John Solomon has just cast some unflattering light on something we’d already been pondering: the curious role FBI Director Christopher Wray appears to be playing to protect the Bureau from efforts to uncover what they were doing in 2016 and 2017 –- perhaps even earlier –- to investigate Trump. The likely explanation: Wray is one of the swamp creatures himself.
Recall Solomon’s earlier story about State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Kathleen Kavalec taking a meeting with Christopher Steele of “dossier” notoriety. Just the fact that Steele went to the State Department to meet with her sent up a red flag, and according to Solomon’s sources, Kavalec was so concerned about that and some other issues –- including Steele’s strong political bias –- that she sent a memo to the FBI alerting agents about potential problems with him as a source. Notably, she cast his work unfavorably by telling them about a blatant inaccuracy in his report: a reference to the Russian embassy in Miami, when no such embassy exists. If a mistake as big as that was in the report, what else might be wrong?
Steele, as you know, is the former member of MI6 British intelligence who was hired by Hillary Clinton through the law firm Perkins Coie, which in turn hired “oppo” research company Fusion GPS, to come up with anything he could to tie candidate Trump and/or his campaign to Russia. Incredibly, special counsel Robert Mueller, tasked with investigating Russian efforts to interfere with our election process, did not look into this at all and, in congressional testimony last week, would not say why. But I digress.
On July 10, in response to a Freedom Of Information Act request by Citizens United for a small number of documents the State Department sent to FBI agents from Steele (presumably including the Kavalec memo), the FBI actually filed a brief to fight it. They are pushing back. This begs the question: WHY are they pushing back?
The affidavit, sworn to by an FBI assistant section chief supporting the request to keep the documents secret, is laughable. It claims the “disparate details” in the documents might be analyzed by “terrorist organizations or other hostile or foreign intelligence groups,” who might “deduce means and methods...to defeat the U.S. government’s collection efforts.” That argument is bogus; agents could use those exact words to try to avoid releasing virtually anything.
It goes on to say that the FBI can’t afford “to jeopardize the fragile relationships that exist between the United States and certain foreign governments.” Ah, so our allies WERE involved. Presumably this statement is in reference to Great Britain, where much of the spying on Trump associates apparently took place; Australia, home to the Clinton-supporting diplomat Alexander Downer; and possibly Italy. (Side note: such international spying would not have taken place without the knowledge of then-CIA chief John Brennan.) If spying on the Trump campaign was done with the cooperation of foreign officials, it’s time for the truth to come out. Hey, I thought we WANTED to know about foreign interference in our elections.
The affidavit continues, and we come to the part that should bring chills to anyone who cares about government accountability. Incredibly, it asserts that “FBI special agents have privacy interests from unnecessary, unofficial questioning as to the conduct of investigations and other FBI business.”
Oh, really? Let’s go back and read that sentence again, slowly, and think about its implications. If FBI agents have “privacy interests” when it comes to official documents, why do we even bother to have a Freedom Of Information Act? (Come to think of it, Hillary claimed the 30,000 subpoenaed emails she had deleted were “personal,” so perhaps she was using the same argument.) This affidavit appears to be saying that the FBI is not answerable to the public, that it gets to decide for itself who can look at how it conducts its business and even what questioning of its agents is necessary. Wow, there’s some chutzpah.
But the most distressing thing about this filing is the understanding that it would not have been done without Director Chris Wray’s blessing, if not his order. What is going on here?
As Solomon points out, the information given by Steele to the State Department wasn’t “secret” by any means, as it was being provided to Hillary’s campaign and the DNC (but I repeat myself) and also leaked to the media. Steele was even fired from the FBI for his leaking, and the intelligence was garbage besides.
In fact, one of the documents –- five pages about the debunked theory concerning a computer at Alfa Bank in Russia and another at Trump Tower “pinging” back and forth –- was recently reviewed by Rep. Mark Meadows, who wrote Attorney General William Barr to tell him the information was based on open-source reporting and would not harm sources and methods if revealed. Also, the Alfa Bank story is so thoroughly discredited that even Robert Mueller testified that it wasn’t true.
So it’s not national security secrets the Bureau is trying to protect, but the Bureau’s reputation. These documents prove that Steele received a negative assessment as an informer. That fact should have been conveyed to the FISA court and it was not.
None of this happened on the current director’s watch, but Christopher Wray is being way too protective. Suspiciously so. To put it bluntly, he’s acting like one of the swamp dwellers. If he thinks he’s helping preserve the FBI’s integrity by holding back documents, he’s mistaken. With the inspector general’s investigation and the broader one by U.S. Attorney John Durham, more will be coming out whether the FBI considers it “private” or not. The best –- the only –- strategy for Wray: come clean.