Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI counterintelligence investigation launched in July 2016 to investigate candidate (and eventually President) Trump’s possible links to the Kremlin was wracked by credibility problems and politicisation from the very start, agent testimony contained in 1,800+ pages of transcripts of closed-door interviews released by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham reveals.
The files include transcripts of 11 interviews with a range of officials, some of whose names remain classified, as well as back-and-forth correspondence between the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department, Robert Mueller, the director of National Intelligence, and others. The docs show, for example, that at least one FBI investigator, named only as "Supervisory Special Agent 1," was rotated off the probe assignment after his request for a more thorough review of the sub-sources used in the now infamous "Steele Dossier" by former MI6 spy Christopher Steele was denied.
“It was especially important to have probable cause. For each one of those sources, we needed…to also determine the veracity of their employee as well,” the agent said in Senate testimony in August 2020, explaining that he sent a team of agents to an unnamed foreign country to try to meet with a source “to try to glean that information directly.”
According to the agent, his/her request for an “enhanced validation review” to the FBI director of intelligence was “turned off,” ostensibly over concerns about agency “leaks.”
“At the time, I understood the answer, but I disagreed with it,” the agent said. “At a certain point, I was aware that he was collecting this information for an entity that was conducting opposition research,” the agent added, referring to Steele’s work for Fusion GPS.
The investigator was taken off assignment on Crossfire Hurricane in January 2017, several months before the probe was merged into Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation, which would continue its work until 2019.
Christopher Steele, the former MI6 officer-turned private investigator, began investigating the Trump campaign on behalf of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in June 2016 at the behest of Fusion GPS. He relied on a lone source for his information, who in turn is said to have collected info from a network of sub-sources.
The Steele Dossier gained infamy after being published in US media in early 2017, shortly before Trump’s inauguration, with its fantastical allegations including the claim that the business mogul had been compromised in a Moscow hotel in 2013 by watching prostitutes urinate on a hotel bed.
In 2020, documents obtained by media revealed that Russian intelligence was aware that Steele was investigating Trump, lending credence to the idea that the former spy had been hoodwinked by Russian spooks and deliberately fed disinformation for his report.
In another interview, an intelligence officer identified only as "Handling Agent 1" told senators that there was “not even a question” that the Steele Dossier-fuelled probe was “political” in nature. “I mean it was obvious,” the agent said in testimony in March 2020.
“It was something I spoke about with Steele and it’s something that the [Assistant Special Agent in Charge, or ASAC] and I spoke about as well, that it was completely obvious that this was information intended to be used by one of the parties against the other,” the agent said.
He added the ASAC agreed with his/her assessment on the probe’s "politicised" nature.
Not all the persons interviewed by the Judiciary Committee were as forthcoming. An unnamed "Supervisory Intelligence Analyst" interviewed in October 2020 maintained that that political bias did not impact the FBI’s work in Crossfire Hurricane, and said he/she had no evidence that FBI agents were purposely used to wage a political war against then-candidate Trump.
In separate conversations, "Case Agent 1" and an unnamed "Deputy Chief at the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section" at the Justice Department similarly suggested that bias “absolutely” did not affect their actions in connection with the investigation, and said they had no evidence “whatsoever” of such bias affecting the probe.
However, in an interview with senators in June 2020, Dana J. Boente, former acting attorney General and ex-United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia said he had a clear understanding that Steele’s reporting constituted opposition research, that he “had been hired by a political opponent,” namely the DNC, and that this had been confirmed to him in classified FBI materials.
In a statement on Friday coinciding with the newly declassified interviews’ release, Graham said the evidence revealed that investigators in the Crossfire Hurricane probe were “incredibly biased” and that the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court that the FBI turned to to obtain surveillance warrants against Trump campaign staffer Carter Page were blatantly “lied to.”
Graham expressed hope that those responsible “for the travesty called Crossfire Hurricane” would be held “accountable.”
To date, no officials from the Obama administration or the intelligence community have been charged with any crimes over their involvement in launching the Russiagate probe, which dragged on four years, and cost taxpayers nearly $32 million, but petered out after Special Counsel Mueller concluded in April 2019 that there was no evidence of any collusion between any Trump officials and the Kremlin.