The decade's most triggering comedy
The FBI’s Operation Crossfire Hurricane was tasked with investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 election, yet a major memo sent from the CIA to lead agent Peter Strzok outlining U.S. intelligence that Hillary Clinton may have hatched a plan to frame Donald Trump — which stood to dramatically alter the investigation — simply went missing, according to the blockbuster report from Special Counsel John Durham.
“In late July 2016, U.S. intelligence agencies obtained insight into Russian intelligence analysis alleging that U.S Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal against U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump by tying him to Putin and the Russians’ hacking of the Democratic National Committee,” the report said.
On September 7, 2016, the CIA wrote a “referral memo” addressed to FBI director James Comey and to the attention of Deputy Assistant Director Strzok saying as much. The information was considered so important that then-CIA Director James Brennan immediately briefed President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and Comey about it in the Situation Room. Yet not a single FBI employee working for Strzok who was interviewed by Durham could recall seeing it or doing anything with the information.
While the Russian intelligence that was intercepted could have been an “exaggeration or fabrication,” it would have rung true to the FBI agents because they suspected, correctly, that the sources that were feeding them the anti-Trump narrative were being paid by the Clinton campaign or DNC, and caused them to proceed more skeptically.
Some agents expressed “surprise and dismay” to learn from Durham that the FBI had received this intelligence but bosses had seemingly concealed it from them. “For example, the original Supervisory Special Agent on the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, Supervisory Special Agent-1, reviewed the intelligence during one of his interviews with the Office. After reading it, Supervisory Special Agent-I became visibly upset and emotional, left the interview room with his counsel, and subsequently returned to state emphatically that he had never been apprised of the Clinton Plan intelligence and had never seen the aforementioned Referral Memo. Supervisory Special Agent-1 expressed a sense of betrayal that no one had informed him of the intelligence,” Durham wrote.
Clinton’s campaign paid the law firm Perkins Coie, which in turn paid Fusion GPS, which paid dossier author Christopher Steele. Perkins Coie lawyer Michael Sussman also fed the FBI “white papers” pushing the idea that Trump was involved in a conspiracy with Russia, and billed the Clinton campaign for it, the report said.
The idea that Steele was working on a plot for Clinton — rather than being simply a retired British intelligence agent — would have answered nagging questions the investigators had, such as one’s reservation that “what was strange was that [British Intelligence Services] don’t seem to want to deal with the guy.” Another agent assigned to handle Steele said his initial reaction was “disbelief.”
Crossfire Hurricane agents regularly found themselves flummoxed by why they were being pushed aggressively by leadership brass to investigate something that seemed so weak. The agent who became “visibly upset” also said he had “felt like a fool” while investigating “dry holes,” but assumed that “somebody above them” knew of some solid evidence that he did not that guided their decision-making.
He said a colleague felt similarly and would regularly ask, “what are we even doing here?” That colleague told Deputy Assistant Director Jennifer Boone that he did not think there was justification for surveilling Trump aide Carter Page, but “he was largely ignored and directed to continue.”
After analysts determined that the case into wrongdoing by Trump associates was weak, a top FBI official gave the order that nothing should be put in writing on the case, the report said.
“A meeting was then held with Assistant Director Priestap and others. During that meeting, the review team was told to be careful about what they were writing down because issues relating to Steele were under intense scrutiny. Two weeks later, the Deputy Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, Dina Corsi, met with the review team and directed them not to document any recommendations, context, or analysis in the memorandum they were preparing. The instructions, which Headquarters Analyst-3 described as ‘highly unusual,’ concerned the team because analysis is what analysts do,” the report said.
An FBI attorney “remembered being shocked by the directive from Corsi. OGC Attorney-I’s recollection was that Corsi was speaking for FBI leadership, but that she did not say exactly who provided the directive. OGC Attorney-I advised the Office that what Corsi said was not right in any circumstance, and it was the most inappropriate operational or professional statement he had ever heard at the FBI. OGC Attorney-I stated that the directive from Corsi was ‘really, really shocking’ to him and that he was ‘appalled’ by it.”
The Steele dossier itself also went missing for 75 days between when it was received in London and when the dossier made its way to Crossfire Hurricane investigators, Durham wrote. Instead of using that time to validate its authenticity, it was dropped on their lap and they were told to quickly use it to get spy warrants, the report said. No one could explain the delay.
Not a single element of the dossier could ultimately be corroborated by its primary subsource, Igor Danchenko. Yet even as the FBI spent thousands of hours chasing rabbit holes of dubious leads and tangentially related interviews, it made no effort to interview some of the people who could have quickly gotten to the bottom of it, Durham wrote.
That includes Christopher Dolan, a prominent Democrat whose name made Danchenko and others visibly nervous, and who was likely a dossier source. It also includes George Papadapolous, whose vague comment in a London bar was used to open a full investigation instead of simply asking him what he meant, as British intelligence urged the FBI to do.
The FBI also refused to interview Carter Page despite his offer, it said.