February 2018

February 16, 2018 – Judicial Watch Sues State Department for Samantha Power Unmasking Documents

Samantha Power (Credit: The Associated Press)

“The former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations reportedly requested to unmask over 260 Americans in her last year in office with no explanation.

Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of State for “unmasking” and other records tied to Obama’s United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power relating to the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:18-cv-00300)). Unmasking refers generally to the practice of political appointees obtaining the identities of American citizens referenced in intelligence surveillance of foreign nationals.

On September 20, 2017, Fox News reported that Power unmasked over 260 persons in her last year as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in an attempt to uncover associates of President Trump. She “was ‘unmasking’ at such a rapid pace in the final months of the Obama administration that she averaged more than one request for every working day in 2016,” even seeking “information in the days leading up to President Trump’s inauguration.”

On October 13, 2017, Power testified behind closed doors about this matter to the House Intelligence Committee. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, who also sits on the Intelligence Committee, stated that “Her testimony is they [the unmasking requests] may be under my name, but I did not make those requests.”

“Unmasking and then illegally leaking the names of Trump team members caught up in foreign intelligence gathering would have been an incredible, but unsurprising abuse by the Obama administration. Was the Clinton-DNC dossier also used as justification to abuse intelligence data to ‘unmask’ American citizens to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Donald Trump?” asked Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.  “And why is the Tillerson State Department stonewalling Judicial Watch’s FOIA investigation into this potentially illegal conduct by its agency employees?”

Separately, in a response to a FOIA request, Judicial Watch was told by the National Security Council (NSC) in May 2017 that the materials regarding the unmasking by Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice of “the identities of any U.S. citizens associated with the Trump presidential campaign or transition team” have been removed to the Obama Library.” (Read more: Judicial Watch, 2/16/2018)

February 15, 2018 – Another longtime Comey aide, Michael Kortan leaving FBI

Michael Kortan (Credit: FBI/Reuters)

“The longtime head of public affairs at the FBI — who was a confidant of former director James Comey — is planning to retire, Fox News has learned.

A notice went out this week for a retirement get-together for Michael Kortan scheduled for Feb. 15. Since 2009, Kortan has served as assistant director for public affairs, an influential job that controlled media access. He also served under former director Robert Mueller, now leading the Russia probe.

(…) It’s unclear whether the retirement was long-planned or in any way precipitated by recent events. The FBI emphasized he was finishing 33 years of service.

“After Comey became director in September 2013, Kortan helped facilitate regular on-the-record briefings with beat reporters, a departure from previous directors.”

Kortan also was front and center during the Hillary Clinton email investigation, and especially in July 2016 — coordinating media coverage and handing out copies of Comey’s public statement recommending against criminal charges in the investigation into mishandling of classified information.

Kortan joins a growing list of key officials leaving the FBI amid Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s probe into the bureau’s Clinton email investigation. (Read more: Fox News, 2/08/2018)

February 8, 2018 – Former State employee, Jonathan Winer, shares Shearer-Blumenthal dossier with Steele

Jonathan Winer (Credit: State Department)

“In late September, I spoke with an old friend, Sidney Blumenthal, whom I met 30 years ago when I was investigating the Iran-contra affair for then-Sen. Kerry and Blumenthal was a reporter at The Post. At the time, Russian hacking was at the front and center in the 2016 presidential campaign. The emails of Blumenthal, who had a long association with Bill and Hillary Clinton, had been hacked in 2013 through a Russian server.

While talking about that hacking, Blumenthal and I discussed Steele’s reports. He showed me notes gathered by a journalist I did not know, Cody Shearer, that alleged the Russians had compromising information on Trump of a sexual and financial nature.

What struck me was how some of the material echoed Steele’s but appeared to involve different sources.

On my own, I shared a copy of these notes with Steele, to ask for his professional reaction. He told me it was potentially “collateral” information. I asked him what that meant. He said that it was similar but separate from the information he had gathered from his sources. I agreed to let him keep a copy of the Shearer notes.

Given that I had not worked with Shearer and knew that he was not a professional intelligence officer, I did not mention or share his notes with anyone at the State Department. I did not expect them to be shared with anyone in the U.S. government.”  (Read more: Washington Post, 02/08/2018)

February 7, 2018 – Interim Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Report: The Clinton Email Scandal and the FBI’s Investigation of It

Senator Ron Johnson (Credit: Getty Images)

“U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, released a majority staff report Wednesday titled “The Clinton Email Scandal And The FBI’s Investigation Of It,” along with text messages between two agents that shed light on the investigation. The report details the congressional investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server and the oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s involvement with their investigation of Secretary Clinton’s private server.

