How did the Justice Department justify spying on the Trump campaign?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, January 4, 2018)

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If it wasn’t there already, the Trump-Russia collusion narrative has officially entered the Twilight Zone.

We can thank the entire news and media establishment for our collective decline in understanding what really happened in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Most recently, The New York Times now wants you to believe the U.S. intelligence communities’ inquiry into the Trump-Russia collusion started with an Australian diplomat’s passing on a conversation he had with Trump campaign surrogate George Papadopoulos.

This assertion is absurd on its face. Prior to working on the Trump campaign, Papadopoulos’ biggest foreign policy achievement was participation in the Model UN, an educational simulation in which students learn about diplomacy.

And, if you swallow the new ‘Papadopoulos started it all’ story line, you also have to believe this young man in the middle of the Trump-Russia collusion conspiracy thought it was OK to tell a senior Australian diplomat about one of the key elements in the plot (i.e., obtaining Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 deleted emails). Drunk or not, it is utterly implausible that someone could be that stupid. If it had been Eric Trump spilling the beans, maybe I could believe it.

From that farcical story premise, we are now told (by The New York Times‘ anonymous sources) that a FISA judge used information from that source to authorize the U.S. intelligence community to spy on anyone associated with the Trump presidential campaign. If a FISA judge approved that request, he or she needs to be immediately removed from the bench.

By all accounts, Papadopoulos was a foreign policy expert wannabe who, through a serpentine network of social and business connections, wormed his way into Donald Trump’s informal circle of campaign foreign policy advisers. That this could happen is a serious indictment of the Trump campaign’s competency.

More importantly, the Papadopoulos story suggests the Trump campaign’s desire to find “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the Spring of 2016 was relegated to the lowest ranks of the campaign operation. Amateur-level political chicanery this may have been, but collusion with the Russians this was not.

The National Review’s Andrew McCarthy lays waste to the Times‘ story:

McCarthy writes:

“Papadopoulos was told that the Russians had ’emails of Clinton.’ But the hacked emails that were published (in Summer 2016) were not Clinton’s emails; they were those of the DNC and John Podesta — exceedingly few of which Clinton was even included on, much less participated in. Given the amount of misinformation the credulous Papadopoulos was given (one of his interlocutors falsely posed as Putin’s niece), the likelihood is that he was being toyed with: Remember, there was much speculation at the time, including by Trump himself, that the Russians (and other foreign intelligence services) might have hacked former secretary Clinton’s unsecure private server and obtained the 30,000-plus emails that she refused to surrender to the State Department; it is probable that these were the emails Papadopoulos’s dubious Russian connections purported to be dangling.

In fact, rumors that the Russians possessed Hillary Clinton’s 30,000-plus deleted emails had been circulating as early as the Fall of 2015. A CBS News report on the rumor was published on September 30, 2015.

McCarthy further writes:

“There is no evidence that Papadopoulos or the Trump campaign was ever shown or given any of the emails the Kremlin purportedly had. The evidence, in fact, undermines the collusion narrative: If the Trump campaign had to learn, through Papadopoulos, that Russia supposedly had thousands of emails damaging to Clinton, that would necessarily mean the Trump campaign had nothing to do with Russia’s acquisition of the emails. This, no doubt, is why Mueller permitted Papadopoulos to plead guilty to a mere process crime — lying in an FBI interview. If there were evidence of an actual collusion conspiracy, Papadopoulos would have been pressured to admit guilt to it. He wasn’t.”

So what possibly could have inspired the Trump campaign to condone a marginal figure like Papadopoulos to represent the campaign on foreign soil?

In all likelihood, the campaign leadership didn’t. [That is what President Trump has been saying]. But if the campaign did, it was most likely part of a broader effort to find as much “dirt” on Hillary Clinton as they could find. All avenues of inquiry were probably considered, including Russian-sourced.

It is even possible this meant active coordination with Putin surrogates; but, as yet, there is sparse evidence of that level of cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

The media spotlight has been especially focused on a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, then Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in New York. Veselnitskaya’s claim to have “dirt” on Hillary Clinton proved erroneous, according to Trump Jr.

Not widely emphasized in media reports on the Trump Tower meeting is the connection between Veselnitskaya and the firm hired by the Clinton campaign to do opposition research against Donald Trump.

