On April 24, I started a two-post series in which I discussed my overall view of the Russia probe that is currently dominating headlines in the United States. While I said I felt that the probe was a distraction (in terms of its focus), I felt there needed to be an investigation in order to finish vetting Donald Trump and some of his cohorts.
Now, while I might disagree with this probe’s focus, it has turned up some interesting events I could not ignore or refrain from sharing. Also, there have been some recent developments in regards to how this entire probe and suspicions are being reported.
Let this post serve as a type of time capsule so anyone can look back at this with an enhanced perspective (and possible laugh at some of the events, like Sean Spicer hiding behind the bushes so he couldn’t talk to the press after Comey’s firing). This post will be updated with current developments and to fill out everything I missed.
Senate and House probes finally began in earnest in January of this year. The Senate investigation began around January 10 and the House of Representatives began its own probe around January 25.
By late March, it became clear that the Senate investigation was more bipartisan than the House investigation. The latter became dysfunctional by March 22.
By that date, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes (California; the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee) appeared to throw a wrench into the chamber’s investigation. On Wednesday, March 22, he called for a 1 pm press conference outside the Capitol Building. He told the press that, according to a report he said he’d read, there was incidental surveillance of the Trump campaign during the election.
According to Nunes, information had been collected on Trump’s team on “numerous occasions,” but the information collected by the U.S. intelligence community was done so legally under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He then went to brief President Donald Trump on the findings.
A number of people, including Republican members of Congress, questioned why Nunes would make such an announcement, let alone notify the president of his findings. That was highly inappropriate, since the House Intelligence Committee was conducting an investigation that could implicate Trump.
(Previously, Nunes had voiced full-throated support for Trump after the latter won the Republican nomination. Also, Nunes was immediately named to Trump’s transition team after the election.)
Nunes did not divulge his sources. It would later be revealed that Nunes had read the documents he spoke of on White House grounds.
The Senate Intelligence Committee continued with its own investigation with little problems. Marco Rubio (R-FL), revealed that his campaign had been hacked.
By the end of the month, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates was told she would be blocked from testifying because the information she knew would be part of attorney-client privilege.
Additionally, Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, offered to testify if granted immunity. He was denied immunity.
The spotlight was put on former National Security Advisor Susan Rice after Nunes pulled his stunt. Ultimately it was revealed she had asked for the unmasking of individuals connected to Trump’s transition team.
When Rice took part in ensuing interviews, she said the unmasking was routine and she asked for it in the interest of national security. Under the instruction of then-President Obama, Rice asked for the identities of individuals suspected of colluding with Russia to influence the 2016 election. However, Rice said no such evidence was found.
Days after calling a press conference, Rep. Nunes announced he was stepped down as the leader of the House probe of Russia’s alleged meddling with the 2016 presidential election. He was placed under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics based on his behavior and closeness to Donald Trump. Nunes said he was being hit with “entirely false and politically motivated” charges.
The charges come after news of the unmasking by Susan Rice surfaced.
The Month of May touched off a series of wacky events. The wackiness with FBI Director James B. Comey’s firing, but he had given some important testimony beforehand.
Comey’s May Testimony
In the month of May, James Comey was asked to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. For the most part, he discussed his decision to clear former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the conclusion of the investigation into her emails.
The Weiner Effect
On May 3, 2017, James Comey was in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. During his testimony, he talked about the FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s emails and why the bureau ultimately decided not to press charges against Clinton or any connected parties, including longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
Comey addressed Anthony Weiner’s possible role in Hillary Clinton’s email case, in response to a question posed to him by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Comey said Clinton’s emails were somehow being forwarded from Abedin to her now estranged husband, Anthony Weiner.
The team also told me we cannot finish this work before the election and then they worked night after night after night and they found thousands of new emails, they found classified info on Anthony Weiner. Somehow, her emails were being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information by her assistant, Huma Abedin.
(The FBI was alerted to Weiner based on an unrelated case. In that case, Weiner was found to have exchanged sexually explicit texts with an underage girl.)
While responding to a question Sen. John Kennedy (R-NE), Comey said it was a normal practice for Abedin to forward those emails so Weiner could print them out and Abedin could present them to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Comey also to Feinstein that Abedin was not aware that she was violating the law. The bureau thus decided not to press any charges against her and Hillary Clinton was cleared once again.
However, the investigation had been reopened 2 weeks prior to the election and Clinton was cleared only two days before the election. This put a(nother) cloud over candidacy and was ultimately blamed for her loss.
On May 3, FBI Director James Comey testified in front of Congress about his decision-making in regards to Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Comey said he made his decision to go public in July 2016 after finding out that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had met Bill Clinton on the tarmac at JFK Airport. Comey said that his later decision to reopen the investigation into Clinton’s server was the right one although the thought that he might have influenced the election made him “mildly nauseous.”
Later that week, Comey asked for more resources for the investigation into Russia’s possible electoral influence.
On May 9, through to a statement released by the White House, it was announced that Comey had been fired. According to the statement, Donald J. Trump terminated Comey on the advice of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein an Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The announcement came less than a week after press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump had confidence in Comey.
That same day, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reportedly hid in the bushes to avoid questions from journalists. The new inspired some creative edits across the Internet and another SNF spoof by Melissa McCarthy.
June was first highlighted by James Comey’s much-anticipated testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. But as the month wore on, more Americans became weary of the Russia probe. Also, the month ended with a few revelations about the news coverage of the allegations against Russia.