The report outlines how information available to the committee at this time raises serious questions about how the FBI applied the rule of law in its investigation. The majority staff report found that:

  • The FBI did not use a grand jury to compel testimony and obtain the vast majority of evidence, choosing instead to offer immunity deals and allow fact witnesses to join key interviews.
  • There were substantial edits to former FBI Director James Comey’s public statement that served to downplay the severity of Secretary Clinton’s actions, and that the first draft of the memo was distributed for editing two months before key witnesses were interviewed.
  • Director Comey stated that he had not consulted with the Justice Department or White House, when text messages among FBI agents involved in the investigation suggest otherwise. Two key investigators discuss an “insurance policy” against the “risk” of a Trump presidency, and “OUR task.”
  • Messages discuss “unfinished business,” “an investigation leading to impeachment,” and “my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.” The messages strongly underscore the need to obtain still-missing text messages and other information regarding the FBI’s actions and investigations into the Clinton email scandal and Russian involvement in the November 2016 election.
  • Senior FBI officials—likely including Deputy Director Andrew McCabe— knew about newly discovered emails on a laptop belonging to former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner for almost a month before Director Comey notified Congress.

The full report can be found here.

The FBI text messages can be found here.

The letters Chairman Johnson has sent to various agencies and source documents can be found here.

(Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2/07/2018)

February 7, 2018 – Uranium One informant makes Clinton allegations to Congress

William D.Campbell worked as an informant for federal authorities investigating Vadim Mikerin, a Russian official in charge of US operations for Tenex, a unit of Rosatom. (Credit: TenamUSA)

“An FBI informant connected to the Uranium One controversy told three congressional committees in a written statement that Moscow routed millions of dollars to America with the expectation it would be used to benefit Bill Clinton‘s charitable efforts while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quarterbacked a “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations.

The informant, [William] Douglas Campbell, said in the statement obtained by The Hill that he was told by Russian nuclear executives that Moscow had hired the American lobbying firm APCO Worldwide specifically because it was in position to influence the Obama administration, and more specifically Hillary Clinton.

Democrats have cast doubt on Campbell’s credibility, setting the stage for a battle with Republicans over his testimony.

Campbell added in the testimony that Russian nuclear officials “told me at various times that they expected APCO to apply a portion of the $3 million annual lobbying fee it was receiving from the Russians to provide in-kind support for the Clintons’ Global Initiative.”

“The contract called for four payments of $750,000 over twelve months. APCO was expected to give assistance free of charge to the Clinton Global Initiative as part of their effort to create a favorable environment to ensure the Obama administration made affirmative decisions on everything from Uranium One to the U.S.-Russia Civilian Nuclear Cooperation agreement.”

APCO officials told The Hill that its support for the Clinton Global Initiative and its work with Russia were not connected in any way, and in fact involved different divisions of the firm. They added their lobbying for Russia did not involve Uranium One but rather focused on regulatory issues aimed at helping Russia better compete for nuclear fuel contracts inside the United States. (Read more: The Hill, 2/07/18)

February 2, 2018 – Isikoff is stunned that his Carter Page article was used to justify spy warrant

Michael Isikoff (Credit: MSNBC)

Investigative journalist Michael Isikoff said Friday that he was surprised to find out that an article he wrote about Carter Page prior to the election was used to obtain a spy warrant against the former Trump campaign adviser.

The revelation, which was made in a memo released by the House Intelligence Committee on Friday, “stuns me,” Isikoff said in an episode of his podcast, “Skullduggery.”

The four-page memo alleges that the DOJ and FBI submitted inaccurate and incomplete information in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant against Page. The spy warrant was granted on Oct. 21, 2016.

One “essential” part of the application was the uncorroborated Steele dossier, according to the memo. And an article that Isikoff wrote for Yahoo! News on Sept. 23, 2016 that was based directly on the dossier was “cited extensively” in the application.

Isikoff was shocked, he said, because his very article was based on information that came from Christopher Steele, the former British spy who wrote the dossier. He said it was “a bit beyond me” that the FBI would use his article in the FISA application. (Read more: The Daily Caller, 2/03/2018)

February 2, 2018 – Senator Grassley requests a Mandatory Declassification Review of the FISA application

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation signed off on an unclassified version of the criminal referral by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham only after the White House declassified a House Intelligence Committee (HPSCI) Majority memo largely based on the same underlying documents.

(A snippet of Grassley’s letter)

Grassley is now calling on the FBI to update the classification of the referral to allow complete disclosure of important context from the documents on which it is based. “Seeking transparency and cooperation should not be this challenging. The government should not be blotting out information that it admits isn’t secret, and it should not take dramatic steps by Congress and the White House to get answers that the American people are demanding. There are still many questions that can only be answered by complete transparency. That means declassifying as much of the underlying documents as possible,” Grassley said. (Conservative Treehouse, 2/02/2018)

February 2, 2018 – Ex-FBI agent, Josh Campbell, lands at CNN after blaming bureau departure on political attacks

Josh Campbell appears on CNN to discuss his recent resignation from the FBI. (Credit: CNN screen grab)

“Josh Campbell penned a New York Times Op-Ed on Friday, claiming he was leaving the FBI because of “relentless attacks on the bureau,” but on Monday he proved his column was disingenuous by quickly signing with CNN.

