Attorney General Bill Barr recently asked a question that all Americans should be asking: “How did we get to the point where . . . the evidence is now that the president was falsely accused of colluding with the Russians and accused of being treasonous and accused of being a Russian Agent?” Barr added that the evidence now shows the accusations were “without a basis” and that “two years of his administration have been dominated by allegations that have now been proven false.”
To answer that question, we have to go back and look at two dysfunctional relationships the FBI had with confidential informants. In both cases, the FBI was duped into working for the informant rather than the other way around.
The FBI should have learned its lesson from the spectacular scandal surrounding Whitey Bulger, the kingpin of the notorious Winter Hill gang in Boston whose work as an FBI informant allowed him to expand his criminal empire. As we are now seeing with Christopher Steele, of “Steele dossier” infamy, the FBI learned nothing from the Bulger case and failed to follow the guidelines put in place to prevent what happened with Bulger from happening again.
In the fall of 1975, FBI agent John Connolly met with Bulger in the agent’s car on an abandoned Boston street corner. What would follow was the FBI’s greatest scandal involving a confidential informant subverting the vast powers of the government in order to target his enemies. This stain on the history of the Department of Justice should have led to effective reforms but instead it only foreshadowed more of the same.
The corruption of the Boston FBI field office and criminal prosecution out of the Boston U.S. attorney’s office began with a simple offer. The Italian mob had begun to feed information to the FBI about Bulger’s Boston-area Winter Hill gang. Connolly, who idolized Bulger from his childhood, offered to reverse the process—taking information from Bulger to target the Italian mob. Bulger accepted the deal but eventually would turn Connolly into his own informant and tool.
Over the years, Bulger bribed Connolly with nearly $250,000 in gifts. Instead of taking information from Bulger to help the government, Connolly raided the files of other informants to credit Bulger with tips he did not provide. This allowed Connolly to maintain the appearance that Bulger provided substantial value in exchange for the FBI’s protection.
When outside investigators caught on and prepared to take action, Connolly warned Bulger his arrest was imminent. After Bulger was captured in 2011 after 16 years on the lam. When he finally went to trial in 2013, the focus wasn’t so much on the 11 murders with which Bulger was charged and mostly on whether the FBI used Bulger as an informant or vice versa.
The Boston Herald noted that the government’s illicit protection allowed Bulger to murder and commit mayhem in the city the FBI was there to protect. The corruption of that same Boston office led to the prosecution and conviction of four innocent men. Corrupt FBI agents framed the men to protect another source (other than Bulger).
Reputation Over Justice
In 2001, the FBI revised its confidential informant guidelines, largely in response to the Boston debacle. Under current guidelines, when the FBI uses a confidential informant, it should make a “suitability” judgment in order to prevent the would-be informant from exploiting the relationship to use the federal government’s powers against his enemies. As noted by the FBI’s inspector general, the bureau’s suitability judgment is “pivotal.”
Connolly went to prison for using federal government resources to abet Bulger’s crimes. But justice wasn’t served. Then-U.S. Attorney Robert Mueller prevented the release of evidence that would eventually lead to the exoneration and release of the men framed to protect Boston-area sources of the FBI. Howie Carr of the Boston Herald has been warning Americans for some time that Mueller perpetuated the framing of four innocent men. Two of them died in prison. The other two were released from prison after 35 years for crimes they did not commit.
Carr credits Mueller with prolonging the cover-up of the framing of these men, causing one judge to describe as “chilling” the FBI’s defense of its reputation over the interests of justice.
“This is a case about . . . informant abuse, about the failure to disclose exculpatory evidence bearing on the innocence of the four plaintiffs . . . about . . . not disclosing critical information that would have exonerated the plaintiffs, and not doing so, for 40 years,” wrote Federal District Judge Nancy Gertner.
Remembering Nothing, Learning Nothing
When Hillary Clinton hired Fusion GPS to frame Donald Trump, she wasn’t just hiring a random group of researchers. The power of Fusion GPS comes from its relationships, particularly with reporters and public officials. Fusion GPS had an existing relationship with the two Russians who attended the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. It had a longstanding relationship with the wife of Justice Department attorney Bruce Ohr and was able to leverage that relationship to get Ohr to help promote the collusion hoax to the FBI.
