Last week, President Trump triggered the left when he tweeted a Photoshopped picture that portrayed former President Barack Obama perched midair outside Trump Tower, binoculars and listening device in hand.
The liberal outlet Vox condemned the president for his “increasingly bad tweets,” before declaring “there’s no evidence the Obama administration spied on Trump.” Vox then regurgitated the false narrative that, while the FBI did surveil former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page, “that didn’t happen until after Page left the campaign.”
For years, conservatives tried to correct the record, noting that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) order gave the government access to Page’s past emails and other electronic communications with members of the Trump campaign, but the mainstream media ignored this reality. That the liberal and legacy press continue to push this narrative now, following the release of Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on FISA abuse, is beyond baffling, because the IG report established that the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign, and the spying was much worse than previously thought.
Spying on Carter Page Was Spying on the Trump Campaign
The FISA warrants, of course, gave the FBI authority to spy on Page, and now that the government has finally made a mea culpa, we know that surveillance was illegal. But contrary to the continuing narrative, that spying wasn’t limited to Page. It included internal Trump campaign communications.
The IG report acknowledged this, noting that Gabriel Sanz-Rexach, the chief of the Office of Intelligence’s Operations Section, explained “that the evidence collected during the first FISA application time period demonstrated that Carter Page had access to individuals in Russia and he was communicating with people in the Trump campaign.”
Horowitz’s report added that, “based on our review of the Woods Files and communications between the FBI and [Office of Intelligence], we identified a few emails between Page and members of the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign concerning campaign related matters.” The Woods file is a record of compliance with procedures intended to “ensure accuracy with regard to…the facts supporting probable cause.”
Don’t let the “few emails” mislead: The FISA surveillance didn’t just accidently sweep in a few random campaign communications. Rather, the “few” campaign communications the IG identified came from its limited review of the Woods file and select FBI communications. The IG report made this point clear in a footnote, stating it did not review the entirety of the FISA-intercepted communications—only those “pertinent to” the IG’s review of FISA abuse.
While we do not know how many campaign emails and communications were swept into the FISA surveillance of Page, we do know the FBI would have had access to all campaign emails that originated from Page or included him as a recipient. And the number of emails accessed appears large, given that the IG report stated that 45 days into the surveillance order, the FBI “team had not reviewed all of the emails the first FISA application yielded and believed there were additional emails not yet collected.” The IG report also established that the Crossfire Hurricane team recognized “the possibility that the FISA collection would include sensitive political campaign related information.”
The IG report also did more than confirm the Crossfire Hurricane team accessed some Trump campaign communications: It established that accessing Page’s communications with the Trump campaign was the goal of the FISA order.
For instance, a case agent working the Crossfire Hurricane investigation explained to the IG’s team that because Page had just “returned from his trip to Russia” before the Republicans’ national convention, the FBI’s “belief was that Page was involved in the platform change [concerning Ukraine] and the team was hoping to find evidence of that in their review of the FISA collections of Page’s email accounts.”
The FISA Warrant Allowed Physical Searches
Beyond the electronic campaign communications the FBI intercepted, agents may also have accessed hardcopies of campaign materials Page kept. As the IG report explained, FISA allows for both electronic surveillance and physical searches if, in addition to establishing that the target is a “foreign agent,” the application “states the facts and circumstances justifying the applicant’s belief that the premises or property to be searched contains ‘foreign intelligence information’ and ‘is or is about to be, owned, used, possessed by, or is in transit to or from’ the target.”
Whether the FBI conducted physical searches of Page’s various abodes and property is unclear from the IG report. But it appears from the IG report that the FISA orders at least authorized the FBI to conduct physical searches, as seen by an unredacted passage early in the report, which noted the IG was limiting its discussion of FISA “to the provisions applicable” to “the process the FBI used to obtain authorization to conduct electronic surveillance and physical searches targeting Carter Page” (emphasis added).
So, in addition to the Trump campaign electronic communications intercepted by the FBI, it is possible that the government dug through hard copies or computer files of campaign-related material Page had stored at the various locales where he stayed during this time.
FBI Tried to Influence the Trump Campaign
While the results of any physical searches related to Page are unknown, what is known is that federal spying on the Trump campaign through Page went further. Prior to the FISA surveillance orders, the FBI tasked informant Stefan Halper with targeting Page. (Another agency may have as well.) The IG report revealed that in targeting Page, Halper sought specific details from Page related to the Trump campaign, and fed Page unsolicited (and potentially illegal) advice concerning campaign strategy.
