Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe on Tuesday declassified notes of former CIA Director John Brennan showing that he briefed former President Obama on Hillary Clinton’s alleged “plan” to tie then-candidate Donald Trump to Russia as “a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.” My interest in this story is not simply the serious underlying allegation but the lack of coverage by major networks or media outlets. This was clearly released at this time for political purposes, but that does not make it a non-story. We have often discussed concerns over the active effort by many in the media to downplay stories that would either help President Donald Trump or hurt the Democrats in the upcoming elections. This would seem such a case. Whether this is true or a complete fabrication, it should be major news. In the meantime, the responses from Clinton allies have not addressed the substance of the document and have simply dismissed the entire story as groundless.
Brennan’s handwritten notes would seem extremely serious on their face. It certainly indicates that Brennan considered the issue sufficiently serious to brief the President of the United States on July 28th. The notes state
“We’re getting additional insight into Russian activities from [REDACTED]. . . CITE [summarizing] alleged approved by Hillary Clinton a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service.”
There is also a notation reading “Any evidence of collaboration between Trump campaign + Russia” and margin references to “JC,” “Denis,” and “Susan.” If Brennan thought this was serious enough to brief the President, shouldn’t the media consider this sufficiently serious to investigate and report?
While it would be dangerous to release documents without redactions, there is an obvious value to understanding the truth about these briefings and the underlying allegations.
This release further supports a newly-declassified document with the Senate Judiciary Committee revealing that, in September 2016, U.S. intelligence officials forwarded an investigative referral on Hillary Clinton purportedly approving “a plan concerning U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering U.S. elections” in order to distract the public from her email scandal.
When asked about this referral involving a candidate for the presidency, then-FBI Director James Comey insisted that it “didn’t ring a bell.”
Once again, my initial interest is in the utter blackout on the story. This would seem a major story regardless of the ultimate findings. If these notes have been fabricated or misrepresented, it would show a breathtaking effort to lie to the voters before the election. If these notes are genuine, it would indicate that the FBI was aware of an effort by the Democratic presidential candidate to tag Trump with a Russian collusion scandal. We know that Clinton’s campaign funded the Steele dossier and that Steele shopped the dossier with the media to try to generate coverage to influence the election.
Throughout the campaign, and for many weeks after, the Clinton campaign denied any involvement in the creation of the dossier that was later used to secure a secret surveillance warrant against Trump associates during the Obama administration. Journalists later discovered that the Clinton campaign hid the payments to Fusion as a “legal fees” among the $5.6 million paid to the law firm. New York Times reporter Ken Vogel at the time said that Clinton lawyer Marc Elias had “vigorously” denied involvement in the anti-Trump dossier. When Vogel tried to report the story, he said, Elias “pushed back vigorously, saying ‘You (or your sources) are wrong.’” Times reporter Maggie Haberman likewise wrote: “Folks involved in funding this lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a year.” Even when Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta was questioned by Congress on the matter, he denied any contractual agreement with Fusion GPS. Sitting beside him was Elias, who reportedly said nothing to correct the false information given to Congress.
Later, confronted with the evidence, Clinton and her campaign finally admitted that the dossier was a campaign-funded document that was pushed by Steele and others to the media.
Making things worse is the fact that we know know American intelligence flagged Steele’s main source as a Russian agent and warned that the dossier was suspected of containing Russian disinformation from Russian intelligence agencies.
Yet, even with this latest disclosure in Brennan’s own writing, we hear the familiar sound of crickets. It seems that journalism is suspended until after the election when reporters might be allowed a modicum of curiosity on such stories.