Often overlooked in the hoax is that Fusion GPS used Christopher Steele much the same way it used Bruce Ohr’s wife, Nellie, paying somebody with an existing relationship with law enforcement to help promote the bogus narrative.
According to the Sun, the FBI paid Christopher Steele more than $1.27 million over two years to help with a corruption case against the world soccer governing body (FIFA). Based on this, and perhaps other history, between the FBI and Steele, the FBI told the FISA court that the former MI6 operative had a history of providing reliable information and that the FBI considered him to be credible.
The FBI’s relationship with Steele reminds us of John Connolly’s relationship with Whitey Bulger in a number of ways. First, the post-Bulger guidelines warn the FBI to make an assessment of the informant’s “motivation in providing information or assistance, including any consideration sought from the government for this assistance.” Remember, Fusion GPS paid Steele at the same time the FBI paid him. He had a job to do for the Clinton campaign and unique access and trust with the FBI to do that job.
According to John Solomon’s reporting, Steele was also known to be politically biased against Trump and, “desperate that Trump not be elected.” Solomon has also reported that the FBI withheld (or at least significantly downplayed) those derogatory facts from the FISA court in much the same way Connolly used to paper over the record to make Bulger appear more credible than he really was.
Second, the post-Bulger guidelines also warn the FBI that the information obtained from the confidential informant “must be truthful.” And we now know Steele’s desperation, or perhaps his love of money, led him to pass on information that he would later admit could be untrue or even “deliberately false.” Julie Kelly recently wrote an excellent summary of the many obvious inaccuracies Steele attempted to pass off to the FBI including a particularly sloppy innacuracy that the Russians were using a consulate in MIami (that didn’t exist) as a base of operations.
Third, the guidelines require that the confidential informant must “abide by the instructions of the [FBI].” As Fox News noted, Steele was “suspended and then terminated” as an FBI source for what the bureau defined “as the most serious of violations”—an “unauthorized disclosure to the media of his relationship with the FBI.” The FBI would later cite a news report sourced to Steele as a way of corroborating Steele—an echo chamber effect that further corrupted the investigation.
Thus, Steele not only helped trigger FBI-sponsored surveillance against his client’s political enemy, he also interfered in the ongoing presidential election by smearing candidate Trump with a public disclosure of the investigation.
Recall that the February 2018 Nunes memo detailed how Steele in September 2016 leaked information to Yahoo News, even going so far as to suggest he was authorized to speak on behalf of “U.S. officials.” Thus, Steele broke a fourth FBI rule, which bars confidential informants from taking “any independent action on behalf of the United States Government.”
So the Steele tail wagged the FBI dog much the same way Whitey Bulger used the FBI frame his enemies. As Bulger’s money found its way into Connolly’s pocket, so, too, did Clinton money find its way into the Ohrs’ pockets as the husband promoted Steele’s work to the FBI.
Some may argue that the Russia collusion hoax is nowhere near as serious as the tragedy of four men being framed for murder by an FBI agent trying to protect a “confidential informant.” But the Trump-Russia hoax is arguably far worse because of the lasting damage it has done to our constitutional republic. As serious as the allegations against Trump were, framing a person for treason may be worse than treason itself. The hoaxsters have done incalculable damage to the rule of law and Americans’ faith in the justice system.
Perhaps Donald Trump’s greatest unwitting accomplishment has been to shine public attention on the two-tiered justice system that, at its very center, seems to have become an instrument of political power over and against the people it is meant to serve.
Editors Note: This article has been updated to correct an earlier statement that the FBI framed four men in Boston to protect Whitey Bulger. Those men were framed to protect a confidential informant unrelated to Bulger. However, Connelly did protect Bulger from the consequences of several crimes, including murders committed by Bulger. The article has also been updated to note Julie Kelly’s observations regarding the inaccuracies of the information provided by Steele.
Photo Credit: James “Whitey” Bulger mugshot in 2011 – Bureau of Prisons/Getty Images