The top Justice Department official in early 2017 overseeing the FBI’s Russia probe testified he was briefed as many as six times on its status and was told there was no evidence of Trump campaign collusion, a newly released transcript shows.
The testimony of Dana J. Boente is significant because during this time the FBI took major steps to expand the probe.
And President Trump in May ended up firing then-FBI Director James Comey, a stunning move that led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller and two years of a White House under constant criminal scrutiny.
“There was no ‘there’ there,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, who released Mr. Boente’s June 22 closed testimony. “The investigation was pushed when it should have been stopped and the only logical explanation is that the investigators wanted an outcome because of their bias.”
Mr. Boente’s unique position in the new Trump administration was this: Newly confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions recuse himself from the Russia probe, codenamed “Crossfire Hurricane” by the FBI. He had spoken to the Russian ambassador while a senator from Alabama.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would not win Senate confirmation until late April.
That left Mr. Boente as acting deputy and in charge of Crossfire Hurricane in February, March and April. He asked to be briefed.
“I felt that it was important to know something about it,” said Mr. Boente, according to a transcript. “I don’t know if and when I was told that. I think — I recall being told at some point, maybe not February, between February and April, because thankfully my involvement ended in April, that there was no evidence of collusion with the Trump campaign.”
During this time, the FBI was ramping up the probe.
Mr. Comey made it more visible nationally by testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017 that the entire Trump campaign was under scrutiny for any possible links to the Kremlin.
Campaign veterans have told The Washington Times that his testimony that day put a target on their backs for the national news media.
During this time, the FBI also won a judge’s approval for continued wiretapping of campaign volunteer Carter Page. The FBI’s affidavit was based almost exclusively on evidence provided by a Democratic Party-financed dossier prepared by ex-British spy Christopher Steele and sourced to the Kremlin.
The FBI learned in January that Mr. Steele’s main source, Russian-born Igor Danchenko, had told agents his information was unconfirmed hearsay. But the FBI continued to rely on the dossier.
Mr. Boente testified that Mr. Comey wanted to brief Congress on Crossfire Hurricane and whether Trump aides colluded with Russia to hack Democratic Party computers in 2016 and mount information warfare on social media.
“Well, I certainly felt that he could,” Mr. Boente testified. “’Should’ is a much more difficult question. “But I ceded to his request to brief on it.”
Mr. Boente said the issue was a briefing to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Mr. Comey’s public House committee appearance was not mentioned by Mr. Boente.
Mr. Graham’s chief investigative attorney provided another new wrinkle. He said the committee had just acquired an email written by Crossfire Hurricane chief agent Peter Strzok from February 2017.
“We are unaware of ANY ‘in call caps’ Trump advisers engaging in conversations with Russian intelligence officials,” Mr. Somers said, quoting the Strzok email.
At that point, the probe was in its seventh month. Mr. Steele wrote in his dossier that an extensive conspiracy existed between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 election.
After Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey, Mr. Rosenstein appointed Mr. Mueller. He reported in March 2019 that he did not establish a Trump-Russia conspiracy.
Trump associates have told The Washington Times that with Mr. Sessions’ recusal the president had no trusted ally inside the Justice Department who could have told him that Crossfire Hurricane was hitting dead ends. If he knew that, he might not have fired Mr. Comey, they say, and there never would have been a special counsel.
Mr. Graham’s staff interviewed Mr. Boente and other Justice officials as part of a probe into abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) under which Mr. Page was wiretapped for 12 months in 2016-17.
“I consider the Crossfire Hurricane investigation a massive system failure by senior leadership, but not representative of the dedicated, hardworking patriots who protect our nation every day at Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice,” Mr. Graham said. “I believe that Crossfire Hurricane was one of the most incompetent and corrupt investigations in the history of the FBI and DOJ.”