This morning the President of the United States accused this nation’s own Federal Bureau of Investigation of colluding with Russian intelligence against him. That is no small thing. It is also not, despite what a lot of Twitter people are saying, what Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Senator Chuck Grassley has alleged in his investigation of the matter.
That’s right, it is NOT what Grassley alleged. But first, let’s establish exactly what the President, and his supporters, are suggesting. Here is Trump’s tweet from this morning.
Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 19, 2017
“Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)” … That’s the President suggesting that the FBI may have worked with Russia to pay for the infamous and dubious Trump dossier created by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele.
The Washington Post has extensive coverage of this, and were the first to report on an FBI plan to pay Christopher Steele for his work. A plan that was not followed-through on according to that same report. That plan has been the subject of inquiry by Sen. Grassley. Here is a description from the Post:
The former British spy who authored a controversial dossier on behalf of Donald Trump’s political opponents alleging ties between Trump and Russia reached an agreement with the FBI a few weeks before the election for the bureau to pay him to continue his work, according to several people familiar with the arrangement.
According to the Post, the FBI had reached an agreement weeks before Election Day with former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to continue his investigation into ties between Trump and the Russian government. Steele’s earlier work had been bankrolled by Trump’s political opponents and was made public during the presidential transition period when BuzzFeed published the dossier of unverified information in full, after CNN reported that it existed.
From Sen. Grassley’s letter to James Comey, dated March 28, 2017:
According to public reports, the FBI agreed to pay the author of the unsubstantiated dossier alleging a conspiracy between Trump associates and the Russians. It reportedly agreed to pay the author, Christopher Steele, to continue investigating Mr. Trump. Clinton associates reportedly paid Mr. Steele to create this political opposition research dossier against Mr. Trump. The FBI has failed to publicly reply to my March 6 letter asking about those reports. That leaves serious questions about the FBI’s independence from politics unanswered.
(It’s worth noting the letter mainly focused on the impartiality of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who is married to a Clinton associate.)
In the letter, Grassley posed 12 questions for Comey regarding the Trump-Russia investigation. Sen. Grassley was deeply troubled and earnestly investigating the issue, by every Republican account of things, and in all 12 questions he focused on McCabe and not the payment to Steele.
In each of the above cases, note that the payment to Steele was to be to “continue his work” supposedly investigating ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Not paying for the dossier. That is not a minor distinction.
Here is an excerpt from a subsquent letter from Sen. Grassley after the FBI apparently stonewalled him for a month on providing answers. This one is dated April 28, 2017:
There appear to be material inconsistencies between the description of the FBI’s relationship with Mr. Steele that you did provide in your briefing and information contained in Justice Department documents made available to the Committee only after the briefing. Whether those inconsistencies Director Comey were honest mistakes or an attempt to downplay the actual extent of the FBI’s relationship with Mr. Steele, it is essential that the FBI fully answer all of the questions from the March 6 letter and provide all the requested documents in order to resolve these and related issues.
Also, more information has since come to the Committee’s attention about the company overseeing the creation of the dossier, Fusion GPS. Namely, Fusion GPS is the subject of a complaint to the Justice Department, which alleges that the company violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by working on behalf of Russian principals to undermine U.S. sanctions against Russians. That unregistered work was reportedly conducted with a former Russian intelligence operative, Mr. Rinat Akhmetshin, and appears to have been occurring simultaneous to Fusion GPS’s work overseeing the creation of the dossier. I wrote to the Justice Department about this issue on March 31, copying you, and I have attached that letter here for your reference. The Justice Department has yet to respond.
Now this is important, because conflation is what we are seeing on Twitter and Trump-friendly blogs this morning. Using one fact to suggest another, implying things that aren’t actually proved or even alleged, and suggesting that one thing being so means another thing is so, even when that is not the case. RedState would rather be accurate.
Here is the important bit: Sen. Grassley is correctly upset and correctly pressing the FBI on the issue of their investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia and whether this was a task undertaken for partisan gain at the direction of President Obama and on behalf of the Clintons. That doesn’t mean he is, or should be, accusing the FBI of what is basically treasonous collusion with foreign intelligence against the United States. Trump and his supporters are, though.
Note this telling question from the latest letter, this time from Grassley to current FBI Director Christopher Wray, dated October 6, 2017. About two weeks ago.
Media reports have also claimed that foreign governments passed along information to the United States about purported contacts between Trump associates and Russians. Given that Mr. Steele also distributed the dossier’s contents to at least one foreign government, it is possible that this political dossier’s collusion allegations, or related allegations originating via Mr. Steele, may have also been surreptitiously funneled into U.S. intelligence streams through foreign intelligence sharing. If so, that foreign information would likely have ended up within the FBI’s investigation of allegations of collusion between Trump associates and Russia. However, given that foreign intelligence agencies carefully guard their sources and methods, it may not have been clear to the FBI that the foreign reporting was actually based on the work of Mr. Steele and Fusion GPS.
In other words, there is some question as to whether the dossier was used in isolation, if any foreign “confirmation” was simply other agencies being given the same dossier from the same person, or whether there was in fact corroborating evidence from other intelligence agencies for which Fusion GPS and Steele were not the source. A valid concern, and again, not remotely asking the FBI if they colluded with Russia or suggesting that they did.
