Former FBI director James Comey will be deposed Friday in a closed-door session by the House Judiciary and House Oversight Committees as part of their joint investigation into decisions the Department of Justice made in 2016. Comey had filed suit to quash the congressional subpoena, but following an ominous hearing before a federal judge last week, Comey agreed to appear Friday morning. The House in turn assured Comey that he could discuss the hearing upon its conclusion and that a transcript would be issued within 24 hours.
Hopefully the lack of a live audience will allow the congressmen to focus on fact-finding and not grandstanding. And there are many facts still to be revealed — and of which Comey holds the answers — concerning both the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a homebrew server and the investigation into the Trump campaign.
The latter, though, demands the committees’ most ardent focus because, if left unexposed and uncorrected, the weaponizing of the DOJ and FBI for political purposes, and the abuse of the intelligence community and FISA court system, threaten the very integrity of our justice system and our democracy. While the public to some extent, and the House and Senate committees to a greater extent, now know some of the unsavory details surrounding what, for simplicity’s sake, the moniker Spygate best encapsulates, many more questions demand answers.
Here’s a catalogue of inquiries for the committees to pursue.
Who knew what, and when?
Before quizzing Comey on the nitty-gritty details, the committees need to first find out the players involved, both inside and outside our government. Some of the players are familiar — Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Andrew McCabe. But who else was involved in the run-up to the official launch of Crossfire Hurricane, the decision to initiate that probe into the Trump campaign, and the actual investigation?
The committees should start broadly and ask Comey to identify “the who” involved in the investigation into Donald Trump and the Trump campaign. They should tell the former FBI director that Congress needs his help:
- Identifying any departments, agencies, or individuals within the executive branch who provided information or received information, concerning Donald Trump and/or his campaign or supporters and their supposed connections to Russia.
- Identifying any congressional members, offices, or staffers, or agencies or offices within the legislative branch who provided information or received information, concerning Donald Trump and/or his campaign or supporters and their supposed connections to Russia.
- Identifying any foreign governments or individuals connected to foreign governments who provided information or received information, concerning Donald Trump and/or his campaign or supporters and their supposed connection to Russia.
- Identifying any private organizations or private citizens or who provided information or received information, concerning Donald Trump and/or his campaign or supporters and their supposed connection to Russia.
After setting the stage for the committees’ first goal — identifying “the who” — those questioning Comey should begin with the organizations with a known connection to Spygate. Comey should then be asked on the record whether he knew of, or heard of (it is entirely permissible to ask for hearsay in depositions) any involvement by the organizations or the specific individuals. The committees should save the open-ended narrative for the end and walk Comey through each organization, coming prepared with a flow-chart identifying the various players and organizational structures.
The questions should begin with Comey’s own FBI, and the known quantities, such as Andrew McCabe, Bill Priestab, James Baker, Strzok, and Lisa Page. But other players appear on the periphery, as identified in Jeff Carlson’s detailed article for The Epoch Times.
Comey should also be asked to identify any known sources or informants, whether paid or unpaid, as well as to disclose whether any anonymous sources provided the FBI information. Christopher Steele, Stefan Halper, and Joseph Mifsud come to mind, but are there others? Then Comey should be asked whether any other individuals connected to the FBI were possibly involved in, or have knowledge of the probe into Trump, his family, his campaign, or his supporters.
From there, the committees should move on to the other known governmental players involved, before concluding with the open-ended follow-up asking if anyone else connected to those agencies or organizations was involved in or has information related to Spygate.
Specifically, the committee should inquire about the involvement of the DOJ (Loretta Lynch, Sally Yates, Bruce Ohr, Rod Rosenstein, and Andrew Weissmann), the State Department (John Kerry, Victoria Nuland, Jonathan Winer, and Elizabeth Dibble), the CIA (John Brennan), the National Intelligence Services (James Clapper), the congressional offices (Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, the late Republican Sen. John McCain, and Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Mark Warner). Comey should also be asked about any involvement of, or knowledge by, Obama administration officials (Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes, Denis McDonough, and Shailagh Murray), and former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
After having Comey identify all the U.S. government actors, the committees should move on to foreign governments’ involvement, following the same format: Comey should be asked whether he knows of, or heard of, the involvement of any foreign governments, including foreign assets, informants, or confidential sources. Here the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Italian governments, the British and Italian intelligence agencies, and Sir Andrew Wood, Sir Richard Dearlove, and Alexander Downer, are of special interest.
