The FBI’s most infamous epoch, a stretch of six months in 2016 and 2017 when Obama administration officials targeted Donald Trump and his allies, is coming into its own scandalous light in a steady flow of self-incriminating documents meant to stay secret.
Last week came the latest shocker: a court filing disclosure that William A. Barnett, the Russia probe’s first known FBI whistleblower, is telling Crossfire Hurricane’s unofficial history to special investigator John Durham’s team. The bottom line: Obama appointees rode roughshod over retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and prosecutors later relied on that pressure to “get Trump.”
“The Obama administration used the FBI and special counsel to target, frame and try to destroy the life of a national hero and his family,” Sidney Powell, Flynn’s attorney, told The Washington Times. “This hideous abuse of power, lies to courts, and defamation of a great man must not only be remedied by the immediate dismissal of the wrongful prosecution of Gen. Flynn but by the criminal prosecutions of those who committed these heinous acts.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, posted additional Justice Department papers on Thursday. This bombshell: Igor Danchenko, the main source for the Democratic Party-financed Christopher Steele dossier and its dozen anti-Trump felony claims, was suspected by the FBI of being a Kremlin spy.
Obama administration law enforcement officials knew Mr. Danchenko was a supposed Russian agent but continued to use his unproven claims to target Mr. Trump and his aides. The Danchenko revelation is one of many this year that show that FBI officials lied and broke rules in the pursuit of nailing Mr. Trump.
“They knowingly and secretly used a Russian intelligence agent to target Trump and other innocents. Treasonous,” Tom Fitton, head of the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch, told The Washington Times. “And the goal was the removal and prosecution of an elected president.”
FBI public affairs has declined to address such complaints.
The Danchenko affair creates the possibility that the Steele dossier was a giant Kremlin disinformation campaign designed to destroy President Trump. The dossier has proven to be a list of falsehoods that alleged Mr. Trump and his aides directly controlled Russian computer hacking against Democrats.
Yet the dossier was embraced by House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff of California, a cast of other Democrats, the FBI’s top agents and the liberal news media.
FBI targets Trump
Documents telling the FBI’s 2016-17 epoch have come in 2020 from two main tranches:
• The prosecution of Flynn, for which Missouri U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Jensen is conducting a special inquiry and has obtained once-secret papers that have become an open court file.
• The Justice Department/intelligence community declassifications based on requests by Mr. Graham, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
Attorney General William P. Barr, who ordered the Jensen and Durham inquiries, has accused the FBI of “sabotage” against the Trump White House. He singles out the July 31, 2016, decision by agents Bill Priestap and Peter Strzok to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, centered on four individuals, including Flynn.
The trigger was a conversation that Trump campaign volunteer George Papadopoulos had over wine in London with Australian Ambassador Alexander Downer on May 10, 2016. Papadopoulos related that he had shared an April 26 meal with Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor. He said he heard in Moscow that the Kremlin owned former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails or derogatory information. After WikiLeaks published the stolen emails in July, Mr. Downer told the FBI.
The FBI thus began a probe into the presidential campaign based on fourth-party hearsay: from Mr. Mifsud to Papadopoulos to Mr. Downer to the FBI.
After traveling to London to interview Mr. Downer, Mr. Strzok told associates his job was to find out who on the campaign was briefed by Papadopoulos. Mr. Trump was in his sights.
During the election, Mr. Strzok engaged in numerous texts with his lover, FBI lawyer Lisa Page. They both derided Mr. Trump. Mr. Strzok vowed to “stop” him from becoming president.
The FBI assigned four informants to spy on Papadopoulos, including U.S. academic Stefan Halper. Papadopoulos ended up pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about the timing of meeting Mr. Mifsud. He never tried to obtain any emails and never told the campaign about his Mifsud contact.
Mr. Strzok later would be fired for his inappropriate texts and “dereliction” in the Clinton email probe.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz published a report in December 2019 documenting FBI misconduct during the Obama years.
His main strike was against agents providing inaccurate information to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court in sworn affidavits to approve wiretap warrants on campaign volunteer Carter Page. Agents cited the dossier as their best piece of evidence that Mr. Page was a Russian operative.
Agents withheld the fact Mr. Page worked for the CIA as an informant on Russia. An agent later would plead guilty in U.S. District Court to altering a CIA email to make it look like Mr. Page had no agency association. Agents also withheld from judges the fact that Mr. Page denied all dossier claims in recorded conversations with the campaign spy Mr. Halper.
Agents asserted to judges that Mr. Steele was such a good source that his information had been used in U.S. criminal trials. It had not.
The FBI told judges that Mr. Danchenko (who was not disclosed by name) was “Russian-based.” In fact, the Russian national lived in the Washington, D.C., area and made trips to Moscow.
