If John LeCarre’s later novels seem to have taken a more polemic tone than his byzantine earlier tales of espionage and treachery, maybe it’s because writers of spy thrillers, like practitioners of political parody and satire, find themselves ever more unable to stay ahead of reality. The subject of Russian interference in the 2016 American Presidential election is a case in point.
A short history of the subject appeared here on April 15 in A Primer: the Election, the Russians, Spies & Leaks In the summer of 2016 the FBI quietly began investigating Russian actions in connection with our Presidential election. After the unexpected Trump victory, leaks from Obama administration officials about the investigation began to appear in the news, along with the suggestions that there may have been “collusion” by the Trump campaign with the Russian activities. See Did the Russians Hack to Help Trump? So what? Democrats seized on the leaks as a way to explain the stunning electoral upset and try to delegitimize Trump as President. A long series of leaks and Trump blunders ultimate resulted in the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. See Comey’s Revenge.
There is no doubt at this point that the Russians were active in the election. Using entities that President Putin claims were “patriotic” but independent of his control, the Russians hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and delivered them to Wikileaks which leaked them. The Russians also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on social media advertising and spread false news stories on social media by the use of “bots.”
Unless the Russians knew more than nearly all American political analysts, it seems likely their efforts were intended not to elect Donald Trump but to damage Mrs. Clinton, the nearly certain winner and sow unrest among the American electorate about the legitimacy of the election process. In the latter, they have succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.
Although the FBI investigation of Russian interference, which has morphed into one by Special Prosecutor Mueller, has been going on for well over a year and investigations of the same subject and related ones by House and Senate Intelligence Committees have been ongoing since the session started in January, there have been no indictments or reports of results, even interim reports let alone final ones. Our information has been confined to news stories based upon leaks which seem to be treated the same as sworn testimony.
The excitement of the #NeverTrump folks has diminished as no evidence has been developed suggesting collusion between the Russian campaign and the Trump campaign. Instead current reports are suggesting possible collusion between the Russians and the Clinton campaign. Other Russian intelligence activities may have influenced FBI Director Comey’s decision to preempt the Attorney General and stop the Clinton private email server investigation which might actually have had an effect on the election.
The latest reports in the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post come not from the usual “former national security officials” or “committee sources” but an even more opaquely named “person familiar with the matter.” These concern the activities of an opposition research firm called Fusion GPS which produced the infamous “Trump Dossier” of which you might have read in CNN’s “Fake News”, published here ten months ago on January 11.
The Trump Dossier was unsubstantiated then and there has been nothing developed since to show it was not invented. What has been discovered recently, however, is the fact that the Trump Dossier was produced for the Clinton campaign which then pushed it into the Obama administration national security apparatus including the FBI.
The fact that Fusion GPS was founded in 2011 by former Wall Street Journal reporters gives no clue to it’s political leanings, if any, as the ideological divide between the Wall Street Journal’s reporters and its editorial staff is well known. The first known Fusion GPS “research” into Donald Trump was initiated by one of his Republican primary campaign opponents. That opponent’s present anonymity is unlikely to last long.
In April of 2016 when the primary opponent no longer had use for its research services Fusion GPS peddled them to the other obvious customer, the Clinton campaign. To conceal its involvement with Fusion GPS, the campaign had its attorney, Marc Elias of Perkins Cole, hire Fusion GPS to investigate Trump. Those expenses were thus concealed on the campaign’s financial reports to the Federal Election Commission in payments of $12.4 million to the law firm for “legal” and “compliance” services.
Only upon starting work for the Clinton campaign, did Fusion GPS hire a sketchy former British MI-6 operative, Christopher Steele, to investigate Trump in Russia. Steele produced a report of gossip from Moscow cafes suggesting that the FSB had video of Trump cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room which they might use to blackmail him. There is still nothing to substantiate the British operative’s report from unknown Russian sources about what was no more than gossip, if indeed they heard it at all. Certainly President Assad of Syria would testify that the Russians do not seem to have had any success blackmailing Trump to do their bidding.
Even the campaign did not try to leak such dubious material to the media during the campaign or at least none of the pro-Clinton media were willing to bite. With its connections to the Obama administration though, the Clinton campaign was able to get the Trump Dossier taken up by the national security apparatus, including the FBI, which may have used it to get wiretap authorizations from the FISA Court, resulting in the recording of conversations with Trump campaign and transition officials. American parties to these conversations were then “unmasked” by Obama administration officials including some 260 by Obama’s UN Ambassador Samantha Power. Power has testified that many of the unmasking requests in her name were actually made by others. The unmasked identities were often then leaked to the media.
