News & Politics

5 FBI Scandals Shining Light on the FISAGate Fiasco

5 FBI Scandals Shining Light on the FISAGate Fiasco
Special Counsel Robert Mueller. (Ron Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Last Friday, President Donald Trump made public a Republican memo detailing ways the FBI abused the Foreign Intelligence Service Act (FISA) surveillance process to acquire a warrant to watch members of the Donald Trump campaign during the 2016 election. Democrats have rushed to counter with their own memo.

Trump has denounced the investigation into alleged Russian “collusion” within his campaign, carried out by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as a “witch hunt.” Democrats have denounced the FISA scandal as a comparable witch hunt, warning that Republicans are carrying on a war to delegitimize the intelligence community (IC) so as to make the Mueller probe seem partisan.

Both sides seem to be engaging in hyperbole to destroy the other. The Democrat attack seems particularly damaging, as it suggests that any scandal among the FBI would constitute a destruction of public trust in the organization. If so, the public should no longer trust the body.

Americans should counter that the FBI, like any organ of government, is subject to scandal. When scandal is revealed, action should be taken to rectify the damage, to apologize, and to guarantee that abuses will not be repeated in the future. Unfortunately, the FBI formerly headed by Mueller and later James Comey has caused various scandals, and these events should be investigated and not dismissed.

Pointing out the FBI’s scandals is not an attack on the necessity or value of the FBI. Even so, these scandals do suggest that some liberties may have been taken in the FISA process, corroborating part of the Republican narrative.

Without further ado, here are five scandals.

1. The Uranium One/Vadim Mikerin coverup.

In 2010, the Obama administration (and Hillary Clinton) approved a controversial deal giving Russian company Rosatom partial control of Canadian mining company Uranium One (and with it 20 percent of U.S. uranium), just as Russians paid former president Bill Clinton for speeches. Before this deal, the FBI had already gathered evidence of Russian corruption in U.S. uranium, but kept it secret just when it would have mattered most.

A confidential U.S. witness in the Russian nuclear agency helped compile evidence showing that Moscow had compromised a U.S. trucking company. Officials in the case also acquired evidence that Russian officials had routed millions of dollars into the U.S. to benefit the Clinton Foundation as Clinton served on the Committee  on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which approve the Uranium One deal.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) did not bring immediate charges after learning of the corruption in 2010, nor did they release this information to the public or Congress. This information could have prevented the Uranium One deal in 2010 and a lesser-known approval in 2011 for Rosatom’s subsidiary Tenex to sell commercial uranium to U.S. nuclear plants.

“The Russians were compromising American contractors in the nuclear industry with kickbacks and extortion threats, all of which raised legitimate national security concerns,” a person who worked on the case told The Hill last year. “And none of that evidence got aired before the Obama administration made those decisions.”

According to documents from the FBI, Energy Department, and court proceedings, the FBI had gathered substantial evidence before CFIUS’s decision that Vadim Mikerin — the Russian overseer of Putin’s U.S. nuclear expansion — was engaged in wrongdoing since 2009.

According to a November 2014 indictment, Mikerin “did knowingly and willfully combine, conspire, confederate and agree with other persons … to obstruct, delay and affect commerce and the movement of an article and commodity (enriched uranium) in commerce by extortion” between 2009 and 2012.

The investigation was supervised by then-U.S. attorney (and currently President Trump’s deputy attorney general) Rod Rosenstein, then-assistant FBI director (and now deputy FBI director) Andrew McCabe, and then-FBI director Robert Mueller. All three of these men have played key roles in the Trump-Russia investigation.

Uncovering and blocking such a massive Russian nuclear bribery scheme would seem like a pivotal success for the DOJ and FBI, but they took little credit for the investigation when Mikerin, the Russian financier, and the trucking firm executives were arrested in 2014. The DOJ put out a press release a full year later.

2. Uranium One gets worse: Russian spies and Hillary Clinton.

In 2010, the FBI rushed to arrest ten Russian spies as part of “Operation Ghost Stories.” According to a top FBI official, the agency acted quickly because the “deep cover” agents had come very close to “a sitting US cabinet member.” Who, specifically? The spies had infiltrated the inner circle of none other than then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“We were becoming very concerned,” Frank Figliuzzi, the FBI’s assistant director of counterintelligence, told the BBC in 2012. “They were getting close enough to a sitting US cabinet member that we thought we could no longer allow this to continue.”