Of Mr. Strzok’s team, Mr. Horowitz stated: “The Crossfire Hurricane team failed to inform [Justice] Department officials of significant information that was available to the team at the time the FISA applications were drafted and filed. Much of the information was inconsistent with, or undercut, the assertions contained in the FISA applications.”
FBI dissembling was not confined to the FISA court. Mr. Graham in August posted the official FBI talking points for agent Priestap in 2018 to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The topic: three interviews the FBI conducted with Mr. Danchenko to assess the dossier’s credibility.
The notes from the first interview in January 2017 showed that Mr. Danchenko said his anti-Trump claims came from friends, one a drinking pal, who were repeating second-hand information. Mr. Danchenko said Mr. Steele exaggerated some of his information.
But the FBI talking points to senators read, “He did not cite any significant concerns with the way his reporting was characterized in the dossier to the extent he could identify it.”
What’s more, the FBI never disclosed to the FISA court or to lawmakers that it was warned in early January 2017 that some major claims came from Kremlin disinformation.
Mr. Priestap told the inspector general that “the FBI didn’t have any indication whatsoever” in early 2017 that Russia was running a disinformation campaign through Mr. Steele.
The disinformation disclosure was in the Horowitz report, but redacted from public view. Richard Grenell, as acting chief of U.S. intelligence, declassified those footnotes.
Candidate Trump believed he was receiving a matter-of-fact intelligence briefing in New York on foreign intelligence threats. But the FBI sent in Crossfire Hurricane agent Joe Pientka to see if Mr. Trump or Flynn would in any way incriminate themselves. He filed a report under the heading of “Crossfire Hurricane.”
The Steele dossier first arrived at FBI headquarters in Washington in September 2016. Additional dossier memos would arrive via Bruce Ohr, a senior Justice Department lawyer who became a courier for Mr. Steele and his handler, Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm hired by the Clinton campaign.
By the way agents proceeded to rely on the dossier, one could surmise they believed every word.
First, it became the linchpin to obtain warrants to spy on Carter Page. Without it, there would have been no electronic surveillance, according to the Horowitz report.
Second, FBI Director James B. Comey took the material to a Jan. 5, 2017, White House meeting with Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden and other senior officials. At the meeting Mr. Biden apparently suggested prosecuting Flynn under the 1799 Logan Act for his phone conversations with the Russian ambassador, FBI notes show.
Back at FBI headquarters, things started to happen once the White House meeting broke up.
“What’s the word on how the O’s briefing went,” an FBI official texted. The reply: “Don’t know but people here are scrambling for info to support certain things and it’s a mad house.”
Then one official referred to a Trump tweet that the FBI still had not briefed him because they were still looking for evidence. “Trump was right,” the FBI official texted. “Still not put together … Why do we do this to ourselves. What is wrong with these people.”
The next day, Mr. Comey took the dossier to New York for a meeting at Trump Tower with President-elect Trump. He briefed Mr. Trump in private. He did not tell him it was financed by Democrats. He then proceeded to the New York field office to brief Crossfire Hurricane agents.
The previous fall, as the CIA and other intelligence agencies were writing the official assessment of Russian election interference, Mr. Comey insisted that the dossier be incorporated into it. Intel officials resisted. One termed it “internet rumor,” the Horowitz report said.
As a compromise, CIA officials agreed to make the dossier its own separate report annex. The sections included were some of the most stunning — and false — claims against Mr. Trump.
The day of the White House meeting on Flynn and the dossier was also the day Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, requested that the National Security Agency “unmask” Flynn’s name in an intelligence report on an intercepted phone call.
In all, during the transition in December and January, Obama officials requested 48 unmaskings of Flynn’s name. Mr. Biden made one request on Jan. 12.
Mr. Barr has named an attorney to review the Obama unmasking operation.
William J. Barnett
FBI agent William J. Barnett questions the very reason the Obama administration began a Trump probe in the first place.
Mr. Barnett was recruited in August 2016, the early heady days of Crossfire Hurricane, to join the team and focus on Flynn for whom a case, Crossfire Razor, was opened by Mr. Strzok that month.
“Barnett found the Razor investigation to be unclear and disorganized,” Mr. Barnett said on Sept. 17 when he and his lawyer voluntarily sat down with Mr. Jensen at the Justice Department. “Barnett did not understand the point of the investigation.”
Mr. Barr summoned Mr. Jensen from Missouri to head a Flynn review. He has churned up a multitude of new documents never given to the Flynn defense, such as that the FBI had cleared him in the Russian probe on Jan. 4, 2017. Mr. Jensen subsequently joined the Durham review of how the FBI began its inquiry into the Trump campaign.
The Justice Department has moved to dismiss the Flynn case, but U.S. District Judge Emmett G. Sullivan has balked. A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 29.
Mr. Barnett is not an investigative target. He is the first known Durham probe whistleblower.
