Last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley wrote James Baker, the director of the Office of Net Assessments, seeking information concerning ONA’s potential involvement in Spygate. The chair of the Finance Committee had previously asked Baker for all records related to Crossfire Hurricane’s go-to informant, Stephan Halper, but as Grassley’s follow-up letter made clear, Baker’s response was greatly lacking.
In addition to pushing for more answers about Halper, Grassley is now demanding answers about Baker’s alleged role in leaking details about Michael Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, to the press.
Grassley’s June 18, 2020 letter opened with a recap of his early 2020 request for information “regarding Stefan Halper’s work for the Office of Net Assessments.” Halper served as a confidential human source for the FBI during the targeting of the Trump campaign, during which time he “secretly recorded several conversations with Trump campaign advisors Carter Page and George Papadopoulos,” as well as taping “an extensive conversation with Sam Clovis—a co-chair of the Trump presidential campaign.”
Halper wasn’t only working for the FBI: He was also receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from ONA, including two contracts that spanned the same time period as the Crossfire Hurricane investigation of the Trump campaign. Grassley sought more information about these contracts from ONA, but the Iowa senator received little help from Baker.
Instead, ONA claimed ignorance on several of the questions Grassley posed, as revealed in the Feb. 5, 2020 letter Baker sent Grassley in reply to his earlier queries. Grassley’s office released a copy of the Feb. 5, 2020, last week along with Grassley’s follow-up letter.
FBI Informant’s Relationship With a Russian Spy
Of interest was Baker’s response to Grassley’s questioning about Halper’s relationship with Vyacheslav Trubnikov, a known Russian intelligence officer. Halper had listed Trubnikov as a possible reference for one of the ONA contracts and Grassley wanted to know whether Halper had ever disclosed his relationship with Trubnikov to ONA.
In response, Baker wrote that “Professor Halper did not disclose any ‘relationship’ with Minister Trubnikov to any ONA official, to the best of our knowledge.” “We are not aware of any purported relationship,” the letter continued, “and therefore cannot judge to what impact it might have had on a single written report.” Baker also noted that ONA “asked the security agency that supports ONA for information on Professor Halper,” and “[t]hat security agency found no derogatory information.”
Baker’s response raises a couple of red flags. First, while Baker used scare quotes around “relationship,” publicly available information establishes that Halper has (or had) a relationship with Trubnikov beyond using him as a reference for an ONA contract. Specifically, Halper and his University of Cambridge colleagues Sir Richard Dearlove and Christopher Andrew—both connected to U.K. intelligence services—arranged for Trubnikov to speak at two different university seminars, dating as far back as 2012.
The ONA seemed to know nothing of these facts, or if it did, seemingly found this “relationship” insufficient to raise concerns about a government-funded work product influenced by a Russian intelligence agent.
Failing to Keep Records on Informants
Also troubling was the ONA’s statement that the “security agency found no derogatory information” on Halper. Initially, one must wonder if Halper’s connection to Trubnikov even received mention in Halper’s file.
As an FBI source, the bureau would maintain a “Delta” file, or database on Halper to record agents’ interactions with him, as well as other relevant information about the confidential human sources. But one of the many deficiencies the inspector general’s report on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuse noted was the FBI’s failure to include significant information about another confidential human source—Christopher Steele—in the Delta file. Among other things, Inspector General Michael Horowitz chastised the FBI for failing to note in Steele’s Delta file concerns “about the number of contacts that Steele purportedly had with Russian oligarchs.”
That the ONA maintained it was “not aware of any purported relationship” between Halper and Trubnikov, even after inquiring of the security agency that supports the ONA, suggests there was no mention made of Halper’s long-standing contact with the Russian intelligence agent.
The lack of any derogatory information in Halper’s file, notwithstanding his connections with Trubnikov, also proves extremely ironic given that the purported basis for continuing to investigate a retired lieutenant general, former Obama administration director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Trump’s national security advisor were conversations Flynn had with the Russian ambassador after Trump’s election.
So the same intelligence agencies that found nothing derogatory about an aging academic cozying up to a Russian intelligence agent found it concerning that an incoming member of the Trump administration, who held a top-secret clearance, would speak to the Russian ambassador. Unreal.
Why Aren’t Investigators Investigating Halper?
