Hillary Clinton personally signed off on the Russiagate farce to distract attention from her email scandal, according to a Russian intelligence analysis that was obtained by U.S. intelligence agencies in July 2016.
That is the bombshell allegation that National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe has just dropped on the Senate Judiciary Committee, with the first presidential debate just a few hours away and with former FBI director James Comey scheduled to testify before that Committee tomorrow morning.
Ratcliffe’s letter to Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) asserts that in late July 2016, American intelligence agencies “obtained insight” into an analysis by Russian spies, which alleged that Democratic “U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had approved a plan to stir up a scandal” against her Republican opponent, Donald Trump. The plan involved “tying [Trump] to Putin and the Russians’ hacking of the Democratic National Committee.”
Let’s put this information in context.
Mrs. Clinton was cleared of criminal charges in a July 5, 2016, press conference by then-director Comey. This prompted outrage over whether the Obama administration had distorted the criminal law applicable to mishandling classified information in order to give Clinton a pass. The email scandal would dog Clinton throughout the campaign.
On July 25, less than three weeks after the Comey press conference, the 2016 Democratic National Convention began in Philadelphia. Just three days earlier, on July 22, the hacked DNC emails began being published. By that point, former British spy Christopher Steele had been commissioned by the Clinton campaign (through a lawyer for the campaign and the DNC) to compile research tying Trump to Russia. Steele ran a London-based private intelligence business, whose clients include Russian oligarchs. Moreover, as I detailed in my column over the weekend, in compiling the dossier, Steele relied heavily on Igor Danchenko, a man the FBI investigated in 2009-10 on suspicion that he was a Russian spy.
Days after the hacked DNC emails began being published, Steele generated a dossier report alleging that Trump was in “a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” with “Russian leadership.” The “evidence of extensive conspiracy between Trump’s campaign team and [the] Kremlin,” Steele claimed, included the hacking and publication of DNC emails: “[T]the Russian regime had been behind the recent leak of embarrassing e-mail messages, emanating from the [DNC] to the WikiLeaks platform.” This “operation,” Steele maintained, “had the full knowledge and support of Trump and senior members of his campaign team.” In exchange, Trump had purportedly committed both to downplay Russian intervention in Ukraine and raise American defense commitments to NATO as campaign issues.
Further, Steele ludicrously claimed that Trump had “moles within the DNC and hackers in the US as well as outside in Russia.” On the Trump side, Steele added, the conspiracy was “managed” by Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, who was purportedly using campaign adviser Carter Page as an intermediary.
This story was absurd, through and through. As I have observed a number of times, Mrs. Clinton is not a correspondent in the DNC emails and was not harmed by them (in contrast to the emails from her own private server, which were a genuine scandal). Plainly, it would have been easy for Steele to weave this tale together from public reporting about the hacking and publication of the emails, Russia’s suspected role in it, Trump’s campaign commentary on NATO, and so on. Page and Manafort did not know each other. And note that in this same dossier report, Steele claimed Russia was using its consulate in Miami as a hub for the sinister arrangement with Trump. Russia did not have a consulate in Miami.
The FBI formally opened its Crossfire Hurricane investigation at the end of July, purportedly based on a conversation between George Papadopoulos and Australian ambassador Alexander Downer. That had occurred two months earlier. Though emails were not mentioned in the conversation, Downer claimed that media reports about the hacking of the DNC emails in July triggered his memory of cryptic remarks Papadopoulos had allegedly made when they briefly met over drinks.
Ratcliffe’s letter concedes that the U.S. intelligence community “does not know the accuracy” of the allegation that Mrs. Clinton personally orchestrated the collusion scandal; nor can our agencies say whether the Russian intelligence analysis in question is disinformation. Nevertheless, this allegation about Clinton’s role was obviously known to the Obama administration at the time. Ratcliffe elaborates that handwritten notes from former CIA director John Brennan show that Brennan
briefed President Obama and other senior national security officials” about the intelligence, including the “alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on July 26, 2016 of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisors to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services.
Thereafter, on September 7, 2016, U.S. intelligence officials are said to have forwarded to FBI director Comey and agent Peter Strzok (then the bureau’s deputy assistant director of counterintelligence) an investigative referral regarding:
U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s approval of a plan concerning U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering U.S. elections as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.
I would note that it was around this time in September that FBI headquarters took notice of the Steele dossier, parts of which had been in the bureau’s possession since early July. The dossier was used by the bureau to seek (and obtain) FISA surveillance warrants against Page on the theory that the Trump campaign was engaged in an espionage conspiracy with Russia that involved hacking DNC emails and leaking them to the media in order to harm Clinton and swing the 2016 election to Trump.
Attorney General Bill Barr provided information about Danchenko to Senator Graham last week. He has signaled U.S. intelligence community concern that the Steele dossier was used by Russia to feed disinformation to the U.S. government. This is among the matters being explored in Connecticut U.S. attorney John Durham’s probe of the Trump-Russia investigation. Given Steele’s reliance on Danchenko, as well as Steele’s Russian oligarch clients (the latter caused State Department intelligence officials to believe Steele had long been peddling Kremlin-influenced information), the Russian government may have had various ways to know what Steele was up to. Russian intelligence may well have known that Steele, on Clinton’s behalf, was running anti-Trump research project in July 2016, which had attributed the publication of the hacked DNC emails to a Trump-Russia conspiracy.
Director Ratcliffe closes his letter by explaining that there is other related intelligence that remains classified. While public disclosure is being contemplated, he has offered Senator Graham a classified briefing.
And now, onto tonight’s debate, and tomorrow’s hearing . . .