The long FBI probe into a purported Russia election collusion was absent of any direct conspiracy evidence against a Trump associate except for the discredited Democratic Party-financed dossier and its impresario, Fusion GPS.
For the first time in an official report, there are explanations of why the FBI initially targeted four Trump advisers: retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, adviser George Papadopoulos, campaign chairman Paul Manafort and adviser Carter Page.
The internal August 2016 explanations are found in the 436-page report of Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz. No FBI predication accused the four or listed evidence of a conspiracy.
After the FBI opened its Crossfire Hurricane probe on July 31, 2016, agents led by Peter Strzok eventually settled on those four men to investigate. Two ultimately were accused of conspiring with the Kremlin. Only the dossier, written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele with $165,000 provided by Democrats and the Hillary Clinton campaign through Fusion GPS, presented evidence. No one else did.
The FBI’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act wiretap application to a judge for Mr. Page on Oct. 21, 2016, contained one set of Russia election conspiracy claims. All came from the dossier and none was corroborated, according to Mr. Horowitz’s report.
Another fact that underscores the lack of conspiracy evidence outside the dossier: The FBI did not seek a FISA warrant on any other Trump figure because it lacked documentation of probable cause.
Special counsel Robert Mueller and Mr. Horowitz have since left the dossier in shambles. Mr. Mueller found no Trump conspiracy to hack computers and spread information warfare, as the dossier alleged. Mr. Horowitz identified significant dossier “inaccuracies.”
The Crossfire Hurricane team first received dossier memos on Sept. 19, 2016, a month after it opened cases on the four Trump associates. Here are the FBI’s written predications, called “electronic communications,” or ECs, as recounted by the Horowitz report. Each EC said the four may have “wittingly or unwittingly” helped Russia:
⦁ Paul Manafort. The principal piece of evidence was that he did consulting work in Ukraine for a Russia-friendly political party.
⦁ George Papadopoulos. The justification was that he heard in London from a Maltese professor that Russia owned thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails. He relayed the gossip to the Australian ambassador to Britain over drinks. The ambassador reported the conversation to Washington after WikiLeaks released hacked emails. This tip was the central reason the FBI created Crossfire Hurricane.
⦁ Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. The FBI stated that “Flynn was an advisor for the Trump campaign, had various ties to state-affiliated entities of Russia and traveled to Russia in December 2015.”
⦁ Carter Page. The New York-based energy investor and former Moscow resident “had extensive ties to various Russia-owned entities,” the FBI said, “and had traveled to Russia as recently as July 2016.”
Mr. Page was also the subject of a counterintelligence investigation by the FBI’s New York field office because of his contacts with Russian spies who posed as diplomats.
Those were the four predications pre-dossier. Not one cited any evidence of conspiring with Russians to interfere in the election.
The Russia collusion claims weren’t made until the next month — and only by Mr. Steele. He wrote that Mr. Page met with two shadowy Kremlin figures while in Moscow to deliver a public speech. Mr. Steele also said Mr. Page and Manafort worked as a team to coordinate with the Kremlin on its election interference.
Based on the Mueller-Horowitz reports, none of those allegations proved true. Mr. Page and Manafort never knew or spoke to each other. Mr. Page also denied meeting the two Kremlin figures.
As for Papadopoulos, no evidence emerged that he ever acted on the email information. He didn’t tell the campaign in New York, and he never tried to acquire the messages.
Flynn, the former top military officer for intelligence collection as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, seemed to have had routine engagements with Russian counterparts. He faced no allegation of a conspiracy. He, like the other three, never faced a conspiracy charge.
President Trump also found himself under FBI investigation. Andrew McCabe, as the agency’s deputy director, opened a counterintelligence investigation after Mr. Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey in May 2017.
Mr. Steele, the dossier writer, accused the president of being a longtime spy for Russia. No other source for that allegation has surfaced.
Mr. McCabe said in a CBS “60 Minutes” interview while promoting his memoir that he didn’t know whether Mr. Trump was a spy. At the FBI, Bruce Ohr, who was associate deputy attorney general, briefed him on Mr. Steele’s claims.
Mr. Mueller, who had the full cooperation of 40 FBI agents as well as U.S. intelligence, showed no evidence in his March 2019 report that Mr. Trump was a Russian asset of any type.
Michael Caputo, a Trump campaign media adviser, went through hours of Mueller and congressional interrogations. He told The Washington Times that his inquisitors never presented evidence of any conspiracy.
“The special counsel was still trying to make a Russian conspiracy case in May 2018, and now we know from the IG report that they already knew better by then,” Mr. Caputo said. “They just couldn’t help themselves. They hated Trump, they had the power to keep investigating and they were damn sure going to use it as long as they could.”
From August 2016, when Mr. Strzok and other agents picked the four initial subjects, things didn’t go well for them even though no conspiracy was found.
The Obama Justice Department believed Flynn may have violated the 1799 Logan Act by talking to the Russian ambassador during the transition about how to react to new economic sanctions. He later admitted to lying to FBI agents when he denied talking about sanctions. He is due to be sentenced Jan. 28.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about when he first talked to Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud.
As to the email gossip, the Mueller report said: “No documentary evidence, and nothing in the email accounts or other communications facilities reviewed by the office, shows that Papadopoulos shared this information with the campaign.”
Manafort was convicted on tax fraud charges for the millions of dollars he earned in Ukraine and is now in prison.
The Mueller report said, “The investigation did not establish that Manafort … coordinated with the Russian government on its election-interference efforts.”
Mr. Page underwent a long, grueling investigation during hours of questioning by FBI agents and Congress.
The Mueller report said: “The investigation did not establish that Page coordinated with the Russian government.”
As an illustration of how the FBI lacked any evidence of conspiracy against Papadopoulos, the general counsel’s office rejected the Crossfire Hurricane team’s request for a FISA wiretap on him.
The FBI had no conspiracy evidence to even try on the other two.
“We are aware of no information indicating that the team requested or seriously considered FISA surveillance of Manafort or Flynn,” the inspector general report said.
In the end, Mr. Horowitz didn’t knock the FBI for opening Crossfire Hurricane.
“We concluded that the quantum of information articulated by the FBI to open the individual investigations on Papadopoulos, Page, Flynn, and Manafort in August 2016 was sufficient to satisfy the low threshold established by the Department and the FBI,” he said.
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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