FBI investigation of Trump, Russia dossier in third year
Two years ago on July 31, 2016, the FBI took the momentous step of opening a counterintelligence investigation into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Today, it shows no signs of ending.
FBI agent Peter Strzok, who displayed an intense dislike for Mr. Trump in text messages to his lover, started the investigation based on hearsay from an Australian diplomat who shared a drink in London with Trump campaign volunteer George Papadopoulos.
To date, after wiretaps and multiple interrogations, no Trump person has been charged for the reason the investigation started: Did the campaign coordinate with Moscow to interfere in the election?
The drink in London may have started the inquiry, but it was the Democratic Party-orchestrated dossier that would fuel it with an unsubstantiated tale of an “extensive conspiracy” between Mr. Trump and the Kremlin.
Dossier author Christopher Steele, like Mr. Strzok, privately expressed a strong dislike of Mr. Trump so strong that the former British spy hoped his gossipy memos would end the candidacy.
Mr. Strzok’s team used the dossier to obtain a yearlong wiretap on another volunteer, Carter Page, that allowed them to spy on electronic communications during and after the campaign.
The dossier’s influence went further. It became the FBI’s template for whom to interview and what questions to ask.
Then-FBI Director James B. Comey told ABC News during his book tour: “This guy [Steele], who’s credible, says these things are true. OK. That means we should try and replicate that work to see if we can develop the same sources.”
Said J.D. Gordon, who has become an unofficial spokesman for fellow campaign workers who went through a long inquisition: “As a person who always supported law enforcement agencies 100 percent, it’s profoundly disappointing to learn how some key leaders have stealthily waged a two-year, scorched-earth campaign against political figures they dislike merely based on rumor, innuendo and erroneous media reports.”
Since that last day in July 2016, the Justice Department investigation has grown far wider and more complex than when Mr. Strzok began looking at Russian computer hacking.
A status report
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed special counsel Robert Mueller in May 2017 to pick up the Russia investigation midstream after Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey.
Mr. Mueller’s agenda goes beyond the election to look at suspected obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump, including, The New York Times says, his ubiquitous tweets that often attack the special counsel’s Democrat-heavy staff attorneys. Mr. Mueller also is looking at Russian influence during the presidential transition and inauguration.
The two indictments brought against Russian hackers and social media disruptors did not charge Trump associates.
After two years, not one of Mr. Steele’s eight major collusion charges has been proved publicly.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort goes on trial Tuesday in Alexandria, Virginia, to face federal tax and bank fraud charges.
The Manafort matter has been overseen by Mr. Mueller’s top gun, Andrew Weissmann, who gained fame going after Mafia soldiers and Enron executives. He is a Democratic Party donor who attended what was supposed to have been Hillary Clinton’s election night victory party in New York.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, who will oversee the Manafort trial, said in a ruling that “even a blind person” can see that Mr. Mueller is targeting Mr. Manafort as a way to force him to cough up evidence against the president.
Mr. Manafort faces separate money laundering charges in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. His troubles stem from huge amounts of money he earned while advising the pro-Russia political party in Ukraine.
Mr. Trump also faces the first known accusations from an insider. Michael Cohen, his longtime legal counsel at the Trump Organization real estate empire, is dishing dirt via his new attorney, Lanny Davis, who is one of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s fiercest defenders.
Mr. Cohen turned against his former boss once he learned that he was the subject of a criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. Investigators were looking into his business practices, which include taxicab ownership, real estate and consulting.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s chief legal spokesman, told Fox News on Monday that Mr. Cohen is trying to “stay out of jail” by offering evidence against his former client.
Mr. Cohen has publicized on Twitter his embrace of left-wing Trump critics such as comedian Tom Arnold and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
While the Justice Department looks at Mr. Trump, his associates, Mr. Cohen and various Russian oligarchs and intelligence officers, Congress has launched multiple investigations.
The majority Republicans of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence ended their Russia investigation last spring with no finding of collusion.
Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican and committee chairman, started a parallel inquiry into suspected FBI misconduct. He discovered:
⦁ The Clinton campaign and Democratic Party funded the dossier through the firm Fusion GPS.
⦁ The FBI used the dossier as the main piece of evidence to gain a wiretap on the other party.
⦁ Mr. Steele lied to the FBI about talking to the news media.
⦁ The FBI planned to pay Mr. Steele to investigate Mr. Trump after the election but instead fired him.
⦁ The FBI continued to obtain information from Mr. Steele and Fusion via a back door from Fusion to a Justice Department attorney to Mr. Strzok, the FBI agent.
⦁ Daniel Jones, a former aide to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, received $50 million from donors in 2017 to hire Fusion and Mr. Steele to stay on the Trump case.
‘The Witch Hunt’
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence shows no indication that it is close to finishing its Russia investigation. The panel issued an interim report backing the Obama intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow intervened to help candidate Trump.
Unlike Mr. Nunes, Senate committee Chairman Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, has offered no criticism of the FBI.
The House committees on the Judiciary and on Oversight and Government Reform are jointly investigating the FBI and the role Obama aides played in promoting the dossier behind the scenes.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, offered the first hint this summer of party establishment impatience with Mr. Mueller, saying he “ought to wrap it up.”
If Democrats win control the House in the midterm elections, Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the House intelligence committee’s chairman in waiting, likely would restart the investigation and call a stream of Trump witnesses. His staff continues to interview people privately.
He is a big fan of Mr. Steele’s and read parts of his dossier into the official congressional record.
“It is ... another tragic milestone for this Congress and represents yet another capitulation to the executive branch,” Mr. Schiff said in March when Mr. Nunes finished his report. “By ending its oversight role in the only authorized investigation in the House, the majority has placed the interests of protecting the president over protecting the country, and history will judge its actions harshly.”
The dossier accused four Trump people of collusion: Mr. Steele said Mr. Trump supported the hacking of Democratic computers, Mr. Manafort and Mr. Page coordinated with Moscow, and Mr. Cohen, the president’s former attorney, participated in a cover-up.
All deny the charges as fabrications, and none to date has been charged.
“There is No Collusion!” Mr. Trump tweeted Sunday. “The Robert Mueller Rigged Witch Hunt, headed now by 17 (increased from 13, including an Obama White House lawyer) Angry Democrats, was started by a fraudulent Dossier, paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC. Therefore, the Witch Hunt is an illegal Scam!”
As for George Papadopoulos, an obscure Trump campaign volunteer then living in London, he wanted to set up a grand meeting between Mr. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He talked with a Maltese professor at a think tank. The professor said he heard that the Russians possessed thousands of Clinton emails, perhaps a reference to the ones the former secretary of state had destroyed.
Papadopoulos relayed the tale to the Australian diplomat, who eventually notified the U.S. Embassy. And the rest is history.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the timing of his Trump appointment to a campaign advisory board. He was not charged in any conspiracy, and there is no public evidence that he took any action related to any emails.