Newly-unsealed documents show that the FBI’s probe into suspected ties between the Trump campaign and Russia was targeted directly at the then-candidate, says former top New York prosecutor Andrew McCarthy.
“The investigation here was indeed about Donald Trump. But the scandal is about how abusive officials can exploit their awesome powers against any political opponent,” McCarthy, a Republican long-time Obama critic, wrote in a column published in The National Review on Saturday.
“And the people who authorised this political spying will be right back in business if, come November, Obama’s vice-president is elected president — notwithstanding that he’s yet to be asked serious questions about it.”
The FBI investigation, codenamed Crossfire Hurricane, was opened at the end of July 2016 on a tip from the Australian government that Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos had drunkenly repeated an acquaintance’s claim that Russia was in possession of potentially damaging e-mails related to then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“The Bureau also opened four Trump-Russia subfiles, related to Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Flynn,” McCarthy said. “There was no case file called ‘Donald Trump’ because Trump was ‘Crossfire Hurricane’."
According to a recently-released memo, FBI agents “actively” listened to Trump’s comments on Russia at his first intelligence briefing as a candidate in August 2016, just two weeks after the investigation was opened.
McCarthy continued: “Clearly, the Bureau did that because Trump was the main subject of the investigation. The hope was that he’d blurt things out that would help the FBI prove he was an agent of Russia.”
Both the Obama administration and the FBI knew that they were “using executive intelligence powers to monitor the president’s political opposition,” he added. “This, they also knew, would rightly be regarded as a scandalous abuse of power if it ever became public. There was no rational or good-faith evidentiary basis to believe that Trump was in a criminal conspiracy with the Kremlin or that he’d had any role in Russian intelligence’s suspected hacking of Democratic Party email accounts.”
In a similar way, then-FBI Director James Comey briefed Trump about the Russia probe on 6 January 2017, when he claimed that the Russian government might have damaging information on the president-elect such as the “pee tape” (an alleged recording of Trump watching prostitutes urinate in a Moscow hotel room).
The pee-tape story first appeared in the deeply flawed Steele dossier and was later debunked. It was not verified at the time of Comey’s January 2017 briefing to Trump, but the FBI chief still floated the claim to intimidate Trump, McCarthy believes.
He went on to suggest that Comey’s goal was not to give information, but to get information “to provoke Trump into making incriminating or false statements, or statements evincing consciousness of guilt”.