“Newly released documents reveal the FBI never had even preliminary evidence of a Trump campaign conspiracy with Russia, and instead used a rarely enforced statutory relic – the Foreign Agents Registration Act – as the legal rationale for opening investigations in 2016-2017 and surveilling Trump campaign aides.
On July 31, 2016, the FBI opened a counterintelligence probe of the Trump campaign’s alleged ties with Russia – nicknamed Crossfire Hurricane – not under espionage conspiracy laws but under FARA.
The next month the FBI opened four separate FARA cases into people associated with the Trump campaign. Two other FARA cases were added the next year. Only one involved an individual with connections to Russia: Carter Page.
The recently disclosed documents, which surfaced thanks to declassification efforts, court filings and FOIA lawsuits, reveal that the initial target of the probe – then-Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos — was suspected of working for Israel, not Russia. Other FARA cases involved alleged ties to Turkey (Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn), Ukraine (campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates) and Egypt (Trump Mideast adviser Walid Phares).
All six sensitive cases were approved through the Justice Department’s counterintelligence and export control section, run at the time by former Justice official David Laufman.
(…) One Senate investigator told RealClearInvestigations that Laufman, then Justice’s top counterintelligence official, was the “mastermind” behind the strategy to dust off and “weaponize” FARA against Trump campaign officials.
Investigators for at least one committee seek to question Laufman under oath. His name appears on a subpoena list of witnesses approved by the GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee.
Laufman signed off on the wiretapping of Trump campaign adviser Page, which the Department of Justice inspector general determined was conducted under false pretenses involving doctored email, suppression of exculpatory evidence, and other malfeasance.
(…) When the FBI initially launched its Russia “collusion” investigation of the Trump camp on July 31, 2016, the opening case memo written by Strzok stated that “this investigation is being opened to determine whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the government of Russia.”
However, the FBI assigned the investigation a case number used internally by the bureau for possible violations of FARA. That means even the FBI’s larger umbrella case was at its core a regulatory, not a national security, matter.
The revelation is contained in a redacted version of the Electronic Communication obtained last month by Judicial Watch as part of a FOIA lawsuit the Washington watchdog group filed against the FBI.
“It shows there was no serious basis for the Obama administration to launch an unprecedented spy operation on the Trump campaign,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said. “We now have more proof that Crossfire Hurricane was a scam.”
In August 2016, Laufman began huddling with Strzok about the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, according to the IG report, getting regular briefings on all the Trump-related cases that flowed from it.” (Read more: RealClearInvestigations, 6/19/2020) (Archive)