Last week, the firm behind the contract for the Russian Dossier, Fusion GPS, requested that a U.S. District judge block congressional investigators from access, via a previous subpoena, to its bank records. The judge gave the House Intelligence Committee lawyers and Fusion GPS a week to see if they could work out a mutual agreement on the production of the records.
Yesterday the attorneys for Fusion GPS and the House Intelligence Committee agreed to terms for releasing the bank records. The intel committee will receive the bank records to continue their investigation, but the documents will be sealed from public scrutiny:
During the week-long negotiations between Fusion GPS and congressional lawyers, multiple funding sources were mysteriously leaked. One of the leaks showed The Washington Free Beacon and billionaire Paul Singer initially contracted with Fusion GPS in 2015 for initial opposition research against candidate Donald Trump, seemingly for the benefit of WFB and Singer’s preferred candidate Marco Rubio. That commissioned research ended in March/April of 2016 when it was clear that Rubio could not win the nomination.
Additionally, it was leaked that the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democrat National Committee entered into another contract with Fusion GPS for research into candidate Trump (general election) that eventually led to the June 2016 commissioned work by former British MI6 agent Christoper Steele.
Mr. Steele then used his Russian contacts to assemble a dossier, later called the “Russian Dossier” that became the centerpiece of Hillary Clinton’s “Vast Russian Conspiracy” narrative against candidate Trump and, after election victory, against President-Elect Trump.
The unknown aspect surrounding the dossier is the extent of the collaboration between the former Obama administration’s intelligence community (FBI, CIA, ODNI), the Clinton Campaign, Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele. There have been numerous reports that parts of the Steele Dossier was used by the Obama intelligence groups, specifically the FBI, to gain FISA warrants to spy on the campaign activity of Donald Trump.
The timelines associated with the events, and the specific instances of activity within the timeline, indicate a particular level of collaboration between the FBI and Steele using the dossier (a collection of unfounded and salacious accusations) to construct a political narrative against the candidate, president-elect and later President, Donald Trump.
1. June 2016: FISA request. At the same time Christopher Steele begins work for the Clinton Campaign and DNC, the Obama administration files a request with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to monitor communications involving Donald Trump and several advisers. The request, uncharacteristically, is denied.
2. July: Russia joke. Wikileaks releases emails from the Democratic National Committee that show an effort to prevent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) from winning the presidential nomination. In a press conference, Donald Trump refers to Hillary Clinton’s own missing emails, joking: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.” That remark becomes the basis for accusations by Clinton and the media that Trump invited further hacking.
3. October: Podesta emails. In October, Wikileaks releases the emails of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, rolling out batches every day until the election, creating new mini-scandals. The Clinton campaign blames Trump and the Russians.
4. October: FISA request. At the same time Christopher Steele presents the completed Russian Dossier to Fusion GPS, the Obama administration submits a new, narrow request to the FISA court, now focused on a computer server in Trump Tower suspected of links to Russian banks. No evidence is found — but the wiretaps continue, ostensibly for national security reasons, Andrew McCarthy at National Review later notes. The Obama administration is now monitoring an opposing presidential campaign using the high-tech surveillance powers of the federal intelligence services.
- Election November 8th – Donald Trump wins.
- NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers had a visit with President Trump on Friday, November 16th. The next day the Trump transition team move operations from Trump Tower to Trump’s golf course resort in Bedminster, New Jersey.
- In its final days, the Obama Administration expanded the power of the National Security Agency (NSA) to share globally intercepted personal communication with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying any privacy protections.
- The new rules were issued under section 2.3 of Executive Order 12333 after approval by two Obama Administration officials: Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Director of National Intelligence Director, James Clapper.
- According to the Executive Order rule changes DNI James Clapper signed off on December 15th.