Finally, Comey should be questioned on the involvement of private organizations or individuals with the government’s investigation into Trump and the Trump campaign, by, for instance serving as government contractors, sharing information with investigators, or receiving and publishing leaks from the government.
The former FBI director should be asked to identify all outside organizations and individuals connected to Spygate, starting with the Democratic National Committee, the Hillary Clinton campaign, Hillary Clinton, PerkinsCoie, Fusion GPS (Glenn Simpson, Nellie Ohr), Orbis, David Kramer, then moving on to the other names raised in connection with the Russia probe, and ending with an open-ended narrative to discover whether there are other unknowns in the shadows.
Again, these names (and the other names listed above and connected to the FBI, DOJ, State Department, and foreign governments), merely represent a sampling of those connected to Spygate. The Epoch Times’ spread details many more, and hopefully the House committees have their own more extensive versions based on the already completed aspects of their investigation.
Once the committees have established the identity of all of the organizations and individuals potentially involved in the targeting of Trump and the Trump campaign, the committee should methodically walk through the list, requiring Comey to explain what he understood the role of each to be, and when and why they became involved in the probe into purported collusion with Russia.
As the committees move through the organizations and the list of names, they should also determine how these individuals communicated with each other. We already know that Strzok and Lisa Page communicated via private text messages. And the inspector general previously chastised Comey for using his private email account for FBI business. The committees need to know where else evidence may exist beyond the internal systems over which they should have access.
After confirming (or learning) of all of the players involved and their roles, the committees should focus on the specific troubling aspects of Spygate.
The Beginning of the Investigation
The first line of inquiry should focus on the early stages of the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia. Although the official investigation, christened Crossfire Hurricane, did not begin until July 31, 2016, we know from Halper’s earlier involvement that the FBI had begun investigating the Trump campaign before then.
The committees should quiz Comey on these initial investigative steps, including when the first efforts to look into Russia’s purported connections with the Trump campaign began, how it started, and who was involved — both government actors and sources or informants, as well as the FBI’s contacts with foreign governments and intelligence sources.
Additionally, Comey should be asked whether any of the FBI’s “information gathering activities” employed before the official launch of Crossfire Hurricane violated the attorney general’s guidelines. Comey should also be questioned concerning whether the FBI skirted the mandates of the guidelines by arranging for meetings with sources to occur within the United States, or by otherwise manipulating the investigative techniques.
The Launch of Crossfire Hurricane
Next, the House committees should ask Comey to explain the official launch of Crossfire Hurricane. Who determined an official investigation should be launched, and on what basis? What individuals were involved in the discussion or provided information to the decision makers? And specifically, was DOJ top dog Bruce Ohr involved in any way? This latter point is particularly pertinent because on July 30, 2016, Ohr met with former British spy Christopher Steele. Did the FBI have access to any of the information Steele had compiled to date?
As I have noted previously, the FBI’s claim that George Papadopoulos’ brag that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton served as the basis for launching the Russian probe appears pretextual, especially in light of Ohr’s meeting with Steele the day before the official start of Crossfire Hurricane. Accordingly, Comey should be asked to identify all factors that led to the launch of the investigation and, specifically, whether news that Papadopoulos received a tip that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton truly prompted the FBI to initiate Crossfire Hurricane.
From there, the House committees should move on to Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign advisor who received the “Russians have ‘dirt’ on Hillary” tip from Joseph Mifsud.
When did the FBI first look into Papadopoulos’ background? Who was involved in investigating Papadopoulos? Did any individuals or organizations reach out to Papadopoulos to obtain information about the Trump campaign? Or to plant information with Papadopoulos in hopes he would pass it on to the Trump campaign? Did any sources or informants contact Papadopoulos? American or foreign-based? And what does Comey know about Downer’s meeting with Papadopoulos? Who suggested the meeting? Whom did Downer tell about the meeting? What role did the State Department play in the meeting or in relaying the information to the FBI?
