A review of the public record demonstrates that the Russia investigation rested on a house of cards assembled by high-level officials to prevent Donald Trump’s election or to ensure that his administration would fail. This conclusion rests on mainstream media accounts, primarily of The New York Times.
The Russia probe imposed a considerable cost in terms of international status, domestic tranquility, political paralysis and a challenge to the outcome of a democratic election. It weakened the Trump presidency to the benefit of his political opponents, and boosted Vladimir Putin’s claim of the crookedness of American democracy.
President Trump’s narrative is that political enemies launched a phony and premeditated “witch hunt” designed to remove him from the office to which he was duly elected by 63 million voters. He insists that he had no contacts with Russian officials. He and his small campaign had no time for hanky-panky with the Kremlin. His opponents did not even have the sense to know his infamous public call to the Russians to find Hillary Clinton’s emails was a joke. Mr. Trump notes that no sane person would collude with a foreign power on national television.
Mr. Trump’s opponents in media and in the national security community claim that Mr. Trump’s Russian contacts, campaign statements and actions of campaign advisers justified the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation (July 2016), the FISA surveillance warrants on a campaign adviser (October 2016-June 2017), and the appointment of a special counsel (May 17, 2017). The anti-Trump forces assert that they did everything by the book as conscientious career officers charged with defending the country.
The media has produced a flood of anti-Trump leaks and press conferences on the latest Trump transgressions and have said little about the investigtions by U.S. Attorney John Durham and DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz. The mainstream media, such as The Washington Post, LA Times and NBCNews, have run remarkably few stories about Mr. Durham and Mr. Horowitz. The New York Times has run, by my count, only one feature length, above-the-fold piece. In its few articles about Mr. Durham and Mr. Horowitz, the mainstream media warns that their investigations will be tainted by partisanship.
We must await the Durham and Horowitz reports, but the basic outline of their findings, as extracted from the existing public record, should consist of the following:
FBI Director James Comey initiated Crossfire Hurricane after Alexander Downer, an Australian diplomat with ties to the Clinton Foundation, reported that a minor Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, told him in a London bar in May 2016 that the Russians had emails damaging to the Clinton campaign. Mr. Papadopoulos claimed that he had been told this information by a mysterious Maltese professor, who paid his way to a European conference. On July 22, 2016, Wikileaks released hacked DNC and Clinton campaign emails. The FBI purported to put this together with Mr. Papadopoulos’ bar ramblings and concluded they had enough to start up Crossfire Hurricane on July 31, 2016. The operation’s head was the FBI’s Peter Strzok, who would later be fired for blatant anti-Trump statements.
Some analysts claim evidence that the FBI probe started in June of 2016 and that Mr. Papadopoulos was a convenient cover to hide an unauthorized ongoing investigation.
Operation Crossfire Hurricane expanded beyond Papadopoulos to the Trump campaign itself. After a three-month investigation, the FBI reported that its agents had uncovered no “conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.” Rather than close the case, his opponents moved on.
The Steele Dossier contained salacious charges against Mr. Trump and described an improbable long-term conspiracy between Mr. Trump and the Russians. According to the dossier, this information was volunteered by Russian officials from the highest levels of the Russian state.
Anti-Trump forces did not reveal until late October 2017, that the infamous Steele Dossier was paid for by the DNC/Clinton campaign through cut-out law firms and consulting firm Fusion GPS. That the Clinton campaign paid for unverified opposition research that was instrumental in promoting the Trump collusion charges should have ended the collusion “witch hunt.” If the dossier indeed contained Russian disinformation, then the DNC and Clinton campaign interjected Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.
In its so-called verified application dated October 2016 for a FISA warrant to surveil U.S. citizen, Carter Page, under its “statement of facts,” Mr. Page is identified in language taken directly from Steele as “an agent of a foreign power,” who is “coordinating” Russian activities with the Trump campaign. The source of this information is identified as Source#1 (Christopher Steele).
A long footnote (#8) explains that Mr. Steele was hired to dig up dirt in an effort to discredit Candidate #1 and his campaign by “an identified U.S. person.” There is no mention that this “person” was the DNC and the Clinton campaign.
At the time of Robert Mueller’s appointment on May 17, 2017, collusion evidence consisted of Papadapolous and the Steele Dossier. Crossfire Hurricane found no collusion, and the DNC/Clinton forces had not yet admitted they paid for the Steele Dossier. The only new events were Mr. Trump’s “abrupt dismissal” of Mr. Comey and Mr. Trump’s asking Mr. Comey to go easy on his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
The Mueller investigation began with little and ended with some indictments unrelated to the collusion charge. Mr. Mueller “did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple efforts from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”
The period 2016-19 will go down in history for the specter of a U.S. president branded by his political opponents as a foreign agent. History will note that this charge did not stick. The public record shows the various Trump investigations were based on dodgy and false information. The two-and-a-half-year Mueller investigation found no collusion, and the Democrats have since moved on to other purported offenses in their quest to destroy the president.
• Paul Gregory is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.