More than nine months after the FBI launched “Crossfire Hurricane” to spy on the Trump campaign (based on opposition research financed by the Clinton campaign), the FBI still had no case connecting Trump or his campaign to Russia’s election meddling, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page reportedly told House investigators during her July 13 closed-door deposition.
Fox News also reported Monday that Page and FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok discussed in text messages whether to open a “case” in a “formal chargeable way” after former FBI Director Comey was fired.
Also breaking Monday, President Trump authorized the declassification and release of select materials related to the FISA warrant on Carter Page, FBI reports of interviews with Bruce G. Ohr in connection with the Russia investigation, and all FBI reports and interviews prepared in connection with all Carter Page’s FISA applications.
BREAKING: Trump orders the declassification of Carter Page FISA application and the public release of "all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr.” pic.twitter.com/RHVnU9CniF
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) September 17, 2018
According to Nunes, the material contains shocking and exculpatory information.
During Page’s deposition in July, Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas (R-TX) asked her about a May 2017 text where she and Strzok had weighed the merits of joining Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Strzok had indicated that he was reluctant to join the Mueller probe because he feared “there’s no big there, there.”
According to the transcript obtained by Fox News, Page told Ratcliffe: “It’s a reflection of us still not knowing.” She continued: “I think this represents that even as far as May 2017, we still couldn’t answer the question …” Stopping mid-answer, she said: “…sorry. Can I consult with counsel? I’m sorry. I need to consult with FBI counsel for a moment.”
Ratcliffe continued to pursue the line of questioning, according to the transcript.
“I cannot provide the specifics of a confidential interview,” Ratcliffe told Fox News when asked for comment. “But I can say that Lisa Page left me with the impression, based on her own words, that the lead investigator of the Russian collusion case, Peter Strzok, had found no evidence of collusion after nearly a year.”
As John Solomon pointed out at The Hill, Page and Strzok weren’t alone in determining that there was not evidence to justify an investigation into Trump for colluding with Russia. Shortly after he was fired, ex-FBI Director James Comey told the Senate: “When I left, we did not have an investigation focused on President Trump.”
So, by the words of Comey, Strzok and Page, we now know that the Trump Justice Department — through Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — unleashed the Mueller special counsel probe before the FBI could validate a connection between Trump and Russia.
Which raises the question: If there was no concrete evidence of collusion, why did we need a special counsel?
Page’s comments also mean FBI and Justice officials likely leaked a barrage of media stories just before and after Mueller’s appointment that made the evidence of collusion look far stronger than the frontline investigators knew it to be. Text messages show contacts between key FBI and DOJ players and The Washington Post, The Associated Press and The New York Times during the ramp-up to Mueller’s probe.
And that means the news media — perhaps longing to find a new Watergate, to revive sagging fortunes — were far too willing to be manipulated by players in a case that began as a political opposition research project funded by Clinton’s campaign and led by a former British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, who despised Trump.
Let it sink in. While they were pushing an ominous Trump/Russia collusion narrative through a flurry of leaks to the media surrounding Comey’s appointment of the special counsel, key members of the FBI team investigating the matter knew there was virtually no evidence to justify the appointment of a special counsel.
President Trump expressed his disgust with the latest news on Twitter:
“Lisa Page Testimony- NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION BEFORE MUELLER APPOINTMENT.” @FoxNews by Catherine Herridge. Therefore, the case should never have been allowed to be brought. It is a totally illegal Witch Hunt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 17, 2018
Two hours after Trump’s firing of Comey became public on May 9, 2017, Strzok texted Page, saying: “We need to open the case we’ve been waiting on now while Andy is acting.”
Strzok was referring to then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was the “acting” FBI director until Christopher Wray was confirmed as director in August 2017.
Page, a former FBI attorney, replied to Strzok: “We need to lock in (redacted). In a formal chargeable way. Soon.”
Strzok concurred. “I agree. I’ve been pushing and I’ll reemphasize with Bill,” he replied, probably referring to his boss Bill Priestap, the head of the FBI’s counterintelligence division.
Both Page and Strzok declined to answer questions about the May 9 texts during their testimonies, but Strzok did indicate that there was a connection to Mueller’s probe.
Trump also commented on this intriguing development, saying: “Wow, a conspiracy caught?”
Immediately after Comey’s firing Peter Strzok texted to his lover, Lisa Page “We need to Open the case we’ve been waiting on now while Andy (McCabe, also fired) is acting. Page answered, “We need to lock in (redacted). In a formal chargeable way. Soon.” Wow, a conspiracy caught?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 17, 2018
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) announced on Sunday that within the next few weeks, he plans to release transcripts of interviews with around 70 witnesses in the Trump-Russia probe.
“We believe that the depositions that we took, I think for nearly about 70 people those need to be published, and they need to be published I think before the election,” Nunes said in an interview on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”
Additionally, Congress plans to interview Nellie Ohr, the wife of Department of Justice official Bruce Ohr, in a closed-door setting later this week, Rep. Ratcliffe said on Sunday.
Mueller’s investigation has resulted in indictments and plea deals totally unrelated to Russia collusion, most recently a plea deal with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
This exercise in vindictive, dirty politics has upended the lives of numerous other individuals associated with the Trump campaign, including Carter Page, who has seen his name dragged through the mud for two years; George Papadopoulos, who is going to jail for two weeks for a process crime; and Michael Flynn, whose life has been put on hold as he awaits being sentenced for lying to the FBI.