What about Mifsud? What has Comey heard about Mifsud? What information did the FBI have about Mifsud prior to Papadopoulos’ meeting with him? After? Did the FBI or other agencies investigate Mifsud? When? What did they learn? Did any foreign intelligence agencies have any information on Mifsud? Did the FBI believe Mifsud was a Russian asset? Does it still? Why or why not? Or was Mifsud an asset of another government?
There are many more questions outstanding about Mifsud: What connection did Mifsud have to the State Department, and who was responsible for arranging for Mifsud to speak at a State Department-sponsored event in February 2017? When the FBI questioned Mifsud at this event, what did Mifsud tell the agents? Who interviewed Mifsud? Was the interview videotaped? Why? Why not? Where is the 302 record of the interview? Was it altered? Who told Mifsud to “disappear”?
Next, Comey should be quizzed on Steele’s involvement in the investigation. Comey should be asked to detail every meeting or communication with Steele, whether involving Comey or involving others that Comey would later learn of.
Specifically, Comey should be asked whether he knew that the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign funded Steele’s research; when the information Steele had gathered first made its way to the FBI; and who knew that Steele continued to feed information to Bruce Ohr after the FBI ended his role as a source. Comey should be asked whom he discussed these facts with and who else knew these details.
Comey should also be asked to identify the portions of the Steele dossier that were corroborated, explaining who corroborating the information and how. The former FBI director should also identify the sources in the dossier and which ones had a history of providing reliable information.
The Briefing of President Trump
From there, the committees should question Comey concerning the briefing he gave Trump on the dossier. Who suggested this briefing? Who knew of the briefing? What part of the dossier, if any, had been verified prior to the briefing? Had President Obama also been briefed on the dossier? How many times, and when?
Did Comey inform then-President Obama or then-President-elect Trump that the DNC and Hillary Clinton had paid for the dossier? If not, why not? The details of the dossier were leaked almost immediately to CNN, which Comey claimed had been looking for a “news hook.” Who told Comey CNN wanted a news hook? Who leaked the existence of the briefing? And to whom was it leaked?
What role did James Clapper or John Brennan have in the briefing or in leaking? Did Comey direct the FBI to investigate the leaks? Why not?
FISA Orders and Other Warrants
This line of questioning naturally leads to the Carter Page FISA applications. It is still unknown who drafted them. The House committees should begin there and ask Comey to identify the individual responsible for drafting the applications and any individuals who provided information, input, or who reviewed the applications.
Next, Comey should be quizzed on the briefing process to the DOJ: Who briefed Yates and Rosenstein? Who decided on what information to include in the DOJ briefing? Who was present during the briefing? Who discussed the briefings before and after?
From there, the problematic portions of the FISA applications should be explored: Why was the funding source of the dossier not included? Who made that decision? Who knew of the decision and approved that decision? Were Yates and Rosenstein informed of the role of the DNC and the Clinton Campaign?
Also disconcerting was the FBI’s reliance on the unnamed sources based on Steele’s supposed credibility. Because the information indicting Page purportedly came from sources in Russia and not Steele, Steele’s reliability is irrelevant. It is the reliability of the informants that matters, and if they were of unknown reliability, then the FBI needed to independently corroborate their claims. It does not appear from the FISA warrants that that occurred. Why not? And why would the FBI use uncorroborated evidence in a FISA warrant? Is that typical in other cases?
Next, Comey should be questioned on the apparent failure of the FISA applications to update the court on the information gleaned from the FBI’s interviews of Papadopoulos and Mifsud. Because the initial FISA application relied on Papadopoulos’ supposed inside knowledge of the WikiLeaks leak of DNC emails, the court should have been updated on the information gleaned from the FBI’s later interviews of Papadopoulos and Mifsud. But it does not appear that those details were included in later-filed FISA applications.
Were the FISA applications updated? If not, why not? Who made that decision? Who provided input on that decision? And who knew of that decision? Relatedly: What other information was known but not included in the FISA applications and why? Did the FBI inform the FISA court that Page had cooperated with the FBI in the past? If not, why not? And why was Page never charged?
The four known FISA applications targeted Carter Page. Had the FBI attempted to obtain a warrant on Page prior to October 2016? If so, when? And what information was added to the application filed in October? Were FISA warrants or other warrants sought for other individuals connected to Trump or the Trump campaign? And if so, the same line of questions posed above should be pursued for each additional application.
