It’s actually good that U.S. Attorney John Durham is still putting the finishing touches on his report on FISA abuse, as we’re going to need some focused post-convention time to take a look at it. There’s a story to be told, a very important story, and we should soon know a lot more about how the "Russia" hoax came together. In fact, one can get a “sneak peek” right now by looking at Kevin Clinesmith’s plea agreement and seeing how it relates to parts of Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s internal report.
Thanks to Margot Cleveland at THE FEDERALIST for connecting more dots. She's done the tedious part; now we get to talk about it.
As you know, Kevin Clinesmith, who worked in the FBI’s Office of General Counsel, pleaded guilty to one count of falsifying evidence; the plea agreement was released last Wednesday. He admitted that he had added four critical words --- “was not a source” --- to an email from an “unidentified government agency” (let’s just say the CIA because we know it was) concerning Carter Page’s “operation contact” with that agency. One of the agents involved in Crossfire Hurricane had told him they wanted “something in writing” about it, so he altered the email and forwarded it to that agent. (While pleading guilty, he still claims it was not his “intent” to mislead. Trying to have it both ways.) This revised email cleared the way for the fourth FISA.
But wait --- there had already been an original FISA application and two renewals, and they hadn’t mentioned this. What’s the story there? Well, according to Clinesmith’s plea agreement, the CIA had provided “certain members of the Crossfire Hurricane team” with a memo indicating that Page had been approved as an “operation contact” for them from 2008 to 2013 and detailing information that Page had provided them about “his prior contacts with certain Russian officers.” But we know this information was not included in the first three FISAs. (The Horowitz report says so, and Clinesmith makes a point of it in his plea agreement.)
If I understand correctly, THIS is the “suspicious” contact with Russians that gave the Crossfire Hurricane team their reason (excuse) to accuse Page of being a Russian agent. But in truth, there was no reason to spy on him over this; he had already been debriefed by the CIA about it, and the CIA had informed "certain members" of the team of his relationship with them before the initial FISA application was made. The FBI just left it out of the applications.
To accomplish this, the Crossfire Hurricane team even left it out of the information given to the division that HELPS with FISA applications, and one member of the team, Stephen Somma –- more on him coming up –- gave them incorrect information when explicitly ASKED about Page’s relationship with the CIA. This key information about Page is one of the “17 substantial errors or omissions” in the FISAs that Horowitz attributed to the FBI.
So, now we need to know the identities of the “certain members of the Crossfire Hurricane team” who received the memo about Page from the CIA, because they are the ones who kept the information out of the application and first two renewals. In the IG report, one is identified as “Case Agent 1,” and that person was identified by THE NEW YORK TIMES as the aforementioned Stephen Somma, who happens to have been Stefan Halper’s FBI “handler” as well! So we’re likely to be hearing more about Mr. Somma.
Cleveland’s article has more detail on how Somma mischaracterized Page’s work in Russia, moving the dates of it years earlier so it became “beyond the scope” of the FISA application. Clever, these FBI agents.
The Horowitz report says Somma claimed “not to recall his state of knowledge” about Page’s history with the CIA. One has to wonder if his memory might improve while under questioning in Durham’s criminal investigation, under threat of perjury.
Cleveland –- who has a FANTASTIC memory –- remembers that Somma, as Case Agent #1, had expressed great interest early on in surveilling Carter Page. But according to the IG report, the Crossfire Hurricane team didn’t become aware of the “dossier” till September. Before then, only Steele’s “handler” and a few agents in the New York Field Office knew about it, starting in early July.
But guess where Somma was working in early July, before joining the Crossfire Hurricane team in August? The New York Field Office, where he was a special agent for counterintelligence with a focus on...Russia.
Cleveland goes into more detail on who else among the team might have known about Page’s CIA involvement and kept it out of the application. Joe Pientka is certainly a possibility.
But the big stinky cheese at the FBI at that time was Director Comey, and this is one slick dude when it comes to protecting himself. As you might recall, Comey slithered his way out of having to talk about classified material with IG Horowitz by refusing to have his security clearance reinstated. Smooth, huh? The memo sent to the FBI about Page’s CIA activities would have been classified, for sure, and without a security clearance, Comey couldn’t have been shown the memo or asked anything about it.
A criminal investigation is different, though. Maybe Durham can put the squeeze on the big cheese. And maybe we’ll finally learn the whole sordid story.