The collapse of the Obama administration’s dogged pursuit of retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn has come to represent a broader assault on the Trump campaign, transition and presidency that Attorney General William P. Barr has concluded amounted to FBI “sabotage.”
From July 31, 2016, to deep into the Trump presidency, the FBI littered its investigative trail with questionable conduct that led the president to believe that agents had been after him all along.
“It was an attempted overthrow of the government of the United States of America and duly elected president,” Mr. Trump told The Washington Times in an Oval Office interview last week. “And we caught them.”
Notes taken by FBI agent Peter Strzok filed Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington show that President Barack Obama took a keen interest in probing Mr. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser. Mr. Obama said in early January 2017 to make sure the FBI had the right people investigating.
At the time, White House officials on their way out the door asked the intelligence community to unmask Mr. Flynn in scores of secret intelligence reports from the National Security Agency so they could read what he was up to.
Overall, FBI agents embraced a sketchy 35-page collection of anti-Trump claims called the dossier. Using the dossier as a basis, they acquired a year of wiretaps on campaign volunteer Carter Page, with agents misleading judges in the process, and cited conspiracy allegations to fuel their Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
The FBI hired a cast of confidential human sources, most notably Stefan Halper, to try to entrap Mr. Page and associate George Papadopoulos. Their secretly recorded conversations with Mr. Halper came up empty, so the FBI ignored them, a government report said.
That was a theme in the momentous report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz. Time and again, the FBI obtained favorable information on Mr. Page yet withheld it from federal judges so that agents could win a wiretap extension.
Intelligence services told the FBI early in 2017 that Russians had penetrated the dossier’s data collection stream and added fake anti-Trump claims.
Perhaps worse, the main Russian source for Christopher Steele’s dossier told the FBI that he merely repeated unsubstantiated gossip.
Yet the FBI stuck with the dossier. Mr. Horowitz found that two FBI employees played major roles in keeping from judges that Mr. Page was a verified CIA informant. One FBI lawyer falsified a CIA email.
Not lost on Republicans was the overriding fact that the FBI invested huge currency in a dossier that was financed by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee and was designed to sink the Trump presidency.
Always lurking beneath the FBI maneuvering was a series of text messages between Mr. Strzok, who led Crossfire Hurricane, and his lover, FBI counsel Lisa Page. Both expressed complete disgust for candidate Trump. Mr. Strzok vowed to “stop” him.
The FBI fired Mr. Strzok. Ms. Page resigned and has joined MSNBC as an analyst, along with a cast of other ardent Trump opponents, such as Obama-era CIA Director John O. Brennan and Andrew Weissmann, top gun to special counsel Robert Mueller. Mr. Weissmann even gave Democrats advice during an MSNBC appearance on how to bring down Mr. Trump.
Flynn in the line of fire
The Brennan perch opens another chapter in what Republicans believe was a Democratic Party and Obama loyalists operation to sabotage Mr. Trump from Nov. 8, 2016, on.
Mr. Brennan spent much of his first two years on MSNBC calling Mr. Trump an agent or asset of Moscow — in other words, a spy. He predicted that scores of Trump allies would be indicted on charges of conspiring with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. When none was, Mr. Brennen said he must have been misinformed.
At CNN, Mr. Obama’s director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, played the same tune as Mr. Brennan: Mr. Trump was a spy handled by the Kremlin.
Neither Mr. Brennan nor Mr. Clapper ever presented any evidence.
All the while, Trump aides suspected that Obama loyalists were mounting information warfare against the president by planting news stories, some of them highly inaccurate.
That brings things to the Flynn case. A well-timed leak to The Washington Post revived the FBI probe into Mr. Flynn as he served on the transition team and then became White House national security adviser.
Mr. Strzok had moved to close the Flynn case because his team found no links to Russian collusion. But then the FBI recorded Mr. Flynn’s calls with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. Someone leaked to The Post that Mr. Flynn had discussed Mr. Obama’s new sanctions against Moscow. The Trump team denied this, giving agents a reason to interview Mr. Flynn. He later admitted in court to lying to agents.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Wednesday ordered the U.S. District Court to dismiss the Flynn case, as sought by the attorney general.
Mr. Barr assigned U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen to review the Flynn prosecution. Mr. Jensen uncovered notes that showed the FBI had a strategy of trying to get Mr. Flynn to lie or admit violating the centuries-old Logan Act, or to get him fired.
FBI Director James B. Comey bragged during a book tour that he was able to slip agents past the White House counsel’s office. Mr. Flynn was not read his rights. Mueller prosecutors threatened to investigate his son, Michael Jr., before Mr. Flynn agreed to plead guilty. He amassed $5 million in legal bills.
Before Mr. Barr named Mr. Jensen, Mr. Flynn’s attorney, Sidney Powell, filed a stream of legal motions. She alleged that Mueller prosecutors withheld favorable, or Brady, material on her client that would have shown he was entrapped into pleading guilty. She accused the FBI of framing him.
The Strzok notes show that the entire White House power base — from Mr. Obama to Vice President Joseph R. Biden to National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice — had talked about getting Mr. Flynn prosecuted.
Key dates in the Trump-Russia saga show that at each step there was never any evidence — an informant, email, text message, communications intercept or whistleblower — that a Trump associate had conspired with the Kremlin.
On July 31, 2016, the FBI opened its historic investigation into the Trump campaign by picking four targets: Mr. Flynn, Mr. Page, Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort, briefly Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman. The targeting was based on possible ties, not evidence.
In March 2017, Mr. Comey told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that the entire Trump campaign was under scrutiny for any links to the Kremlin. There was still no evidence of a conspiracy.
In May, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein sent a “scope” memo to Mr. Mueller authorizing him to probe the same four people. Mr. Rosenstein recently testified that the memo was written by Mueller people. There still was no evidence of a conspiracy. The scope memo appeared to be based on the dossier.
Mr. Mueller closed his probe in March 2019, saying he never found a conspiracy.
All of the FBI’s missteps prompted Mr. Barr to tell Fox News’ Laura Ingraham in April: “I think the president has every right to be frustrated, because I think what happened to him was one of the greatest travesties in American history. Without any basis, [the FBI] started this investigation of his campaign and even more concerning, actually, is what happened after the campaign. A whole pattern of events while he was president to sabotage the presidency, or at least having the effect of sabotaging the presidency.”
Mr. Barr named John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, to investigate the FBI’s handling of Crossfire Hurricane.