- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2019

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s no-conspiracy finding casts doubt on the liberal media’s widely reported allegations that Trump campaign officials conducted a steady stream of secret communications with Kremlin intelligence during the 2016 election.

The media reports in such leading publications of The New York Times and The New Yorker fed the Democratic Party narrative that President Trump and his aides conspired with Russians in computer hacking and social media attacks on Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Mueller, as directly quoted by Attorney General William P. Barr in a letter to Congress, concluded on March 22 that his team of prosecutors and FBI investigators didn’t establish a conspiracy.

If there had been constant Trump-Kremlin election communication, Mr. Mueller would have come to a different conclusion, congressional sources say.

Tom Fitton, who directs the conservative investigative group Judicial Watch, argues that the intercept stories came from Democratic loyalists inside and outside the government.

“They all knew or should have known there was no collusion, but [they] had an agenda of overthrowing President Trump, so the truth never mattered to them,” Mr. Fitton told The Washington Times.

Among the major media stories:

⦁ The New York Times reported in February 2017 that “Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence.”

“Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials,” the newspaper reported.

The story singled out Paul Manafort, who ran the Trump campaign as chairman for several months that summer.

⦁ The British Guardian newspaper in April 2017 reported on an “extensive nature of contacts between Trump’s team and Moscow ahead of the U.S. election.”

⦁ CNN reported in August 2017 that U.S. intercepts heard “Russian operatives” talking of conversations with Manafort, who was “encouraging help from the Russians.” CNN said, “U.S. intelligence agencies noticed a spate of curious contacts between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian intelligence.”

⦁ The next year, The New Yorker reported that Robert Hannigan, as director of Britain’s eavesdropping agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), came to Washington to brief then-CIA Director John O. Brennan on “a stream of illicit communications between Trump’s team and Moscow that had been intercepted.”

The stories had the perceived underpinnings of the infamous Christopher Steele dossier. The 2016 35-page document is a list of felony allegations against Mr. Trump and his associates. It was financed by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, and spread around Washington by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS. Major media, the FBI and congressional leaders all received dossier briefings.

The former British spy’s dossier became a go-to source for Democrats, including Rep. Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat who in January became chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Republicans consider the dossier to be a hoax.

Mr. Steele wrote of an “extensive conspiracy” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin — a conspiracy Mr. Mueller said he didn’t find.

Besides the Mueller report’s key finding of no conspiracy, there are credible arguments that tend to debunk reports of Trump-Kremlin intercepts.

At a June 2017 hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, two Republican senators asked former FBI Director James B. Comey about The Times’ February story.

“You sought out both Republican and Democrat senators to tell them that, ‘Hey, I don’t know where this is coming from, but this is not the — this is not factual.’ Do you recall that?” asked Sen. James E. Risch, Idaho Republican.

Mr. Comey: “Yes.”

Mr. Risch: “OK. So — so, again, so the American people can understand this, that report by The New York Times was not true. Is that a fair statement?”

Mr. Comey: “In the main, it was not true.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, asked: “On February 14th, The New York Times published a story, the headline of which was ‘Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence.’ You were asked earlier if that was an inaccurate story, and you said, in the main. Would it be fair to characterize that story as almost entirely wrong?”

Mr. Comey: “Yes.”

‘No tapes, notes, transcriptions’

Separately, former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told Fox News that upon the story’s publication, then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe made a point of telling him the story wasn’t accurate.

The Republican majority on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence concluded last year that there was no Trump-Russia conspiracy on election interference. Its Senate counterpart likewise has not found a collusion conspiracy, said Chairman Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican.

Mr. Brennan, a close aide to President Barack Obama, for months has alleged a traitorous relationship between Mr. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Burr has said Mr. Brennan provided no evidence of a conspiracy.

On MSNBC, Mr. Brennan predicted that Trump people would be indicted on conspiracy charges. When it didn’t happen, he said he may have been misinformed. His spokesman didn’t respond to a query from The Washington Times.

Kevin Downing, Manafort’s defense attorney, filed a memo in U.S. District Court outlining his efforts to obtain any evidence from Mr. Mueller that his client had communicated with the Russian government.

“Despite multiple discovery … requests in this regard, the special counsel has not produced any materials to the defense — no tapes, notes, transcripts or any other material evidencing surveillance or intercepts of communications between Mr. Manafort and Russian intelligence officials, Russian government officials (or any other foreign officials),” Mr. Downing’s memo stated.

Mr. Downing argued that government sources leaked false stories to trigger the appointment of a special prosecutor, which happened in May 2017 after Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey.

A key conspiracy advocate is Mr. Schiff, who has alleged during numerous cable TV appearances that collusion took place.

He has listed the instances of collusion as: Donald Trump Jr. and Trump aides meeting for 20 minutes with a Russian attorney who reportedly had dirt on Mrs. Clinton; election-year discussions with the Kremlin on a proposed Trump tower in Moscow; campaign adviser George Papadopoulos meeting in Europe with a Maltese professor who said he heard the Russians had thousands of Mrs. Clinton’s emails; and campaign adviser Roger Stone sending an email to Guccifer 2.0, a self-described computer hacker who was actually a Russian agent.

Republicans say none of these encounters amounts to a conspiracy with Russia to interfere in the election.

Papadopoulos did not seek out the professor, Joseph Mifsud. There is no public evidence that he ever acted on the email tip. While living in London, he was working on a grand plan to have Mr. Trump travel to Moscow. A trip never happened.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the date he became an adviser versus the date he met Mr. Mifsud. A court filing said he lied because at the time he was being considered for a spot on the White House National Security Council staff. He served two weeks in prison.

In media appearances and in a book, “Deep State Target,” Papadopoulos said he was targeted by the FBI and Western intelligence. The FBI dispatched a spy, longtime Washington academic and advisory figure Stefan Halper, to induce him into committing a crime, Papadopoulos alleges.

Papadopoulos tweeted on Saturday: “Deep state asset, Stefan Halper, paid me $3,000; tried to have a honey pot seduce me; and wanted to know my work in Israel and the energy business in general. Mueller then threatens to charge me as an Israeli agent. Who sent this guy and why?”

After the news media in 2018 identified Mr. Halper as an FBI informant, he has remained out of sight.

Trump supporters say that if election collusion happened, then it was done by the Democrats who paid Mr. Steele $160,000 to obtain information from Kremlin intelligence sources and then inject the allegations into the American political and law enforcement process.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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