Former Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama, Ben Rhodes, says any investigation of prior administration “will find nothing” that shows former President Obama or White House staff had any “involvement” in the origins of the surveillance of Trump campaign and Russia collusion investigation.
Prior to March 9th, 2016, the Obama-era political surveillance and spy operations consisted of using the FBI and NSA database to track/monitor their opposition. However, once the NSA compliance officer began initiating an internal review of who was accessing the system, the CIA and FBI moved to create ex post facto justification for their endeavors. [Full Backstory] Everything after March 9, 2016, became a cover-story.
Looking at White House engagement in the last half of 2016, The War Economy has done some excellent research on this period to contrast the reference of Ben Rhodes:
[Via TWE] […] On July 31, 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, ran by Director James Comey, opened an investigation into the Trump campaign titled “Crossfire Hurricane”, named after the Rolling Stones documentary of the same name. It focused on the actions of four members of the Trump campaign:
- Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
- Paul Manafort
- Carter Page
- George Papadopoulos
As such, this was an incredibly important time… for Director John Brennan of the Central Intelligence Agency.
As noted previously, the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation was partially triggered by information received by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Counterintelligence Mission Center, which served as a conduit to the Federal Bureau of Investigation by using contacts developed by the intelligence agency between Russian individuals and members of the Trump campaign.
The information, more specifically, was received at a time where, coincidentally, Donald Trump secured the Republican Party nomination, which occurred on July 20, 2016, the day before a high-level security meeting between several White House officials.
“The CIA breakthrough came at a stage of the presidential campaign when Trump had secured the GOP nomination but was still regarded as a distance long shot. Clinton held comfortable leads in major polls, and Obama expected that he would be transferring power to someone who had served in his Cabinet.” — The Washington Post
“Intelligence sources said the logs discovered by National Security Council staff suggested Rice’s interest in the NSA materials, some of which included unmasked Americans’ identities, appeared to begin last July around the time Trump secured the GOP nomination and accelerated after Trump’s election in November launched a transition that continued through January.” — Sara Carter, Circa
In the first week of August — directly after the creation of Crossfire Hurricane — Director Brennan contacted Avril Haines via telephone, as he had received intelligence in relation to President Vladimir Putin.
An envelope which contained “eyes only” instructions was sent by courier from the Central Intelligence Agency to the White House. The contents of the envelope were shown to four people: President Barack Obama, and three of his senior aides, most likely Denis McDonough, Susan Rice and Avril Haines.
Within the envelope was a valuable source that Director Brennan had used to ascertain certain information, a source which he intentionally kept away from the Presidential Daily Brief. This was because, by 2013, the Presidential Daily Brief was being received by over 30 recipients.
“Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.
But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objects — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.” — The Washington Post
As a result of this, Director Brennan created a secret task force at the Central Intelligence Agency’s Headquarters, which was composed of several dozen analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The Working Group reported to two different groups.
- President Barack Obama and less than 14 senior United States Government officials.
- A team of operations specialists at the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Also in early August 2016 — presumably the same week — agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, where they questioned her about a letter they had received in early March 2016 from a foreign source, supposedly written by Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz to Leonard Benardo of the Open Society Foundations regarding the Midyear Exam investigation.
During this meeting, the agents offered to give Attorney General Lynch a “defensive briefing”. Shortly after this, the Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded that the Benardo letter was an unreliable document.
President Obama ordered his aides to determine ways to retaliate or deter against the Russian Government through three steps:
- Gain a high-confidence assessment from the United States intelligence agencies on Russia’s role and intent.
- Check vulnerabilities in state-run election systems.
- Seek bipartisan support from Congressional leaders for a statement condemning Moscow and urging states to accept federal assistance.
The same week, Rice, Haines and Lisa Monaco convened meetings in the White House Situation Room, which would later be referred to as “Deputies Meetings”. These meetings were initially attended by:
- Director John Brennan, Central Intelligence Agency
- Director James Clapper, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
- Director James Comey, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Attorney General Loretta Lynch, United States Department of Justice
As time passed, another Cabinet member joined the Deputies Meetings: Vice President Joe Biden.
The Deputies Meetings needed to defend against any potential leaks, and therefore followed the same protocols taken during the planning stages of the raid of Osama bin Laden.
