Posted by Curt on 7 October, 2020 at 2:22 pm. 28 comments already!



On Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified and released parts of the documents underlying his earlier revelation about Hillary Clinton’s role in orchestrating the Trump-Russia collusion farce.

The new revelations are important, particularly in clarifying a suggestion, made last week by Ratcliffe, that U.S. intelligence agencies referred former Secretary of State Clinton to the FBI for investigation. That suggestion was then repeated by Senate Republicans and in media commentary (including my column, here).

There was no referral of that kind. That perhaps explains why, in his Senate testimony last week, former FBI director James Comey maintained that he recalled no such thing – to the seeming exasperation of Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.). In reality, when read in conjunction with other information that I addressed in Ball of Collusion, Ratcliffe’s disclosures underscore that the Obama administration, including its law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, was on the same page with the Clinton campaign in peddling the collusion narrative.

Ratcliffe’s revelation last week, in a letter to Senator Graham, related that, in late July 2016, Russian intelligence agents assessed that Clinton sought to blame Donald Trump, her opponent in the presidential race, for Russia’s suspected hacking of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails. U.S. spy agencies “obtained insight” into this Russian assessment through some highly classified method. That explains, at least in part, why the documents Ratcliffe has disclosed are so heavily redacted (and probably why it has taken so long for the Trump administration to disclose this crucial information).

Clinton’s alleged objective was to divert attention from the scandal over her use of a non-secure homebrew server system to conduct State Department business. According to Ratcliffe, the U.S. intelligence community (IC) judged that the Russian assessment was authentic, in the sense that it really did come from the Kremlin’s intelligence services. The IC drew no conclusion, however, about whether the Russian government actually believed the assessment was true – i.e., as Ratcliffe put it, to some extent, “the Russian analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication.” For what it’s worth, I surmise that the Russians probably did believe Clinton had approved this political narrative because it lines up with contemporaneous events – it would not have taken a genius to figure it out. But that is a story for another day (coming soon).

In his letter to Graham, Ratcliffe elaborated that the existence of the Russian assessment was corroborated by two documents: (1) handwritten notes authored by Obama CIA Director John Brennan, who had briefed then-President Obama on the matter; and (2) what Ratcliffe described as “an investigative referral” to the FBI. The DNI indicated that the declassification of these documents (among other things) was under consideration. Parts have since been declassified and, on Tuesday, he disclosed them.

As I shall demonstrate, contrary to the (perhaps inadvertent) implication in Ratcliffe’s letter, the second document is not a referral requesting an investigation of Clinton. But let’s start with the Brennan notes, which indicate another discrepancy in Ratcliffe’s original letter: the incorrect dating of Clinton’s approval – which may be of only minor significance.

Brennan’s Notes

Brennan’s notes are said to document his briefing of Obama on the Russian assessment. There is no date given for this briefing, either in the notes or in Ratcliffe’s earlier letter to Graham. The heavily redacted notes suggest the possibility of communications among Brennan, Obama (referred to as “POTUS”), and three Obama officials identified as “JC,” “Denis” and “Susan.” It is certainly possible that these are references, respectively, to the FBI’s then-director James Comey, Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough, and Obama national security adviser Susan Rice, but Ratcliffe has not confirmed this. Because the relevant portions are blacked out, we cannot say whether Brennan’s notes reflect statements by, or observations about, JC, Denis and Susan.

Ratcliffe’s letter to Graham said that Clinton allegedly green-lighted the scheme to blame Trump on July 26, 2016. To this observer, Brennan’s notes appear to date the alleged approval on July 28, 2016. To be sure, Brennan’s penmanship is not crystal clear, so I wouldn’t bet the ranch on this – and, obviously, Ratcliffe has access to intelligence files not available to the rest of us.

Brennan’s notes appear to state: “We’re gaining additional insight into Russian activities from” – after which at least three or four lines, presumably referring to the source of the information, are blacked out. The notes then continue:

Cite alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on 28 July of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisors to villify [sic] Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security services.

There is an annotation next to this note, in the left margin. Such margin notes are where, in other places, Brennan appears to refer to people involved in the briefing (POTUS, JC, Denis and Susan). But on the above excerpted note, the annotation is redacted.

So are all the other assertions in the notes, with the exception of one that is attributed to “POTUS” (Obama), stating “Any evidence of collaboration between Trump campaign & Russians.” The salience of this is unclear – we don’t know whether Obama was asking a question or making a suggestion; we don’t know if Brennan is recording a statement the president made or an impression Brennan himself formed. We only know that, while most of the notes are redacted, Ratcliffe decided this statement could and should be disclosed.

That statement is one of three bullet points in the “POTUS” section of Brennan’s notes; the other two are redacted. Similarly blacked out are all the remaining bullet points attributed to (or related to) other briefing participants. Next to JC, there appear to be at least five bullet points. One bullet point is next to Denis. With respect to Susan, there appear to be five bullet points, and there is an asterisk written next to the third one – but, of course, we have no idea why (or why Ratcliffe included the asterisk but redacted the note it referred to).

Finally, it is worth observing that the Brennan notes Ratcliffe has disclosed appear to be two pages culled from a larger set. The pages are numbered “5” and “6.” There seems to be a header at the top of both pages that has also been blacked out. It is always risky to speculate, but I surmise that the CIA director’s meeting with the president and other officials involved other sensitive topics that have nothing to do with Clinton’s role in the Trump-Russia narrative, and have thus been withheld.

The So-Called Investigative Referral

In last week’s letter to Graham, Ratcliffe used the label “investigative referral” for what he further described as a communication, dated September 7, 2016, from what he called “U.S. intelligence officials” to two top FBI officials, then-director Comey and Peter Strzok, who was then a top counterintelligence agent (and, like Comey, has since been fired).

When we hear the term “investigative referral” in connection with a communication to the nation’s top federal law-enforcement agency, it usually indicates that another agency is passing along information that, it believes, warrants a criminal investigation by the FBI, with an eye toward prosecution by the Justice Department. That is not what this document is.

In fact, it is a memorandum from the CIA to the FBI, providing information previously requested by the FBI. The memo is on CIA letterhead, but no particular CIA official is identified as the author. Probably for reasons of agency-to-agency protocol, it is addressed to Comey, but directed to the “attention” of Strzok. There is also a request in the body of the memo that a copy be provided to another FBI agent whose name has been redacted. The CIA states that it is providing the information in the memo “per FBI verbal request” – I’d surmise: a request either by Strzok or by the unidentified FBI agent working under Strzok’s supervision.

Significantly, the information is described as having been generated by the “CROSSFIRE HURRICANE fusion cell.”

As we know, Crossfire Hurricane was the codename that the FBI gave the Trump-Russia investigation when it was formally opened at the end of July 2016 – which so happens to have been exactly the time when Hillary Clinton is said to have approved the plan to blame Donald Trump for Russia’s hacking of the DNC emails.

I argued in Ball of Collusion that the Trump-Russia probe was not just an FBI investigation. It was based on several strands of intelligence, much of it from foreign intelligence agencies, that came into the CIA. In the early stages, Brennan was the main driver; the FBI’s role became more consequential in the latter stages (particularly when FISA warrants were sought).

By Brennan’s own account, outlined in his congressional testimony and public statements, he played the role of a clearinghouse. That is, he took information from foreign services, put his own analytical spin on it, and packaged it for the FBI. As Brennan put it in House testimony:

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