In June 2010, Barbara Morea, president of Morea Financial Services in Manhattan, confirmed that “Cynthia Murphy,” Russian External Intelligence Service (SVR) spy Lidiya Guryeva, was a longtime employee and vice president at the company, which managed the finances of Alan Patricof, a top Democratic donor who fundraised for Clinton’s Senate and presidential campaigns.

Federal court documents confirmed the connection between Guryeva and Patricof, suggesting Clinton was the official the FBI attempted to protect.

The FBI arrested the Russian spies on June 28, 2010, one day before Bill Clinton gave a speech in Moscow to a Kremlin-connected investment bank, Renaissance Capital. Clinton received $500,000 for this speech.

At the time, Renaissance Capital analysts suggested investors place their money on Uranium One. In a July 2010 research report, Renaissance analysts called the company “the best play” in uranium markets. Bill Clinton’s speech, and the Renaissance Capital report, came while CFIUS was considering the sale of Uranium One to Rosatom.

Despite the FBI investigation into Rosatom, CFIUS fast-tracked the Uranium One approval, finishing it in 52 days, rather than the mandatory 75-day review process. To make matters worse, Uranium One’s chairman directed $2.35 million in contributions to the Clinton Foundation.

Clinton’s ties to Russia might explain why she would be a tempting target for Russian spies. As secretary of State, she pledged to “reset” relations with Russia. She opposed the Magnitsy Act to sanction Russian oligarchs, and told Russian television that “our goal is to help strengthen Russia.”

The Obama administration wasted no time in sending the ten spies back to Russia. The U.S. exchanged them for four Russian nationals on July 10, less than two weeks after their arrest. This was remarkably fast for a Russia-U.S. spy swap.

Given Russian (and Uranium One) contributions to the Clinton Foundation and the “reset” Clinton spearheaded, it stands to reason the secretary of State wanted to suppress the fact that Russian spies tried to infiltrate her network.

While it is important for U.S. cabinet members to be protected from foreign spies, the timing of the Ghost Stories arrests seems rather suspect, given the brewing Uranium One deal and the FBI’s secrecy over the Rosatom investigation. It is possible there was no wrong-doing, but these details look rather sketchy.

3. A 9/11 coverup.

New FBI documents released in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) investigation last month suggested that then-FBI Director Robert Mueller was involved in a potential coverup denying that the FBI found connections between a Saudi Arabian family living in Sarasota, Fla., and the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his wife Anoud abruptly left their home in Sarasota two weeks before the September 11 attacks, leaving behind jewelry, clothing, and cars. An original FBI investigation reportedly uncovered links between the Hijjis and the 9/11 attacks, but subsequent FBI statements denied the connections. Mueller seems to have been directly involved in these denials.

One FBI document, dated September 2012, was a copy of an April 16, 2002, report that agents found “many connections” between the family and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.” The couple’s name was blanked out, but remained discernible. This flatly contradicted FBI statements that agents had found no connections.

The former FBI director was mentioned in a note about an FBI white paper dating back to September 15, 2010. The paper was written shortly after the Bulldog and the Miami Herald published a story about the departure of the al-Hijjis shortly before 9/11.

“It was created to brief the FBI Director concerning the FBI’s investigation of 4224 Escondito Circle,” the al-Hijjis’ Sarasota address, according to the index. The paper reported that the “FBI found no evidence that connected the family members mentioned in the Miami Herald article to any of the 9/11 hijackers, nor was any connection found between the family and the 9/11 plot.”

“That Mueller received a briefing about the Sarasota investigation suggests that the issues the Bulldog raised required the attention of the FBI’s highest authority,” Thomas Julin, the Bulldog’s Miami attorney, wrote in court papers.

The FBI’s continued denial of al-Hijji connections to 9/11 suggests that Mueller approved the apparent deception. It remains unclear whether or not Mueller was aware of the earlier FBI reports connecting the Sarasota family to the hijacking.

Mueller’s FBI also purged anti-terrorism training material of any documents deemed “offensive” to certain Muslim groups, according to documents revealed by Judicial Watch in 2013. Mueller met with the Islamist organizations Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), two groups named as co-conspirators in the 2007 Holy Land Foundation terror financing case.

