Preface: this post is about the FBI investigation Crossfire Hurricane, and it may not be of interest to many of my regular readers.
I have been following the "Trump-Russia collusion" case very closely and in real time since it began, and am not going to include hyperlinks in this post, other than one to a letter sent by Carter Page to then FBI Director James Comey.
My sources are the Department of Justice (DoJ) Office of the Inspector General's (IG) December 9, 2019 report (the Horowitz Report), the congressional testimony of Michael Horowitz and Carter Page, and other easily searchable resources. Everything I will assert in this post is something you can look up yourself, and I encourage you to do so.
So let's begin.
Who is Carter Page, and why does he matter?
I have seen the claim thrown around that the FBI must have had valid suspicions about Carter Page all along that had nothing to do with his involvement with the Trump campaign. The reason they believe this?
Because Page left the campaign shortly after Yahoo News, on September 23, 2016, published an article claiming that Page was under FBI investigation for suspicious contact with sanctioned Russian officials. Page left the Trump campaign pretty much immediately after the FBI confirmed in the media that the matter was “on [their] radar,” and that they were “looking into it.”
So Page left the Trump campaign in late September, but the FBI didn’t even obtain its first Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil Page until October 21.
Clearly, these keyboard warriors tell me, the FBI was only interested in Carter Page’s improper contacts with the Russians, and it had nothing to do with the Trump campaign. After all, he wasn’t even involved with the Trump campaign at that point. Check mate!
People who claim this either do not know of, or choose not to mention, a standard the FBI uses called the “two hop” rule.
While the FBI might have had valid suspicions of Page in the very first days he came to their attention (more on this below), the “two hop” rule would enable them to “look into” not just Page, and not just Page’s immediate contacts, but Page’s immediate contacts’ immediate contacts.
See? Two hops. (Want confirmation? Google "two hop rule".)
So while Page may have left the campaign prior to the first successful FISA warrant application, there were lots of his contacts who were still involved in the campaign, and lots of THEIR contacts, as well. And if the FBI managed to hit pay dirt a second time—that is, establish sufficient probable cause to successfully apply for a FISA warrant on any of those individuals? Then they’d have another group of primary and secondary contacts to surveil.
So. Carter Page gave the FBI an "in" with the Trump campaign, even after he'd quit.
After the story broke at Yahoo, and was picked up by other news agencies, Page spent months desperately trying to tell anyone who would listen that he was working with the CIA as an informant. He claimed, publicly and vehemently, that he had regular communications with sanctioned Russian officials and other big baddies, but after each one he would debrief the CIA on what had been communicated. He had, he claimed, assisted both the CIA and the FBI for years in their pursuit of intelligence on the Russians.
Most of the media either ignored his claims altogether, or expressed the type of deadpan skepticism late night news satire hosts are known for. “Uh huh. You’re a secret agent. I totally believe you.”
Not that this was a particularly surprising response. Page does not evoke fictional characters like Jack Ryan or James Bond. A big-eared egghead with a slight lisp and a nervous demeanor, he is hardly the stuff of Tom Clancy novels.
But the news media were not the only people Carter Page was desperately trying to talk to.
Two days after the Yahoo News story broke, Carter Page sent then FBI Director James Comey a direct letter in which he described the media allegations as spurious and outrageous, and claimed he’d had numerous interactions over the course of decades with US intelligence agencies, including the FBI and the CIA. He invited the FBI to call him so they could put the matter to rest.
Apparently, the FBI chose not to call Page to clear the matter up. Or to even look him up in their own archived files, which, if they had, would have indicated that the FBI and the DoJ had used Page as a source in the past, and that Page had actually assisted the DoJ in... wait for it... prosecuting Russians.
Does anyone think the FBI should not have at least performed a rudimentary search through their own existing files after receiving that letter? And maybe touched base with the DoJ or CIA? You know, perform the most cursory due diligence before doing something as drastic as obtaining a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to spy on a US citizen?
Yeah, me neither.
These were not only facts that would have explained as either innocuous, or as an asset to the US government, Page’s interactions with sanctioned Russians—interactions that are not prohibited by law, mind you. They were also exculpatory details that were required by law to be included in any application for a warrant to surveil Page.
And yet the warrant was applied for, and the application contained none of this exculpatory information—some of which existed in the FBI’s own filing cabinets.
So. Let’s review. On or around September 25 2016, James Comey received notice that the FBI had in its possession information suggesting that Page had a history of working with and for the American government, not against them. This information was within Comey’s power to confirm or disconfirm simply by looking through existing FBI files, requesting confirmation from the CIA, and/or reaching out to the DoJ.
Comey either did not perform this basic due diligence, or he did, ignored what he found, and went ahead with the first FISA warrant application against Page anyway.
And why would he do that? Oh, I don't know. Because of the “two hop” rule, maybe?
Carter Page was a bit player in this tragicomedy, a prologue character who’d arguably left the theater long before Act 1, Scene 1, and who remained for the rest of the story merely a subject of the soliloquies, asides and actions of the more stage-worthy characters.
A dorky egghead with a slight lisp who happened to be a confidential human source for the CIA, a man whose only crime was being perfectly situated to provide the FBI a pretext to apply for surveillance warrants that, because of the “two hop” rule, would give them license to spy on the Trump campaign, and later, the Trump administration.
You know, as long as the FBI was and remained "unaware" of Page's decades of work for, and cooperation with, the US government, and all.
