President Trump’s call to investigate the origins of the FBI’s fruitless Russia probe is aimed partly at murky beginnings in Ukraine, where agents had interviewed Paul Manafort in 2014, two years before he became Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman.
That early probe of Manafort’s business activities in Ukraine ended for lack of evidence. But the FBI renewed its investigation of Manafort two years later, during the U.S. presidential campaign, setting up shop at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine around the same time the agency was getting now-discredited dirt on Mr. Trump from British ex-spy Christopher Steele.
“I think some of the origins of this will go back to that,” Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani told The Washington Times. “I think some of the origins of this will be how they [the FBI] revived the old case against Manafort, and that led them to the idea that maybe they could pin some Russian involvement on Trump through Manafort. Manafort’s case had been closed for two years.”
Manafort was sentenced last month to nearly four years in prison for financial fraud convictions prosecuted by special counsel Robert Mueller, who took over the FBI’s Russia probe. But the sprawling investigation didn’t find any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government in 2016.
And the president now is pressing for a new probe into how and why his campaign came under investigation by the FBI in the first place.
“According to polling, few people seem to care about the Russian Collusion Hoax, but some Democrats are fighting hard to keep the Witch Hunt alive,” the president tweeted Thursday. “They should focus on legislation or, even better, an investigation of how the ridiculous Collusion Delusion got started - so illegal!”
Mr. Trump told reporters Tuesday, “I hope they now go and take a look at the origins of the investigation, the beginnings of the investigation. You look at the origin of the investigation, where it started, how it started, who started it. Whether it’s [former FBI Deputy Director Andrew] McCabe or [former FBI Director James] Comey or a lot of them, where does it go? How high up in the White House did it go?”
Mr. Comey said he has nothing to hide, but worries that the president’s call to investigate him and others who started the Russia probe would be a “dangerous step.”
“I don’t fear it personally. I fear it as a citizen,” Mr. Comey said on CNN Tuesday night. “Investigate what? Investigate that investigations were conducted? What would be the crime you’d be investigating? So it’s a terrible cycle to start. It will just be more of that dangerous step.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said he’ll look into the issue and intends to call witnesses including the former FBI director.
Mr. Comey said he hopes “the Republicans would finally stand up” to the president on the matter. He criticized the president for “calling for the locking up of his political opponents, including people like me.”
But he said he has nothing to fear from such an investigation, and is willing to answer questions.
“Me, personally — ask me questions,” Mr. Comey said. “Go ahead. I would like to answer them in the daylight, if I could.”
Mr. Giuliani has suggested that the Justice Department conduct its own investigation, perhaps with a hand-picked FBI task force. Asked whether the Trump team has ideas about who instigated the 2016 FBI probe of the Trump campaign, code-named “Crossfire Hurricane,” Mr. Giuliani replied, “Don’t know yet.”
“I don’t know if [former CIA Director John] Brennan knew about it from the beginning, I don’t know if [President] Obama knew about it from the beginning,” he said. “I gotta believe McCabe did, and Comey did. Certainly an [FBI] agent or two in the Ukraine knew about it from the beginning.”
Manafort had been advising Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych. Politico reported in 2017 that Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Mr. Trump’s campaign by questioning his fitness for office, and by helping Mrs. Clinton’s allies collect damaging information on Mr. Trump and his advisers.
Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Gen. Yurii Lutsenko told Hill. TV’s John Solomon last month that he has launched an investigation into whether Ukrainian law-enforcement officials leaked financial records about Manafort during the U.S. presidential campaign in 2016 to help Mrs. Clinton. The leaked files prompted Manafort’s resignation from the campaign.
Mr. Trump said last week he still intends to order the declassification of documents pertaining to the Russia investigation, including text messages of Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe; former FBI agent Peter Strzok and his paramour, FBI lawyer Lisa Page; and Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, whose wife Nellie worked for Fusion GPS, the company that financed the Steele dossier. He also plans to release the FBI’s application to a secret court to authorize surveillance of the Trump campaign.
The president initially ordered the material declassified last September, but backed off over objections to the potential of disclosing “sources and methods” during an investigation.
James Robbins, a former Pentagon official in the George W. Bush administration, said this week that sources and methods “are the central question when it comes to investigating the investigators.”
In an op-ed in USA Today, Mr. Robbins wrote, “if there were some highly technical, super-secret surveillance methods being used against others, including Trump himself, it is imperative that they be revealed. The notion that the U.S. government was ordered to use such advanced tools against a major party presidential campaign or a president himself is to say the least troubling, and potentially a criminal abuse of power.”
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