Two House committees quizzed former FBI director James Comey on Friday concerning his knowledge of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a homebrew server when she was secretary of state, and the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign.
The judiciary and oversight committees released a transcript of the hours-long deposition on Saturday. Here are six important takeaways.
1. We didn’t learn much — but that was significant.
Comey repeatedly responded to questions about the Trump campaign investigation by pleading ignorance, establishing he did not know of many of the facts underlying both the launch of Crossfire Hurricane and the continuing investigation. That’s concerning.
For instance, in response to Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy’s characterization of Crossfire Hurricane as a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, Comey claimed that the FBI was not investigating Trump or the Trump campaign, but had instead “opened investigations on four Americans to see if there was any connection between those four Americans and the Russian interference effort. And those four Americans did not include the candidate.” Yet Comey had never seen the “FBI’s initiation document,” which Gowdy indicated referenced the “Trump campaign.”
Further questioning revealed that Comey had no knowledge concerning the agent responsible for drafting the FBI’s late-July 2016 initiation document for Crossfire Hurricane, did not know who approved the draft of the “initial plan for the Russian investigation,” and never read or saw the initiation document. In fact, Comey said he didn’t even know how the FBI launches counterintelligence investigations, who has the authority to launch a counterintelligence investigation into a major political campaign, or whether such an investigation would need to be approved by the FBI Director. Comey did note that “there’s documentation in criminal investigations and in counterintelligence investigations to explain the predication for the opening of a file, that is, the basis for the opening of a file.”
These exchanges raise three concerning points: First, that FBI agents — including the biased, “We’ll stop Trump from becoming president” duo of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page — had the ability, without Comey’s involvement, to launch an investigation into the Trump campaign. Second, Comey’s testimony shows that he may not have known the official basis for, and scope of, the probe because he never saw the “initiation document.”
And third, the same agents who launched the investigation craft the documentation to explain “the basis for the opening of a file.” So, if the agents wanted to pin the launch of Crossfire Hurricane on George Papadopoulos’ supposed foreknowledge of the WikiLeak hack into DNC emails, they would merely need to list that as the predicate for opening the investigation.
2. Comey buys the George Papadopoulos pretext, But that’s because he doesn’t know the facts.
Although Comey testified that he never saw the “initiation document” and had no idea who drafted or approved the initiation of the probe, he unequivocally stated that the Steele dossier did not prompt the Russia probe. When asked how he knew that, Comey said:
Because I know what the basis was for starting the investigation. It was the information we’d received about a conversation that a Trump foreign — campaign foreign policy adviser had with an individual in London about stolen emails that the Russians had that would be harmful to Hillary Clinton. It was weeks or months later that the so-called Steele dossier came to our attention.
There are several problems with Comey’s explanation. First, the evidence released to date indicates at the time the FBI launched Crossfire Hurricane, it merely had information that Papadopoulos had informed Australian diplomat Alexander Downer that the Russians had damaging information on Hillary Clinton. It would be many more months before the damaging information would be cast as “stolen emails.”
Second, Comey said that while he “remember[ed] the cases being opened at the end of July,” he didn’t “know the nature and quality of any work that went on before that.” And when asked whether, prior to the end of July, he directed or had “knowledge of the FBI trying to collect information about the possible Russian-Trump campaign,” Comey said he was not aware of any such efforts. However, when pressed, Comey hedged, stating, “It’s possible I knew at the time.”
As a side note, here: Throughout his testimony, Comey said the investigation began in late July and that he was briefed on the investigation in late-July, and on one occasion he spoke of the four counterintelligence files being opened on July 29. But Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff’s memorandum explicitly stated the FBI initiated its counterintelligence investigation on July 31, 2016, and the committee members consistently noted that the investigation began on July 31, 2016.
Comey also only knew what he was told — and apparently that wasn’t much. According to his testimony, Comey never met the author of the Steele dossier, former British Spy Christopher Steele, and never spoke with Steele. He did not know of Steele’s anti-Trump bias, and he did not know that Steele worked for Fusion GPS, that Perkins Coie had hired Fusion GPS, or that the Democratic National Committee had paid Perkins Coie to provide the opposition research on Trump which culminated in the Steele dossier.
Additionally, Comey did not know whether Steele was working for the Bureau at the time he was also working with Fusion GPS. And he did not know how Steele’s information reached the FBI, but believed “he passed it to an agent that he knew and that that agent sent it on to headquarters. I think that’s the way in which it reached the Counterintelligence Division, but I don’t remember the specifics of that.” He also did not know in particular how the FBI investigated Steele’s information.
Who withheld that information from Comey, and why, is unclear, but Comey stated he believed the general counsel (who was James Baker), had told him that the information included in the October FISA application was funded by Democrats. Comey also did not know that Perkins Coie provided the information from the Steele dossier to the FBI’s general counsel, James Baker, that Baker knew Perkins Coie represented the DNC, and that Baker in turn passed the information on to the FBI’s investigative team.
Additionally, Comey did not know why the FBI terminated Steele in November of 2016. And, significantly, Comey testified he knew nothing about Steele providing information on Trump to twice-demoted Department of Justice attorney Bruce Ohr after the FBI ended its relationship with the former MI6 spy. Comey likewise said he “knew nothing about” Ohr passing on Steele’s supposed intel to the FBI by sitting down with agents for about a dozen 302 interviews. In fact, Comey did not even know that there was any contact or communication between Steele and Ohr!
