The bridge to the Russia investigation wasn’t erected in Moscow during the summer of the 2016 election.
It originated earlier, 1,700 miles away in London, where foreign figures contacted Trump campaign advisers and provided the FBI with hearsay allegations of Trump-Russia collusion, bureau documents and interviews of government insiders reveal. These contacts in spring 2016 — some from trusted intelligence sources, others from Hillary Clinton supporters — occurred well before FBI headquarters authorized an official counterintelligence investigation on July 31, 2016.
The new timeline makes one wonder: Did the FBI follow its rules governing informants?
Here’s what a congressman and an intelligence expert think.
“The revelation of purposeful contact initiated by alleged confidential human sources prior to any FBI investigation is troublesome,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), an ally of President Trump and chairman of a House subcommittee that’s taking an increasingly aggressive oversight role in the scandal, told me. “This new information begs the questions: Who were the informants working for, who were they reporting to and why has the [Department of Justice] and FBI gone to such great lengths to hide these contacts?”
Kevin Brock agrees that Congress has legitimate questions. The retired FBI assistant director for intelligence supervised the rewriting of bureau rules governing sources, under then-director Robert Mueller a decade ago. Those rules forbid the FBI from directing a human source to target an American until a formally predicated investigative file is opened.
Brock sees oddities in how the Russia case began. “These types of investigations aren’t normally run by assistant directors and deputy directors at headquarters,” he told me. “All that happens normally in a field office, but that isn’t the case here and so it becomes a red flag. Congress would have legitimate oversight interests in the conditions and timing of the targeting of a confidential human source against a U.S. person.”
Other congressional and law enforcement sources express similar concerns, heightened by FBI communications suggesting political pressures around the time the probe officially opened.
We’re not going to withstand the pressure soon,” FBI lawyer Lisa Page texted fellow agent Peter Strzok on Aug. 3, 2016, days after Strzok opened the official probe and returned from a trip to London. At the time, they were dealing with simultaneous challenges: the wrap-up of the Hillary Clinton email scandal and the start of the Russia-Trump probe.
Over several days, they exchanged texts that appear to express fears of political meddling or leaking by the Obama White House, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the CIA.
“This is MUCH more tasty for one of those DOJ aholes to leak,” Strzok wrote as the two FBI colleagues — then having an affair, the bureau later told Congress — debated how long they could delay a CIA-FBI meeting so as to “not play into the agency’s BS game.”
They voiced alarm when an FBI colleague — “Liz” — suggested the Obama White House was about to hijack the investigation. “Went well, best we could have expected,” Strzok texted Page after an Aug. 5, 2016, meeting. “Other than Liz quote ‘the White House is running this.’ ” Page then texted to assure Strzok of a paper trail showing the FBI in charge: “We got emails that say otherwise.”...
In the end, the FBI secretly investigated the Trump campaign for months, engaging with other agencies on a more limited inquiry of Russian efforts to hack Clinton’s campaign.
The summer 2016 text messages are bookends to a series of London contacts that pre-date the official opening of the investigation and produced the evidence the FBI used that fall to justify its court-ordered surveillance of presidential campaign figures.
According to documents and government interviews, one of the FBI’s most senior counterintelligence agents visited London the first week of May 2016. Congress never got the FBI to explain that trip — but, soon after it, one of the most consequential moments of the scandal occurred: On May 10, Australian diplomat Alexander Downer met in a London bar with Trump adviser George Papadopoulos, who boasted of knowing that Russia would release dirt on Clinton....
The FBI received two more contacts about Trump-Russia allegations before formally opening its probe, both from people tied to Clinton.
A week before Carter Page left for London, the FBI was contacted by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, recently hired by the Fusion GPS research firm to find Trump-Russia dirt; Fusion was paid by the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party.
The FBI did not act on Steele’s July 5, 2016, overture but, weeks later, Steele began working with agents. His now-infamous dossier became a key document justifying the surveillance warrants against Carter Page
The FBI did not act on Steele’s July 5, 2016, overture but, weeks later, Steele began working with agents. His now-infamous dossier became a key document justifying the surveillance warrants against Carter Page.
On July 23, 2016, shortly after WikiLeaks released the first hacked Clinton campaign emails, the Australian government contacted the State Department’s deputy chief of mission in London about Downer’s May 10 conversation with Papadopoulos. State forwarded the information to FBI headquarters.