For instance, in an August 2016 conversation with Page that Halper secretly recorded, Halper quizzed the foreign policy advisor on an “October Surprise.” Halper then asked Page “if the Trump campaign could access information that might have been obtained by the Russians from the DNC files.” But Halper’s next line shows Halper was doing more than seeking evidence of collusion—he was trying to influence the Trump campaign: Halper told Page “that in past campaigns ‘we would have used [it] in a heartbeat.’”
To fully grasp the significance of Halper’s comments, one must understand his long history as a campaign advisor. That history dated back nearly four decades, with Halper holding a high-level position in George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 1979. Halper then joined the staff of the Reagan-Bush campaign after Ronald Reagan won the nomination and tapped Bush as his choice for vice president. In fact, the IG report noted a Crossfire Hurricane case agent had initially reached out to Halper because he knew Halper “had been affiliated with national political campaigns since the early 1970s.”
Given Halper’s history as a seasoned campaign guru, his “we would have used [it] in a heartbeat” comment to Page sought, not to elicit information from Page that the Trump team was colluding with Russia, but to entice the Trump campaign to do just that.
Of course, we know from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report that didn’t happen, but here Halper was doing just what the unit chief of the Office of General Counsel told the IG was “her main concern about CHSs [confidential human sources] interacting with members of the Trump campaign”—“ensuring that CHSs were not ‘influencing steps the campaign was going to take.’”
FBI Surveillance Efforts Not Limited to Page
What else Halper asked Page about the campaign, or suggested the campaign do, during this August 2016 meeting is unknown, but there was ample time for the two to chat about campaign strategy. In fact, from the IG report it can be gleaned that Halper’s conversation with Page was fairly extensive, as the transcript of their recorded meeting spanned some 163 pages.
And that was just Page’s August conversation with Halper. A second taped conversation between Halper and Page took place on October 17, 2016, then in December 2016, Page made additional statements to Halper. The IG report did not elaborate on the campaign-related aspects of those conversations, focusing instead on the exculpatory information Page provided Halper that the FBI failed to include in the FISA applications.
Halper also used Page to connect to a senior member of the Trump campaign, Sam Clovis. Unlike Page, Clovis was not a target of Crossfire Hurricane. Clovis also had an impeccable pedigree, serving more than 25 years in the Air Force as a fighter pilot and instructor, and later spending serving in the Pentagon and Middle East, before retiring “as a colonel and inspector general of the U.S. Space Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.”
Notwithstanding Clovis’ unimpeachable background and his high-level position in the Trump campaign, the FBI allowed Halper to ingratiate himself with Clovis by feigning an interest in helping the Trump campaign. Halper then secretly recorded the Trump campaign leader.
The FBI suggested tasking Halper to talk with Clovis was legitimate because Halper’s focus centered on how two unknowns—Page and Trump advisor George Papadopoulos—came to work for the Trump campaign. But when Halper spoke with Clovis on September 1, 2016, in a recorded conversation, Halper posed several questions about sensitive campaign strategies.
For instance, Halper asked Clovis “whether the Trump campaign was planning an ‘October Surprise,’” and he learned the Trump campaign planned to focus on “giv[ing] people a reason to vote for him, not just vote against Hillary.” Clovis also shared with Halper that Trump did not want to “do a traditional campaign,” and added “additional comments about the internal structure, organization, and functioning of the Trump campaign.”
Halper’s recorded conversation with Clovis delved even deeper into campaign concerns, with Halper discussing with Clovis “an internal campaign debate about Trump’s immigration strategy, efforts to reach out to minority groups and the impact of those efforts, and the campaign’s strategies for responding to questions about Trump’s decision not to release his tax returns.”
The IG report did not detail the content of these conversations, but here, an earlier comment Halper made to Page proves significant: Prior to meeting with Clovis, Halper told Page that he was available whenever Clovis “wants to chat,” then Halper added that he “would like to meet with [Clovis],” because there are “some things that have to be done at this part of … the campaign…. And if you don’t do them you’re going to lose.”
