Attorney General William Barr said last week that “the evidence shows that we’re not dealing with just mistakes or sloppiness” in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. Rather, “there is something far more troubling here.”
“Without any basis,” Barr added in his sit-down interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, “they started this investigation of [Trump’s] campaign, and even more concerning actually is what happened after the campaign, a whole pattern of events while he was president to sabotage his presidency — or at least have the effect of sabotaging the presidency.”
While Barr did not elaborate on the evidence he’s seen, a declassified transcript made public earlier in the week of a wired conversation between former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and a Crossfire Hurricane confidential human source (CHS), when read in tandem with Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) abuse, substantiates Barr’s view that it wasn’t “just mistakes.”
When the transcript of the CHS’s secretly recorded conversation with Papadopoulos was released last week, the media highlighted his adamant denial of any Trump-campaign involvement into the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails. The coverage also focused on Papadopoulos’s denials being withheld from the FISA court.
But we already knew that: The IG’s report identified the failure to inform the FISA court of Papadopoulos’s denials as two of the 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions.” Specifically, the IG report noted the initial FISA application “[o]mitted Papadopoulos’s consensually monitored statements to an FBI CHS in September 2016 denying that anyone associated with the Trump campaign was collaborating with Russia or with outside groups like Wikileaks in the release of emails.”
The report explained that error was repeated in the three subsequent FISA renewal applications, adding that those applications also “[o]mitted Papadopoulos’s statements to an FBI CHS in late October 2016 denying that the Trump campaign was involved in the circumstances of the DNC email hack.”
Crossfire Hurricane Team Ignores Papadopoulos’ Words
The declassified transcript, however, does much more than hammer home the FISA abuse. It reveals a stark difference between Papadopoulos’s September 2016 denial of involvement in the DNC email hack and his denial a month later.
The Sept. 15, 2016, wired conversation was between Papadopoulos and Stefan Halper, whom the IG report identified as “Source 2.” That meeting occurred over “pre-dinner drinks,” and Halper was tasked with asking “Papadopoulos direct questions about whether the Trump campaign benefitted from, or anyone in the Trump campaign had knowledge of, Russian assistance or the Wikileaks release of information that was damaging to the Clinton campaign.”
According to the IG report, “[W]hen Source 2 initially asked about Wikileaks, Papadopoulos commented that with respect to [Julian] Assange ‘no one knows what he’s going to release’ and that he could release information on Trump as a ‘ploy to basically dismantle … [or] undercut the … next President of the United States regardless of who it’s going to be.’ Papadopoulos also stated that ‘no one has proven that the Russians actually did the hacking.’’’
Halper later asked “Papadopoulos directly whether help ‘from a third party like Wikileaks for example or some other third party like the Russians, could be incredibly helpful’ in securing a campaign victory.” The IG report summarized Papadopoulos’s response:
Well as a campaign, of course, we don’t advocate for this type of activity because at the end of the day it’s, ah, illegal. First and foremost it compromises the US national security and third it sets a very bad precedence [sic]. … So the campaign does not advocate for this, does not support what is happening. The indirect consequences are out of our hands. … [F]or example, our campaign is not … engag[ing] or reaching out to wiki leaks or to the whoever it is to tell them please work with us, collaborate because we don’t, no one does that. … Unless there’s something going on that I don’t know which I don’t because I don’t think anybody would risk their, their life, ah, potentially going to prison over doing something like that. Um … because at the end of the day, you know, it’s an illegal, it’s an illegal activity. Espionage is, ah, treason. This is a form of treason. … I mean that’s why, you know, it became a very big issue when Mr. Trump said, ‘Russia if you’re listening’ … Do you remember? … And you know we had to retract it because, of course, he didn’t mean for them to actively engage in espionage but the media then took and ran with it.
Halper raised the issue again, and Papadopoulos replied: “To run a shop like that … of course it’s illegal. No one’s looking to … obviously get into trouble like that and, you know, as far as I understand that’s, no one’s collaborating, there’s been no collusion and it’s going to remain that way. But the media, of course, wants to take a statement that Trump made, an off-the-cuff statement, about [how] Russia helped find the 30,000 emails and use that as a tool to advance their [story] … that Trump is … a stooge and if he’s elected he’ll permit the Russians to have carte blanche throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East while the Americans sit back and twiddle their thumbs. And that’s not correct.”
While Papadopoulos’s September 2016 denials to Halper were strident and unequivocal, the IG report made clear that the Crossfire Hurricane team found them unconvincing. Case Agent 1, publicly known to be Joe Pientka, told the IG that “he and the team discounted Papadopoulos’s denials for several reasons.”
