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The FBI spied on the Trump campaign. The pretext was that the campaign, and possibly Donald Trump himself, was compromised by the volunteer efforts of foreign policy advisor, Carter Page. Stories diverge regarding Page, his reputation, and his involvement with the Russian government.
Some sources say energy consultant Carter Page was a shady character under FBI surveillance potentially since 2013, while others suggest he was an FBI informant or undercover agent, assisting the FBI with stopping Russian espionage efforts as late as March 2016. Nonetheless, the cover story of the FISA warrant is that in June 2016 he was compromised by or working with Russia to advance its interests. In furtherance of these spying efforts, he joined the Trump campaign. And thus the FBI’s next step was not to arrest him, nor to warn the Trump campaign, but instead to begin surveillance of Page. It first attempted to do so in June 2016, but only succeeded in the closing weeks of the presidential campaign in October 2016.
The scope of that surveillance is presently unknown. Unlike the abuses detailed in the House Intelligence Committee memo, such information might genuinely endanger national security. But we know the FBI (and NSA) have some pretty extensive capabilities and, depending on Page’s degree of access to the campaign, this surveillance would expose Trump, others on his campaign team, and the campaign strategy itself to scrutiny by the Obama administration. This is undoubtedly what Trump meant with the infamous “wires tapped” tweet in March 2017.
Even taken at face value, this is all strange. If the Russians were genuinely interfering in the election, and positioned people inside at least one of the major campaigns to do so, couldn’t the FBI have warned the campaign? After all, there are news reports that both the Trump and Clinton campaigns were given broad and generic warnings about infiltration as late as July of 2016. They were each privy to classified intelligence briefings as well. Would it make sense to allow this sharing of information to continue if genuine foreign interference were afoot?
This would certainly not be a standard practice. One of the FBI’s stated counterintelligence strategies—it’s on their website—particularly for business interests is “raising public awareness and informing industry leaders.”
This is not mere lip service. In 2009, the DOJ successfully prosecuted a naturalized American citizen, Dongfang “Greg” Chung, in connection with his work as a contractor for Boeing. The press release regarding his conviction quoted the FBI director in charge of Los Angeles as stating, “FBI counter-intelligence agents and NASA received the full cooperation of the Boeing Company in building this three-year investigation, the successful outcome of which marks the first conviction by trial under the Economic Espionage Act of 1996. I’m confident this milestone conviction will serve as a deterrent to would-be spies contemplating theft of precious U.S. secrets.”
If the concern were that Trump was a victim of the Russians, extensive surveillance of his campaign and its personnel would be unwarranted. He, like Boeing, could have been warned and, presumably, would have cooperated with an investigation or, at the very least, fired the shady character.
This is where, I believe, the Steele Dossier comes into play. Without the Steele Dossier, Trump and his campaign is a mere victim, no different from any other company or entity that faces foreign infiltration, which should be warned of the infiltration. But with the Steele Dossier, Trump becomes a potential co-conspirator, actively cooperating with or compromised by Russia, due to “pee pee antics” that permit blackmail and other scurrilous nonsense contained in it. Without the Steele Dossier, even with FISA surveillance of Page, there is no need also to risk Trump and the leakage of the confidential material to which he was privy. So the Steele Dossier was critical not merely to securing the FISA warrant—though apparently it was—but was also in order to do so secretly, without any notice, warning, or communication to Trump—one of two major party presidential nominees—that a person involved in his campaign presented a potential risk to national security.
If the campaign were warned, of course, the opportunity to get critical potential intelligence on the campaign, its strategy, and any potential (but totally unknown) wrongdoing by Trump would disappear. And this is why the memo and the underlying warrant are so damaging to the reputation of everyone involved in their procurement. Not only was a hatchet job dossier paid for by the Clinton Campaign and used to get a FISA warrant without bothering to tell the FISA court this important fact of its provenance, but, more important, this hatchet job justified keeping Trump himself in the dark about the ongoing surveillance and threat posed by a member of his campaign team.
Further, the warrant and the underlying Steele Dossier permitted endless speculation and politically motivated character assassination of Trump for alleged Russian Collusion through to the present. Yet there was no Russian Collusion. There was Page—who may have colluded—and there was the Trump Campaign, which knew nothing about this. We know this because, after months of surveillance that continued through the transition, there is still no evidence of collusion, let alone of a crime, involving the Russians and Trump. And, more important, we know the only reason he was surveilled for such was because of the totally unbelievable and Clinton-campaign-financed Steele Dossier.
Taken together, this was an entirely inappropriate and likely unprecedented use of national security surveillance assets against a presidential candidate. But why was it done? After all, right up until election night, almost everyone thought Hillary would win, and that includes most of those involved in this caper: James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Rod Rosenstein.
The likely answer is more sinister still, revealed by the “insurance” talk of supposed lovers Peter Strozk and Lisa Page. If Trump won, this would be an opportunity—they figured—to discover something illegal. After all, with mountains of malum prohibitum rules and regulations on everything from campaign finance to taxes and how you dispose of freon, one would expect almost anyone would run afoul of some picayune law or another, which would become known only with constant surveillance.
In the absence of that, if Carter Page were not merely a target but an infiltrator, he—or someone similarly situated—could seek to create crimes where none were present. Consider the infamous briefing that took place involving “Kremlin lawyer” Natalia Veselnitskaya with Donald Trump, Jr. All of the emails concerned with setting that up at least hint at her Russian government connections in a very open and obvious way, i.e., a way that would get picked up by FISA warrants, NSA surveillance, and God knows what other spying capabilities the government has. Yet with all of these attempts, some quite clumsy, it does not appear anything happened.
Everyone presumably considered that Hillary winning the election was the more likely scenario. It seems strange to take these risks under that circumstance. But in that case, the highly politicized Obama Administration’s FBI and Justice Department would be under Clinton management. Those responsible for this “gift” may have concluded they would be rewarded. And they could have curried additional favor with Her Highness by prosecuting Trump post-election in an effort to salt the fields and permanently discredit him, his movement, his associates, and the Republican Party. Alternately, they could simply let the surveillance go unreported and unnoticed; no harm, no foul.
What no one counted on in this entire mess was that Trump would win, and that Trump was sophisticated and experienced enough not to take any of the bait. Not only did he win, but he fired Comey, saw McCabe resign under a cloud, and is now in a position—with the help of Congress—to expose fully the extent of the Deep State and its abuses of powerful law enforcement tools in the service of low, partisan ends under President Obama.