- General Michael Flynn spoke to the Russian Ambassador on December 29th
- Dec 29th 2016 – Obama announces sanctions on Russia
5. January 2017: Buzzfeed/CNN dossier. Buzzfeed releases, and CNN reports, a supposed intelligence “dossier” compiled by a foreign former spy. It purports to show continuous contact between Russia and the Trump campaign, and says that the Russians have compromising information about Trump. None of the allegations can be verified and some are proven false. Several media outlets claim that they had been aware of the dossier for months and that it had been circulating in Washington.
6. January: Obama expands NSA sharing. As Michael Walsh later notes, and as the New York Times reports, the outgoing Obama administration “expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.” The new powers, and reduced protections, could make it easier for intelligence on private citizens to be circulated improperly or leaked.
The new rules, which were issued in an unclassified document, entitled Procedures for the Availability or Dissemination of Raw Signals Intelligence Information by the National Security Agency (NSA), significantly relaxed longstanding limits on what the NSA may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations.
These operations are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. Surveillances include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls, and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.
The changes initiated by the Obama Administration in its waning days empowered far more agents and officials to search through raw intelligence data.
- Jan 3rd 2017 – Loretta Lynch signs off on rule changes for phone taps.
- Jan 12th 2017 – WaPo reports On Phone Calls Anonymous Intel Sources
- Jan 15th 2017 – VP Pence appears on Face the nation.
- Jan 20th 2017 – Inauguration
- Jan 23rd 2017 – FBI reports nothing unlawful in content of Flynn call
- Jan 26th 2017 – Sally Yates (acting DOJ) informs President Trump there might be a conflict between VP Pence’s stated TV version (was told by Flynn), and what Intel community communicate to Yates that Flynn actually expressed to Russia.
- Jan 27th 2017 – White House counsel begins investigation to discrepancy.
7. January: Times report. The New York Times reports, on the eve of Inauguration Day, that several agencies — the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Treasury Department are monitoring several associates of the Trump campaign suspected of Russian ties.
Other news outlets also report the existence of a multi-agency working group to coordinate investigations across the government,” though it is unclear how they found out, since the investigations would have been secret and involved classified information.
8. February: Mike Flynn scandal. Reports emerge that the FBI intercepted a conversation in 2016 between future National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — then a private citizen — and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The intercept supposedly was part of routine spying on the ambassador, not monitoring of the Trump campaign. The FBI transcripts reportedly show the two discussing Obama’s newly-imposed sanctions on Russia, though Flynn earlier denied discussing them.
Sally Yates, whom Trump would later fire as acting Attorney General for insubordination, is involved in the investigation. In the end, Flynn resigns over having misled Vice President Mike Pence (perhaps inadvertently) about the content of the conversation.
9. February: Times claims extensive Russian contacts. The New York Times cites “four current and former American officials” in reporting that the Trump campaign had “repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials. The Trump campaign denies the claims — and the Times admits that there is “no evidence” of coordination between the campaign and the Russians. The White House and some congressional Republicans begin to raise questions about illegal intelligence leaks.
10. March: the Washington Post targets Jeff Sessions. The Washington Post reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had contact twice with the Russian ambassador during the campaign — once at a Heritage Foundation event and once at a meeting in Sessions’s Senate office.
The Post suggests that the two meetings contradict Sessions testimony at his confirmation hearings that he had no contacts with the Russians, though in context (not presented by the Post) it was clear he meant in his capacity as a campaign surrogate, and that he was responding to claims in the “dossier” of ongoing contacts.
The New York Times, in covering the story, adds that the Obama White House “rushed to preserve” intelligence related to alleged Russian links with the Trump campaign. By “preserve” it really means “disseminate”: officials spread evidence throughout other government agencies “to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators” and perhaps the media as well.
In summary: Simultaneous to Hillary Clinton and the DNC commissioning Christopher Steele (through Fusion GPS) to manufacture the ‘Russian Dossier’ – the Obama administration sought, and eventually obtained, authorization to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign; the FBI continued monitoring the Trump team even when no evidence of wrongdoing was found; then Obama Lynch and Clapper relaxed the NSA rules to allow evidence to be shared widely within the government, virtually ensuring that the information, including the conversations of private citizens, would be leaked to the media.