- The Washington Times - Monday, August 10, 2020

A onetime associate of FBI spy Stefan Halper says the University of Cambridge professor told him that retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was “unsuitable” for the post of President Trump’s national security adviser and added, “I don’t think Flynn’s going to be around long.”

Mr. Halper’s remarks to Steven P. Schrage, then a doctoral candidate at Cambridge, were recorded on Jan. 10, 2017, two days before a Washington Post column on Flynn led to his quick White House dismissal.

Mr. Schrage outed himself Sunday as a whistleblower with a post, “The Spies Who Hijacked America,” on journalist Matt Taibbi’s blog.

“In these discussions I stressed that Flynn was indispensable,” wrote Mr. Schrage, who was an official in the George W. Bush administration. “He was perhaps the only campaign adviser who both had Trump’s personal trust and the deep intelligence experience necessary to expose hidden problems in the intelligence community. At one point, I even recall telling Halper that taking Flynn out would be like ‘beheading’ Trump’s team. I had no idea I had been unintentionally aiding a spy preparing the guillotine and helping lead Flynn to exactly such a beheading.”

Mr. Halper’s remarks were recorded weeks before liberal media began suggesting, without detail, that Flynn had done something inappropriate regarding a Russian-born scholar. His supposed transgression happened at a 2014 dinner among intelligence academics at the University of Cambridge, where Flynn, then the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was the guest of honor.

Three years later, an FBI counterintelligence probe found no evidence that Flynn, as an intelligence officer or in retirement, had any inappropriate foreign contacts, according to a bureau report unearthed by a special investigator appointed by Attorney General William P. Barr.

The Russian-born scholar, Svetlana Lokhova, alleges that it was Mr. Halper who spread the unfounded smears as a way to create another Trump-Russia conspiracy story. At least one 2018 story about the Cambridge dinner said Mr. Halper was, indeed, a person who complained about Flynn. In response to a lawsuit filed by Ms. Lokhova, a British citizen, Mr. Halper has denied that he was a media source.

Mr. Halper was a crucial but secret Trump-Russia player. The FBI hired him to spy on Trump campaign volunteers George Papadopoulos and Carter Page in 2016. Flynn’s name came up during the FBI job interviews with Mr. Halper, a longtime Washington national security figure. Mr. Halper told agents that he was acquainted with Flynn, though the retired three-star general denies an association.

By the time he spoke with Mr. Schrage, Mr. Halper had failed to incriminate Mr. Papadopoulos or Mr. Page in a series of secretly recorded conversations in London and Virginia.

Mr. Schrage said he has been interviewed by the office of John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut whom Mr. Barr tapped to find out how the FBI conducted its probe into the Trump campaign beginning in July 2016.

Mr. Schrage told Maria Bartiromo on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” that he decided to reveal the Halper recordings because Flynn is facing a critical hearing Tuesday before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The Justice Department has moved to end the case of Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents.

Sidney Powell, Flynn’s attorney, said documents filed by the Justice Department show her client was the victim of FBI misconduct by withholding favorable evidence and creating a perjury trap because no actual crime was committed. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan has refused to dismiss the case. The matter is now before the appeals court.

Mr. Schrage said he consensually recorded his conversations with Mr. Halper at Cambridge but had no idea that Mr. Halper was a paid FBI confidential source targeting Trump aides until his name became public in 2018.

At the time of the Schrage recording, Flynn was already a media target. The intelligence community assessed that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help candidate Trump through computer hacking and social media. Flynn appeared in a photograph sitting next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a gala dinner for RT, the Russian propaganda TV channel.

In the recording, Mr. Halper tells Mr. Schrage: “If you go to the [National Security Council], you have to consider very carefully if you feel it’s appropriate for you to work for Flynn. I don’t think Flynn’s going to be around long. That’s just my guess.”

If Flynn were to meet resistance at the NSC, Mr. Halper said, “[his] reaction to that is to blow up and get angry. He’s really f——d. I mean, I don’t know where he goes from there. But that is his reaction. That’s why he’s so unsuitable.”

A month after Mr. Halper made that prediction, Flynn resigned as national security adviser.