At a later time, agendas were directly sent to Cabinet secretaries, including Secretary John Kerry and Secretary Ashton Carter. When an agenda was received, their subordinates were ordered never to open the envelopes. Further to this, some agendas were withheld until the participants had arrived in the Situation Room and sat down.
Ordinarily, a video feed from the White House Situation Room is fed into various National Security Council offices to allow senior aides to view the events with zero sound. However, during the Deputies Meetings, the video feeds were switched off.
One of these Deputies Meetings was hosted by Haines, where the attendees of the meetings argued that any deliberative attempt to strike back against Russia would become a tool of propaganda for President Vladimir Putin, while another was concerned about the potential effect any action may have on Election Day 2016.
Haines would later note she was “very concerned” during this time about the potential of Russians gaining influence within the Trump campaign, although she apparently remained unaware of the existence of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
As an aspect, or an offshoot, of one of these meetings, Susan Rice informed both Michael Daniel and Celeste Wallander (who would later gain access to the Steele memos) to cease their planning of retaliation against Russia for their cyber attacks on companies and political campaigns and to stand down from the efforts.
The retaliation efforts were carried out by the Cyber Response Group, a unit within the National Security Council which featured representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the United States Department of State and the Pentagon.
One of these individuals was Anthony Ferrante, who was in charge of coordinating the United States Government’s response to Russian attempts to meddle in the presidential election as the top cybersecurity official from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In the present day, Ferrante is investigating the Steele memos on behalf of BuzzFeed News. Anyway, back to the first week of August 2016…
Director Comey also met with President Obama in the Oval Office for a one-on-one meeting, where Director Comey suggested that he write an opinion piece for The New York Times about the potential for Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election. Director Comey planned to avoid mentioning the Crossfire Hurricane investigation in the opinion piece.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: “W– we– we know that– there were s– there were strong objections in– by Republicans in the Senate to being public about this. But at one point, you actually volunteered to put it all on paper?”
JAMES COMEY: “Yeah– I think it was in August, I volunteered that– that I would be– I remember saying that I’m a little tired of being the independent voice on things, after the beating I’d taken after the July 5th announcement. But I said in a meeting with the president, ‘I’m willing to be the voice on this and help inoculate the American people. But I also recognize why this is such a hard question, because if you announce that the Russians are trying to mess with our election, do you accomplish their goal for them? Do you undermine confidence in our election by having the president of the United States, or one of his senior people, say this publicly? Will the Russians be happy that you did that?’ And so I– I wrote an op-ed, was going to go in a major newspaper that laid out what was going on. Not the investigation, ’cause that was too sensitive to reveal, but that, ‘The Russians are here and they’re screwing with us. And this is consistent with what they’ve done in the past,’ and they never took me up on it. The Obama administration deliberated until the beginning of October.”
On August 1, 2016, Director Clapper attended the Department of Defense Intelligence Information Systems Worldwide Conference in Atlanta, GA.
On August 4, 2016, Director Brennan contacted Director Alexander Bortnikov of the Federal Security Service (FSB), where he warned Director Bortnikov against future interference in the United States presidential election.
“When Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s internal security service, told me during an early August 2016 phone call that Russia wasn’t interfering in our presidential election, I knew he was lying. Over the previous several years I had grown weary of Mr. Bortnikov’s denials of Russia’s perfidy — about its mistreatment of American diplomats and citizens in Moscow, its repeated failure to adhere to cease-fire agreements in Syria and its paramilitary intervention in eastern Ukraine, to name just a few issues.
When I warned Mr. Bortnikov that Russian interference in our election was intolerable and would roil United States-Russia relations for many years, he denied Russian involvement in any election, in America or elsewhere, with a feigned sincerity that I had heard many times before. President Vladimir Putin of Russia reiterated those denials numerous times over the past two years, often to Donald Trump’s seeming approval.” — John Brennan, The New York Times
The next day, on August 5, 2016, Michael Morell published the article “I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton” in The New York Times.
The same day — August 5 — the 55th birthday of President Obama was hosted at the White House. During the party, which was attended by Donna Brazile, she was pulled to the side by both Susan Rice (a member of the Deputies Meetings) and Eric Holder separately, where both of them encouraged Brazile to place Russian hacking at the top of her priority list.
The next day, on August 6, 2016, Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Seriously, what is going on with Trump and Russia?” with a 1 minute, 45 second video attached. The same day, President Obama and the First Family left for their vacation at Martha’s Vineyard.
