to meet at a Washington, D.C. bar when both attended Trump’s inauguration in late January 2017.515

In short, the transcript (if it reflects Papadopoulos claiming he had nothing to do with Russia) is not exculpatory. On the contrary, it’s proof that Papadopoulos lied about at least two of three things Halper grilled him about.

The frothy right doesn’t seem to care that this transcript proves Papadopoulos lied, even before he knew he was under legal scrutiny for ties to Russia he continued to pursue even after being questioned about them.

The frothy right is using it differently. Trey Gowdy claims the transcript proves that the FBI was questioning “Trump campaign officials” (Papadopoulos was never paid by the campaign and would be “fired” two weeks later for his open enthusiasm for sanctions relief) about the campaign.

Gowdy told Bartiromo that this transcript “certainly has the potential to be” a game changer and said that he was “lost” and “clueless” as to why it hadn’t been made public yet, stating that he didn’t think it contained any information that would have an impact on relationships with our allies.

Gowdy further said that the transcripts would show “what questions [the FBI] coached the informants or the cooperating witnesses to ask of the Trump campaign officials” and implied that the questions would show that the FBI had been targeting the Trump campaign rather than simply attempting to combat Russian election interference.

Gowdy claimed that if the transcripts showed that the FBI was “veering over into the campaign or your [the FBI’s] questions are not solely about Russia, then you [the FBI] have been misleading us for two years.”

Here’s how that belief looked when Mark Meadows first mainstreamed it last fall.

Mr. Meadows. So essentially at this point, he was suggesting that there was collusion and you pushed back very firmly is what it sounds like.

Mr. Papadopoulos. That’s what I remember, yes.

Mr. Meadows. Okay. And then what did he do from there?

Mr. Papadopoulos. And then I remember he was — he was quite disappointed. I think he was expecting something else. There was a —

Mr. Meadows. So he thought you would confirm that you were actually benefiting from Hillary Clinton’s email dump?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Perhaps that’s why he was disappointed in what I had to tell him, which was the truth.

Mr. Meadows. So you have no knowledge — you’ve already testified that you have no personal interaction, but you have no knowledge of anybody on the campaign that was working with the Russians in any capacity to get these emails and use them to the advantage. Is that correct?

Mr. Papadopoulos. That’s absolutely correct.

Mark Meadows is pretty dumb. But this line of questioning is pretty shrewd (and may show some awareness of details that were not, at this point, public). His purportedly slam dunk question, proving misconduct, is whether Papadopoulos — who has, at times, been referred to as a “coffee boy” and was not a paid member of the campaign — had personal interaction or “knowledge of anybody on the campaign [] working with the Russians in any capacity to get these emails and use them to the advantage.”

Papadopoulos claimed he did not have that knowledge.

But we know that by the time this meeting with Halper happened, Donald Trump had ordered his top campaign aides to get Roger Stone to reach out to WikiLeaks to “get these emails and use them to the advantage.” Not Russia directly, not anybody still with the campaign, but the campaign did in fact try to “get these emails and use them to the advantage,” which is how Mark Meadows defines “collusion.” In short, this slam dunk exchange defines “collusion” to be precisely what Trump asked his aides to ask his rat-fucker to accomplish.

The Mike Flynn cooperation addendum makes it clear that, “only a select few people were privy” to the discussions about optimizing the WikiLeaks releases. The candidate’s campaign manager was privy to those discussions. The deputy campaign manager was privy to those discussions. The candidate’s top national security advisor was privy to them. The candidate’s rat-fucker was entrusted with those efforts. The candidate himself pushed this effort and got communication back about it.

But the coffee boy was not privy to those discussions.

Finally, let’s turn to the really bizarre part of what is supposed to be a smoking gun.

Trey Gowdy claims to believe that a transcript showing that Papadopoulos was lying to hide his ongoing ties with Russia in September 2016 — the contents of which Papadopoulos’ lawyers appear to have known about, which did not persuade them any misconduct had occurred with their client — should have been disclosed to the FISA Court for an application targeting Carter Page.

Gowdy also claimed that the potentially exonerating info was misleadingly concealed from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by the FBI, and that this is not the only mysterious transcript yet to be released.

Now, I could be wrong about this. After all, Trey Gowdy is one of the few people who has reviewed the unredacted Page warrant, though in the past has said there was clearly enough evidence to justify the warrant, something the Mueller Report substantiates (in part by making clear that Page told the FBI he’d happily provide non-public information to known Russian spies). But it appears that Papadopoulos appears in Page’s FISA application because events he swore under oath happened suggest that Russia was trying to reach out to the Trump campaign (for which there is abundant evidence), in part by offering energy deals (which is one thing Papadopoulos was still chasing even after November 2016), and there was reason to believe both Papadopoulos and Page had gotten advanced notice of the July 22 DNC email drop.

  • FBI targeted Page because they believed Russia was recruiting him as part of their effort to influence the outcome of the election (4)
  • Trump named both Page and Papadopoulos as advisors in March 2016 (6)
  • What the FBI knew so far of Papadopoulos’ activities [and other things] led the FBI to believe that Russia was not just trying to influence the outcome, but trying to coordinate with Trump’s campaign as well (9)
  • Russia has recruited Page in the past (12-14)
  • [Redacted section that probably explains that Page had told the FBI that he thought providing information to people he knew were Russian intelligence officers was beneficial for both countries and, after he showed up in the Buryakov complaint, he told Russia he had not cooperated with the FBI] (14-15)
  • In addition to allegedly meeting with Sechin and discussing eliminating sanctions, he met with someone assumed to be Igor Nikolayevich Divyekin, also “raised a dossier of ‘kompromat’ that the Kremlin had” on Clinton and the possibility of it being released to Trump’s campaign (18)
  • After those July meetings, Trump appeared to change his platform and publicly announced he might recognize Crimea (21)
  • Once these details became public, the Trump campaign not only denied Page had any ongoing connection to the campaign, but denied he ever had, which was false (24)

Some of those allegations about Page — specifically about whether he was alerted to kompromat harming Hillary when he was in Moscow in July 2016 — may not be true (though Mueller concluded that it remained unresolved). But they were true about Papadopoulos.

Establishing proof that Papadopoulos was lying to people about his ties to Russia in the weeks before his role was included in a FISA application doesn’t really make his inclusion exculpatory. On the contrary, it makes it more justifiable.

The frothy right is so spun up by con man George Papadopoulos that they have run to the TV cameras and claimed that a transcript that shows Papadopoulos was lying to hide his ongoing efforts to establish ties with Russia was in some way exculpatory. I mean, sure, Bill Barr might believe this tale. But no one else should.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post.