From dossier to im­peach­ment: A 3-year ef­fort to ‘stop’ Trump

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

Demo­cratic op­er­a­tives, the press and the FBI have worked daily from his 2016 anti-Washington can­di­dacy to his third year in the Oval Of­fice to dis­able and cast aside Don­ald Trump, a chronol­ogy of events shows.

Whether it was two FBI agents plot­ting to “stop” him or a Krem­lin-sourced dossier filled with bo­gus al­le­ga­tions or in­ac­cu­rate news sto­ries that told of a Rus­sia con­spir­acy that never hap­pened, Pres­i­dent Trump has found the Washington es­tab­lish­ment to be an ex­is­ten­tial threat.

To­day, the as­saults are cul­mi­nat­ing in House Democrats’ plan to im­peach him.

Hil­lary Clin­ton and Barack Obama loy­al­ists kicked off the in­sur­gency by try­ing to per­suade mem­bers of the Elec­toral Col­lege not to vote for Mr. Trump even though he had won their states.

John Podesta, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, en­dorsed a unique elec­tion stop: Elec­tors must first hear an FBI and in­tel­li­gence brief­ing on Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence.

This meant the elec­tors would have likely been au­thor­i­ta­tively told by Obama ap­pointees the con­tents of a Rus­sian­sourced dossier paid for by the Clin­ton cam­paign, which Mr. Podesta chaired.

At the time, De­cem­ber 2016, the FBI hi­er­ar­chy had fallen in love with a dossier that said Mr. Trump was a Rus­sian spy and that he di­rected the big­gest elec­tion con­spir­acy in his­tory. None of it was true.

Im­peach­ment talk started on Jan. 20, 2017 — In­au­gu­ra­tion Day. “The Cam­paign to Im­peach Pres­i­dent Trump Has Be­gun,” said a Washington Post “pol­i­tics” ar­ti­cle. That same day, The New York Times put at the top of its front page an un­spe­cific story about ram­pant FBI wire­taps tar­get­ing un­known Trump peo­ple.

To­day, Rus­sia has given way to Ukraine as the cause for re­moval. House Democrats plan to im­peach Mr. Trump for urg­ing Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­sky in a July phone call to co­op­er­ate in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den and his son’s in­volve­ment in that coun­try’s cor­rupt busi­ness world.

Mr. Trump, a bil­lion­aire builder of tall build­ings and golf cour­ses, has not al­ways helped him­self. He briefly pro­moted Wik­iLeaks, the re­ceiver of Rus­sian-stolen Demo­cratic Party emails. He ex­ces­sively praised Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. He re­fused to ac­cept the fact that Rus­sia hacked the other party. He sug­gested that Moscow might find Mrs. Clin­ton’s 33,000 State.gov emails or­dered de­stroyed.

In­ap­pro­pri­ate re­marks are not felonies. In the end, spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, on which Democrats had so counted, found no Trump-Rus­sia con­spir­acy to hack com­put­ers or mount so­cial me­dia war­fare.

A chronol­ogy of in­sur­gency:

Mr. Trump’s elec­tion im­me­di­ately brought a lib­eral cam­paign to in­ter­vene with the Elec­toral Col­lege to pre­vent the pres­i­dent-elect from collecting the 270 votes re­quired to win the White House. Some elec­tors, most of them for Mrs. Clin­ton, de­manded an in­tel­li­gence brief­ing be­fore vot­ing. a Washington

Mr. Podesta is­sued a state­ment en­dors­ing this ex­tracur­ric­u­lar step, bol­stered by Washington Post and New York Times sto­ries that Rus­sia was try­ing to help Mr. Trump.

“The bi­par­ti­san elec­tors’ let­ter raises very grave is­sues in­volv­ing our na­tional se­cu­rity,” Mr. Podesta said. “Elec­tors have a solemn re­spon­si­bil­ity un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion and we sup­port their ef­forts to have their ques­tions ad­dressed. We be­lieve that the Ad­min­is­tra­tion owes it to the Amer­i­can peo­ple to ex­plain what it knows re­gard­ing the ex­tent and man­ner of Rus­sia in­ter­fer­ence and this be done as soon as pos­si­ble.”