‘It didn’t seem real’

On Jan. 12, 2017, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote that Flynn had talked about Obama administration-imposed sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Trump representatives denied this. Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI unit investigating the Trump campaign, had transcripts of the Flynn-Kislyak calls and knew that sanctions were discussed. The telephone calls were perfectly legal.

FBI agents then strategized how to target Flynn. The options were to either get him fired or see whether he would lie or admit to violating an obscure centuries-old law, the Logan Act.

Flynn granted interviews at the White House with two FBI agents, including Peter Strzok, a Trump detractor. Flynn ended up pleading guilty to lying when he denied that sanctions were discussed.

Mr. Schrage said Mr. Halper “bragged to me and talked to others that David Ignatius was one of his big press/media contacts.”

In the Lokhova saga, she filed a lawsuit in May 2019 against Mr. Halper and several newspapers. She said Mr. Halper was the source for articles that defamed her by erroneously suggesting that she had an affair with Flynn. She said she met Flynn once — at the 2014 Cambridge dinner — and never saw him again.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying she didn’t prove that Mr. Halper had spread the rumor to news media and that the stories were not defamatory. Ms. Lokhova has filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

Mr. Halper responded in a July 24 briefing. “This pleading failure identified by the District Court remains unanswered in the Opening Brief, which offers no pled fact as to where, when, and to whom Halper provided any information to the media, or to third parties on line,” the Halper brief states.

Ms. Lokhova’s original complaint states that a May 2018 New York Times story is proof that Mr. Halper was the source for the allegation involving her and Flynn.

The story was about an FBI informant who was not identified in the story but who was outed as Mr. Halper in subsequent news stories.

Ms. Lokhova’s lawsuit inserts the name “Halper” to show, in her opinion, how Mr. Halper spread the Flynn rumor.

The New York Times wrote: “The informant [Mr. Halper] also had contacts with Mr. Flynn, the retired Army general who was Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser. The two met in February 2014, when Mr. Flynn was running the Defense Intelligence Agency and attended the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar, an academic forum for former spies and researchers that meets a few times a year. According to people familiar with Mr. Flynn’s visit to the intelligence seminar, the source [Mr. Halper] was alarmed by the general’s apparent closeness with a Russian woman who was also in attendance. The concern was strong enough that it prompted another person to pass on a warning to the American authorities that Mr. Flynn could be compromised by Russian intelligence, according to two people familiar with the matter.”

Ms. Lokhova told The Washington Times that Mr. Halper did not attend the dinner. Flynn’s attorney says her client never met Mr. Halper at Cambridge or elsewhere.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department review of the Flynn case produced a stunning document. The FBI had cleared Flynn of any counterintelligence transgressions, according to a declassified Jan. 4, 2017, bureau memo. The document is evidence that whatever rumor there was about Flynn and Ms. Lokhova, it didn’t pan out, if it was ever reported to authorities.

Steven Biss, Ms. Lokhova’s attorney, asserted in his appeals brief that redacted parts of the Jan. 4 memo refer to his client and show that Mr. Halper was spreading rumors about her and Flynn to the FBI. The attorney also argues that the memo’s unidentified person cleared of any wrongdoing is Ms. Lokhova.

Mr. Halper’s attorney declined to comment to The Washington Times.

As to the RT dinner in Moscow, Flynn’s attorney said he followed all required military protocols.

Mr. Schrage was responsible for bringing his Cambridge supervisor, Mr. Halper, and Mr. Page together in the summer of 2016.

He told Fox News that it had nothing to do with Mr. Halper’s role as an FBI informant, which the student knew nothing about. Instead, he was looking for balance for a conference on national security and picked Mr. Page as a Trump surrogate.

He said Mr. Halper later “profusely thanked me” for the introduction. He learned the true reason for the thanks a year later when his onetime mentor turned out to be an FBI spy.

“It didn’t seem real,” Mr. Schrage wrote on Sunday. “Could a former professor I once trusted as a mentor have betrayed his word, profession, and country to start these disasters? I had moved to England to pursue an academic career and leave DC’s politics behind, only to have my PhD supervisor throw me back into the most outrageous political firestorms I could imagine. Just my luck. Then an even worse question began nagging at me. Did I unintentionally light the match that started it all?”

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

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