Information released in the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss the case it brought against Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn confirms the significance of a January 5, 2017, meeting at the Obama White House. It was at this meeting that Obama gave guidance to key officials who would be tasked with protecting his administration’s utilization of secretly funded Clinton campaign research, which alleged Trump was involved in a treasonous plot to collude with Russia, from being discovered or stopped by the incoming administration.
“President Obama said he wants to be sure that, as we engage with the incoming team, we are mindful to ascertain if there is any reason that we cannot share information fully as it relates to Russia,” National Security Advisor Susan Rice wrote in an unusual email to herself about the meeting that was also attended by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, FBI Director James Comey, and Vice President Joe Biden.
A clearer picture is emerging of the drastic steps that were taken to accomplish Obama’s goal in the following weeks and months. Shortly thereafter, high-level operatives began intensely leaking selective information supporting a supposed Russia-Trump conspiracy theory, the incoming National Security Advisor was ambushed, and the incoming Attorney General was forced to recuse himself from oversight of investigations of President Trump. At each major point in the operation, explosive media leaks were a key strategy in the operation to take down Trump.
Not only was information on Russia not fully shared with the incoming Trump team, as Obama directs, the leaks and ambushes made the transition chaotic, scared quality individuals away from working in the administration, made effective governance almost impossible, and materially damaged national security. When Comey was finally fired on May 9, in part for his duplicitousness regarding his handling of the Russia collusion theory, he orchestrated the launch of a Special Counsel probe that continued his efforts for another two years. That probe ended with Mueller finding no evidence of any American colluding with Russia to steal the 2016 election, much less Trump or anyone connected to him.
An analysis of the timeline from early 2017 shows a clear pattern of behavior from the federal officials running the collusion operation against the Trump campaign. It also shows how essential media leaks were to their strategy to sideline key law enforcement and intelligence officials and cripple the ability of the incoming Trump administration to run the country.
Here’s a timeline of the key moments and news articles of the efforts, per Obama’s direction, to prevent the Trump administration from learning about the FBI’s operation against it.
January 4: Following the closure of a pretextually dubious and politically motivated FBI investigation of Flynn at the beginning of January, the leadership of the FBI scrambled to reopen a case against Flynn, the man who in his role as National Security Advisor would have to review their Russia collusion investigation. FBI officials openly discussed their concern about briefing the veteran intelligence official on what they had done to the Trump campaign and transition team and what they were planning to do to the incoming Trump administration. Flynn had to be dealt with. The FBI’s top counterintelligence official would later memorialize discussions about the FBI’s attempts to “get [Flynn] fired.” No reopening was needed, they determined, when they discovered they had failed to close the previous investigation. They found this mistake “amazing” and “serendipitously good” and said “our utter incompetence actually helps us.” Even more noteworthy were texts from FBI’s #2 counterintelligence official Peter Strzok to FBI lawyer Lisa Page noting that the “7th floor,” a reference to Comey and his deputy director Andrew McCabe, was running the show.
January 5: Yates, Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper briefed Obama on Russia-related matters in the Oval Office. Biden and Rice also attended. After the Obama briefing, the intelligence chiefs who would be leaving at the end of the term were dismissed and Yates and Comey, who would continue in the Trump administration, were asked to stay. Not only did Obama give his guidance about how to perpetuate the Russia collusion theory investigations, he also talked about Flynn’s conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, according to both Comey and Yates. Interestingly, Clapper, Comey, and Yates all said that they did not brief Obama about these phone calls. Clapper testified he did not brief Obama on the calls, Yates learned about the calls from Obama himself during that meeting, and Comey also testified he didn’t brief Obama about the calls, even though the intelligence was an FBI product. Rice, who publicly lied but later admitted under oath to her widespread use of unmasked intelligence at the end of the Obama administration, likely briefed Obama on the calls and would have had access to the intelligence. Comey mentions the Logan Act at this meeting.
It was this meeting that Rice memorialized in a bizarre inauguration-day email to herself that claimed Obama told the gathered to do everything “by the book.” But Rice also noted in her email that the key point of discussion in that meeting was whether and how to withhold national security information, likely including details of the investigation into Trump himself, from the incoming Trump national security team.
January 6: An ostensibly similar briefing about Russian interference efforts during the 2016 campaign was given to President-elect Trump. After that briefing, Comey privately briefed Trump on the most salacious and absurd “pee tape” allegation in the Christopher Steele dossier, a document the FBI had already used to obtain a warrant to spy on Trump campaign affiliate Carter Page. Comey told Trump he was telling him because CNN was looking for any reason it could find to publish a story about Russia having compromising information on him, and he wanted to warn Trump about it. He did not mention the dossier was completely unverified or that it was the product of a secretly funded operation by the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee.
January 10: In an amazing coincidence, CNN found the excuse to publish the Russia claims after a high-level Obama intelligence operative leaked that Comey had briefed Trump about the dossier. This selective leak, which was credulously accepted by CNN reporters Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, Jake Tapper and Carl Bernstein, may have been the most important step in the operation to harm the incoming Trump administration. The leak of the briefing of Trump was used to legitimize a ridiculous dossier full of allegations the FBI knew to be false that multiple news organizations had previously refused to report on for lack of substantiation, and created a cloud of suspicion over Trump’s campaign and administration by insinuating he was being blackmailed by Russia.