CNN named Campbell the network’s new law enforcement analyst, according to TVNewser and he will reportedly start immediately. However, industry insiders are quick to point out that deals with on-air analysts don’t simply appear out of thin air, especially over a weekend, so CNN and Campbell were presumably in cahoots before he tried to pin his departure from the FBI on attacks that “undermine not just America’s premier law enforcement agency but also the nation’s security.”

Campbell, who was special assistant to former FBI Director James Comey, penned his essay amid increased scrutiny on the FBI from Republicans following the release of Rep. Devin Nunes’, R-Calif., memo.

“I am reluctantly turning in my badge and leaving an organization I love,” Campbell wrote in the Op-Ed. “A small number of my current and retired colleagues have said that we should simply keep our heads down until the storm passes. I say this with the greatest respect: They are wrong.”

It’s safe to assume that most of his “current and retired colleagues” don’t have cushy gigs as a CNN commentator waiting for them. He now joins a significant number of outspoken Trump critics employed by CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker.

CNN did not respond to a request for comment.” (Read more: Fox News, 2/05/18)

February 2017 – Comey intervenes to kill a limited immunity deal arranged between the DOJ and Julian Assange

Julian Assange (l) and Adam Waldman (Credit: public domain)

(…) “This yarn begins in January 2017 when Assange’s legal team approached Waldman — known for his government connections — to see if the new Trump administration would negotiate with the WikiLeaks founder, holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy. They hoped Waldman, a former Clinton Justice Department official, might navigate the U.S. law enforcement bureaucracy and find the right people to engage.”

(…) “Assange had a bargaining chip: The U.S. government knew he had a massive trove of documents from classified CIA computers, identifying sensitive assets and chronicling the agency’s offensive cyber warfare weapons.

Waldman contacted Ohr, a Justice official he’d met during the Russia election case. They talked by phone and encrypted text messages in early January, then met Feb. 3, 2017, in Washington, records show. In between, Waldman met three times with Assange in London.”

(…) “Ohr consulted his chain of command and the intelligence community about what appeared to be an extraordinary overture that raised hopes the government could negotiate what Assange would release and what he might redact, to protect the names of exposed U.S. officials.

Assange made clear through the lawyer that he would never compromise his sources, or stop publishing information, but was willing to consider concessions like redactions.”

(…) “The shuttle diplomacy soon resulted in an informal offer — known in government parlance as a “Queen for a Day” proffer — in which Assange identified what he wanted and what he might give.

“Subject to adequate and binding protections, including but not limited to an acceptable immunity and safe passage agreement, Mr. Assange welcomes the opportunity to discuss with the U.S. government risk mitigation approaches relating to CIA documents in WikiLeaks’ possession or control, such as the redaction of agency personnel in hostile jurisdictions and foreign espionage risks to WikiLeaks staff,” Waldman wrote Laufman on March 28, 2017.

Not included in the written proffer was an additional offer from Assange: He was willing to discuss technical evidence ruling out certain parties in the controversial leak of Democratic Party emails to WikiLeaks during the 2016 election. The U.S. government believes those emails were hacked by Russia; Assange insists they did not come from Moscow.

“Mr. Assange offered to provide technical evidence and discussion regarding who did not engage in the DNC releases,” Waldman told me. “Finally, he offered his technical expertise to the U.S. government to help address what he perceived as clear flaws in security systems that led to the loss of the U.S. cyber weapons program.”

A snippet of Julian Assange’s agreement.

(…) “But an unexpected intervention by Comey — relayed through Warner — soured the negotiations, multiple sources tell me. Assange eventually unleashed a series of leaks that U.S. officials say damaged their cyber warfare capabilities for a long time to come.

What U.S. officials did not fully comprehend was that an earlier event weighed heavily on the Assange team’s distrust of U.S. intentions.

Just a few days after the negotiations opened in mid-February, Waldman reached out to Sen. Warner; the lawyer wanted to see if Senate Intelligence Committee staff wanted any contact with Assange, to ask about Russia or other issues.

Warner engaged with Waldman over encrypted text messages, then reached out to Comey. A few days later, Warner contacted Waldman with an unexpected plea.

“He told me he had just talked with Comey and that, while the government was appreciative of my efforts, my instructions were to stand down, to end the discussions with Assange,” Waldman told me. Waldman offered contemporaneous documents to show he memorialized Warner’s exact words.” (Read more: The Hill, 6/25/2018)