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    Anti-Trump 'Coup': Spygate & Steele-FBI Cooperation Deserve Scrutiny – Analysts

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    Ekaterina Blinova
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    Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report has backfired on Democrats, prompting questions about the legality of the methods used by the FBI before and during the "Trump-Russia" probe. Speaking to Sputnik, a US lawyer and a Wall Street analyst share their opinions on the investigation targeting Trump and his aides.

    The Republicans are determined to get to the bottom of the FBI investigation into the Donald Trump campaign, dubbed by the US president as nothing short of an attempted "coup".

    On 25 April, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Charles E. Grassley and Ron Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Committee of Homeland Security and Governmental affairs, submitted a letter to Attorney General William Barr asking him to explain his 10 April notion that "spying" on the Trump team "did occur" and urging him to tell US lawmakers what he knows about the "genesis and conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016" at a briefing scheduled for "no later than 9 May 2019".

    While the FBI sought and received a FISA warrant authorising electronic surveillance on Trump's ex-aide Carter Page on 21 October 2016, there were reports indicating that the federal agency could have illegally spied on the Trump team.

    On 22 March 2017, then House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes dropped the bombshell that that the intelligence community had "incidentally collected information about US citizens involved in the Trump transition". Earlier, former CIA/NSA contractor Dennis Montgomery blew the whistle on alleged "systematic illegal surveillance" on prominent Americans and US businessmen, including Donald Trump.

    Illegal Spying Under Obama Administration

    Speaking to Sputnik, Charles Ortel, a Wall Street analyst and investigative journalist who has conducted a private inquiry into the Clinton Foundation's alleged fraud for the past few years, noted that "the Obama Administration had been spying, illegally, on Americans for approximately four years through 2016", citing US attorney Joe DiGenova.

    DiGenova told Fox News on 24 April that "for more than four years before the election of Donald Trump there was an illegal spying operation going on by FBI contractors, four of them, to steal information — electronic information — on Americans and to use it against the Republican Party".

    Techno Fog, a pseudonym for a US lawyer, opined that the FBI may have started gathering intelligence on Donald Trump's associates before receiving a FISA warrant and even earlier than the agency's Crossfire Hurricane investigation into the alleged Trump-Russia ties kicked off on 31 July 2016.

    He cited FISC Judge Rosemary Collyer's 26 April 2017 opinion on FISA abuses and potential Fourth Amendment violations that said that "private contractors had access to raw FISA information on FBI storage systems". This practice was discovered by DOJ oversight personnel on 9 March 2016 and as a result, the FBI discontinued the contractors' access "to raw FISA information as of April 18, 2016".

    "It's our belief that the spying on the Trump campaign was part of the abuse mentioned in this memo", the lawyer suggested. "Once contractor access to FISA information stopped, you see the beginning of the Brennan-led operation against Trump campaign officials".

    According to the lawyer, it's no coincidence that the operation against ex-Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos involving Maltese academic Joseph Mifsud, Australian diplomat Erika Thompson, and top Australian diplomat to the UK Alexander Downer began after access was ended.

    In a 23 April interview with Sputnik, Papadopoulos in some sense confirmed this version by suggesting that he was "set up", becoming a "patsy" for US and UK intelligence to target the Trump campaign and use him as "some sort of conspiracy person that connects all the dots that never existed in the first place".

    In May 2016 Papadopoulos allegedly told ex-Australian minister Alexander Downer that Russia had emails related to Hillary Clinton. After the DNC hacking had become known in July 2016, the Australians informed US authorities about Papadopoulos' comment, triggering the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation on 31 July 2016 by then FBI agent Pete Strzok.

    'Abnormal' FISA Practice & Steele's Unverified Dossier

    Apart from the early spying assumptions, the process of issuing a FISA warrant against Carter Page has raised many eyebrows. As it turned out on 21 January 2019, former FBI top lawyer James Baker was personally involved in securing the warrant to spy on Page, which was an "abnormal" practice.

    "At that point in time when I was at the FBI… almost all of the FISA applications did not go through me", he said, adding that the FBI first started to focus on Carter Page in summer 2016.

    In addition, the warrant in question was generally based on an unverified dossier, a collection of memos written by Christopher Steele, a former British MI6 agent.

    In June 2016, Steele was hired to look into then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's alleged ties with Russia by Fusion GPS, which for its part was hired by the Democrats and the Clinton campaign to dig up dirt on Trump in spring 2016.

    However, besides working within the framework of his contract, Steele "passed two to four pages" of his findings to the US State Department in summer 2016, as former State Department official Victoria Nuland told CBS News' "Face the Nation" in February 2018. It is believed that it was Nuland who authorised Steele's meeting with an FBI agent from the Eurasian Organised Crime unit in Rome on 5 July to outline his initial findings. 

    ​Techno Fog presumes that Steele's work with the federal bureau deserves further scrutiny.

    "The investigations by Fusion/Steele and the FBI/IC began at around the same time. They involved the same subject-matter (Trump-Russia). Steele approached the FBI with information on Trump-Russia and set-up a meeting on 5 July 2016 — [shortly] before the official FBI investigation started. It's unlikely that this is all a coincidence", he said, suggesting that the intelligence agency used the Steele dossier "to go from unofficial spying to official spying".

    In August 2018, the FBI released the 71-page correspondence between the bureau and Steele, which showed that he had been compensated by the FBI. Due to redactions, it is unknown for how long and how much Steele was paid.

    ​"It's believed that the FBI paid Steele to bring him into the FBI fold — to secure Steele. The FBI has yet to disclose the terms of the payments to Steele, and whether Steele is bound by any cooperation/confidential agreements", the lawyer said, adding that the former British agent was terminated as an FBI informant after the disclosure of his relations with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to Mother Jones on 30 October 2016.

    According to Ortel, "why the FBI was paying any contractors and especially any that may have been conducting opposition research using foreign nationals on a presidential campaign seems a better question, to which there are likely no good answers, only incriminating ones".

    The views and opinions expressed by the speakers and the contributor do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    Tags:
    spying, investigation, surveillance, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), MI6, U.S. Department of State, Christopher Steele, Devin Nunes, James Comey, Robert Mueller, Donald Trump, Victoria Nuland, Barack Obama, United States, Russia, United Kingdom
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