As impressive as Bill Barr was in many respects during his Tuesday confirmation testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee --- particularly his emphasis on equal justice for all --- he did seem to be very much a part of the old guard, and that alone tends to make little alarm bells go off. A longtime friend of Robert Mueller’s, he expressed confidence that Mueller was conducting a legit investigation. When asked if he thought Mueller was on a “witch hunt,” he said no.
But to those of us on the outside looking in, given what we know (even with all the redactions), it seems that Mueller and his team are indeed on a witch hunt. The prosecutors he chose for his team and the tactics they’ve used would strongly suggest that.
Barr has been described as a straight shooter. But then, so has Mueller (by Barr, in fact). I think that very shortly we’re going to find out who at the Justice Department is a straight shooter and who is not, and it may be disappointing if not heartbreaking. Of course, we’ve long suspected that Mueller is no straight shooter, and new revelations from John Solomon reinforce that view. From what Solomon has just learned about Bruce Ohr’s testimony, we can deduce that Mueller has known from the start of his investigation what the FBI was up to with the Steele dossier and even that it came from the Clinton campaign.
Here’s how we know that: The dossier involved collusion with Russian sources, primarily a former Russian intelligence service agent, in an attempt to tie Trump to Russia. Thus, it was very much a part of the “Trump/Russia” story that they were supposedly investigating. (Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS was also doing work for another Russian-controlled company.) Mueller certainly could –- and should –- have expanded his investigation to include the origins of the dossier and its misuse by the FBI. Yet he never did.
I can think of one other possible scenario, and that is Mueller (if he’s such a straight shooter) going to Rod Rosenstein, who was overseeing the special counsel, to see about expanding his probe to include the dossier and the FBI’s use of it before the FISA court, and Rosenstein saying, in effect, “You ain’t goin’ there.” After all, Rosenstein was one of the officials who signed off on the applications! The possibility of a situation like this is why Rosenstein should never have been supervising the special counsel --- not with his tremendous conflict of interest.
And here’s how we know Mueller would have had to be aware of what the FBI was up to: In July and August of 2016, according to Ohr, he briefed senior officials at the FBI and DOJ about the Steele dossier, SPECIFICALLY WARNING THEM THAT IT WAS A CLINTON CAMPAIGN DOCUMENT AND THE INFORMATION IT CONTAINED WAS UNVERIFIED.. (Recall that his wife Nellie was working for Fusion GPS on the dossier project and was able to very conveniently pass it to the Justice Department through her husband, who was fourth in command there.) The people he told included deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, plus a top lawyer for then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and a Justice Department official who would soon become special counsel Mueller’s right-hand man. I’m talking about his notorious “attack dog,” Andrew Weissmann.
A few weeks later, when the FISA application was made to spy on Trump associates to find out if Trump was “colluding” with Russia, there was no mention of Ohr’s warning about the reliability of the dossier and its inherent political bias.
Oops. The information contained in a FISA warrant application is supposed to be verified. (Incidentally, James Baker has said in testimony that he was the one who prepared the application because he was considered to be the “FISA expert.” Baker is currently under investigation for leaking.) To mislead the FISA court is against the law. We already knew that they had tried to bury the fact that it was “oppo research” in a convoluted footnote. Now we know that they also had been warned it was unverified and not to be trusted.
Rather than describing the dossier as unverified material related to Clinton and her campaign (which would have gotten it immediately shot down by the court), the application said Steele was a reliable source in past criminal investigations who “was hired by a person working for a U.S. law firm” to conduct research on Trump and Russia.
In Solomon’s words, “Ohr’s activities, chronicled in handwritten notes and congressional testimony I gleaned from sources, provide the most damning evidence to date that FBI and DOJ officials may have misled federal judges in October 2016 in their zeal to obtain the warrant targeting Trump adviser Carter Page just weeks before election day.”
The application did say the FBI “speculates” that those who hired Steele were “likely looking for information to discredit” Trump’s campaign. “Speculates”??? They knew it for doggone sure, because Bruce Ohr had explicitly warned FBI officials to “be aware” of it in July. July 31, to be exact --- one day after meeting with Steele.
Ohr said he also disclosed to them his wife’s connection to Fusion GPS, the company that had hired Steele. Of course, we know that Fusion GPS was hired by the Clinton campaign through the law firm Perkins Coie. Ohr testified that he didn’t know Fusion GPS had been hired specifically by the DNC but did know it was “associated” with the Clinton campaign, and that’s what he had told them.
It was in August, still two months before the FISA application was made, that Ohr was asked to brief Justice Department officials on the dossier, and he told them what he’d told the FBI. Significantly, two of the three people he briefed, Andrew Weissmann and Zainab Ahmad, would go on to become part of Mueller’s team. (The third was Bruce Swartz, the longtime head of DOJ’s international operations.) It’s hard to fathom that the special counsel was not made aware of the origins of the Steele dossier and the misuse of it by his friends at the FBI, given that Weissmann and Ahmad had been briefed. But for all anyone can tell, Mueller never touched it.
Straight shooter, my eye.
Speaking of John Solomon, my mention of his story about the DOJ pushing to get tougher with journalists in serving subpoenas sparked a smart reader question...
From Adrian R:
Since when does any law enforcement agency tell anyone before issuing a subpoena? Isn’t that a bit like telling a criminal before the police come to arrest him? Why would the DOJ ever alert news organizations first before issuing a subpoena?
You’re right –- giving anyone advance notice that you’re coming with a warrant might cause them to fire up the ol’ paper shredder (or get the BleachBit). I’m not a lawyer, but I do know that, traditionally, it’s always been a big deal to subpoena journalists because of concerns for First Amendment freedoms --- specifically, freedom of the press. My speculation is that this is the reason why the process has been more favorable to them. At any rate, the DOJ wants to change that. It’s the other part of what they want to do --- lowering the threshold for issuing subpoenas --- that seems of particular concern. With their tendency towards selective prosecution (translation: targeting conservatives), they might have a field day with that.
And reader Vern is wise to be skeptical of the media, even when they get something right…
From Vern B:
Why are folks believing what the NYT is reporting? Aren’t they part of the fake news media?
Yes, they are, part and parcel. But just as a broken clock is right twice a day, sometimes a story in the NYT (once you read past the spin) is factually correct. In this case, it appears to be information that was deliberately leaked to them by someone at the FBI or DOJ to get ahead of the story before the evidence came out. You’d think if something this serious –- this outrageous –- weren’t true, the FBI would demand a retraction and apology. There would be an uproar. I hear crickets.