- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 19, 2020

Two Republican senators knew of some explosive details lurking inside an inspector general’s report when on April 2 they reached out to Richard Grenell, the newly installed acting director of national intelligence who was already making his mark in just two months.

The senators had read classified footnotes that showed Russia fed disinformation for the infamous Christopher Steele dossier used by the FBI to try to bring down President Trump. They wanted the secret spilled, legally.

Mr. Grenell’s decision that day would provide further evidence that a new type of government operative was running the nation’s vast intelligence collection networks. Mr. Grenell didn’t come out of the spying woodwork of which Mr. Trump remains suspicious. Mr. Trump in February tapped an avowed supporter who displayed his pro-administration bent on Twitter as ambassador to Germany.

On April 2, a fascinating and still-secret story of Mr. Steele and his Democratic Party-financed dossier remained hidden. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a report in December on FBI surveillance abuse, but the juicy details on the Kremlin and the dossier remained blacked out in a series of narrative footnotes.

The FBI team investigating Mr. Trump and his campaign already looked bad enough based on open material. Mr. Horowitz detailed how the bureau committed over a dozen offenses of giving false information, while omitting exonerating evidence, when agents won four warrants from judges to spy on Trump volunteer Carter Page. The secret footnotes told another scandalous story.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, asked the Justice Department in January to free up the footnotes.

No one at Justice, run by Attorney General William Barr, had said “no.” But no one had said “yes,” either.

So the two senators, now a team in forcing disclosures of FBI abuses, contacted Mr. Grenell. Hours later, a letter arrived from Justice containing the coveted declassified footnotes for public release.

And then a bonus: Mr. Grenell on April 15 declassified additional footnotes and removed redacted parts of footnotes released on April 2.

“Grenell was pivotal,” a Senate aide told The Washington Times. “He released more information than we actually asked for.”

Mr. Grenell told the senators, “I agree transparency is now needed more than ever.”

In sum, the footnotes showed that on at least two occasions in early 2017, the FBI was warned by intelligence sources, including in the U.S. government. They said Mr. Steele’s most sensational allegations, such as Mr. Trump’s supposed romp with Russian prostitutes, were the products of Russian intelligence disinformation.

The FBI apparently ignored the Kremlin angle because the “Crossfire Hurricane” team investigating Trump-Russia collusion continued to pursue dossier leads for the next two years and obtained more Steele-based surveillance warrants.

Already known: Mr. Horowitz documented that the dossier’s main source told the FBI that the material he fed to Mr. Steele was merely Moscow gossip. Now it is known that was the same month agents learned of Russian disinformation.

The dossier, in the hands of Crossfire Hurricane agents in September 2016, alleged that Mr. Trump was a Russian spy and financed Russia’s computer hacking into Democratic Party computers. None of this proved true. Mr. Steele was financed by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic Party through the investigative firm Fusion GPS.

The dossier fueled a long investigation. In the end, special counselor Robert Mueller reported in March 2019 that he had not established a Trump campaign-Russia election conspiracy.

A reading of the Mueller-Horowitz reports shows there was never evidence of a Trump conspiracy — no email, communication intercept, informant or memo — outside of the disproven dossier.

“It’s ironic that the Russian collusion narrative was fatally flawed because of Russian disinformation. These footnotes confirm that there was a direct Russian disinformation campaign in 2016, and there were ties between Russian intelligence and a presidential campaign — the Clinton campaign, not Trump’s,” Mr. Grassley and Mr. Johnson said in a written statement.

The once-secret key declassified footnotes:

⦁ No. 350. The FBI Crossfire Hurricane team was told on Jan. 12, 2017, that information about former Trump attorney Michael Cohen was Russian disinformation. Mr. Steele’s sensational claim was that Cohen secretly traveled to Prague in August 2016 to meet aides of Russian President Vladimir Putin and pay hush money to computer hackers. The trip never happened, the FBI concluded.

⦁ No. 350. U.S. intelligence told the FBI in February that the story about Mr. Trump and the Moscow hotel room in 2013 came from the Russian intelligence service.

⦁ No. 339. The source who provided allegations that Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page met in Moscow with two Putin associates was tied to Russian intelligence. The Mueller report cleared Mr. Page.

⦁ No. 342. U.S. intelligence told the FBI that two people affiliated with Russian intelligence knew in July 2016 that Mr. Steele had taken on the Democratic Party project to sink candidate Trump.

Analysts say the heads-up gave the Kremlin ample time to penetrate Mr. Steele’s operation and plant fake news.

⦁ No. 347. One of Mr. Steele’s sources had contacts with the Russian presidential administration, Mr. Putin’s personal staff, in June and July 2016. This sub-source favored candidate Clinton.

⦁ No. 302. A dossier source identified in the Horowitz report as “Person 1” had historical ties to the Russian intelligence service.

The bottom line: Mr. Putin interfered in the 2016 election by ordering his intelligence forces to hack computers and spew anti-Clinton social media. Russia also interfered on the other side by filling a dossier used by the FBI, the Justice Department and liberal news media with lies about Mr. Trump that have haunted his presidency. Mr. Barr said in a Fox News interview that the FBI “sabotaged” the Trump White House.

Daniel Hoffman, a former CIA officer and Moscow station chief, told The Washington Times that exposing the footnotes is a good defense against further Russian meddling.

“It’s really important for our citizens to know the extent to which Russia is trying to interfere in our political process, and this looks like it was just another way where they were trying to use the Steele so-called dossier as a conduit to pass disinformation,” Mr. Hoffman said.

Mr. Hoffman wrote in 2018 that Russia likely would have detected what Mr. Steele was doing — and now the public knows that it did.

Mr. Grenell, the acting U.S. intelligence chief, has been notable in other ways. He has begun an agenda to pare down the staff at the director of national intelligence headquarters, as well as at the National Counterterrorism Center. The argument is that some positions are duplicative and could be better used in intelligence agencies or abroad.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, is opposing the drawdown. He wrote a letter to Mr. Grenell on April 7 saying the reorganization plan needs congressional oversight. The letter was leaked to the news media.

Perhaps in the past the DNI would have responded simply in a letter. Mr. Grenell responded on Twitter, with veiled reference to Republican complaints that Mr. Schiff’s committee Democrats leak constantly, sometimes inaccurately.

“His letter was sent to the press before it was sent to me,” Mr. Grenell tweeted. “These press leaks politicizing the intelligence community must stop.”

In 2017, Mr. Schiff was a big fan of Mr. Steele’s dossier. He read from it at a March 2017 hearing as he questioned then-FBI Director James B. Comey. Mr. Schiff defended Mr. Steele, and other committee Democrats portrayed the former MI6 Moscow-based spy as a first-rate intelligence officer.

The Washington Times asked Mr. Schiff’s spokesman for reaction to new disclosures that Russia fed disinformation into the dossier. The spokesman didn’t reply.

“There is a lot of bureaucratic resistance to these declassifications, but Grenell made it a priority,” said a Republican congressional staffer. “He’s got the guts to say, ‘Just get it done.’”

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

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