The question of whether Fusion GPS was working for Russian intelligence is very important. Anyone who has ever suggested or believed that Russia was attempting to influence our elections should care about the answers to these questions, because Russia funding a disinformation campaign against a candidate would be interfering with the election. Obviously.
But that doesn’t mean that the FBI paying for “continued” research from someone who was previously paid by someone who may have been previously paid by Russia is the FBI working with Russia, and that is not what the investigation suggests.
But it is what President Trump and his supporters suggest. I hesitated to include this but … from The Federalist‘s Sean Davis.
Whether the intel in the dossier is paid-for “propaganda” is not, actually, a settled issue. But even accepting the premise that it is, Sen. Grassley has repeated several times the allegation that Fusion paid for the dossier, not Comey or the FBI. The FBI did have a plan to pay the creator of the report to “continue” his supposed investigation, but that plan was never realized. Neither committee has alleged that the United States paid for Russian propaganda, and are not inquiring at this time whether the FBI paid for Russian propaganda. That’s simply not what is going on.
Moreover, the question of intent is equally of paramount importance, particularly in establishing whether or not something was treasonous, and that has not remotely been established, despite the Tweeted implications otherwise. Even if the motive of McCabe or Comey was to discredit Trump, that is a far cry from an intent to solicit Russia’s interference in an election, or even to collude with their agents for intel. Besides which, investigation itself is not necessarily incriminating, even if it is suspicious. Investigations are also used to discredit things, not just to confirm them.
If this dossier had been about the Clintons, investigating it would be a no-brainer from the point of view of those who would damn the FBI in the case of Trump. In fact, they are currently insisting on further investigation into allegations about the Clintons and Russia as we speak. Did the FBI even suspect that the report from Steele was work-product of foreign intelligence? Keep in mind, we don’t know yet if it even WAS from Russian intelligence, only that Fusion GPS is alleged to have paid for or overseen the creation of the dossier while simultaneously doing other work for Russian interests, as noted in the above excerpt from Sen. Grassley’s letter. Does that make the FBI guilty of “collusion”? Hardly.
But literal collusion with Russia is what is today being suggested. Actual, active collusion by the FBI with Russian attempts to subvert American democracy. See right here:
I have no problem with Sean and I don’t require that we agree on everything. I hope the feeling is mutual because I profoundly disagree with this take. I think this was irresponsible on Trump’s part, and I have to say I think the same thing about Sean’s tweet.
This latest news cycle was spurred when the Fusion GPS honchos plead the Fifth with regard to testifying before Rep. Devin Nunes and the House Intelligence Committee, and stated that they would not answer any questions at all. This after months of the FBI refusing to hand over documents subpoenaed by the committee.
There are very serious questions that must be answered. The key, most operative question, for which there is still no answer, is whether and to what extent the existence of the dossier and the supposed intel in it were the basis for the investigation into Trump’s connections with Russia, or even used as literal evidence before the FISA court to obtain warrants (which sources have suggested but which, as far as we can tell, has not been confirmed). It should be noted that this is not a question of whether the entire idea of Russia interfering in the election was based on the report, but only whether the investigation into Trump associates was based on it. It is already a matter of record that the FBI was investigating Russian election interference, both in Europe and here at home, prior to the dossier.
Other serious questions are whether indeed Deputy Director McCabe was compromised by the Clintons, whether the Obama White House was pressing a political ploy through the use of the FBI, and whether at this point any part of the information compiled by Steele is still being used in the ongoing investigation.
Note the word seriously. Because what is NOT a serious effort is Trump tweeting that the FBI may have deliberately colluded with foreign intelligence to subvert an American election. Because that is not being alleged or investigated. Comey is not suspected or accused of conspiring with Russia by anyone but the many Trumpists tweeting that accusation Thursday morning.
Collusion is a strong word. And that is the word that both detractors and supporters of President Trump’s tweet this morning are using to describe what he, the President, is alleging about the FBI. I have previously strongly cautioned about using the word collusion against the President. I say the same now about the FBI. Additionally, it is all the more serious a charge when it is being made by our own President about our own police, enforcement, and intelligence services.
Don’t, in other words, say “the FBI acted stupidly” from the Oval Office.
And you know it’s pretty not great to do it on Twitter, either. Whether you’re the President or not.
Oh wait, I forgot the other important question.
Why isn’t the President forcing the FBI to comply instead of tweeting? Why doesn’t he insist on a briefing by the FBI, with the full and total disclosure of whatever information can appropriately be disclosed, to include the documents the House is seeking access to?
Why are Attorney General Sessions, and FBI Director Wray, both Trump appointees, allowing this to continue? They are leaving this as a feud between the FBI and Devin Nunes, and between the FBI and Sen. Grassley. That seems like a pretty good question to me.
For the record, we have emailed Sen. Grassley’s office asking if he has or does allege that the FBI colluded with Russia, and whether that is an accusation he affirms or signs on to, but have not heard back at the time of this posting. Should that change we will update this story. Below is his most damning commentary that we’ve found, as reported by Politico:
The idea that the FBI and associates of the Clinton campaign would pay Mr. Steele to investigate the Republican nominee for President in the run-up to the election raises substantial questions about the FBI’s independence from politics, as well as the Obama administration’s use of law enforcement and intelligence agencies for political ends,” Grassley wrote. “It is additionally troubling that the FBI reportedly agreed to such an arrangement given that, in January of 2017, [former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper] issued a statement stating that ‘the [intelligence community] has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions.