Politics & Policy

Colluders on the Loose

FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, January 10, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Comey, McCabe, Clapper, Brennan, Lynch, Andrew Weissmann, Bruce and Nellie Ohr, Harry Reid, Samantha Power, Clinton attorney Jeannie Rhee . . .

If collusion is the twin of conspiracy, then there are lots of colluders running around Washington.

Robert Mueller was tasked to find evidence of Trump and Russia collusion that might have warped the 2016 campaign and thrown the election to Trump. After a year, his investigation has found no concrete evidence of collusion. So it has often turned to other purported Trump misadventures. Ironically, collusion of all sorts — illegal, barely legal, and simply unethical — has been the sea that Washington fish always swim in.

Christopher Steele, hired by the Hillary Clinton campaign through a series of firewall intermediaries, probably paid Russian sources for gossip and smears. If there is a crime of collusion, then Clinton-campaign contractors should be under investigation for seeking Russian help to find dirt on Trump, to spread smears around throughout the DOJ, FBI, and CIA, and to make sure that the dirt was leaked to the press in the final weeks of the campaign — for the sole “insurance” purposes of losing Trump the election.

Some sort of collusion likely occurred when the Obama DOJ and FBI sought FISA-court requests to surveille Carter Page and, indirectly, possibly many other members of the Trump campaign. On repeated occasions, they all made sure the FISA-court judges were not apprised that the Steele dossier, the chief basis for these requests, was paid for by the Clinton campaign, that the dossier was not verified by the FBI, that the dossier was the source of media stories that in circular fashion were used to convince the FISA judges to grant the surveillance requests, and that the FBI had severed relations with Steele on the basis of his unreliability. Such a collusion of silence was similar to James Comey’s admission that he apprised President Trump of every iota of lurid sexual gossip about him — except that his source was a dossier paid for by Hillary Clinton and written by a campaign operative hired to find dirt on Trump and who had been working with Comey’s FBI to get FISA approval to spy on Trump’s own aides.

Apparently, a number of government officials must have been in cahoots to get all their stories and agendas straight ahead of time. They certainly agreed on talking points to keep embarrassing facts from FISA judges, and they did so on a number of occasions. Does that behavior fall under the definition of some sort of colluding obstruction?

Who set up the ruse in which an FBI director types up confidential notes of a meeting with the president and passes them to a friend to ensure a firewall conduit to the press, to publish as a “leak” from an “unidentified source” to damage the reputation of the president? All that would require a degree of collusion to leak a classified FBI document that is so sensitive that House Intelligence Committee members with security clearances cannot see what the media and a personal friend of Comey’s already have.

James Comey himself was quite a colluder. Somehow, he managed to mislead Congress by assuring them that he had not written his assessment of Hillary Clinton before he interviewed her and supposedly had not been the source of or approved leaks to the media. He has contradicted what both Loretta Lynch and Andrew McCabe have said. He has deliberately misled a FISA court by withholding information from it, vital to any evaluation of the veracity of his writ. He probably lied when he was messaging the media that Trump was under investigation while simultaneously assuring Trump in person that he was not. He has admitted that he warped an FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server because he assumed she’d win the presidency — an admission of politicized interference into a criminal investigation, if not a blatant confession that the FBI in felonious fashion was manipulating investigatory evidence to affect the outcome of a U.S. election. For Comey to escape legal exposure from all that required some sort of colluding help in high places.

Former attorney general Loretta Lynch seems to have been involved in all sorts of collusion. Given that there are more than 5,000 airports in the United States, two jets — one carrying the attorney general, the other the ex-president and spouse of a presidential candidate of the same shared party currently under investigation by Attorney General Lynch — do not just accidentally bump into each other on the tarmac of the Phoenix airport. There was no more chance of that than of investing $1,000 in cattle futures and reaping a $100,000 profit ten months later. And after elevating the FBI director from investigator to prosecutor with the final say on whether to prosecute Hillary Clinton, why was the supposedly quasi-recused Lynch then quibbling over the vocabulary of Comey’s report on Clinton?

Imagine the following possible ethical collusion. What if both ABC News and CBS News were now running mostly favorable news accounts about Donald Trump’s administration, rather than the media’s 90 percent (on average) negative coverage. And imagine that one of Donald Trump’s chief advisers and a deputy national-security adviser was the brother of the current CBS News president, while the sister of the ABC News president was another one of Trump’s top national- security and energy advisers.

What would the media say of such apparent incestuousness that involved two-thirds of the networks’ nightly newscasts? Yet that was precisely the case of the Rhodes and the Sherwood siblings during the Obama administration.

Speaking of journalistic ethics, what would the media make of a conservative JournoList that shared strategies among top reporters about how to deal with Trump critics, or a conservative WikiLeaks trove, in which journalists communicated frequently with the Trump campaign and ran their stories by it for pre-published “fact checking”? Would the media dub that unethical collusion?

How exactly did the media get wind of the scurrilous Steele dossier in the closing days of the U.S. campaign? And who exactly knew of its contents — James Comey and his FBI hierarchy, CIA director John Brennan, Senator Harry Reid, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper — and who in government colluded with the media to disseminate such unproven data with the expressed intent of warping an ongoing U.S. election?

If one wished to dream up a colluding investigatory team, one could have done no better than Robert Mueller’s special-counsel investigators and other top DOJ and FBI officials.

The public for much of 2016 was not told that the chief investigator of the Clinton email scandal, Andrew McCabe, since cited for serial untruthfulness, was the spouse of a political candidate who had earlier received nearly $700,000 (40 percent of all money raised for her campaign) from Clinton-related campaign-funding committees.

Why didn’t Mueller simply tell the public when and why Lisa Page and Peter Strzok left his investigation team?

Former Trump-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Trump’s daughter Ivanka, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, had also been represented by attorneys from the legal firm WilmerHale, Mueller’s old firm, which supplied a number of counselors to the Mueller team. At least seven of Mueller’s team were known to have contributed money to the Democratic party or Hillary Clinton or both.

Andrew Weissmann, yet another former partner at WilmerHale and a Mueller investigator, had emailed applause to Obama DOJ holdover Sally Yates when she had tried to block the immigration moratorium issued by her then boss, President Trump. Like others on Mueller’s team, Weissmann was a donor to Democratic causes and an admitted Hillary Clinton partisan. And Sally Yates co-signed one of the FISA-court requests to surveille Trump campaign associates, and she also did not disclose to the court the full provenance of the Steele dossier.

Another Obama holdover, Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce G. Ohr, met with the architects of the Fusion GPS dossier. Ohr apparently did not disclose that meeting to his superiors. His wife, a Russia expert, had been hired by Fusion GPS to help find damaging information about Donald Trump. Ohr deliberately — and probably unlawfully — hid that fact on a federal disclosure form. Who thought up that trick?

How much collusion was necessary to coordinate destroying 30,000 emails, smashing hard drives, and finding the proper Washington counsel to ensure that the now-quite-incestuous FBI never charged the perpetrators with a federal crime?

Another Washington couple, Shailagh Murray and Neil King Jr., were involved, respectively, in the Obama administration and the Fusion GPS opposition-research firm. Murray was an Obama-administration policy adviser who had once been deputy chief of staff and communications director for Vice President Joe Biden. She is married to Neil King Jr., who, like the wife of Bruce Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS. Why were there so many Obama appointees with some sort of ties to Fusion GPS?

In the small world of Washington legal and political circles, Mueller investigator Aaron Zebley was Mueller’s chief of staff while Mueller was FBI director, and he was yet another former partner at WilmerHale. Zebley had recently represented Justin Cooper. Cooper, remember, testified that he had set up Hillary Clinton’s private server and then used a hammer to destroy some of her mobile devices, leaving the FBI unable to acquire them during its investigation. Clinton’s email server — the domain clintonemail.com — was registered to Cooper himself while Clinton was secretary of state. How much collusion was necessary to coordinate destroying 30,000 emails, smashing hard drives, and finding the proper Washington counsel to ensure that the now-quite-incestuous FBI never charged the perpetrators with a federal crime?

Why, after the election, did Samantha Power request surveillance of Trump campaign aides, and why was she allowed to have their names unmasked, and how did those names get leaked to the press?

Another member of Mueller’s special-counsel team, Jeannie Rhee, was also a WilmerHale alumna. She was another significant donor to the Clinton-campaign effort. And she was another Mueller attorney who had represented someone deeply involved in a recent Clinton scandal. She had recently represented not only the Clinton Foundation but also Obama deputy national-security adviser Ben Rhodes during the investigation of the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack and Clinton’s role in creating the conditions for that attack and then covering it up after the fact. Was Rhee representing the Clinton Foundation while some of her present associates at the DOJ and FBI were once supposedly investigating it? What were the best criteria to get on the Mueller team? To have worked in his law firm, to have donated to the Clinton campaign, or to have represented a Clinton concern under investigation?

Why, after the election, did Samantha Power request surveillance of Trump campaign aides, and why was she allowed to have their names unmasked, and how did those names get leaked to the press? Does an outgoing ambassador to the United Nations usually concern herself with the intelligence agencies’ surveillance of a past presidential campaign? Would she have made those requests if Trump had lost? Who organized the various requests to view FISA-ordered surveillance, and who complied with the unmasking requests? Did all that require some degree of collusion?

After the defeat of Hillary Clinton, Obama holdover Evelyn Farkas, a former assistant deputy secretary of defense, spilled the collusion beans on MSNBC’s Morning Joe:

I was urging my former colleagues and — and frankly speaking, the people on the Hill, it was more actually aimed — aimed at telling the Hill people, “Get as much information as you can, get as much intelligence as you can before President Obama leaves the administration.” Because, I had a fear that somehow that information would disappear with the senior people who left. So, it would be hidden away in the bureaucracy that the Trump folks, the Trump folks, if they found out how we knew what we knew about their, the staff, the Trump staff’s dealing with Russians, that they would try to compromise those sources and methods, meaning we would no longer have access to that intelligence. So, I became very worried, because not enough was coming out into the open, and I knew that there was more. We have very good intelligence on Russia. So, then I had talked to some of my former colleagues, and I knew that they were trying to also help get information to the Hill.

What exactly does she mean by “if they found out how we know what we knew about their, the staff”? Ms. Farkas, exactly what, how, and when did you folks find out or “know” about the Trump staff?

Who told Farkas to get her “former colleagues” to help thwart the incoming president?

Was Farkas part of a larger last-minute Obama-administration collusion meant to ensure that improperly gathered and unmasked intelligence was as widely disseminated as possible in the holdover government? Why did the Obama administration wait until the very last days of its more than 2,900 days in power to vastly expand the National Security Agency’s ability to share information with 16 other intelligence agencies? Like Farkas’s effort, was that collusion meant to ensure that anything that turned up on Trump would be widely shared and thus widely leaked?

In sum, Washington lives by and for collusion. Always has. Until now, it was apparently just a creed, not a crime.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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