What we know is that the Clinton campaign helped finance an effort to collect “dirt” on Donald Trump through Fusion GPS, a commercial research and strategic intelligence firm based in Washington, D.C., and Christopher Steele, a retired British intelligence professional.

Curiously, Veselnitskaya had met with representatives of Fusion GPS both before and after the Trump Tower meeting, presumably as part of a contracted lobbying effort to repeal The Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law intended to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky.

I’d almost believe the Russians and Clinton campaign worked together to set up the Trump campaign. Or, perhaps, the Russians were working both sides of the equation, making the 2016 election a win-win proposition regardless of the electoral outcome.

As for the Steele dossier, it is little more than opposition research commissioned by political actors dedicated to discrediting Donald Trump. It is not serious intelligence reporting, even if created by a respected former British intelligence officer. Any senior FBI intelligence analyst or FISA judge would recognize the Steele dossier as less than reliable intelligence. Yet, we know it was used to some degree by the Justice Department to authorize intelligence collection on Trump campaign surrogates.

The dossier’s existence and its orbit around a FISA request to collect intelligence on the Trump campaign begs the following questions: (1) Did the FBI verify the dossier before using it in an application to the FISA court? and (b) did the Justice Department even tell the FISA court who produced the dossier?

Before we tear down another presidential administration, the American people have the right — and need — to know the contents of the Justice Department’s FISA Court request.


Are there any credible theories left in the Trump-Russia collusion story?

Three million dollars have been spent so far by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of FBI investigators and four people have already been indicted or plead guilty to charges filed.

More indictments and guilty pleas are in the pipeline, according to the usual unnamed sources.

The indictments so far have focused on financial misdeeds unrelated to the Trump-Russia collusion story and the guilty pleas have been related to process crimes, not conspiracy crimes.

There is still no evidence of any conspiracy or collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

But that doesn’t stop the conjecture.

Journalist Michael Wolff’s forthcoming book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” quotes former Trump adviser Steve Bannon as saying the Trump Tower meeting between Trump Jr., and Veselnitskaya was “treasonous.”

As currently reported, it wasn’t.

It may have been ill-advised, ham-handed, and stupid…but it was not treasonous. Did Donald Trump himself know about the meeting? Probably, but so what.

There are other more important questions surrounding the Trump campaign that will not go away any time soon.

First, the FBI is reviewing the financial records of Trump himself, The Trump Organization, Trump’s family members, and his campaign staff, including Trump’s real estate activities as the relate to Russia. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is considered by many observers to be a central figure in this element of the Mueller investigation.

Few of us would survive unscathed from an FBI audit of our tax and financial histories and, if Bannon is correct, Kushner’s financial interests are so “greasy” they will attract significant Mueller probe attention.

In hiring some of the country’s top money laundering experts, including Andrew Weissmann, a former senior Justice Department official with expertise in financial crimes, the Mueller probe is going in a direction that is hard to predict. Early conjecture is on the investigation taking a deep dive into the Trump organization’s Deutsche Bank loans, which added up to $364 million at the end of 2016.

New York University law professor Ryan Goodman suggests that Mueller could be determining if Trump has bank loans guaranteed by Russian interests. Considered in isolation, that would not be a financial crime; but, if the loans are Russian-backed, it would underscore a larger narrative that President Trump’s repeated acquiescence to Russian leader Vladimir Putin is at least partially tied to business debts.

Second, it doesn’t take an actual conspiracy for Mueller to catch Trump and his associates on process crimes. General Michael Flynn can attest to that. Undoubtedly, lawyers have already advised any Trump associates before their FBI interviews, including the President himself, that lying to the FBI while under oath is a federal crime. Regardless of the warning, someone always screws up.

Third, President Trump has committed enough unforced errors surrounding his firing of FBI Director James Comey to suggest it was done to impede the Mueller investigation. Some legal experts argue this would be obstruction of justice. We will see if Mueller feels empowered enough to bring down a president over an executive action that is allowed by the Constitution.

Finally, and perhaps the most unreported aspect of the Trump-Russian collusion story, did the Trump campaign coordinate with the Russians (or their proxies) in the promulgation of Russian-created propaganda on various social media platforms?