Maybe the FBI didn’t task Halper to spy on the Trump campaign, but Halper’s comments to Page, coupled with the topics he discussed with Clovis, reveal Halper ignored that directive.
Then There Was FBI Targeting of George Papadopoulos
The FBI also tasked Halper with targeting foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos. The FBI didn’t obtain a FISA warrant on Papadopoulos, but Halper recorded conversations with Papadopoulos in September 2016 and October 2016.
While Halper’s targeting of Papadopoulos didn’t translate into much information about the Trump campaign, the IG report still leaves unanswered whether other members of the intelligence community, either American or Western, had set up Papadopoulos, with Joseph Mifsud feeding him fake “intel” about Russia having dirt on Hillary Clinton, then arranging for a “friendly-foreign government” representative, Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, to prompt Papadopoulos to disclose this supposed inside track on Russia collusion.
While Papadopoulos remained reticent with Halper, he did share “insight” on the Trump campaign team, telling Halper that former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn “does want to cooperate with the Russians and the Russians are willing to … embrace adult issues.” Unknown is what else Papadopoulos told Halper, or the other CHS tasked to chat him up, about the Trump campaign.
Setting a Trap for Michael Flynn
The FBI didn’t limit its spying efforts to outsourced CHSs, however. Rather, in addition to using Halper and several other CHSs, on August 17, 2016, the FBI dispatched a supervisor of the Crossfire Hurricane team, known broadly to be FBI Agent Joe Pientka, to a private security briefing for then-candidate Trump and Flynn.
The IG report noted the FBI chose Pientka to provide this security briefing to “assess” Flynn in anticipation of a “subject interview,” but beyond that, Pientka was there to “overhear, whatever it was,” and record that. The IG report noted that the FBI viewed the briefing of candidate Trump and his advisors as a possible opportunity to collect information potentially relevant to the Crossfire Hurricane and Flynn investigations.
Pientka memorialized the results of the briefing in an official FBI document, summarizing questions posed by Trump and Flynn, “as well as comments made by Trump and Flynn.” Trump and Flynn’s statements were “added to the Crossfire Hurricane system and uploaded in the FBI’s case management system.”
It wasn’t just Flynn: the FBI monitored what should have been normal briefing sessions. The IG report revealed that prior to briefing President-elect Trump on the “salacious” details of Steele dossier, former FBI Director James Comey met with senior leaders of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
“One of the topics discussed was Trump’s potential responses to being told about the ‘salacious’ information, including that Trump might make statements, or provide information of value, to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.” So, while Comey told Trump during their private meeting that “the FBI did not know whether the allegations were true or false and that the FBI was not investigating them,” Comey tracked Trump’s reaction for the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
Other CHSs Had Significant Access to the Trump Campaign, Transition Team, and Administration
Beyond the intentional spying, the IG report revealed quite a bit of “accidental” espionage occurred. While the IG concluded that the FBI had not placed any CHSs in the Trump campaign (or administration), the report revealed that “the FBI had several other CHSs with either a connection to candidate Trump or a role in the Trump campaign.”
For instance, the IG report noted that one CHS who had been “in contact” with Trump during the campaign passed information to the FBI about Page and Manafort in August 2016. While the FBI did not task this CHS during the Trump campaign, according to the IG report, after the November 8, 2016 election, Pientka contacted the CHS’s handling agent “and asked for ‘a read-out from your CHS regarding possible positions in administration.’”
Pientka claimed he wasn’t attempting to task this CHS with spying on the administration, but “thought that the CHS might receive ‘a position somewhere in the administration,’” which would become a ‘sensitive matter that we would need to handle differently.’”
The IG appeared to have accepted Pientka’s explanation without question, even though in late November the CHS’s handling agent met with him and later “wrote a document stating one purpose of the meeting was ‘to obtain insight regarding the upcoming Trump Administration following the recent U.S. Presidential elections.’” But Pientka assured the IG “that this was not what he intended the Handling Agent to discuss with the CHS.” Sure, Joe.
A ‘Passive Listening Post’ on the Trump Campaign
The IG report next noted that Inspector General Horowitz’s team “also learned about a different CHS who at one point held a position in the Trump campaign,” but the Crossfire Hurricane team said they decided against tasking this CHS in the investigation and instead minimized contact with him. But again, an email uncovered by the IG, but buried in a footnote, told a different story.
