By now, the notion that the Trump campaign somehow conspired with Russian nationals to attain the United States presidency has been, to use a term so often adopted by (mostly left-leaning) politicians mired in the throes of legitimately scandalous activities, ‘debunked’. For once, it actually has been debunked.
The House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines in March to close their investigation into election meddling by Russia. Spokesmen for the Committee stated, as unequivocally as such things can be stated, that they found “no evidence of collusion, coordination or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”
Naturally, the Democrats on the committee openly accused the Republicans on the Committee of hobbling their attempts to bring the president to justice. But, regardless, they should know full well that Robert Mueller and the intelligence committee have proven far more determined, and likely more capable, of levying charges against the President that would lead to his impeachment, the clear end-goal of those seeking to find damning evidence of wrongdoing. And, by most accounts, they’ve yet to turn anything up.
That determination has been made even more clear – not that it needed to be – by the revelation that an academic with American citizenship teaching in Britain, Stefan Halper, was tasked by the FBI with turning up links to Russia via two relatively low-level Trump campaign staffers.
Critics of the investigation see the use of Halper as necessary in a larger ass-covering scheme. By even former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s accounts, it would have been “a good thing” if the intelligence community was keeping tabs on the Trump campaign – hypothetically, of course – even if that directive was at the order of an outgoing political opponent and, by extension, the candidate he hoped to catapult into the White House. Hint: that candidate was not Donald Trump.
Clapper isn’t the only formerly high-ranking intelligence boss who has openly justified what we now know to be confirmed wiretapping, the implanting of an informant to gather potentially harmful information against Trump and/or his associates, and – if that weren’t enough to gather necessary dirt, which it hasn’t been – a year-plus long ‘investigation’ into Trump, his family, and associates with no apparent aim and virtually no oversight. Former CIA director John Brennan showed his hand long ago, and one cannot help but wonder what motivated Brennan – remember, CIA directors typically try to at least appear politically impartial – to take such an uneven-handed public stance against the president:
“When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America...America will triumph over you.”(Twitter, John Brennan)
Point being, if you still refuse to accept that the intelligence community has a dog in the fight, and fail to consider that, perhaps, they might be working so hard to win that fight post-election because their pre-election counterintelligence activities were less than kosher, you probably aren’t connecting all of the dots. The fact that Trump was the target of a counterintelligence campaign in the first place, treated as if he were himself an agent of Russia without any inkling of proof to suggest such a conclusion, is in and of itself cause for concern and skepticism.
In a New York Times article detailing, or more accurately, justifying the actions of the FBI to entice what they presumably hoped would be confessions of collusion from Trump staffers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, details of the extent to which the Bureau was willing to go to administer such confessions are in and of itself a revelation. The Times maintains that there was ample reason to resort to such measures within the counterintelligence operation known as “Crossfire Hurricane”.
‘F.B.I. agents sent an informant to talk to two campaign advisers only after they received evidence that the pair had suspicious contacts linked to Russia during the campaign. The informant, an American academic who teaches in Britain, made contact late that summer with one campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, according to people familiar with the matter. He also met repeatedly in the ensuing months with the other aide, Carter Page, who was also under F.B.I. scrutiny for his ties to Russia.’ (NYT)
However, to those less familiar with the law but vaguely abreast of its most basic tenets, some of these scenarios sound like, well, entrapment. The fact that Halper sought out Page and Papadopoulos and brought up conversations that were steered toward what he hoped would be damning evidence of Russian collusion doesn’t ring of an investigation that was fair and open-ended from the outset. It presents the image of an investigation which, with Halper as the point-man, had a predetermined destination.
‘F.B.I. agents were seeking more details about what Mr. Papadopoulos knew about the hacked Democratic emails, and one month after their Russia investigation began, Mr. Papadopoulos received a curious message. The academic inquired about his interest in writing a research paper on a disputed gas field in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, a subject of Mr. Papadopoulos’s expertise.
The informant offered a $3,000 honorarium for the paper and a paid trip to London, where the two could meet and discuss the research project.
“I understand that this is rather sudden but thought that given your expertise it might be of interest to you,” the informant wrote in a message to Mr. Papadopoulos, sent on Sept. 2, 2016.’
Halper, after offering $3,000 just to be in the same room as Papadopoulos, proceeded to go after what he was commissioned to find; evidence of collusion, or at least a damning statement insinuating as much. The hook was baited, now he had to reel in the fish, however tiny that fish might be.
‘Over drinks and dinner one evening at a high-end London hotel, the F.B.I. informant (Halper) raised the subject of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails that had spilled into public view earlier that summer, according to a person familiar with the conversation. The source noted how helpful they had been to the Trump campaign, and asked Mr. Papadopoulos whether he knew anything about Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.’
Papadopoulos didn’t know anything of substance that would unravel the Trump campaign. So, on to Page Halper went. But nothing came of those contacts – again, arranged by Halper – and eventually, the two targets would cease interaction with the informant. Though, their names would be cited time and again to renew wiretapping warrants despite interactions with a direct informant bearing no real judicial fruit.
It can’t be overstated: the implanting of an informant within a formal counterintelligence investigation by the FBI into an active presidential candidate, based upon nothing more a trip to Moscow here and a vague allusion to emails there, is unprecedented.
And, explanations for why the whole operation has remained so secretive is as polarizing as the debate over the investigation’s legitimacy itself. Critics, who would allude to the investigation as a ‘witch hunt’, would likely suspect that Halper’s undercover informant status was the indication of a below-the-table operation aimed at duping Trump associates or Trump himself into some form of admission of guilt, despite the query likely not having sufficient probable cause to begin with.
But the New York Times presents the FBI’s case for secrecy. Naturally, to protect informants (again, implying sinisterly that Halper would be in some sort of danger doled out by the Trump administration should his identity be revealed). In addition, the investigators were determined not to sway the outcome of an election in its final months by revealing the existence of an investigation.
In other words, it was for Trump’s own protection that the informant was kept under wraps! Can you believe that?
‘After opening the Russia inquiry about a month later, they took steps, those officials said, to ensure that details of the inquiry were more closely held than even in a typical national security investigation, including the use of the informant to suss out information from the unsuspecting targets. Sending F.B.I. agents to interview them could have created additional risk that the investigation’s existence would seep into view in the final weeks of a heated presidential race.’ (NYT)
This whole investigation doesn’t exactly smell of conscientiousness, fairness or respect for Donald Trump. Were we talking about the other candidate whose investigation was brought to a swift conclusion, that might be a different case. But it’s hard to buy that the secretiveness surrounding this investigation into – whatever is being investigated now – was maintained out of respect for the sitting president’s fair shake during election season.
More likely, as is the case now, the intelligence community didn’t want it coming out that they were actively seeking collusion charges against a candidate who was once a long-shot to compete in the race, let alone win. It still appears, justifiably, as if as little as possible is being disclosed to the public about how the investigation started, on what alleged probable cause it was opened, and who all was involved and informed of its ‘progress’.
The accounts surrounding Stefan Halper’s interactions with Carter Page and George Papadopoulos aren’t doing the long-lost image of an impartial intelligence community any favors, either. It’s another brick in the wall on which the mural of the most controversial, and perhaps ugliest, scandal in American political history will be painted.
When it’s all said and done, that mural won’t be a Mona Lisa or a Picasso. Rest assured, it won’t be pretty in the loosest sense of the word.