Turley “More willful blindness by the media on spying by Obama administration”

OPINION

By Jonathan Turley – The Hill

The Washington press corps seems engaged in a collective demonstration of the legal concept of willful blindness, or deliberately ignoring facts, following the release of yet another declassified document that directly refutes past statements about the Russia collusion investigation. The document shows the FBI used a security briefing of then-candidate Donald Trump and top aides to gather possible evidence for Crossfire Hurricane, its code name for the Russia investigation.

What is astonishing is that the media has steadfastly refused to see what should be one of the biggest stories in decades: an administration’s targeting of an opposing party’s presidential campaign based on false and possibly criminally falsified evidence. The media endlessly covered former Obama administration officials ridiculing Trump’s suggestions of spying on his campaign or that the Russia investigation was improperly conducted. When Attorney General William Barr told the Senate last year that “I think spying did occur,” he was lambasted in the media, including by fired FBI Director James Comey and others involved in that investigation. Comey’s mocking response of “wow” received extensive coverage.

The new document shows that, on Aug. 17, 2016, FBI agent Joe Pientka briefed Trump campaign advisers Michael Flynn and Chris Christie on national security issues, a standard practice for presidential campaigns. The briefing included discussion of Russian interference in the election. This, however, was different: The document detailing the questions asked by Trump and his aides and their reactions was filed on Aug. 30, 2016, under Crossfire Hurricane and Crossfire Razor, the FBI investigation of Flynn. Adding to this genuinely “wow” moment were the two FBI officials listed as approving the report: Kevin Clinesmith and Peter Strzok.

Clinesmith is the former FBI attorney responsible for the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) surveillance conducted on Trump officials. Clinesmith openly opposed Trump and sent an email after Trump’s election proclaiming, “Viva the Resistance.” He reportedly is under review for possible criminal charges for altering a FISA court filing. The FBI had used Trump adviser Carter Page as a principal basis for the original FISA application due to his contacts with Russians. Not long after the approval of that surveillance, however, federal officials rejected the collusion allegations and, most importantly, noted that Page was a CIA asset. Clinesmith allegedly changed the information to state that Page was not working for the CIA.

Strzok’s own anti-Trump bias and violation of FBI rules led career Justice Department investigators to refer him for possible criminal charges. Strzok did not hide his intense loathing of Trump either and famously referenced an “insurance policy” if Trump were to win the election. After agents concluded there was no evidence of any crime by Flynn in December 2016, Strzok stopped the closing of the investigation as they searched for any crime that might be used to charge Trump’s incoming national security adviser.

Recently, documents also show Comey briefed former President Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden on the investigation shortly before Trump’s inauguration. When Comey admitted Flynn’s communications with Russian officials appeared “legit,” Biden reportedly suggested using the Logan Act — widely viewed as unconstitutional and never used to successfully convict a single person — as an alternative charge against Flynn. The memo of that meeting contradicts Biden’s subsequent denials of knowing about the Flynn investigation. Let us recap a few proven but widely “unseen” facts.

First, the Russia collusion allegations were based in significant part on the “Steele dossier,” funded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The Clinton campaign repeatedly denied paying for the dossier until long after the election when confronted with irrefutable evidence that the money was buried among campaign legal expenditures. New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman wrote, “Folks involved in funding this lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a year.”

Second, FBI agents had warned that dossier author Christopher Steele may have been used by Russian intelligence to feed false information to disrupt the election. Steele’s primary source for the most serious allegations recently said Steele misrepresented what he had said and that it was little more than thirdhand rumors recast by Steele as reliable intelligence.

Third, the Obama administration was told that the basis for the original FISA application was highly dubious and likely false. Nevertheless, it continued the investigation, and someone leaked its existence to the media. Another recently declassified document shows that, after the Times ran a leaked story on the investigation, even Strzok balked at the account as “misleading and inaccurate.” His January 2017 memo affirmed that “we have not seen evidence of any individuals in contact with Russians (both Governmental and non-Governmental).” This, at the very start of Trump’s inauguration and just as the collusion stories were becoming a frenzy that would last years

Fourth, three years of investigations by former special counsel Robert Mueller and various inspector generals found no evidence of collusion or knowing contact between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officials. What inspectors general did find were false statements or possible criminal conduct by Comey, fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Strzok, Clinesmith and others. While unable to say that it was the reason for their decisions, they also found extensive statements of animus against Trump and his campaign by the very officials directing the investigation. A few weeks ago, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified he never would have approved renewal of the FISA surveillance, given what is now known, and encouraged further investigation in such bias.

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