National Security Director James Clapper had the Trump Dossier added as an appendix to the holy of intelligence holies, the daily Presidential briefing. The same briefing was given by Clapper to President-elect Trump. The status of the Clinton Dossier as included in the briefing was a sufficient basis for CNN to run with a leak of that fact, despite the its still questionable veracity. Again this was all reported ten months ago in CNN’s “Fake News”, but the source of the Trump Dossier was not yet known. Clapper has emerged as a frequent source of anti-Trump comment and is a likely suspect for both inclusion of the Trump Dossier in the Presidential daily briefing given to President-Elect Trump and leaking it to the media.
When Donald Trump’s son and son-in-law sat in on a meeting with a Russian lawyer, organized by, get this, another dodgy Briton who promised derogatory information about Mrs. Clinton from the Russian, many Democrats demanded a Special Prosecutor. Many Republicans, on the other hand, dismissed the meeting as routine opposition research. It will be interesting to see how the same people react to the Clinton campaign hiring a Briton to get negative information about Trump from Moscow.
It is hard to tell if Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating all this. Certainly the relevant house committees are pursuing it. Representatives of Fusion GPS took the 5th Amendment when called to testify. Fusion GPS went to court in an effort to forestall a House committee subpoena of Fusion GPS’s bank records. Only in that case was a letter produced from the Perkins Cole law firm authorizing Fusion GPS to reveal its identity as the party hiring Fusion GPS.
There are also new developments in the investigation of another connection between the Mrs. Clinton and Russians arises. The Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, while Mrs. Clinton was Secretary of State and a member of the committee, approved the sale of Uranium One, a Canadian company controlling 20% of the United States’ uranium production to Rosatom, the Russian Nuclear energy agency. After the purchase but before it was approved, millions of dollars were donated by investors in Uranium One to the Clinton Foundation. These donations were not disclosed by the Clinton Foundation, in spite of Secretary Clinton’s promise to President Obama upon her appointment to disclose all donors to the Clinton Foundation. When the donors were outed, the Clinton Foundation stated it had “made mistakes.” During the same time period. Bill Clinton received a half a million dollars for speaking at a business conference organized by a company with ties to the Russian government.
This information was largely revealed in “Clinton Cash,” a 2015 book and the New York Times which verified and expanded upon the facts in the book. Secretary Clinton vehemently denies there is any connection between her committee’s approval and the donations and speaking fees.
The development this week is the revelation of an FBI informant who was operating undercover gathering intelligence about the Russian nuclear industry’s efforts in the United States. The informant’s work resulted in a bribery conviction that was not revealed by the FBI to the officials considering the approval of the sale. The Justice Department had paid the informant who was bound by a non-disclosure agreement from revealing his knowledge to Congress.
This week the Justice Department released him from that agreement. His lawyer says he will testify regarding his work “uncovering the Russian nuclear bribery case and the efforts he witnessed by Moscow to gain influence with (former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) in hopes of winning favorable uranium decisions from the Obama administration.”
Former FBI Director James Comey, it will be recalled, intervened massively in the election by preempting Attorney General Lynch and announcing that Secretary Clinton would not be prosecuted for her use of a private email server for classified State Department documents. As reported here in Hillary skates again:
Comey summarized “Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” (Italics added)
Earlier, Comey had pointed out that one Espionage statute makes it a felony to “to mishandle classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way.” (Italics mine) Another makes it a misdemeanor to “knowingly remove classified information from appropriate systems or storage facilities.”
The Washington Post has reported that Comey took this action based upon a Russian intelligence document that his colleagues suspected was a Russian plant. CNN later reported that Comey actually knew the document was fake but seized on it as a reason to act anyway.
If the House committees investigating this confirms it, there will be evidence that Comey was influenced by Russian intelligence to have a much greater effect on the election than a few hundred thousand dollars of advertising in social media. After all, did you ever hear of anybody changing their mind on a political issue because of something they read on Facebook?
The Russian “collusion” investigation may be taking a very funny bounce, indeed, biting the, uh, hand of those who ginned it up.