The ONA contract awarded to Halper also raised a second issue for Grassley concerning whether Halper had used any “taxpayer money provided by DoD to recruit, or attempt to recruit, sources for the FBI investigation into the now debunked theory of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.” In response in his Feb. 2020 letter, Baker wrote that “ONA did not receive monies or direction of any kind from the FBI,” and that “[i]f Professor Halper used any money provided by the DoD in the ways described it would have been unlawful.”
This response proves intriguing for two reasons. First, Baker’s response focused on the FBI. Maybe the ONA did not receive any direction from the FBI, but what about other intelligence agencies? Second, Baker seems to shift responsibility from Halper’s handlers to Halper, by noting such a use of funds would be unlawful.
Why, then, isn’t anyone questioning Halper, and not just about whether he illegally used ONA contract funds to target Trump campaign officials, but about his broader role in Spygate?
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Ron Johnson, the chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, are investigating those involved in the targeting of Trump. Both Republican senators have released lists of individuals they intend to subpoena, including many top intelligence community and law enforcement officials. But absent from the both lists is Halper, whose involvement actually predates the official launch of Crossfire Hurricane.
In fact, Halper’s fingers seem to touch many aspects of the Spygate saga, making him an indispensable witness to any investigation of this sprawling political scandal. It was Halper who first approached Carter Page at a private dinner at a seminar attended by the then-Trump campaign advisor, along with Hillary Clinton surrogate Madeline Albright and Never Trumper Vin Weber.
Shortly after that conference, Democrats and the media began pushing the Russia collusion hoax. Halper also later sold his acquaintance with Page to the FBI as a basis for being tasked by the Crossfire Hurricane team to further question the Trump aide.
The Plot Points Keep Circling Back to Halper
Halper’s relationship with Trubnikov also suggests a possible connection between the FBI confidential human source and the Steele dossier. Steele had named Trubnikov as a source of the dossier, but according to the IG report, Steele did not have direct access to the various sub-sources. But Halper did. So did Halper pass on supposed intel from Trubnikov to Steele?
Halper also told the FBI he was acquainted with Flynn, although Flynn’s attorney Sidney Powell told The Federalist Flynn never met Halper. Whether Halper fed the FBI any supposed intel on Flynn remains unknown. But the recently released transcript from the testimony of David Kramer, a longtime associate of the late Sen. John McCain, suggests Halper may have fed Steele supposed intel on Flynn.
Kramer told congressional oversight committees that Steele had told him in 2016 “that he believed Michael Flynn was having an extramarital affair with a Russian woman.” Steele did not include that “intel” in his dossier, Kramer testified, stating: “There was one thing he mentioned tome that is not included here, and that is he believe that Mr. Flynn had an extramarital affair with a Russian woman in the U.K.” Kramer later clarified that the “Russian woman” “may have been a dual citizen.”
Kramer’s testimony mirrors other reports that falsely claimed that Flynn had an affair with the Russian-born U.K. historian Svetlana Lokhova. Lokhova believes Halper is the source of news reports painting her as a Russian “honey pot” and Flynn paramour. Kramer’s testimony raises the question of whether Halper served as a source for Steele concerning Flynn, and renews questions about which confidential human source provided similar false reporting to the FBI about Flynn.
Let’s Get Answers Already
Last week’s release by Grassley, however, raises more questions than Halper’s connection to the targeting of Flynn and other Trump team members. The long-time Iowa senator is now expressly inquiring about any role Baker and his cohorts had in leaking information about Flynn’s calls with the Russian ambassador to the press.
“Did you provide any information relating to any Flynn-Kislyak call to the media,” Grassley asked. “If so, what information?” Alternatively, “did you provide any information relating to any Flynn-Kislyak call to an individual with the knowledge that it would be shared by that individual to the media?” Grassley inquired. And “if so, what information?” Grassley also inquired if Baker had ever provided Washington Post reporter David Ignatius “any information related to Lt. Gen. Flynn” and “[i]f so, what information?”
Grassley’s letter ended with a series of questions, including asking what the ONA director knew about Halper’s role in Crossfire Hurricane and when he first learned of that information. The Finance Committee chair also asked whether Baker had communicated with Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work or Deputy Director of ONA David Epstein relating to Flynn.
Why Grassley named these two individuals is unclear, but his query raises the specter that those setting up Flynn number more than the few leaders and FBI agents already known to be involved.
Getting answers to Grassley’s questions will help expose some of the breadth and depth of the greatest political scandal our country has ever faced, but so much more is required. Hopefully, the U.S. attorneys charged by Attorney General William Barr are exploring all of these details, including what role, if any, Halper has played in the entire affair.