Two days later, on August 8, 2016, Special Agent Peter Strzok texted Lisa Page about a joint intelligence piece for Director Comey to prepare for him to brief Denis McDonough on August 10, 2016.
In mid-August 2016, Director Brennan shared intelligence with Director Comey, which showed that the Russian Government was actively interfering in the 2016 United States presidential election.
Starting from August 11, 2016, Director Brennan started to personally brief — in consultation with the White House — each member of the “Gang of Eight” about the Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election.
JOHN BRENNAN: “Third, through the so-called Gang of Eight process we kept congress apprised of these issues as we identified them. Again, in consultation with the White House, I personally briefed the full details of our understanding of Russian attempts to interfere in the election to congressional leadership; specifically: Senators Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr; and to representatives Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff between 11th August and 6th September , I provided the same briefing to each of the gang of eight members. Given the highly sensitive nature of what was an active counter-intelligence case, involving an ongoing Russian effort, to interfere in our presidential election, the full details of what we knew at the time were shared only with those members of congress; each of whom was accompanied by one senior staff member.”
As noted by Director Brennan, the “Gang of Eight” at the time were:
- Senator Richard Burr
- Senator Dianne Feinstein
- Senator Mitch McConnell
- Representative Devin Nunes
- Representative Nancy Pelosi
- Senator Harry Reid
- Speaker Paul Ryan
- Representative Adam Schiff
On the day the briefings started — August 11 — Representative Pelosi declared that the hacking of the Democratic National Committee was a modern version of the Watergate scandal, conducted by the Russians. At the same time, Director Clapper visited Estonia in person.
Director Clapper worked on preparing the classified briefings for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, as being the nominees of both the Republican Party and Democratic Party allowed them access to some classified information.
Around this time, counterintelligence specialists at the Federal Bureau of Investigation briefed Donald Trump and his surrogates and leadership, and Hillary Clinton and her surrogates and leadership, about the Russian Government’s interference of the 2016 United States presidential election, and issues surrounding cybersecurity.
On August 15, 2016, Special Agent Strzok texted Page: I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40…”
Meanwhile, Secretary Jeh Johnson arranged a conference call with dozens of state officials in an attempt to enlist their support in the White House’s election defence campaign, with one of the officials called being Brian Kemp.
Two days later, on August 17, 2016, Trump, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Governor Chris Christie attended their first classified briefing held by intelligence officials — the officials were from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and it was held at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York Field Office.
The next day, on August 18, 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Division issued a warning titled “Targeting Activity Against State Board of Election Systems”, restricted to “NEED TO KNOW recipients”, where they disclosed that they were investigating cyber intrusions into websites hosted in Arizona and Illinois.
On August 19, 2016, Special Agent Strzok texted Page that he was preparing for a meeting with Director Clapper, who then after the meeting contacted Director Comey.
Two days later, on August 21, 2016, President Obama and the First Family left Martha’s Vineyard to return to Washington, DC.
On August 24, 2016, Director Brennan and Director Clapper shared the stage together for a symposium at the Nixon Library, where they discussed the Presidential Daily Brief.
It was the next day, August 25, 2016, that Director Brennan contacted Senator Reid through a secure telephone line as part of his classified “Gang of Eight” briefings. During the conversation, Senator Reid was informed that Russia was attempting to assist Trump with winning the election, and that members of the Trump campaign may be working with Russians to achieve this. Director Brennan also advised Senator Reid that, as the Central Intelligence Agency focused on foreign affairs, he would have to speak with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to discuss further.
Another two days later, on August 27, 2016, Senator Reid sent a letter to Director Comey, where he expressed concern and questioned the range of Russian interference. Senator Reid also requested for an investigation to be opened, unaware of the existence of Crossfire Hurricane. In the letter, Carter Page was cited. However, Director Comey later informed the Crossfire Hurricane team that he was contacted by Senator Reid prior and was warned that a letter would be sent.
On the same day, Senator McConnell received his own personal briefing from Director Brennan, where he questioned the underpinnings of the intelligence gathered. Senator McConnell agreed during the briefing to sign a letter to state election officials about potential election interference, requesting that altered language be used for it.
Hillary Clinton then received her first classified briefing — alone, for 2 hours — from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence at a Federal Bureau of Investigation facility in White Plains, NY.
In late August 2016, the Crossfire Hurricane investigation team learned of the memos written by Christopher Steele from Special Agent Michael Gaeta, where they then briefed Director Comey and deputies on their existence.