The 13-page Jensen interview report was filed last week in U.S. District Court by Flynn’s attorney, Ms. Powell. Since the spring, she has been challenging the legality of his guilty plea to lying to the FBI. Ms. Powell argues that he was entrapped by Mr. Strzok and denied access to favorable evidence, such the FBI Jan. 4 exoneration and the fact that agents among themselves said they did not think he intentionally lied.
Mr. Barnett said the main predicate for opening a Crossfire Razor case was that he had attended a 2015 dinner in Moscow where he was photographed sitting next to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Barnett thought the speech ill-advised but not illegal.
By Jan. 4, 2017, Mr. Barnett had drawn up a closing document ending the Razor case. But Mr. Strzok suddenly intervened.
From previous reports, it is known that the reason for halting the exoneration is that information arrived about Flynn talking by phone to the Russian ambassador during the transition. Days later a Washington Post column appeared saying the two discussed Mr. Obama’s economic sanctions against Russia. The Trump team denied this, providing Mr. Strzok with a reason for going to the White House to interview Flynn, who had just settled into his new job as White House national security advisor.
By February, Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe took control.
“Barnett still did not see any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian Government,” the report of his interview states. “Barnett was willing to follow instructions being given by the Deputy Director as long as it was not a violation of law.”
In addition to Mr. Barnett’s testimony, Mr. Jensen turned up more FBI text messages withheld from the Flynn defense.
In one FBI conversation, as Crossfire Hurricane was picking targets in August, an official texted, “I think some of these guys want a Clinton presidency.”
In October, FBI officials seemed to realize that what was going on was wrong. “I’m telling, man, if this thing ever gets FOIA’d [Freedom of Information Act] there are going to be some tough questions asked.”
FBI officials also discussed issuing what are called National Security Letters to gain Flynn’s financial records. NSLs avoid the need to ask a judge to issue a subpoena. Texts indicate it was not “logical” but a stalling tactic since no new information had turned up.
“These Stalinist tactics mandate immediate dismissal of this case,” Ms. Powell said Thursday in her court filing.
With the new Flynn filings came another bombshell disclosure, this time from Mr. Graham, the Senate Judiciary panel chief.
It had to do with Mr. Danchenko, a 42-year-old Russian national who collected virtually all the dossier’s felonious claims against Mr. Trump. He fed them to Mr. Steele in England, where the British ex-spy heads Orbis Business Intelligence. Mr. Steele compiled the 17-memo dossier and, through Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS, spread the allegations all over Washington.
Mr. Graham posted an FBI summary of suspicion about Mr. Danchenko going back to 2009, when he was an analyst at the Brookings Institution, a premier liberal think tank.
Two witnesses told the FBI that Mr. Danchenko approached them in 2008. He was quoted as saying that if they gain jobs in the Obama administration and had access to secrets they could “make a little extra money.”
The FBI in December 2016 identified Mr. Danchenko as Mr. Steele’s “primary sub-source.”
The FBI summary does not identify Mr. Danchenko by name. When Mr. Graham posted a declassified FBI interview with Mr. Danchenko from January 2017, social media sleuths were able to garner enough personal ID to name him. Mr. Danchenko’s attorney confirmed this to The New York Times.
At some point, the FBI turned a preliminary investigation of Mr. Danchenko into a full-bore one after he was identified as an associate of two people who agents were watching.
Mr. Danchenko in 2006 had contacts with the Russian Embassy and a known intelligence officer. The FBI apparently intercepted telephone calls between Mr. Danchenko and the officer. He told the officer he was interested in joining Russia’s diplomatic service. The two discussed the transfer of documents for “tomorrow’s diplomatic mail pouch.”
The FBI then began the process to obtain FISA electronic surveillance, but Mr. Danchenko left the U.S. in 2011 and his visa to return was not renewed. Agents then closed the case.
When interviewed by the FBI in January 2017, Mr. Danchenko denied contacts with Russian intelligence.
Mr. Danchenko “indicated that to his knowledge he has not had any contact with the Russian intelligence security services,” the FBI report says.
Mr. Graham said, “The primary source for the Steele dossier was likely a Russian agent.”
The “stunning and damning” revelation, the senator said, is that the FBI knew the primary source was a suspected spy during the Obama administration but still vouched for his information to judges to obtain wiretaps on campaign volunteer Carter Page. The FBI went on to obtain three more surveillance warrants, never telling judges the main source was a suspected Russian operative.
“A small group of individuals in the Department of Justice and FBI should be held accountable for this fraud against the court,” Mr. Graham said.
“The now famous email Susan Rice sent to herself on Inauguration Day where she states that President Obama said that everything has to be done ‘by the book’ has become highly suspect,” he said. “If this investigation is ‘by the book,’ then the book we’re using is the Kremlin playbook.”
At some point, Mr. Danchenko reentered the U.S. He became a paid analyst for Mr. Steele’s firm and eventually got the assignment to investigate candidate Trump, for which he traveled to Moscow. Fusion GPS paid Mr. Steele $165,000 from funds from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party.