Comey’s Written Testimony
Former FBI Director James B. Comey, 56, submitted his written testimony on Wednesday, June 7, 2017, a day before he was due to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. In the written testimony, Comey revealed that Trump asked Comey for complete loyalty during a January 27 White House dinner.
Trump also asked Comey to reassure him that Trump was not under investigation by the FBI. Comey did so before Inauguration Day and during that January Dinner. Comey also told Congress that Trump was not personally under investigation. This seems to corroborate some claims made by Trump in his firing letter.
On April 11, Trump talked to Comey again. Trump said the “cloud” of the Russia probe was interfering with his ability to do his job.
Comey had communicated directly with Trump a total of nine times since November 2016. Three of those times were face-to-face and the other times were by phone. Comey went on to say that he felt the need to keep a record of their communications.
Comey’s Testimony Before the Senate Intelligence Committee
For three hours on June 8, 2017, former FBI Director James Comey answered questions posed to him by members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
There were a few key moments during Comey’s testimony:
Comey said he had “no doubt” Russia had hacked into American voter rolls and the servers of numerous governmental and political organizations. He was first introduced to evidence in 2015.
Comey agreed the investigation might turn up damning evidence against Trump, even outside of the scope of potential collusion with Russia.
Mike Flynn had indeed landed in legal hot water due to his undisclosed foreign dealings and inconsistent testimony.
The Democratic National Committee did not allow the FBI to access DNC servers. Instead, the FBI had to rely on second-hand information from a private contractor (CrowdStrike) to look at the forensic evidence of hacking.
Comey said he made a decision to “step away from” the Justice Department due to Loretta Lynch’s behavior. The tarmac meeting Lynch had with former President Bill Clinton was cited and Lynch eventually told Comey to refer to the investigation against Hillary Clinton as a “matter.”
As a private citizen, Comey felt the need to document his meetings with Trump. Comey had only met George W. Bush and Barack Obama a handful of times, but never felt the need to document those meetings. Trump made Comey feel uneasy, especially since Trump demanded loyalty.
This week, video surfaced of a “Senior Producer” from CNN talking to someone with a hidden camera. On the tape, shown by Project Veritas, John Bonifield was seen saying that his company’s coverage of the allegations against Russia was “mostly bulls**t — right now.”
The video also showed hidden camera footage of CNN correspondent Van Jones saying the same thing.
(Now, anyone watching the video should view it with a grain of salt. Although the footage looks pretty straightforward, Project Veritas is run by James O’Keefe, a Trump supporter and dishonest documentarian. He has been known to alter footage in the past and present misleading films.
For example, O’Keefe altered footage to make it look like ACORN workers were trying to solicit prostitutes. Although that was disproven, the organization was defunded by Congress anyway. He later went to jail after and two other were trying to break into Sen. Mary Landieu’s office.)
News Outlets Caught with Their Pants Down
The video release was met with news that at least two news outlets had erred in their coverage of the allegations against Russia.
Three journalists from CNN resigned amid news that they had poorly vetted a story before publishing.
On June 29, The New York Times left an editor’s note at the end of an article where it had claimed that all 17 of the United States’ intelligence agencies had agreed that Russia in fact hacked into the emails of Hillary Clinton, the DNC, and John Podesta. In truth, former NSA director James Clapper said that only three of those agencies — the FBI, CIA, and the NSA — had come to that conclusion.
In reality, there are only 16 U.S. intelligence agencies:
- Air Force
- Central Intelligence Agency
- Coast Guard
- Defense Intelligence Agency
- Department of Energy
- Department of Homeland Security
- Department of State
- Department of the Treasury
- Drug Enforcement Administration
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Marine Corps
- National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
- National Reconnaissance Office
- National Security Agency
All these agencies are “administered by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).”
Don Jr.’s Scandal
Only July 8, 2017, The New York Times ran an article outlining a meeting involving Donald Trump, Jr. and a Russian lawyer. It turns out Jared Kushner (Donald Trump’s son-in-law and current senior adviser) and Paul Manafort (Trump’s former campaign manager) were also at the meeting.
Trump Jr. had the meeting arranged after receiving an email from Rob Gladstone, the publicist for Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, on June 3, 2016. Gladstone told Trump Jr. Agalarov wanted the Trump campaign to meet with a lawyer with connections with the Russian government. Gladstone also said the lawyer had incriminating information on Hillary Clinton and that the information was being passed on as a sign of support from the Russian government. The meeting was ultimately set for June 9, 2016 at Trump Jr.’s office in Trump Tower.
The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, mentioned something about Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the acceptance of illegal foreign funds. However, much of the meeting was taken up by a discussion of the Mangnitsky Act, which was passed in 2012. The law banned the adoption of Russian children by Americans.
A few days after the news came out, Trump Jr. tried the get ahead of the new by showing the email chain with Gladstone. Instead, this got rid of all deniable plausibility. Jr. quickly landed in hot water, because the possibility of the Trump campaign seeking and receiving foreign aid came into question.
For her part, Veselnitskaya denied sharing damaging information on Hillary Clinton although “They wanted it so badly.”
Instead, the lawyer summarized the roles of those involved in the meeting: She said Jared Kushner was only in the room for “the first seven to 10 minutes.” She also said Paul Manafort only looked at his phone and took no active part in the discussion.
When asked what the meeting was about, Veselnitskaya offered no direct answer. And she denied being connected with the Russian government.
Last Updated: July 12, 2017