Willful Blindness: New Damaging Information On The Russian Investigation Is Promptly Unseen By The Media

Pandora_-_John_William_WaterhouseBelow is my column in The Hill on the recent disclosure of a document showing that the FBI used an agent to gather information for Crossfire Hurricane during campaign briefings of Trump during 2016.  The document directly contradicted the long-standing denial that the investigation to Russian collusion was ever used to gather intelligence on Trump or his campaign.  At the same time, the credibility of the Steele Dossier was further undermined this weekend with the release of new information that Steele misrepresented the sources and information used as the basis for this report, which was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.  The source for the most alarming allegations was revealed as Igor Danchenko, 42, as confirmed to The New York Times,  He was not the “Russian-based” source claimed by Steele and the FBI learned that Steele took third-hard rumors and presented them as hard intelligence in the report used to help justify the Russian collusion investigation. This source was used in the last two renewal applications to the FISA court as a “truthful and cooperative” and “Russian-based,” according to the Justice Department Inspector General report found. So it turns out that the primary “source” of Steele’s dossier was “not a well-connected current or former Russian official, but a non-Russian-based contract employee of Steele’s firm.”

None of this has made any difference to the coverage.  On ABC Sunday, George Stephanopoulos had Chris Christie as a guest but his involvement in the very meeting discussed in the document did not merit a single question from the host.  In the meantime, Democratic leaders, who once mocked the idea of any investigation of Trump or targeting of the campaign, now say that it really doesn’t matter. Rep. Eric Swalwell says that it was actually “the right thing to do.” 

Here is the column:

The Washington press corps seems engaged in a collective demonstration of the legal concept of willful blindness, or deliberately ignoring the facts, following the release of yet another declassified document which directly refutes prior statements about the investigation into Russia collusion. The document shows that FBI officials used a national security briefing of then candidate Donald Trump and his top aides to gather possible evidence for Crossfire Hurricane, its code name for the Russia investigation.

It is astonishing that the media refuses to see what is one of the biggest stories in decades. The Obama administration targeted the campaign of the opposing party based on false evidence. The media covered Obama administration officials ridiculing the suggestions of spying on the Trump campaign and of improper conduct with the Russia investigation. When Attorney General William Barr told the Senate last year that he believed spying did occur, he was lambasted in the media, including by James Comey and others involved in that investigation. The mocking “wow” response of the fired FBI director received extensive coverage.

The new document shows that, in summer 2016, FBI agent Joe Pientka briefed Trump campaign advisers Michael Flynn and Chris Christie over national security issues, standard practice ahead of the election. It had a discussion of Russian interference. But this was different. The document detailing the questions asked by Trump and his aides and their reactions was filed several days after that meeting under Crossfire Hurricane and Crossfire Razor, the FBI investigation of Flynn. The two FBI officials listed who approved the report are Kevin Clinesmith and Peter Strzok.

Clinesmith is the former FBI lawyer responsible for the FISA surveillance conducted on members of the Trump campaign. He opposed Trump and sent an email after the election declaring “viva the resistance.” He is now under review for possible criminal charges for altering a FISA court filing. The FBI used Trump adviser Carter Page as the basis for the original FISA application, due to his contacts with Russians. After that surveillance was approved, however, federal officials discredited the collusion allegations and noted that Page was a CIA asset. Clinesmith had allegedly changed the information to state that Page was not working for the CIA.

Strzok is the FBI agent whose violation of FBI rules led Justice Department officials to refer him for possible criminal charges. Strzok did not hide his intense loathing of Trump and famously referenced an “insurance policy” if Trump were to win the election. After FBI officials concluded there was no evidence of any crime by Flynn at the end of 2016, Strzok prevented the closing of the investigation as FBI officials searched for any crime that might be used to charge the incoming national security adviser.

Documents show Comey briefed President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on the investigation shortly before the inauguration of Trump. When Comey admitted the communications between Flynn and Russian officials appeared legitimate, Biden reportedly suggested using the Logan Act, a law widely seen as unconstitutional and never been used to successfully convict a single person, as an alternative charge against Flynn. The memo contradicts eventual claims by Biden that he did not know about the Flynn investigation. Let us detail some proven but mostly unseen facts.

First, the Russia collusion allegations were based in large  part on the dossier funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The Clinton campaign repeatedly denied paying for the dossier until after the election, when it was confronted with irrefutable evidence that the money had been buried among legal expenditures. As New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman wrote, “Folks involved in funding this lied about it and with sanctimony for a year.”

