Newly revealed court documents appear to confirm what conservatives have been saying for years — that the FBI’s activities around the 2016 election included the “most egregious” violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on the part of America’s intelligence apparatus in decades.
Americans already knew that the country’s top law enforcement agency had involved itself deeply in the politics of the presidential campaign, but a new report gives a look into just how deep that involvement went.
And it raises the question of just how many in the FBI were involved.
Much of the story is already known.
As many readers will recall, on Dec. 9, 2019, Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his long-awaited report on the actions of FBI officials during their investigation of the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, known as Crossfire Hurricane.
His review included an examination of the FBI’s October 2016 application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to protect the rights of American citizens from unjustified surveillance by their own government’s intelligence agencies.
The FBI had applied for warrant from the court (and three subsequent renewals) to spy on a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign named Carter Page.
Access to Page’s communications provided the FBI a window into his contacts, and allowed agents access to the communications of members of the Trump campaign and their contacts.
The Horowitz report on the FBI probe found no less than 17 of what it described as “significant errors or omissions” (page XIII) in the FBI’s applications for Page surveillance to the FISA Court.
For instance, the Horowitz team confirmed that the now-debunked “dossier” compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele — and paid for by the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee — had indeed constituted the basis of all four FISA applications.
It also revealed that the FBI had a pretty good idea early on that Steele’s dossier was bogus, and likely knew for sure by May 2017, the month then-President Donald Trump fired James Comey as FBI director. Shortly after Comey was fired, then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the investigation into alleged “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
The report revealed that the FBI had been informed by memo as early as August 2016 that Carter Page had worked as a source for “another U.S. government agency” — assumed to be the CIA.
An explanation of the whole story of corruption would require an entire book, but I will focus upon the actions of an FBI lawyer named Kevin Clinesmith, now 36, who worked closely with then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Special Agent Peter Strzok, then-head of FBI counterintelligence and the lead agent on this case, and then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who was having an affair with Strzok at the time. (Both were married.)
Clinesmith, the only FBI official to be charged so far in the case, admitted to altering an email from a “CIA liaison,” according to a December report in The Washington Post.
In its original form, the email confirmed claims Page had made in media interviews that he’d worked for the CIA in the past.
Clinesmith, however, altered the document to say Page had not worked for the CIA, then included this statement in the FBI’s final application to renew its surveillance warrant on Page.
In August, Clinesmith pleaded guilty to “one count of making a false statement,” which is punishable by a maximum sentence of five years and “fines of up to $250,000,” Fox News reported at the time.
Clinesmith’s attorneys are fighting for probation and community service. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, according to Newsmax.
Understandably, Carter Page, whose life has been turned upside down by these false allegations, has slapped Clinesmith and the FBI with a $75 million law suit.
After discovering a collection of “little noticed” documents which had been submitted by special counsel John Durham, who is investigating the origins of the FBI Trump probe, court filings by Carter Page’s lawyers, and conducting interviews with former FBI officials, RealClearInvestigations’ reporter Paul Sperry has published a painstakingly prepared report on his findings.
Sperry’s report is excellent as well as extremely lengthy. But its findings are must-reading for any American who cares about the future of the country.
Takeaways from Sperry’s report
Sperry writes: “Evidence suggests others in the FBI,” namely McCabe, Strzok and Lisa Page, “had roles in the FISA deceptions admitted by Kevin Clinesmith.”
For obvious reasons, Clinesmith’s legal counsel has tried to minimize his role in the case. Sperry notes that Clinesmith’s lawyers argued that his actions resulted from “a rare lapse in judgment by an overworked bureaucrat. It was not, his apologists say, part of any broader conspiracy to conceal exculpatory information from surveillance court judges.”
Sperry, however, tells readers that some civil libertarians are calling the evidence in the new documents “the most egregious violation and abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) since it was enacted more than 40 years ago.”
The documents submitted by Durham and Carter Page’s attorneys, Sperry writes, confirm that Clinesmith, McCabe, Strzok, Lisa Page and other FBI officials had received a memo from the CIA on Aug. 17, 2016 which confirmed that Carter Page had worked on the CIA’s behalf. In fact, Sperry writes, “Page’s status as a CIA contact had been documented in the FBI’s own electronic files going back to 2009.” (Emphasis added.)
The records show that Durham didn’t believe that Clinesmith was the only member of the Crossfire Hurricane to receive the CIA’s memo.
Sperry reports the memo stated that “Page had been approved for ‘operational contact’ from 2008 to 2013 and described Page’s interactions with Russian intelligence officers, including some cited nefariously in the FISA applications. It further informed Crossfire investigators that Page briefed the CIA about these contacts, and the CIA determined that Page was ‘candid’ in his reporting.”
Sperry adds: “The information was highly relevant to the FISA application the team was preparing and went directly to the issue of Page’s loyalty. His lengthy history as a CIA-handled source undercut the premise that he was a Russian agent. If it were disclosed, it would dramatically weaken the grounds for wiretapping Page as a national security threat. In fact, it would hurt the predication for the FBI’s entire Russia ‘collusion’ investigation, which hinged on Page’s contacts with Russians.”