Around this time, Admiral Rogers pushed for a counter-cyber-strike against Russia for their actions, proposing a number of potential scenarios, although none of them were presented to President Obama.
On August 29, 2016, Michael Isikoff published the article “FBI says foreign hackers penetrated state election systems” in Yahoo! News.
As August 2016 was coming to a close, Director Brennan became more concerned over Russia’s cyber attacks on the United States during the presidential election.
In September 2016, Director Comey again refused to divulge the existence of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. The same month, presumably after September 23, 2016, Jonathan Finer briefed Secretary Kerry on the 2-page Steele memo summary, although once they both agreed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had it in hand, they dropped the subject, and Finer placed the summary in a safe.
On September 2, 2016, Special Agent Strzok and Lisa Page prepared a set of talking points for Director Comey, as he was preparing for a meeting with President Obama, who wanted to know everything they were doing. Shortly after this, Strzok and Page then discussed their authorship of the opinion piece — this is most likely the same opinion piece Director Comey discussed with President Obama in August 2016.
In early September 2016, the Obama Administration decided to officially blame Russia for the cyber-attacks on the United States. As such, Secretary Johnson, Director Comey and Monaco travelled to Capitol Hill in a caravan of black SUVs, where they then met with the “Gang of Twelve”, which included Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative Adam Schiff.
During this meeting, they tried to arrange a bipartisan letter to be sent to State Governors to defend the election infrastructure. The Republican Party members of the United States Congress disagreed with the plan, as they viewed the request as partisan.
On September 5, 2016, President Obama attended the G20 Summit, where he met directly with President Putin. During this meeting, President Obama warned President Putin to end his interference in the 2016 United States presidential election. The same day, Dana Priest, Ellen Nakashima and Tom Hamburger published the article “U.S. investigating potential covert Russian plan to disrupt November elections” in The Washington Post, which was then discussed by Special Agent Strzok and Lisa Page.
The day after, on September 6, 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence held a classified briefing with Congressional staff members about Russian hacking and interference in the presidential election, while Director Brennan completed his own personal briefings with the “Gang of Eight”.
Between September 7–8, 2016, the Intelligence and National Security Summit was held, which was attended by Director Clapper, Shawn Henry, Representative Schiff, Deputy Director McCabe, John Carlin, Stuart Evans, Admiral Rogers, William Evanina, Director Comey and Director Brennan.
It may have also been attended by Special Agent Strzok.
“And ooh, you’re at ODNI on Wed. LX? Me too!”
“Gotta figure that out tomorrow. Insider threat perhaps. Maybe Electoral shenanigans. I’m between Clapper and Evanina and another person or two.” — Peter Strzok, September 5, 2016
On September 8, 2016, Ken Dilanian, Robert Windrem and William Arkin published the article “What Really Happened at Donald Trump’s Intelligence Briefing” in NBC News.
Three days later, on September 11, 2016, Director Brennan was interviewed on CBS’s “Face the Nation”, where he warned about Russia’s capabilities in the cyber-realm. Director Brennan also noted that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s e-mails.
“CIA Director John Brennan warned on Sunday that Russia has ‘exceptionally capable and sophisticated’ computer capabilities and that the U.S. must be on guard.
When asked in a television interview whether Russia is trying to manipulate the American presidential election, Brennan didn’t say. But he noted that the FBI is investigating the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails, and he cited Moscow’s aggressive intelligence collection and its focus on high-tech snooping.
‘I think that we have to be very, very wary of what the Russians might be trying to do in terms of collecting information in a cyber realm, as well as what they might want to do with it,’ he told CBS’ ‘Face the Nation’ on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.” — CBS News
The next day, on September 12, 2016, Representative Pelosi, Senator McConnell, Senator Reid and Speaker Ryan met with President Obama in the Oval Office to discuss Zika funding.
It was during this Oval Office meeting that President Obama requested for the Senators and Representatives to join him in asking the states to work the White House on protecting the election network infrastructure, which included the development of a bipartisan statement. Senator McConnell pushed for the statement to be “watered down” from the original request.
The same day — September 12 — Steve Ricchetti contacted Donna Brazile to arrange a call between herself and Vice President Biden.
On September 14, 2016, Monaco attended a Center For Strategic and International Studies conference, where she warned that there would be retaliation from the United States for the hacking of political organisations. Other attendees at the conference included James A. Baker and George Toscas.