Specifically, did the Trump campaign feed voter data to the Russians in order to maximize the impact of Russian propaganda efforts? As of now, this theory is without substantive supporting evidence — though one of Twitter’s most prolific Trump antagonists, @TeaPainUSA, has offered forensic data from various servers controlled by the Trump organization and Kushner’s business interests showing unusual repeated “contact” between those servers and servers purportedly located in Russia.

At this point, the @TeaPainUSA server data analysis is unverified and it remains mere conjecture that the Trump campaign’s database operations were in direct communication with databases in Russia for nefarious purposes.

What is not conjecture is that the Mueller investigation has spent too much money and is building too many reputations too end up with just a few financial and minor criminal indictments. All roads are pointing towards more indictments.

They will not lead, however, to the end of the Trump presidency.


It was an old-fashioned cabal, not Papadopoulos or the Deep State, that initially powered the Trump-Russia collusion investigation

The Trump-Russia collusion investigation starts with the Clinton campaign and the Obama administration and not with the Papadopoulos’ chance meeting with an Australian diplomat in a Kensington wine room.

The evidence in support of this conclusion remains circumstantial, but it grows with every New York Times Trump-Russia collusion story exclusive.

Once it became evident in the Spring of 2016 that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for president, the Obama administration went into action. FBI agent Peter Strzok’s text to a fellow FBI agent that an “insurance policy” was necessary to stop a Trump presidency was possibly an artifact of a larger bureaucratic effort to obstruct the Trump rise.

In this context, the Papadopoulos-Downer meeting most likely represents the operational imperatives of an undisciplined Trump campaign that knew it was at war with the entire Washington, D.C. political establishment. That the Trump campaign was so amateurish in its execution is indicative of its inability to fully comprehend the forces arrayed against its success.

Just as Hillary Clinton’s reckless use of a private server is the distal cause of her ’email’ problems in the 2016 campaign, including the infamous Comey letter, Donald Trump’s willingness to make deals with sketchy business types, including perhaps the Russians, is the root cause of his current troubles. And, yes, the Clinton campaign and Obama administration were more than happy to exploit these Trump associations for political purposes.

That his son and son-in-law may go to jail as result will haunt Donald Trump through his last mortal days. For those eagerly awaiting Trump’s pound of flesh, their patience will be rewarded — but will it be justified?

More Mueller investigation indictments are coming, not because the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians, but because Trump campaign operatives were too inexperienced to know how vulnerable their actions were to discovery by opponents eager to exploit that information.

Furthermore, a much bigger issue is at stake in the alleged Trump-Russia collusion story:  Why are the original FBI’s original FISA requests to collect intelligence on the Trump campaign not released to the public? And, more importantly, to what extent are we going to allow the U.S. Government to employ classified information and sources to destroy the reputations of individual American citizens?

Our Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights are rendered impotent if the evidence used against us hides in the shadows. If they weren’t genetically wedded to the federal government, The Washington Post might want to change its tumid new motto ‘Democracy Dies Darkness’ to a more relevant phrasing: ‘Our Liberties Die in Darkness.’

The U.S. intelligence community contends the protection of sources and methods is paramount to national security. But does releasing the substance of the FBI’s original FISA requests to spy on Trump operatives undermine these security imperatives? The U.S. government has processes designed to redact such information without losing the substantive value of bringing the FISA requests to light.

The intelligence community will resist, but without seeing the original FISA requests, reasonable people will have the right to assume the FISA warrants were approved under specious circumstances and not because of the sanctity of sources and methods

After one year into the Trump-Russia collusion investigation, many of us are exhausted by the New York Times’ and The Washington Posts‘ unending dependence on anonymous sources. It is time, for the good of national sanity, that the federal government come clean on exactly what happened from their end between April 2016 and Election Day.

Exactly what prompted the FISA court to authorize the FBI’s spying on the Trump presidential campaign? The American public is on a need-to-know basis.

Absent verifiable fact, it is impossible to independently know if the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians or if the Clinton campaign and Obama administration exploited the Trump campaign’s buffoonery to invalidate an election outcome they didn’t pre-approve.

The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and MSNBC want you to believe collusion occurred. Don’t ask how they know, just take their word for it. They have reliable government sources.

Unfortunately, their unwillingness to explore the political motivations of their anonymous government sources puts our liberties at risk.

I.F. Stone famously said “All governments lie.” If he were alive today, he’d amend that to “All governments lie and all journalists are easily misled.

K. R. K.

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About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.