January 12: The next part of the strategy was the explosive leak to David Ignatius of the Washington Post to legitimize the use against Flynn of the Logan Act, a likely unconstitutional 1799 law prohibiting private individuals, not public incoming national security advisors, from discussing foreign policy with foreign governments. Ignatius accepted the leak from the Obama official. He wrote that Flynn had called Kislyak. “What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about ‘disputes’ with the United States. Was its spirit violated?” Flynn’s routine and appropriate phone call became fodder for a developing grand conspiracy theory of Russia collusion. In discussions with investigators, both DOJ’s Mary McCord and Comey conspicuously cite this Ignatius column as somehow meaningful in the approach they would take with Flynn. “Nothing, to my mind, happens until the 13th of January, when David Ignatius publishes a column that contains a reference to communication Michael Flynn had with the Russians. That was on the 13th of January,” Comey said of the column that ran online on January 12. In fact, quite a bit had happened at the FBI prior to that leak, with much conversation about how to utilize the Logan Act against Flynn. And the leak-fueled Ignatius column would later be used by FBI officials to justify an illegal ambush interview of Flynn in the White House.
January 23: Another important criminal leak was given to Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller of the Washington Post, also based on criminal leaks. Their article, headlined “FBI reviewed Flynn’s calls with Russian ambassador but found nothing illicit,” was intended to make Flynn feel safe and put him at ease about the FBI stance on those calls the day before they planned to ambush him in an interview. The article was used to publicize false information when it said, “Although Flynn’s contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were listened to, Flynn himself is not the active target of an investigation, U.S. officials said.” In fact, emails prior to this date confirm Flynn was their prime target. This article was later cited by McCabe as the reason why they were justified in concealing from Flynn the real purpose of their interview. Flynn later asked McCabe if he knew how all the information about his phone calls had been made public and whether it had been leaked. Any potential response from McCabe to Flynn has been redacted from his own notes about the conversation.
January 24: Comey later admitted he broke every protocol to send agents to interview Flynn and try to catch him in a lie. FBI officials strategized how to keep Flynn from knowing he was a target of the investigation or asking for an attorney to represent him in the interview. The January 23 Washington Post article, which falsely stated that Flynn was not an FBI target, was key to that strategy. Though the interviewing agents said they could detect no “tells” indicating he lied, and he carefully phrased everything in the interview, he later was induced to plead guilty to lying in this interview. Ostensibly because White House officials downplayed the Kislyak phone calls, presumably in light of what Flynn had told them about the calls, Yates would go to the White House the next day and insinuate Flynn should probably be fired.
February 9: The strategy to get Flynn fired didn’t immediately work so another leak was deployed to Greg Miller, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post. That article, headline “National security adviser Flynn discussed sanctions with Russian ambassador, despite denials, officials say,” was sourced to people who happened to share senior FBI leadership’s views on the Logan Act. This article was also based on criminal leaks of top secret information of phone call intercepts and laid out the FBI’s case for why Flynn’s contacts with a foreign adversary were a problem. The fact that such phone calls are routine, not to mention Flynn’s case that improved relations with Russia in a world where China, North Korea, and Iran were posing increasing threats, never made it into these articles for context.
February 13: The operation finally succeeded in getting Flynn fired and rendering him unable to review the operations against the Trump campaign, Trump transition team, and Trump administration.
March 1: Flynn was the first obstacle who had to be overcome. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was the next. The Trump loyalist with a strong Department of Justice background would also need to be briefed on the anti-Trump efforts unless he could be sidelined. Comey admitted that early in Sessions’ tenure, he deliberately hid Russia-related information from Sessions because, “it made little sense to report it to Attorney General Sessions, who we expected would likely recuse himself from involvement in Russia-related investigations.” To secure that recusal, yet another leak was deployed to the Washington Post’s Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller. The leak was intended to tar Sessions as a secret Russian agent and was dramatically spun as “Sessions Spoke Twice To Russian Envoy: Revelation contradicts his testimony at confirmation hearing.” One meeting was in passing and the other was in his function as a United States Senator, but the hysteria was such that the Post authors could get away with suggesting Sessions was too compromised to oversee the Department of Justice’s counterintelligence operations involving Russia. It is perhaps worth noting that the Special Counsel idea was pushed in this article.
March 2: Sessions recused himself from oversight of the FBI’s anti-Trump operation, providing no meaningful oversight to an operation that would be spun into a Special Counsel by mid-May. With the removal of Trump’s National Security Advisor and his Attorney General, there was no longer any chance of Trump loyalists discovering what Obama holdovers at the FBI were actually doing to get Trump thrown out of office. After Trump fired Comey for managerial incompetence on May 9, deceptively edited and misleading leaks to the New York Times ordered by Comey himself were used to gin up a Special Counsel run exclusively by left-wing anti-Trump partisans who continued the operation without any meaningful oversight for another two years.
This stunning operation was not just a typical battle between political foes, nor merely an example of media bias against political enemies. Instead, this entire operation was a deliberate and direct attack on the foundation of American governance. In light of the newly declassified documents released in recent days, it is clear that understanding what happened in that January 5 Oval Office meeting is essential to understanding the full scope and breadth of the corrupt operation against the Trump administration. It is long past time for lawmakers in Congress who are actually interested in oversight of the federal government and the media to demand answers about what really happened in that meeting from every single participant, including Obama and Biden.