The IG report noted that Pientka said, “[T]he Crossfire Hurricane team’s assessment was that Papadopoulos’s denial to the CHS was a rehearsed response.” His “response to the direct questions seemed weird,” Pientka said, “because it ‘seemed rehearsed and almost rote.’” Papadopoulos “went from a free-flowing conversation with [Halper] to almost a canned response,” Pientka claimed.
The IG report further noted that “Case Agent 1 emailed SSA 1 and others to report that Papadopoulos ‘gave … a canned answer, which he was probably prepped to say when asked.’” According to the report, Pientka said that “it remained a topic of conversation on the Crossfire Hurricane team for days afterward whether Papadopoulos had ‘been coached by a legal team to deny’ any involvement because of the ‘noticeable change’ in ‘the tenor of the conversation.’”
Another agent likewise told the IG that “his main observation was that when Papadopoulos was pushed for answers, he seemed to have a ‘prepared statement. It sounded like a lawyer wrote it.’” When the Office of General Counsel’s Deputy General Counsel Trisha Anderson later learned of Papadopoulos’s responses while working on a letter to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, she said Papadopoulos’s statements to Halper sounded “self-serving” and “like a lawyered statement.”
Papadopoulos Spoke Freely with Source 3
These excerpts make clear that the Crossfire Hurricane team uniformly viewed Papadopoulos’s denials to Halper as contrived. In contrast, the IG report makes no mention whatsoever of Crossfire Hurricane team members viewing Papadopoulos’s denials to Source 3 on Oct. 31, 2016, as being similarly suspect. None.
This is where the declassified transcript of Papadopoulos’s conversation proves essential. From the IG report, his conversations with Halper and Source 3 seemed very similar. But the recently declassified transcript reveals a much different relationship between Papadopoulos and Source 3 — and a much different conversation.
Papadopoulos spoke with Source 3 for more than four hours during lunch and at a casino. Papadopoulos shared with Source 3 everything from his views on millennials — they were lazy — to his disdain for condoms. The conversation was friendly and uninhibited. In the midst of these off-the-cuff and cordial exchanges, Papadopoulos chatted with Source 3 about politics, the DNC hack, and Russia.
When Source 3 asked Papadopoulos whether he thought “Russia’s playing a big game in this election,” Papadopoulos said, “That’s all bullsh-t,” adding, “No one knows who’s hacking [the DNC]. … Could be the Chinese, could be the Iranians, it could be some Bernie … supporters.” Papadopoulos said the arguments about Russians are “all … conspiracy theories,” and he knew “‘for a fact’ that no one from the Trump campaign had anything to do with releasing emails from the DNC, because Papadopoulos said he had ‘been working with them for the last nine months. … And all of this stuff has been happening, what, the last four months?’”
Significantly, Papadopoulos told Source 3 that Halper had asked him the same questions and “he believed [Halper] was going to go and tell the CIA or something if I’d have told him something else. I assume that’s why he was asking. And I told him, absolutely not. … [I]t’s illegal, you know, to do that.”
That Papadopoulos told Source 3 he thought Halper was working for the CIA seems a pretty good indication he didn’t have the same qualms about Source 3. Papadopoulos’s insulting commentary on congressmen — “Do you know how many Members of Congress I’ve met that know jack … about anything? Except what their advisors tell them? … They can barely put a sentence together. … I’m talking about Members of Congress dude” — and his braggadocio about making himself a “brand” and monetizing his connections also suggest he had no idea Source 3 was wired.
Something Doesn’t Add Up
So why didn’t the Crossfire Hurricane team members consider the possibility that Papadopoulos’s denials to Source 3 were legitimate? Arguably, the team had a solid basis for discounting his denials to Halper, but the transcript of Papadopoulos’s conversation with Source 3 reveals those same justifications don’t hold. This point goes well beyond FISA abuse and calls into question the entire Crossfire Hurricane investigation: Why was it started, and why did it continue?
And why didn’t the IG report discuss how the Crossfire Hurricane team viewed Papadopoulos’s denials to Source 3? After extensively discussing the reaction of team members to Papadopoulos’s denials to Halper, the IG report is virtually silent on the impact of his continued denials.
The report merely notes that Pientka “received a document with these Papadopoulos statements included in it a few days after the October 2016 meeting,” and that Pientka told the IG that “he was familiar with this CHS meeting at the time and probably reviewed the summary of the interview containing these statements.” Yet when asked why he had not shared the statements with the Office of Intelligence or included it in the FISA renewal applications, Pientka said he “did not recall” but “the information would not have been purposely withheld … but it may have been accidentally omitted.”
The more significant query is why didn’t these denials give the Crossfire Hurricane team pause before it continued its investigation into Donald Trump? Barr is right: this doesn’t smell like a mere mistake.