No wonder Comey believes the line the FBI launched Crossfire Hurricane based on Papadopoulos’ loose lips: He says he had no idea what was going on behind the scenes, such as Steele’s July 30, 2016, meeting with Ohr.
Comey’s cluelessness makes one ponder what other information the FBI kept from him. Did the FBI agents tell Comey about Joseph Mifsud — the supposed Russian connection who tipped Papadopoulos off to the Kremlin having dirt on Hillary? Did they keep him apprised of their investigation of Mifsud and the FBI agent’s Washington D.C.-based interview of the supposed spy? (Hopefully, the House committees will raise those questions next go-around.) And did Comey see the 302 of that interview? We did learn one fact, though, from Comey: 302 summaries won’t always include classified information, so if Mifsud had a connection to Western intelligence services, as many have surmised, the 302 report probably won’t mention it.
Friday’s questioning also revealed that Comey did not know that Steele had met with media representatives in September of 2016. On this point, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan pushed him, asking about reports of a series of emails that discussed “the fact that Christopher Steele had met with representatives in the press in September of 2016.” This question likely concerned John Solomon’s report in The Hill last week, “FBI Email Chain May Provide Most Damning Evidence of FISA Abuses Yet.”
Solomon reported claims from sources that email exchanges from early- to mid-October 2016 showed the FBI was aware, prior to its first application to surveil former campaign advisor Carter Page, that Steele had contacts with the news media. The email exchanges also evidenced concerns by the intelligence community about the reliability of Steele’s dossier. If the sources are accurate, these facts provide strong evidence that the Obama administration’s DOJ and FBI intentionally withheld or misrepresented evidence to the FISA court.
Further, according to Solomon’s sources, the email chains included then-FBI Director “Comey, FBI investigators in the Russia probe and lawyers in the DOJ’s national security division.” Yet on Friday, in response to questioning by Jordan, Comey testified he didn’t know anything about those emails.
Maybe the sources were wrong. Or maybe Comey forgot. But if Comey was included on such an email chain, keeping him in the loop would be the exception because as Comey’s answers — or lack thereof — from Friday’s hearing make clear, the agents running Crossfire Hurricane intentionally cut Comey out of the information flow.
3. Comey unwittingly confirmed the FISA application failed to meet the legal standards for a FISA warrant.
In questioning Comey on his knowledge of Steele and the Steele dossier, the committee members also pushed him on the propriety of using the Steele dossier to obtain a FISA warrant for Trump’s former campaign-advisor Carter Page. Comey’s discussion of the FISA order makes two points clear: Comey’s review of the applications was superficial, and the FISA system was abused.
First, when pushed on the details of the FISA application, Comey didn’t seem to know much. He said he read the application, but then minimized his role. “The Director would want to know whether or not those representations were accurate,” he said, and whether the “carefully constructed process of the FBI had been followed, that the right people had reviewed things, that the right signoffs had been held, before I would sign the certification that came with it. That’s probably the most I can say about the role of the Director in a FISA.” In other words, Comey relied on what his subordinates told him, and as is clear by now, that wasn’t much.
That we know of, the FBI has never carried on an investigation on member of an active Presidential campaign. The pitfalls of such an investigation are enormous; as we can see, the suspicions and accusations that can be derived from the very existence of such an investigation while the OPPOSITION PARTY is in power are monumental. Yet Comey wants us to believe he had very little interest in it. Yeah, he’s trustworthy.
” It would be many more months before the damaging information would be cast as “stolen emails.”” That, folks, is what the Mueller team regards as “perjury”. I expect this to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and then several levels above that, just as Mueller does. The pressure should not be let up until Comey’s wife and children have been threatened with prosecution and Comey is bankrupt. All from the Mueller playbook.
Did Comey mention that this was being done with FBI operatives that were working PRIOR to the opening of an FBI investigation?
Uh oh… perjury again.
Perjury. Book him, Dano.
Apparently, like Obama, though he is in charge, he only learns what is going on from the “news”… which he and the FBI coup members leaked.
Here’s McCabe’s chance for a deal. I’ll bet McCabe discussed with Comey at some point that Steele was their informant and that he had been fired for peddling his short stories to the media (just like McCabe was doing). Someone will see if McCabe wants to contradict any of Comey’s BS.
Per Jur Ree.
He was signing for surveillance of a member of a Presidential campaign member of the party in opposition to the one that was currently in the White House. Anyone with an consideration to their duty OR their own hide would have confirmed the veracity of all the justifications for doing so. Never before has the party in power launched a government attack on the opposition party. Comey can’t claim ignorance no matter how willfully ignorant he wished to be. He AUTHORIZED it.
Well, first, hardee har har. Second, Comey himself stated his judgement was skewed by the assumption Hillary was going to be President, either not wanting to interfere with that inevitability or fearing the expected retribution.
I don’t believe Comey locked himself out of such a critical and politically dangerous investigation; to believe that is stupid. There are FBI bureaucrats lining up for salvation from prosecution. Let’s see who gets to the front of the line.