“They come as the FBI is probing the extent to which Moscow is carrying out an unprecedented digital campaign to potentially undermine confidence in the political process here.
The nation’s top national security officials warned Wednesday that the United States is prepared to respond to whoever is behind the hacks of political organizations such as the Democratic National Committee.
‘Nobody should think that there’s a free pass,’ said Lisa Monaco, President Obama’s adviser on homeland security and counterterrorism, when asked at a Center for Strategic and International Studies conference about the hacks linked to Russia.” — The Washington Post
Monaco then spoke at the 10-year anniversary of the United States Department of Justice’s National Security Division, where she said that it would be very difficult for Russia to hack the elections. Meanwhile, Special Agent Strzok was briefed by the National Security Agency.
In mid-September 2016, the Steele memo provided by Special Agent Gaeta reached the Crossfire Hurricane investigation team.
On September 22, 2016, Senator Feinstein and Representative Schiff released a joint statement about Russian interference in the presidential election, where they mentioned the briefings they had received from Director Brennan.
A few days later, on September 27, 2016, Ali Watkins published the article “The White House Asked Congress To Keep Quiet On Russian Hacking” in BuzzFeed News, which directly related to the joint statement.
“But sources tell BuzzFeed News that the White House — which has stayed silent despite mounting pressure to call out its Moscow adversaries — tried to delay the statement’s release. The public accusation was of such concern to the administration that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was personally involved in the negotiations over releasing it, according to a congressional source.
Feinstein and Schiff, both Democrats, agreed to omit part of their original statement for security reasons, according to another congressional source. That request, which stemmed from concerns over classification, came from the CIA, a congressional source added Wednesday.” — Ali Watkins, BuzzFeed News
In late September 2016, Director Comey ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Counterintelligence Division — headed by Bill Priestap — to protect the 2016 United States presidential election from foreign interference.
On September 28, 2016, Senator McConnell, Senator Reid, Speaker Ryan and Representative Pelosi sent a bipartisan joint letter to Todd Valentine to warn him about potential cyber-attacks which may affect the presidential election. On the same day, Director Comey testified before the House Judiciary Committee, where he discussed the attempted intrusions into voter database registrations in July, August and beyond.
In October 2016, the Obama Administration officially ruled out moving forward on Director Comey’s plan to write and publish an opinion piece for The New York Times.
JAMES COMEY: “And so I– I wrote an op-ed, was going to go in a major newspaper that laid out what was going on. Not the investigation, ’cause that was too sensitive to reveal, but that, ‘The Russians are here and they’re screwing with us. And this is consistent with what they’ve done in the past,’ and they never took me up on it. The Obama administration deliberated until the beginning of October.”
However, an alternative plan was created in its place by the Obama Administration: in the event Hillary Clinton was defeated on Election Day, then the White House would co-ordinate with Congressional Republicans, former Presidents of the United States, and former Cabinet-level officials — which included both Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell — to verify the election, which included confirmation that Russia pushed for Trump to win over Hillary. This plan was discussed with Ben Rhodes.
“In October 2016, senior staff in the Obama White House discussed what they should do if Hillary Clinton won the November election and Donald Trump refused to accept the result as legitimate. They had cause to be worried. At that time, Trump had openly speculated that the election might be ‘rigged.’ During his final debate with Clinton on October 19, he said that his opponent ‘should never have been allowed to run’ and declined to answer the question of whether he would concede. ‘I’ll keep you in suspense,’ the Republican nominee said.”
“The Obama White House plan, according to interviews with Rhodes and Jen Psaki, Obama’s communications director, called for congressional Republicans, former presidents, and former Cabinet-level officials including Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, to try and forestall a political crisis by validating the election result. In the event that Trump tried to dispute a Clinton victory, they would affirm the result as well as the conclusions reached by the U.S. intelligence community that Russian interference in the election sought to favor Trump, and not Clinton. Some Republicans were already aware of Russian interference from intelligence briefings given to leaders from both parties during the chaotic months before the election. ‘We wanted to handle the Russia information in a way that was as bipartisan as possible,’ Rhodes said.” — New York Magazine
TWE has a fifteen part series of information, assembling more than a year of research, relating to the 2016 election and the intelligence community involvement therein. If you enjoy reading fully cited background material on multiple break-out aspects, his research is a terrific resource. SEE HERE