Second, FBI agents had warned that dossier author Christopher Steele may have been used by Russian intelligence to plant false information to disrupt the election. His source for the most serious allegations claims that Steele misrepresented what he had said and that it was little more than rumors that were recast by Steele as reliable intelligence.

Third, the Obama administration had been told that the basis for the FISA application was dubious and likely false. Yet it continued the investigation, and then someone leaked its existence to the media. Another declassified document shows that, after the New York Times ran a leaked story on the investigation, even Strzok had balked at the account as misleading and inaccurate. His early 2017 memo affirmed that there was no evidence of any individuals in contact with Russians. This information came as the collusion stories were turning into a frenzy that would last years.

Fourth, the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller and inspectors general found no evidence of collusion or knowing contact between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. What inspectors general did find were false statements or possible criminal conduct by Comey and others. While unable to say it was the reason for their decisions, they also found statements of animus against Trump and his campaign by the FBI officials who were leading the investigation. Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified he never would have approved renewal of the FISA surveillance and encouraged further investigation into such bias.

Finally, Obama and Biden were aware of the investigation, as were the administration officials who publicly ridiculed Trump when he said there was spying on his campaign. Others, like House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, declared they had evidence of collusion but never produced it. Countless reporters, columnists, and analysts still continue to deride, as writer Max Boot said it, the spinning of “absurd conspiracy theories” about how the FBI “supposedly spied on the Trump campaign.”

Willful blindness has its advantages. The media covered the original leak and the collusion narrative, despite mounting evidence that it was false. They filled hours of cable news shows and pages of print with a collusion story discredited by the FBI. Virtually none of these journalists or experts have acknowledged that the collusion leaks were proven false, let alone pursue the troubling implications of national security powers being used to target the political opponents of an administration. But in Washington, success often depends not on what you see but what you can unsee.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley

515 thoughts on “Willful Blindness: New Damaging Information On The Russian Investigation Is Promptly Unseen By The Media”

  1. Any investigation of this common criminal is justified. The facts are indisputable. The Russians actively participated with Trump in helping Trump win.

  2. Excellent rendition of facts. They have been well known for a long time. Sad part is the socialist regressives will keep preaching the false versions. Answer to that is ignore the far left and vote no to any of their candidates or proposals, don’t vote, join the Constitutional Centrist Coalition, or do like many others walk away from the very undemocratic group that claims to be the Democratic Party and consider forming a real Constitutional Democrat Party.

  3. There were apparently numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives such as Ambasador Vislyak (sic?). How many other campaigns for the American presidency have involved numerous contacts with foreign governments, especially Russia? That alone was worth investigating. Simply replace the name “Trump” with “Hillary” or “Obama” in your baby database, hit “enter” and watch the blinking lights as the screen lights up like a pinball game and crackles “investigate”, INVESTIGATE. I guess it depends on your point of view. geez, wow. Laugh or cry; I don’t know which.

    1. “There were apparently numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives such as Ambasador Vislyak (sic?).”

      Sen. Sessions encountered Amb, Kislyak at an event In DC at some time during the campaign.

      Sessions was invited as Senator, Kislyak as Russian Ambassador.

      Sessions talked to Kislyak for a few minutes in public during the event with a Marine Col. at his side.

      Flynn was invited to a dinner in Moscow – along with myriads of other americans.
      Flynn was briefed by the CIA prior and after the meeting, as he does routinely for all contacts with representatives of foreign govenrments.
      Flynn was acting as an asset for the US government.

      Page was also invited to an energy conference in Russia.
      Page too was a US asset at the time.

      The infamous Don Jr. Meeting in Trump Tower was setup by a Russian Pop Star that Trump was familiar with from the Moscow Pageant in 2013. Natalia was supposed to provide the Trump campaign dirt on Clinton – just like Steele provided Clinton Dirt on Trump.
      Natalia, appears to have been working for Fusion GPS as she met with them immediately before and after the meeting.
      She delivered no dirt on Clinton and wanted to talk about the Magnivisky act and Russian adoption.

      “How many other campaigns for the American presidency have involved numerous contacts with foreign governments, especially Russia?”
      Why especially Russia ? Jill Stein was at the same Russian Dinner that Flynn was at – but she was not working for the CIA.
      During the campaign Bill Clinton gave a Speach in Russia and was paid 500,000 for it.
      The entire Steele Dossier was purportedly the result of information the Russians provided to Steele.
      More recently we have learned that is false. The Dossier was actually made up by a Russian Emegre in the US.

