‘Descent into hell’: Comey still hasn’t said who authorized FBI investigation of Trump campaign

by WorldTribune Staff, March 11, 2020

On March 20, 2017, then-FBI Director James Comey gave electrifying testimony before Congress, saying that the entire 2016 Trump campaign was facing investigation for “any links” to the Russian government.

Comey did not disclose who in the Department of Justice authorized his March 20 declaration. He does not make the disclosure in his memoir either.

James Comey testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on March 20, 2017. / Reuters / File

“What followed March 20 for Trump allies was two years of FBI door-knocks and Form 302 interview reports, grand jury testimony, congressional interrogations, intense and threat-filled sessions with federal prosecutors, and huge legal bills,” Rowan Scarborough noted in a March 10 analysis for The Washington Times.

The Comey decree before Congress gave Russia-hungry Washington media even more license to scrutinize any Trump ally.

“To our family, Comey’s March 20, 2017, House intelligence appearance signaled the beginning of a descent into Hell,” said Michael Caputo, a media adviser to the Trump team who went through the FBI-Congress crucible.

“As an unintentional expert on the topic, I know only one thing for sure: We’ll never know the full story from this FBI.”

Caputo was never accused of a crime. His targeting as part of the FBI’s investigation appears to stem from his previous work in Russia and associations with Republican operatives Paul Manafort, business partner Rick Gates, and Roger Stone.

“The rogue FBI wanted to get to Donald Trump by any means necessary. And for a time, early on, I may have looked like a path to him via Stone, Gates and Manafort,” Caputo told the Washington Times.

J.D. Gordon, a national security adviser to the Trump campaign, said he underwent hours of FBI questioning over his role in writing the 2016 Republican platform, in particular the language on Ukraine. He viewed the plan as commonplace compromise, not a Russian plot. He was never charged.

“James Comey has been around Washington long enough to know there are three primary ways to destroy people: physically, legally and politically,” Gordon told the Washington Times. “His congressional testimony in March 2017 inflicted maximum political damage against the president and his team through sparking a media witch hunt against scores of people, regardless of their innocence or guilt.”

Meanwhile, two major reports from the DOJ have not provided answers about the origins of the hoax investigation. Trump associates are looking to special investigator John Durham. Attorney General William Barr assigned Durham to find out why a no-evidence inquiry penetrated so many lives. By early 2017, before Comey’s pronouncement, the FBI investigation had “collapsed,” Barr said.

“There have been two expansive Justice Department reports on Trump-Russia, but neither fully answers why the investigation grew at a time when Barr contends it collapsed,” Scarborough wrote.

Kevin Downing, defense attorney for Manafort, said his client never should have been placed into the orbit of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Mueller was assigned the task of exploring links between Trump and Russia, but Manafort ended up being convicted of tax evasion for money he received from a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine and was sent to a federal prison. A tax case had already been opened inside the DOJ.

“From the beginning of the case, there was really nothing that was being produced to us from prosecutors that had anything to do with any coordination with the Russian government,” Downing said. “We just said, ‘There’s nothing here.’ He really should not have been prosecuted by the special counsel’s office if the mission was what they said it was.”

What the public record does show, Scarborough noted, is “one tumultuous event inside Crossfire Hurricane, between mid-August and March 20, that changed American history.”

The Horowitz report documents that on Sept. 19, 2016, lead agent Peter Strzok, a Trump detractor, received the first memos contained in the infamous Christopher Steele dossier.

As Strzok and other agents read the memos, they saw Steele’s bombshell allegation: a widespread election conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump was in the middle of it and was a Kremlin spy, Steele wrote.

The FBI began chasing Steele’s theories.

Yet the public record, according to Scarborough’s analysis, seems devoid of any testimony that shows how the dossier affected FBI attitudes toward Trump and his allies. Did they view the president as a Russian spy, as Steele alleged, right from the start?

Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, tried to get an answer to that question at a June 2018 hearing at which Comey, who a year earlier had been fired by Trump, testified.

Burr: “And when you read the dossier, what was your reaction, given that it was 100 percent directed at the president-elect?”

Comey: “Not a question I can answer in an open setting, Mr. Chairman.”

Immediately after Trump fired Comey in May 2017, then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe opened a counterintelligence investigation into the president.

In February 2019, McCabe suggested on “60 Minutes” that Trump might have been a Russian agent — the same claim made by Steele.

Mueller had completed his report at the time. When it was released a month later, it made no mention of Trump being any kind of Russian asset.

After the dossier arrived from the New York field office to Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI embraced it.

Agents used it as the essential piece of evidence to obtain four wiretap warrants on Carter Page and even withheld evidence to the contrary, according to the Horowitz report. They did not tell the DOJ when they found out as early as January 2017 that Steele’s main source for the dossier said he was just repeating Kremlin gossip. That lack of disclosure kept it out of the surveillance affidavits submitted to judges.

FBI agents told DOJ affidavit writers that Steele had testified in U.S. criminal cases. He had not.

“But the FBI remained committed to the dossier and even offered Steele $50,000 in October 2016 to keep investigating Trump,” Scarborough noted.

Comey and McCabe also encouraged other agencies to include the Steele papers in the official intelligence assessment on Russian interference. The others refused.

The Washington Times examined witness transcripts, court records and official reports, Scarborough reported. It concluded that the only evidence of a conspiracy was the Democratic Party-funded dossier. Outside the dossier, there were no emails, text messages, testimony, whistleblowers or communication intercepts that told of a Trump-Kremlin conspiracy.

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