From the time Robert Mueller, a Republican, was appointed as a special prosecutor in 2017 to investigate Russian ties to the presidential election of 2016, Republicans, Donald Trump and the right wing were relentless in arguing that there was nothing there, that it was a witch hunt. Mueller, a man with a stellar reputation as a decorated Marine from his Vietnam service, a man who served as FBI director and in other high level justice department positions, became the object of smears and other unfounded personal attacks---all before any of the defamers saw the first piece of paper from Mueller’s two year probe.
In the spring of 2019, Attorney General William Barr appointed John H. Durham, U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut and a Republican, to investigate the investigators, mostly the FBI, to determine the origins of the Russia investigation, and to determine if there was a plot to prevent Trump from being elected. Most, if not all of the same defamers of Mueller, have concluded that the FBI corruptly interfered with the election and that indictments are forthcoming---and again, drawing these conclusions without seeing the first piece of paper from Durham’s investigation.
One of the allegations against the FBI is that the FBI unlawfully conducted an electronic surveillance of the Trump campaign, which all the intelligence agency heads at the time vehemently deny. This relates to an investigation of Carter Page, a former naval officer who went on to a civilian career in the financial sector. Page worked in Moscow, and in 2013, according to recordings of Page with a Russian intelligence officer and other information, the FBI had reason to believe that Page was being recruited by Russian intelligence. Page briefly worked for the Trump campaign and was let go in the fall of 2016.
In 2014, the FBI obtained a warrant from the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Court to intercept Page’s conversations to determine if he was a spy. In 2016, shortly after Page left the Trump campaign, the FBI again got a FISA warrant against Page and four subsequent renewals from federal judges, all Republican appointees.
Where the 2016 warrant becomes controversial pertains to information from a former British MI-6 agent named Christopher Steele whose information was incorporated into the application for the warrant. Steele, with whom the FBI had a previous relationship, provided unverified salacious information concerning Trump. Also, the same information, called the Steele Dossier, had been obtained through a Washington firm and paid for by the Democratic Party. Steele was known to have expressed a dislike and contempt for Trump.
With that background, several issues can be discussed. First, considering the FBI began an investigation into Page three years before the 2016 election, there was a factual basis to believe that Page was a recruiting target of Russian intelligence. The FBI had also warned Page at the time that he was a recruitment target.
Second, the information provided in the Steele Dossier and used in the 2016 FISA application was probably not the basis for the issuance of the warrant. There was other intelligence and information that likely formed the necessary probable cause. That said, the Durham investigation should establish that conclusively, and I leave the door open to being wrong.
Third, at this point there is no reason to believe that the FBI agent who swore to the application and containing the Steele information, didn’t rely on it in good faith based on Steele having been a reliable source in the past. If this agent (affiant) to the application knew, or had reason to know, that the Steele information was unreliable or even false, that information, if removed from the application, leaves open the question of whether the remaining information provided sufficient probable cause to issue the warrant. Durham will have to decide if the agent acted in good faith or not and go from there.
Durham is also looking into the conduct of fired FBI agent Peter Strzok, the lead investigator into Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified material, and the Russia investigation. Strzok’s text messages to his lover, an FBI lawyer, showed a clear bias against Trump. But that bias never manifested into leaks of the Russia investigation during the campaign. And it was Strzok who recommended to then FBI director James Comey, to reopen the email investigation into Hillary just days before the election, something that arguably could have cost her the election.
In a new book, “Deep State”, by James B. Stewart, Stewart stakes out a claim that the New York and Little Rock offices of the FBI were “hotbeds of anti-Clinton hostility”, that agents were leaking regularly to right wing media sources because they believed Clinton was getting a pass for what they believed to be criminal misconduct. There are also reports that Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, was the recipient of FBI leaks from the New York Office pertaining to the Hillary email investigation. Presumably Durham will look into this, too.
There is a lot for Durham to investigate, and I trust him and his team to be thorough, fair and impartial. The American people will be the winners no matter the outcome if I am correct about Durham’s integrity. I will accept the findings barring a factual basis to believe that his conclusions are faulty. I hope the majority of Americans will do the same even if the conclusions don’t comport with what they believe---or want to believe---before seeing the evidence.