Given this history, it seems plausible Mueller might have known that the FBI report denying connections between the al-Hijjis and the 9/11 attacks was false, but approved it anyway.

4. The Strzok/Page texts.

Last month, more of the text messages sent from FBI agent Peter Strzok to his mistress, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, came to light. In these texts, Strzok and Page revealed extreme anti-Trump bias. It is easy to overstate the importance of these messages, but they did reveal a few rather explosive bombshells about the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email scandal and the beginning of the Mueller investigation.

One text from July 1, 2016, revealed that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch knew that Clinton would not face charges “even before the FBI conducted its three-hour interview with Clinton, which was supposedly meant to gather more information into her mishandling of classified information,” The Hill’s Sharyl Attkisson reported.

On July 1, Page texted Strzok, “And yeah, it’s a real profile in couragw [sic], since she knows no charges will be brought.” Clinton met with Strzok and Justice Department lawyer David Laufman at the FBI for a three-and-a-half-hour interview on July 2.

This one text message suggested that the decision to exonerate Clinton was made before Clinton even testified.

Other texts directly addressed the budding Trump-Russia probe, which Strzok and Page would later join. The texts in question surrounded whether or not Strzok should join the investigation.

On May 19, 2017, Strzok texted Page, saying, “You and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely, I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concerned there’s no big there, there.”

This message came two days after Mueller was appointed to the role of special counsel.

“I think that’s kind of jaw-dropping,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) said in a radio interview after the emails were released. “In other words, Peter Strzok, who was the FBI deputy assistant director of the counterintelligence division, the man who had a plan to do something because he just couldn’t abide Donald Trump being president, is saying that his gut sense is that there’s no big ‘there’ there when it comes to the Mueller special counsel investigation.”

On the same day, Strzok texted that he did not want to join the team for the probe. “My answer is no way,” he said in a message to page. Later, he seemed to reconsider, saying the case “maybe the most important case of our lives.” Then he asked, “An investigation leading to impeachment?”

Many have dismissed the texts as mere nothings between lovers, and the texts about a “secret society” to oppose Trump may not have been serious. Even so, the texts revealed that Lynch knew about Clinton’s exoneration, and that a senior FBI official at one point thought that there would be no “there there” with the Trump Russia investigation.

5. Obama surveillance and Evelyn Farkas.

In the last few days of the Obama administration, officials expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections. The new rules allowed the NSA to do more with the information, and to gather more information.

Why did they do this in the final days? Subsequent events — and one of the rare denied FISA applications — suggested a reason.

Evelyn Farkas, Obama’s former assistant deputy secretary of defense, let slip something pivotal. “I was urging my former colleagues and — and frankly speaking, the people on the Hill, it was more actually aimed — aimed at telling the Hill people, ‘Get as much information as you can, get as much intelligence as you can before President Obama leaves the administration.’ Because, I had a fear that somehow that information would disappear with the senior people who left,” she told MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski.

“So it would be hidden away in the bureaucracy that the Trump folks, if they found out how we knew what we knew about their, the Trump staff’s dealing with Russians, that they would try to compromise those sources and methods, meaning we would no longer have access to that intelligence. So I became very worried, because not enough was coming out into the open, and I knew that there was more,” Farkas added.

Farkas seemed to have admitted that Obama’s administration spied on the Trump team, and they were terrified Trump’s administration would find out about it…

Come to think of it, underhanded methods would help explain why the FISA court rejected an Obama administration request in June 2016. This was quite remarkable, as on average 99.97 percent of FISA requests are eventually granted.

Farkas’ remarks suggested that a “deep state” of Obama officials intended to sabotage Trump from within the administration — something America saw happen again and again last year.

Yet Democrats insist that any suggestion there might be a scandal in the FBI is an attack on America’s institutions. What about the subversion of a U.S. president from within?

These scandals suggest that Americans need to know more about FISA, about the findings of the Mueller investigation, and about just what the Obama administration used to justify spying on Trump campaign officials. The Republican memo has come out, but the evidence behind that memo also needs to be revealed.

Democrats can’t just shoot this down, but Americans need to see just how big (or how small) this scandal really is. If there actually is evidence of Russian collusion, Mueller needs to present it. Americans are getting sick of the spin without evidence.

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