The Open Secret of the FBI’s Investigation of Trump’s Campaign

For the past several days, the American public has been treated to quite a spectacle. Since President Trump first suggested in March 2017 that his campaign had been “wiretapped” by President Obama, we have been assured by our betters across the political spectrum that claim was not true and Trump’s accusations were the unhinged hallucinations of a mad man.

But as congressional investigators get closer to the truth, and the media begins casually to admit that yes, Obama (i.e., his Justice Department) did wiretap (i.e., surveil) the campaign (i.e., Trump Tower) as well as one member of his transition team, we are getting a shiny new spin: Well of course the Obama folks investigated the Trump campaign and of course it was not conducted by spies and of course this was all for the good of the country and of course it is Trump’s fault anyway.

The most mendacious tale now emerging from the news media, Democratic propagandists, and the NeverTrump Right is how the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign just months before Election Day actually helped Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. Why? Because voters allegedly were unaware that Trump campaign associates were being “investigated” by the FBI for their tenuous ties to Russia; if we had known before November 8, 2016, Hillary would have won Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

The latest dream sequence from #TheResistance originates from the May 16 scoop in the New York Times about President Obama’s FBI initiated probe called “Crossfire Hurricane” which was tasked to investigate four Trump campaign aides exactly 100 days before the presidential election. The general angle of the lengthy story is how former FBI Director James Comey was far tougher on the Clinton email probe and more cautious about the Trump campaign investigation. (Pause to chortle.)

The Times story appears to serve two purposes: First, to soften the blow of the upcoming Justice Department inspector general’s report on the Clinton email investigation, which is expected to cite misconduct by a number of Justice officials; and second, to get ahead of the news that the Obama Justice Department spied (yes, spied) on former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn beginning as early as August 2016.

But it was this little nugget—“News organizations did not publish Steele’s reports or reveal the FBI’s interest in them until after Election Day”—that sent Trump foes into the stratosphere. The voters-didn’t-know-about-the-FBI-investigating-Trump! meme joined Russian social media bots and brainwashed suburban moms as the latest part of the continuously evolving excuse for why Clinton suffered the most humiliating loss in electoral history.

For days, the anti-Trump mob has leveraged that single sentence into a whole new plotline: The FBI helped Trump win the election by concealing the investigation from voters.

Dan Pfeiffer, former Obama advisor, subtweeted the president and claimed, “Imagine how mad Trump would be at the FBI, if they hadn’t helped tip the election to him.” Trusted Fusion GPS mouthpiece Ken Dilanian at NBC News claimed that “the FBI let voters go to the polls in this election without disclosing that they had suspicions that some members of the Trump team were agents of a foreign power. That’s a decision that will go down in history and will be debated for years to come.”

NeverTrump chief Bill Kristol weighed in, too: “If the purpose of investigating the Trump campaign had been to help Clinton, any dubious foreign connections that might have damaged Trump would have been leaked in October. They weren’t. If anything, the Obama DOJ and FBI bent over backward not to hurt Trump or help Clinton.” His NeverTrump comrade Tom Nichols seconded Kristol’s erroneous point as “reality” but “Trumpers still rage.”

One minor problem: Kristol, Nichols, and others making that supposition are completely wrong.

In fact, shortly after publishing the story, the Times had to correct that very line (presumably in response to immediate pushback on social media from people who know the actual facts.) “An earlier version of this article misstated that news organizations did not report on the findings of the retired British spy Christopher Steele about links between Trump campaign officials and Russia. While most news organizations whose reporters met with Mr. Steele did not publish such reports before the 2016 election, Mother Jones magazine did.”

But even that correction requires a correction because it is also untrue.

If the Times corrections guy had bothered to read the October 31, 2016 Mother Jones story, he (or his editors) would have noticed a link to a Yahoo News piece written by Michael Isikoff on September 23, 2016 that launched a trove of follow-up news coverage about how the FBI was investigating Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page. Isikoff specifically quoted a “senior U.S. law enforcement official” as confirming Page was “on our radar screen” and that the matter was “being looked at.” (The article would be cited as evidence to obtain a FISA warrant on Page.)

We now know Isikoff’s article was the result of a private dinner meeting he had with dossier author Christopher Steele, who was then working as an FBI source, and Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson. (Isikoff later referred to Simpson as his “old friend turned private investigator” who arranged for a dinner meeting in a private room at a D.C. restaurant where “no one would see us.”) Simpson was feverishly pitching the Clinton/DNC-funded smut piece to all of his buddies in the Washington press corps.

So, contrary to the spin that voters didn’t know the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign before Election Day—and noting that the Times’ correction is still wrong—here is a partial list of the media coverage that spun off from Isikoff’s story in late September and early October 2016:

  • “Michael Isikoff has the latest tale of people with questionable ties to Russia within the Trump campaign” (Washington Post, Sept. 23)
  • “Donald Trump advisor meetings with Russian officials being investigated” (New York Daily News, Sept. 23)
  • US Intel report says Trump advisor met with Kremlin” (Daily Kos, Sept. 23)
  • Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon explains to host Brian Stelter that Page is “apparently being looked at by U.S. intelligence” (CNN Sept. 25)
  • “Trump’s Russia adviser speaks out, calls accusations ‘complete garbage’” (Washington Post, Sept. 26)
  • “Trump’s Kremlin Connection: the Other Shoes Drop” (Washington Monthly, Sept. 26)
  • “U.S. Officials Probe Ties Between Trump Adviser and Russia” (CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sept. 26)
  • Hillary Clinton’s running-mate, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) discusses “news of this past week shows a whole series of very serious questions about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.” (CBS “Face the Nation,” Sept. 26)
  • “Donald Trump’s history of corruption” (Vox, Sept. 28)
  • “Who is Carter Page?” (Politico, Oct. 6)

The New York Times itself published an article on October 31, 2016, which began: “For much of the summer, the F.B.I. pursued a widening investigation into a Russian role in the American presidential campaign.” (The Times quasi-apologized for that article in the “Crossfire Hurricane” piece, saying it “significantly played down the case.” But it’s unclear why a mea culpa was necessary since the original story reported the FBI found no links between Trump campaign associates and the Russian government. That remains true to this day, no matter how much Clinton and her boosters may wish otherwise.)

In fact, the FBI investigation was so concealed from the public that Hillary Clinton’s campaign issued a statement about it the same day the Isikoff article went live:

It’s chilling to learn that U.S. intelligence officials are conducting a probe into suspected meetings between Trump’s foreign policy adviser Carter Page and members of Putin’s inner circle while in Moscow. You have to ask why he would meet with Igor Diveykin, who is believed by U.S. officials ‘to have responsibility for intelligence collected by Russian agencies about the U.S. election.’ This comes as Russian hackers continue their attempts to influence the outcome of our elections, something Trump openly invited. This is serious business and voters deserve the facts before election day.

This only highlights the Isikoff-related coverage. After David Corn at Mother Jones published his dossier-sourced story one week before the election, with early voting underway, Democrat-friendly newspapers, cable news, and Democratic operatives fed off that article, too.

Aside from news about the FBI investigation, the Obama White House began fueling the Trump-Russia connection plotline back in July 2016. And there was no way the Obama White House would have allowed the FBI to come right out and acknowledge its early probe into the Trump campaign right before the election. It didn’t need to: The White House and DOJ knew its willing accomplices in the media would take their cues from Fusion GPS to get the story out while giving the Obama folks cover from accusations of political interference.

But all of this spinning won’t undermine the hard truths Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz is likely to reveal in his report. It’s unlikely anyone will emerge as a hero to “help” Donald Trump win the presidency.

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Photo credit:  Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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