The House committees should move on then to the information intercepted pursuant to the FISA warrants. Those warrants allowed the government to access past communications involving Page and Trump administration officials. What information did the FBI access with the FISA warrants? Did agents review communications with Trump campaign officials? Which officials? Who monitored the information and with whom was it shared?
The Trump Tower Meeting
The FBI’s role — if any — in the Trump Tower meeting also merits attention of the House committees. This refers to the brief June 9, 2016, meeting between Trump Jr., Jared Kushner (Trump’s son-in-law), then-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, and four Russians: Russian-American lobbyist Rinait Akhmetshin; a Russian real-estate developer, Ike Kaveladze; lawyer and former Russian prosecutor Natalia Veselnitskaya; and Veselnitskaya’s interpreter, Anatoli Samochornov.
While Veselnitskaya had suggested she had “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia,” the meeting immediately revealed the lawyer’s true goal: lobbying for reversal of the Magnitsky Act, a law that hit Russian human rights abusers with sanctions.
Concerns have arisen over whether this meeting was really a set-up for the younger Trump. That scenario gains some credibility given that Veselnitskaya and Samochornov both have connections to Fusion GPS (and Samochornov’s wife works for the State Department). While my gut is that these are mere coincidences, Comey should be questioned on his knowledge of this meeting, how it came about, whether anyone in the government was involved, or whether anyone outside the government, but otherwise connected to Spygate, was involved in setting up this meeting.
A final area of inquiry concerns media leaks, both Comey’s and others coming from government employees. Beginning with Comey’s leak: According to records provided to the DOJ and FBI, Comey wrote seven “memos,” two of which were emails to FBI staff and five of which were memos to the file. Of those seven “memos,” four contained classified information. Comey should be asked to clarify the number of memos he provided to outside parties, which memos they were, and to whom he provided the memos.
Other questions for Comey include: Did any of the “memos” you provided to outside parties contain classified information? Who knew you were considering leaking these memos? Did anyone authorize you to leak the material? To whom did you leak the memos? Do FBI regulations prohibit the disclosure of the information you leaked? Or did your employment contract?
Additionally, in Comey’s Senate testimony the former FBI director stated he leaked the memos to a friend, but later Comey described the friend as his attorney. The House committees should delve into this discrepancy and inquiry when he hired this attorney. For what purpose? Whether he signed a contract? When the contract was signed? Whether the attorney had agreed to represent him before Comey shared the information?
Comey isn’t the only leaker, though. So, the House committees should question him on his knowledge, and approval, of any other leaks, including the leaks surrounding Michael Flynn’s telephone conversation with a Russian official, the leaks concerning the Page FISA warrants, and the various leaks to the New York Times concerning the history of Crossfire Hurricane. Additionally, Comey should be asked whether he knew of, or had heard of, Steele or others at Fusion leaking details from the dossier, and if so when, and what was done upon learning of those leaks.
These are a lot of questions, but if handled by a skillful attorney, Comey can be led through the details efficiently. While there is ample room to throw shade at Comey — who once proclaimed to Trump that he wasn’t a “weasel” who leaked information — the committees should avoid these gotcha moments and ask genuine questions to lay out the facts.
In this regard, the committees would be well served to look to the example of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations against Brett Kavanaugh. Sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell walked Ford through her memory of 30-plus years ago, asking simple, direct questions. Mitchell didn’t grandstand, disparage, or challenge Ford’s testimony. Instead, Mitchell allowed Ford to talk. Even with only one hour to question Ford, and with the disruptive volleying of questions between Republican and Democrats, Mitchell succeeded in exposing many significant facts and inconsistencies with Ford’s story.
The House committees have before them the opportunity to do the same, but are also at an advantage compared to the Senate Judiciary Committee, because the House committees have already heard from other witnesses and have access to documentation, both of which can confirm or refute Comey’s claims. And without the television cameras present to broadcast Comey’s martyr routine, the public will not be torn by the emotions of the hearings as it was with Ford.
Sure, Comey will relaunch his tour-of-America following the hearing to garner the public’s sympathy and respect, but the transcript will be out by then. And if the House committees handle the proceeding properly, the facts revealed will be the only answer Americans need to assess Comey’s claims of victimhood.