A decade earlier, as Australia’s foreign minister, Downer arranged a $25 million grant to the Clinton family foundation to help fight AIDS.
Downer’s information moved FBI headquarters into action. Strzok was dispatched to London; a formal investigation was opened by month’s end.
This timeline doesn’t prove wrongdoing; these contacts could have occurred organically, or been directed legally through intelligence channels. Yet, congressional investigators and FBI insiders tell me, they raise questions about when the investigation officially started and how.
The May 2, 2017, special counsel appointment, however, referred not to a criminal investigation, but to a counterintelligence investigation. It also lacked any specific factual statement. It was not until more than two months later that Rosenstein referenced a detailed factual scenario—and one that had no connection to the presidential campaign!
Two weeks ago, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote to Rosenstein expressing these and other concerns. After noting that “it is unclear precisely how, or whether, the Department is following its own regulations, what the actual bounds of Mr. Mueller’s authority are, and how those bounds have been established,” Grassley directed Rosenstein to respond to a series of question to explain whether (and how) he complied with the governing DOJ regulations.
Rosenstein Overreached His Authority Big Time
On March 2, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement announcing his recusal “from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.” Sessions’ recusal elevated Rosenstein to acting attorney general with respect to the matters from which Sessions had recused.
A little more than two months later, on May 17, 2017, as acting attorney general, Rosenstein appointed Mueller to serve as a special counsel to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).”
Section 600.4(a) provides a special counsel the authority “to investigate and prosecute federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses.”
Then on August 2, 2017, Rosenstein dispatched a memo to the special counsel purporting to clarify Mueller’s authority, stating: “[t]he following allegations were within the scope of the Investigation at the time of your appointment and are within the scope of the Order: Allegations that Paul Manafort [c]ommitted a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych.”
Therein lies the first problem: Rosenstein did not have the authority to grant Mueller such wide-ranging powers because Sessions only recused as attorney general from the investigation of “matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.” Yet Rosenstein purported to authorize Mueller to investigate, among other things, “[a]llegations that Paul Manafort [c]ommitted a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych.”
This matter could not possibly have “related, in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.” Why? Because Yanukovych was ousted from office in February of 2014—long before the 2016 run for the White House attracted Trump’s attention. Thus, Rosenstein did not have authority to direct a special counsel investigation of these alleged crimes.
A federal judge in Virginia sharply challenged on Friday the special counsel’s case against Paul Manafort, suggesting that prosecutors had pursued fraud charges in hopes of gaining evidence that might incriminate President Trump or even topple him from office.
“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud,” Judge T. S. Ellis III said during a court hearing in Alexandria. “You really care about getting information that Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment or whatever.”
4--The Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is due to annually deliver 55 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas to the EU across the Baltic Sea, has already been approved by Germany and Finland. The US, in turn, has claimed that the pipeline will allegedly increase Europe's dependence on Russian fuel.
Foreign Policy magazine has cited three sources familiar with the issue as saying that the US administration is close to slapping sanctions on energy companies from Germany and other EU countries that are involved in the construction of Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project
The price of oil has gone up 30%+ percent just here in the last year alone. There are some very good reasons for that.
In the United States, we've been drawing down our reserves, our inventory and the amount of oil we have in storage, consistently since February of 2017. We're going into the 15th month of drawing from storage each week because we're not producing enough to meet the need.
To those paying attention: the United States is right now producing more oil than it ever has in its history. We are a million barrels a day higher than the peak in 1970 -- the one that King Hubbert got in trouble for warning about. We're higher by 50,000 or so barrels per month of production. Yet, here we are, still sucking oil out of storage. What does that tell you? There is only one way to interpret that: We are using more than we are producing.
Countries like the United States and western Europe; our demand is pretty much stable. We are not a big growing economy anymore. But the emerging markets – Asia, Latin America, and Africa – they are going full bore. That is where something like 80% of world demand growth is coming from.
Never ever lose sight of the fact that the United States imports a ton of oil. I mean we are importing, on average, 7 million barrels of crude oil a day. I mean that is more than many continents use a day. Why are we importing all that when we are also producing 11 million barrels a day?
We are nowhere near energy self-sufficiency, nor do I think we will ever get there.
We're in deep trouble.