Establishing Trump–Russia Collusion Narrative
To fully understand the significance of the FBI granting CHS status to a person the agency hadn’t yet spoken to, we need to go back to Election Day.
The unexpected election of Trump on Nov. 8, 2016, prompted an unprecedented response from the intelligence community and Washington establishment. The effort to undermine Trump and his administration began almost immediately after his victory.
On Nov. 9, 2016, FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page exchanged texts that referred to a “secret society” the day after Trump’s victory. Page texted Strzok saying, “Maybe this should be the first meeting of the Secret Society.”
Strzok responded to Page saying, “Too hard to explain here. Election related.” The next day, Strzok texted Page saying, “Bill [Priestap, head of FBI Counterintelligence] just sent a two hour invite to talk strategy.”
In early December 2016, the CIA told congressional leaders that “Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency,” a claim that was a crucial convergence point between the FBI’s and CIA’s narratives. Although then-CIA Director John Brennan had been working behind the scenes by pushing information to the FBI, up to that point, it had been primarily the FBI driving the collusion narrative—for instance, by spying on Trump campaign aide Carter Page through a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant.
The CIA’s congressional briefings prompted Obama to direct the CIA, the FBI, and the National Security Agency (NSA) to draft an intelligence community assessment (ICA) on Russian interference in the election. While the reported date of Obama’s order was Dec. 9, 2016, the actual order may have been given much earlier, as both the CIA and FBI had been in the process of preparing reports on Russian interference.
The FBI quickly jumped on board with Obama’s ICA plan. Priestap and special agent Jonathan Moffa were assigned to the ICA project on behalf of the FBI. However, the FBI didn’t appear to be interested in presenting an analytical work product. Their real goal appeared to be the inclusion of the Steele dossier in the ICA, which would give the dossier much-needed credibility. Up to that point, no media organization had published the dossier or any of its lurid allegations. If Trump was to be unseated, the dossier’s breathless claims needed to be made public.
Notably, as Durham revealed during Danchenko’s trial, by that time, the FBI already knew that the dossier was completely uncorroborated. On Oct. 3, 2016, the FBI offered dossier author Christopher Steele up to $1 million to provide any evidence that would substantiate his allegations against Trump. Steele wasn’t able to do so.
However, instead of ending its investigation, the FBI escalated efforts to tie Trump to the Russia collusion narrative. The FBI’s offer of $1 million to Steele for corroboration would later be hidden from Congress, congressional inquiries, Trump officials, and the courts.
According to a 2019 Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General report on the FBI’s abuses in the Carter Page FISA warrant case, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe personally pushed his agents on Dec. 16 to include the dossier in the ICA. McCabe’s demand preceded the identification of Steele’s primary sub-source. As Durham reported last week, that sub-source, Danchenko, who, by his own account, was responsible for at least 80 percent of the dossier, was identified by the FBI a few days later on Dec. 20.
When FBI agent Moffa asked McCabe whether to limit what was included to “information concerning Russian election interference or to also include allegations against candidate Trump,” McCabe told him to include the allegations, “due to concerns over possible Russian attempts to blackmail Trump.”
That was an early indication that, contrary to what FBI Director James Comey would later repeatedly claim, the FBI was already targeting Trump personally in December 2016.
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