“After careful consideration, the CROSSFIRE HURRICANE team has decided, at this time, it is best to utilize your CHS as a passive listening post regarding any observations [he/she] has of the campaign so far,” the email addressing the CHS’s role read, continuing: “Base[d] on current, on-going operations/developments in the CROSSFIRE HURRICANE investigation, we are not going to directly task or sensitize the CHS at this point in time. We appreciate [your] assistance in this matter and remain interested in any campaign related reporting that you guys may receive from the CHS during normal debriefs.”
Again, the IG accepted at face value the FBI agent’s claim that “the email was ‘incorrect’ and what he was asking for was any information about attempts by Russia ‘to screw around with the campaign or the elections.’”
The Embedded FBI Spies Didn’t Stop There
The IG report noted yet another CHS connected to the Trump campaign, explaining that Horowitz’s team discovered an October 2016 email written by an intelligence analyst on the Crossfire Hurricane team to Pientka. That “email copied information out of a CHS’s Delta file stating that the CHS is ‘scheduled to attend a ‘private’ national security forum with Donald Trump’ in October 2016, after which the CHS will provide ‘an update on the Trump meeting.’” (Delta is the FBI’s database that “contains all of the personal and administrative information about the CHS.”) But, alas, no one remembered “that any FBI CHS had been scheduled to attend a private forum with candidate Trump.”
In addition to these CHS connected to the Trump campaign, or candidate Trump, the IG report also revealed multiple CHSs involved in either the transition team or administration. While the specifics of those CHSs’ positions were redacted, the IG noted that in March 2017, one CHS provided his FBI handling agent “five sets of documents on multiple topics,” the details of which were blacked out. Even though the FBI didn’t task this CHS, agents passed this information on to the Crossfire Hurricane team and maintained it in the FBI file.
While it is impossible to know from the IG report (because of redactions) the level of access this CHS had, it must have been pretty significant because Associate Director of the Counterintelligence Division Bill Priestap told the IG “that he ‘absolutely should have been told that there was an active FBI CHS with” the unspecified “access.” In this situation, Priestap explained, it was “common sense” that “the bosses need to know.”
Still another CHS provided additional information to the FBI, “months after the presidential campaign was concluded,” but what exactly that CHS shared was redacted. However, the IG report’s reference to UDP (“undisclosed participation”), tells us this CHS was a government employee, and possibly in the Trump administration, because, as the IG report explained: “Undisclosed Participation (UDP) takes place when anyone acting on behalf of the FBI, including a CHS, becomes a member of, or participates in, the activity of an organization on behalf of the U.S. government without disclosing their FBI affiliation to an appropriate official of the organization.” The IG concluded that because this CHS had voluntarily spied on the Trump administration, he did not meet the departmental definition of an UDP.
Oh, There Were Also ‘Undercover Employees’
Beyond Halper, the tasked and volunteer CHSs, Comey, and Pientka, the Crossfire Hurricane team also used “a few” Undercover Employees, or UCEs. But how those UCEs were used and what information they accessed is unclear because the IG report did not provide any details, leaving open the possibility that even more spying took place.
The IG report also stated that “the FBI did not use national security letters or compulsory process prior to obtaining the first FISA orders,” implying that after obtaining the FISA warrants, the FBI used these investigative techniques. But again, we don’t know what information the FBI gathered, and whether it included details about the Trump campaign.
We also don’t know if there were any sub-sources placed in the Trump campaign or with access to the campaign, because the FBI does not track sub-sources in its classified Delta database. Last week’s release by Sen. Chuck Grassley of a letter he penned to the Department of Defense’s Office of Net Intelligence concerning Halper suggests it is a real possibility that sub-sources were tasked with spying on the Trump campaign. In that letter, Grassley asked whether Halper “used any taxpayer money in his attempt to recruit Trump campaign officials as sources.”
While the IG report stated that it “found no evidence that the FBI attempted to place any CHSs within the Trump campaign, recruit members of the Trump campaign as CHSs, or task CHSs to report on the Trump campaign,” as is clear from the above detailed analysis of the IG report, substantial spying took place under the guise of investigating Russia collusion—and there were many hints that even more spying occurred that has yet to be exposed.
In fact, it might well be the only tactic the FBI refrained from deploying was suspending Obama aloft outside the Trump Tower.