In a sentencing motion, Durham recommended that Clinesmith serve a six-month sentence, Sperry wrote, noting that Clinesmith “knew the email he forged would be used to support the issuance of a June 2017 FISA warrant to continue eavesdropping on Page, an American citizen, as part of the FBI’s investigation into whether Trump associates were coordinating campaign activities with Russia, code-named Crossfire Hurricane.”
In the motion, Durham wrote: “It is plausible that his [Clinesmith’s] strong political views and/or personal dislike of the current president [Trump] made him more willing to engage in the fraudulent and unethical conduct to which he has pled guilty.”
Anti-Trump bias at the FBI
Sperry also details the anti-Trump bias displayed by all of the FBI officials involved. Messages sent between them by text and email indicate that Clinesmith was “just devastated” after Trump’s victory.
In a message to a colleague after Trump won the presidency, Clinesmith wrote: “My godd***ed name is all over the legal documents investigating his [Trump’s] staff. So, who knows if that breaks to him what he [Trump] is going to do?”
Strzok wrote “OMG I am so depressed.” Lisa Page replied, “I don’t know if I can eat. I am very nauseous.”
Clinesmith agreed to plea deal
Clinesmith signed a plea deal last August, Sperry writes, and agreed to “be personally debriefed” by Durham’s team about “FISA matters and any information he possesses.”
We have no way of knowing what information Clinesmith shared during his debriefing with Durham’s team, but since that time, Sperry writes: “Durham has narrowed his investigation to focus on the activities of the so-called Crossfire Hurricane team…and on whether the FBI launched the entire investigation of the Trump campaign without legal predication.”
Clinesmith acting alone?
According to Sperry, “former FBI officials doubt that Clinesmith would have altered the CIA memo and submitted it to the FISA Court without the knowledge of his higher-ups.”
“Some observers,” Sperry writes, “speculate that McCabe is a key target in Durham’s ongoing investigation.”
Former FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker told Sperry, “It’s a very brazen move doctoring email from another agency; it’s unlikely Clinesmith would have been so brazen if he didn’t know he had protection from above. It makes perfect sense from Clinesmith’s guilty plea that McCabe is in legal jeopardy.”
According to Sperry, Swecker said it had been his belief that “McCabe skated on the false statements indictment because Durham had bigger and better things to run against him.”
While Clinesmith’s attorneys claim his altering of the email was an aberration, Sperry writes that Carter Page’s attorneys had filed papers showing “Clinesmith also withheld knowledge of Page’s longstanding relationship with the CIA from an earlier warrant.”
Besides, Sperry writes, Clinesmith’s actions could have been known to anyone working on Crossfire Hurricane.
The August 2016 memo from the CIA about Carter Page, Sperry writes, “was entered in the FBI’s system of record known as ‘Sentinel,’ and everybody on the Crossfire team had access to it — including Strzok and McCabe’s legal counsel Page — and yet nobody told the FISA court about it. (Text messages and emails reveal that Strzok and Page were directly involved in the FISA process and worked closely with Clinesmith.)”
“Instead, they provided inaccurate information to the FISA court that failed to disclose the extent and nature of Page’s prior relationship with the CIA. As a result, the FBI got away with monitoring Page for more than a year, starting in October 2016.
“Swecker, a former prosecutor, said the entire Crossfire Hurricane team, not just Clinesmith, had a vested interest in concealing their target’s relationship with the CIA,” Sperry writes.
According to Sperry, Swecker said Durham “is likely squeezing Clinesmith for information on Lisa Page (no relation to Carter Page) to get to McCabe.”
“He worked with [Lisa] Page and he would know if McCabe was pulling the strings behind the scenes,” Swecker said, according to Sperry.
FBI agent Stephen Somma was in charge of Page’s case in the spring of 2017. During at least one of several of what Page’s legal team calls “ambush interviews,” Sperry writes, Page told Somma “he was not a Russian agent and had previously assisted the FBI and the CIA in their Russian counterintelligence missions.”
In IG Horowitz’ December 2019 report, Sperry writes, Somma, identified in the report as “Case Agent 1,” was said to be “primarily responsible for some of the most significant errors and omissions” in the FISA applications.
Durham notes in his sentencing motion that “instant messages and emails suggest that the SSA [supervisory special agent Joseph Pientka] and case agent [Somma] may have read those [CIA] documents in the past.”
“In a Sept. 29, 2016, email, in fact, Somma discussed the contents of the CIA memo with other members of the Crossfire team. There are also text messages between Clinesmith and Strzok discussing Carter Page’s status around the same time.”
After requesting various communications records between members of the Crossfire Hurricane team, Durham’s investigators were told that those files were missing.
“The FBI,” Sperry writes, “maintains that the documents were inexplicably ‘lost’ and had to be reconstructed.”
However, Sperry writes that he spoke to former FBI officials who told him that “the removal or possible destruction of these critical documents in such an important case is highly irregular and raises suspicion that those involved in the FISA scandal may have attempted to cover their tracks. They say it also raises the question of whether the doctoring of evidence in the final FISA application was an isolated incident.”
That’s an understatement.
The American people have been learning a good deal over the past four years about how political interests have influenced the country’s premier law enforcement agency.
They’ve learned a great deal how willing the mainstream media is to overlook abuses by the federal government when it involves a target liberals don’t like.
Hopefully, we’ll learn more about what actually happened in the Clinesmith case at Friday’s sentencing.
In the meanwhile, Sperry’s report is worth reading in full. It’s what every American should know.
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