Page had quit the Trump campaign a month before the ink was dry on the first FISA warrant application, but there’s no “best before” date on the “two hop” rule, dontcha know.
It would not be until after the second warrant renewal (essentially, the third warrant application) that someone on the Crossfire Hurricane team would bother to ask the CIA if Page was indeed a CIA asset. The CIA responded by email in the affirmative.
This email is the document FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith (an outspoken "Viva la Resistance!" type), would alter to say the exact opposite, in order to obtain that one last warrant renewal on June 29, 2017, well into the Trump administration. This discrepancy was discovered by IG Michael Horowitz, and is rock solid.
And all Clinesmith did was add one word. He turned the CIA’s “is” into “is not”. Such a little thing! At least, that's what his lawyer is telling everyone right now.
On August 14, 2020, it was announced that Clinesmith was set to plead guilty to “making false statements” to the FISA court.
For those of us who’ve been following this debacle, there’s a sense of “about time!” in the air. But let's not be distracted by the fact that some low level, anti-Trump lawyer is getting his comeuppance for committing a felony in the service of trying to take down a duly elected president.
No one would have even heard of Clinesmith had IG Horowitz not spotted that itty bitty little “typo” during his review of Crossfire Hurricane's alleged abuse of the FISA process. Clinesmith was neither a mover nor a shaker. He's small potatoes. He was another bit player, his role in the play alluded to but never really acted out on the stage
And when push comes to shove, all he really did was break the law in order to aid an abet a crime that was already in progress.
That is, the very first FISA warrant against Carter Page was, in my opinion, illegally obtained. Clinesmith's falsifying of evidence to obtain the fourth FISA warrant only added insult to injury.
Again, James Comey was put on notice in late September of 2016, prior to the first warrant application to spy on Carter Page, that Page had files going back decades with the FBI and CIA. The contents of those files would have prohibited any such warrant.
Certainly, had the FISA court been apprised of Page's record of assisting the FBI and CIA they'd have denied the request for a warrant. But more than this, under any business-as-usual circumstances, his record would have made utterly inappropriate any effort by the FBI to even obtain such a warrant.
That is, given Page’s readily available history, the FBI would not have been granted a warrant to spy on Page because, if they had acted legally and ethically, they would not have sought one in the first place.
How inconvenient that must have been!
Either Comey did not care to check, or he did check and didn’t care. As IG Horowitz noted during his testimony before the Senate, the only explanations he could think of for the “errors and omissions” made by the FBI throughout Crossfire Hurricane’s interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court were either political bias or gross incompetence, neither of which reflect well on anyone involved.
And to further complicate matters, after being fired as Director of the FBI, James Comey—the man who either did not care to check, or checked but did not care—declined to renew his security clearance. This meant he could not be questioned by IG Horowitz about ANY of these matters, because at that time they were still classified, and Comey was therefore barred from hearing or discussing them.
Slippery little sucker. I bet he just forgot to renew. The guy had a lot on his mind, after all, like collecting royalties for his book, hubristically titled "A Higher Loyalty."
According to media reports, Clinesmith faces a maximum of 5 years in prison for “making false statements” to the FISA court.
This, despite the fact that the Department of Justice had him dead to rights on tampering with evidence (18 U.S.C. § 1519), which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years.
That’s quite the discount, all things considered. From a guaranteed felony conviction carrying a 20 year max, down to pleading to a lesser crime with a maximum of 5? That’s like the feds having you dead to rights on premeditated murder, and they let you plead guilty to negligent homicide.
Senator Lindsey Graham (bless his heart) could barely suppress his giggles when discussing this plea deal, and what the major players might be worrying about right now, on Fox News yesterday.
All things considered, I don’t think anyone involved is sleeping well at the moment.
Carter Page has never been charged with any crime regarding his alleged collusion with Russia as a member of the Trump campaign. Indeed, he's never even been charged with a process crime, such as lying to the FBI, or with any of the typical "fishing expedition" crimes that tend to stick to political movers and shakers, like tax evasion or money laundering.
This man appears to be squeaky clean. Either that, or (and forgive me for introducing a new metaphor) the FBI wasn't interested in removing such a useful piece from the chessboard.
For nearly a year, the FBI used Carter Page's contacts with certain Russian bad actors, the details of which Page dutifully reported to the CIA, as a false pretext to surveil the Trump campaign.
The consequences for Page? Senator Lindsey Graham has repeatedly used the phrase "his life was turned upside down." I would go further than that. Carter Page's life as he knew it was effectively cancelled on September 23, 2016, when Yahoo News reported he was a person of interest to the FBI due to his suspicious and possibly nefarious contacts with "muh Russians".
The FBI could have spared Page everything he's endured for the last four years by reviewing their own fucking files and correcting the media narrative. Instead, they misled the FISA court in order to use him as an instrument to spy on the Trump campaign. And in at least one case, the FBI falsified evidence in order to preserve their phoney pretext to renew the warrant to surveil anyone associated with Trump.
Carter Page the patriotic confidential source for the FBI and CIA, who had aided the Department of Justice in the successful prosecution of dastardly Russians in the past, was not useful to the FBI's Crossfire Hurricane "investigation".
Carter Page, the suspected Russian collaborator, was.
So the FBI allowed that narrative to stand in the mainstream media and falsely presented it to the FISA court, and Page was left to twist in the wind.
Here's hoping that Clinesmith is not the only casualty of this comedy of malicious errors.