(…) Among the most significant of the newly declassified documents is a memorandum written by FBI agent Joe Pientka III, the case agent on Trump-Russia. It was Pientka who, at the FBI’s New York City headquarters on August 17, 2016, purported to brief Trump and two top campaign surrogates — the aforementioned General Flynn and then–New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who was slated to run the transition if Trump won.
In reality, Pientka and the FBI regarded the occasion not as a briefing for the Republican presidential nominee but as an opportunity to interact with Donald Trump for investigative purposes. Clearly, the Bureau did that because Trump was the main subject of the investigation. The hope was that he’d blurt things out that would help the FBI prove he was an agent of Russia.
The Obama administration and the FBI knew that it was they who were meddling in a presidential campaign — using executive intelligence powers to monitor the president’s political opposition. This, they also knew, would rightly be regarded as a scandalous abuse of power if it ever became public. There was no rational or good-faith evidentiary basis to believe that Trump was in a criminal conspiracy with the Kremlin or that he’d had any role in Russian intelligence’s suspected hacking of Democratic Party email accounts.
You didn’t have to believe Trump was a savory man to know that. His top advisers were Flynn, a decorated combat veteran; Christie, a former U.S. attorney who vigorously investigated national-security cases; Rudy Giuliani, a legendary former U.S. attorney and New York City mayor who’d rallied the country against anti-American terrorism; and Jeff Sessions, a longtime U.S. senator with a strong national-defense track record. To believe Trump was unfit for the presidency on temperamental or policy grounds was a perfectly reasonable position for Obama officials to take — though an irrelevant one, since it’s up to the voters to decide who is suitable. But to claim to suspect that Trump was in a cyberespionage conspiracy with the Kremlin was inane . . . except as a subterfuge to conduct political spying, which Obama officials well knew was an abuse of power.
So they concealed it. They structured the investigation on the fiction that there was a principled distinction between Trump himself and the Trump campaign. In truth, the animating assumption of the probe was that Trump himself was acting on Russia’s behalf, either willfully or under the duress of blackmail. By purporting to focus on the campaign, investigators had the fig leaf of deniability they needed to monitor the candidate.
Just two weeks before Pientka’s August 17 “briefing” of Trump, the FBI formally opened “Crossfire Hurricane,” the codename for the Trump-Russia investigation. The Bureau also opened four Trump-Russia subfiles, related to Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Flynn.
There was no case file called “Donald Trump” because Trump was “Crossfire Hurricane.” The theory of Crossfire Hurricane was that Russia had blackmail information on Trump, which it could use to extort Trump into doing Putin’s bidding if Trump were elected. It was further alleged that Russia had been cultivating Trump for years and was helping Trump’s election bid in exchange for future considerations. Investigators surmised that Trump had recruited Paul Manafort (who had connections to Russian oligarchs and pro-Russia Ukrainian oligarchs) as his campaign manager, enabling Manafort to use such emissaries as Page to carry out furtive communications between Trump and the Kremlin. If elected, the theory went, Trump would steer American policy in Russia’s favor, just as the Bureau speculated that Trump was already corruptly steering the Republican party into a more pro-Moscow posture.” (Read more: National Review, 8/01/2020) (Archive)