      It is actually extremely common for candidates for federal office to have contact with important foreigners and foreign govenrments.

      We do not live in a bubble, and we would not likely want a president who had ni knowledge or connections outside the US.

      Regardless, most of this was completely public, and you were free to make choices with your vote.

      On 2020 we have a democratic candidate that has met with most of the leaders of foreign govenrments and has admitted to blackmailing some, and whose family directly benefits from foreign governments.

      Again – you get to express your preference regarding that with your vote.

      “That alone was worth investigating.”
      There is no such thing as “worth investigating” – the US govenrment investigates crimes. We do not investigate the non-criminal actions of ordinary citizens. You do not get to investigate just because you want to.

      “Simply replace the name “Trump” with “Hillary” or “Obama” in your baby database, hit “enter” and watch the blinking lights as the screen lights up like a pinball game and crackles “investigate”, INVESTIGATE. I guess it depends on your point of view. geez, wow. Laugh or cry; I don’t know which.”

      We are free to “investigate” the actions of those in government. While it was a due process disaster and there was no there, there, the impeachment of Trump while stupid was legitimate. The house is free to investigate the official actions of those in government – including the president.

  4. I have a question that concerns me Professor Turley, and being a constitutional scholar and expert I have been waiting for you to weigh in on it. As I am sure you know a video came out this week by a group of doctors who indicate they are successfully treating patients with hydroxychloroquine that held a news briefing on the capitol steps, and it is being actively censored by web providers and social media platforms everywhere. When I shared it to my own FB page, it was removed by FB. The reason being always “misinformation” claiming “there is no evidence hydroxychloroquine is effective”, even though these are licensed, board certified physicians saying it does and they are prescribing it and treating patients successfully with it, zinc, etc. But they are being silenced nationwide. Now I understand the time worn argument, “FB and Twitter are private businesses so they can do what they want, its only 1st Amendment abuse if its the govt”, but lets frame this for a moment. No one can argue, especially with the Trump administrations arrival, that these social media platforms are not being used by our govt to regularly communicate with us. Both federal and local govt now routinely use social media to communicate official communications. So does law enforcement, at least here in Virginia. In fact active arrests with mug shots are shown daily, road advisories, Covid information with regards to official announcements, etc. Its more like a national platform for public communication than just a bunch of various entertainment apps. And our news and access to public information is shared through these mediums. Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, even Instagram. Videos are routinely hosted on Youtube by the news media. Yet now they are deciding which videos I can see. Which information they feel is correct for me to hear. Not just one, but all of them. This is done in China, the state decides what information is “correct” and thus “safe” for the dumb ole people to hear. So what other platforms do we have for a wide public dissemination? These. These that are making their money off the public internet. Sinclair broadcasting was going to show the movie “Plandemic”. I’ve seen some of it, particularly the “Epicenter Nurse” (which is compelling, its not opinion, she shows you live patient charts real time in the ICU via hidden camera, who are listed as Covid positive but their tests were all negative). The movies been censored on Youtube, FB, Instagram, Twitter, everywhere. And due to pressure from progressive groups, Sinclair broadcasting just caved and cancelled the airing of it, so now millions will not see it who would have had they done so. Are you comfortable with this? I used to follow you on TV, a long time ago when you were often on commenting on constitutional issues, 1st Amendment being one you often championed. You always seem to be very very to the point on the constitutionality of something regardless of how you feel about it personally, so I get it fi its just its a private company and that’s that. But this seems like more. I don’t know any other platforms to see this stuff. And they are removing it. Some of it I’ve gotten to see. Some of it I have not. But don’t I as a citizen have a right to hear whatever opinions I want to hear, and make my own informed choice? I am not making an argument for Hydroxychloroquine use here, I don’t know if it works or not. I am making an argument for my right to “hear about it”. Seeking a second medical opinion is routine, only now they’re telling me I don’t have a right to hear these other doctors and their opinions. I’m not saying I want to follow their opinion. I am saying in America, don’t I have a right to hear it?

    I anxiously await to hear your input on this ongoing development. I don’t know if you’ll respond to my comment but I have been waiting to hear what you have to say about all this and our right to hear whatever medical opinions we as individuals want to hear. And the governments or those using the internet (I think of early FCC laws and regulations for broadcasting over the public airways and wonder how this cannot be somewhat similar, just different medium) as long established public mass communication and information platforms to make money, their right to decide the medical information I get to hear to make an informed personal health choice.

    Thank you

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