By Margot Cleveland – Opinion
Last weekend, NBC News reported that the Justice Department’s probe into the origins of the Russia collusion investigation is now focusing on the CIA and the intelligence community. NBC News soft-peddled this significant development by giving former CIA Director John Brennan a platform (a pen?) to call the probe “bizarre,” and question “the legal basis for” the investigation. Politico soon joined the spin effort, branding the investigation Attorney General William Barr assigned to Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham “Trump’s vengeance.”
However, if the media reports are true, and Barr and Durham have turned their focus to Brennan and the intelligence community, it is not a matter of vengeance; it is a matter of connecting the dots in congressional testimony and reports, leaks, and media spin, and facts exposed during the three years of panting about supposed Russia collusion. And it all started with Brennan.
That’s not how the story went, of course. The company story ran that the FBI launched its Crossfire Hurricane surveillance of the Trump campaign on July 31, 2016, after learning that a young Trump advisor, George Papadopoulos, had bragged to an Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer, that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. This tip from Downer, when coupled with WikiLeaks’s release of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails and evidence of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, supposedly triggered the FBI’s decision to target the Trump campaign.
The Real Story Is Different
But as the Special Counsel Robert Mueller report made clear, it wasn’t merely Papadopoulos’ bar-room boast at issue: It was “a series of contacts between Trump Campaign officials and individuals with ties to the Russian government,” that the DOJ and FBI, and later the Special Counsel’s office investigated.
And who put the FBI on to those supposedly suspicious contacts? Former CIA Director John Brennan.
“I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about,” Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee back in 2017. Whether or not there was collusion with Russia, Brennan didn’t profess to know, but he passed on the information to the FBI to reach a conclusion.
“It’s not CIA’s job to make a determination about whether a U.S. person is cooperating, colluding, or whatever in some type of criminal or legal matter,” Brennan explained, stressing that instead, “it is our responsibility to give the Bureau everything that they need in order to follow that path and make such a determination and recommendation if they want to press charges.”
The evidence suggests, however, that Brennan’s CIA and the intelligence community did much more than merely pass on details about “contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign” to the FBI. The evidence suggests that the CIA and intelligence community—including potentially the intelligence communities of the UK, Italy, and Australia—created the contacts and interactions that they then reported to the FBI as suspicious.
Creating a Russia Collusion Narrative
Stefan Halper features prominently in the plot. All-but-officially outed by the government as a CIA source, the aging academic had contact with at least four members of the Trump campaign. Halper’s job of connecting targets with Russians, however, dates back to January 2014, when he worked at Cambridge University alongside Sir Richard Dearlove, the former director of the British intelligence service MI6, and Christopher Andrew, the official historian for the British counterintelligence group MI5.
In January 2014, according to a lawsuit filed against Halper for defamation by the Russian-born Svetlana Lokhova, Dearlove and Andrew invited her to attend a group dinner with U.S. Gen. Michael Flynn. At the time, Flynn served as Barack Obama’s director of national intelligence.
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