Dur­ing the cam­paign, a for­mer Bri­tish spy’s dossier be­gan cir­cu­lat­ing in Washington, per­haps as early as the first week in July at FBI head­quar­ters. A Washington Times anal­y­sis showed that Christo­pher Steele made 13 Rus­sia con­spir­acy al­le­ga­tions against Mr. Trump and as­so­ciates. None was proved to be true.

Mr. Steele was paid by the Clin­ton cam­paign and the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee via op­po­si­tion re­search firm Fu­sion GPS. Fu­sion had a ma­jor in-house ally. Nel­lie Ohr, an anti-Trump re­searcher, was mar­ried to Bruce Ohr, the No. 4 of­fi­cial at the Jus­tice De­part­ment.

Mr. Ohr be­came a Clin­ton mes­sen­ger, tak­ing Mr. Steele’s as­tound­ing al­le­ga­tions di­rectly to the FBI’s high­est levels and in­side the Jus­tice De­part­ment to lawyers who even­tu­ally would serve on Mr. Mueller’s staff.

Clin­ton at­tor­neys also pressed the Jus­tice De­part­ment to in­ves­ti­gate Mr. Trump. A pet project was that a ded­i­cated com­puter server ex­isted be­tween Trump Tower and Moscow’s Alfa Bank.

The Mueller re­port re­leased in March evis­cer­ated Mr. Steele’s the­o­ries traced to Krem­lin in­tel­li­gence chief­tains. Repub­li­cans said that if any cam­paign was in­volved in Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence, then it was the Clin­ton oper­a­tion with its dossier.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, a Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat whose con­stituents in­clude Hol­ly­wood’s anti-Trump ac­tivists, hasn’t dis­ap­pointed them.

He led the way in the House in em­brac­ing the Demo­cratic Party’s Steele dossier and all of its un­ver­i­fied charges as he sat on the House Per­ma­nent Select Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, which is sup­posed to be com­mit­ted to ver­i­fied facts.

He said of­ten that he had seen ev­i­dence of Trump-Rus­sia col­lu­sion.

When he took over as chair­man this year and Repub­li­cans de­manded he step down for ly­ing to the Amer­i­can pub­lic, he listed sev­eral in­ci­dents he said added up to col­lu­sion. They were all known events, such as Don­ald Trump Jr.’s agree­ing to meet with a Rus­sian lawyer who promised dirt on Mrs. Clin­ton but had none.

Fu­sion GPS, the op­po­si­tion re­search firm hired by the Clin­ton cam­paign, in turn hired Mr. Steele and then ag­gres­sively pro­moted his dossier. Fu­sion worked for the same Rus­sian lawyer who met with Don­ald Trump Jr. Fu­sion was hired to help a wealthy Rus­sian ac­cused by the U.S. of money laun­der­ing.

Fu­sion pushed other con­spir­a­cies out­side the dossier, such as the leg­end that a ded­i­cated com­puter server con­nected Trump Tower to Alfa Bank, run by Putin­con­nected oli­garchs.

Af­ter a 2016 New York Times story dis­missed that con­spir­acy, Fu­sion was able get a story in Slate.com and then in 2018 in The New Yorker mag­a­zine.

Cy­ber­se­cu­rity pro­fes­sion­als said the server data cited by lib­eral ac­tivists was from a mar­ket­ing spam ac­count linked to a server in Penn­syl­va­nia.

In his tes­ti­mony to the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, Mr. Mueller dis­missed the Alfa in­ter­net con­nec­tion, one of the few anti-Trump con­spir­a­cies he pub­licly shot down.

Asked by a Repub­li­can law­maker about the con­spir­acy the­ory, Mr. Mueller said, “Be­cause I be­lieve it not true doesn’t mean it would not be in­ves­ti­gated. It may well have been in­ves­ti­gated al­though my [be­lief] at this point is not true.”

The Mueller re­port de­scribed an Alfa ex­ec­u­tive’s con­tact with the Trump tran­si­tion but made no men­tion of any com­puter con­nec­tion.

The FBI, led by James B. Comey and An­drew McCabe, em­braced the dossier. It was used to jus­tify at least one year­long wire­tap on Trump cam­paign ad­viser Carter Page. FBI agents trav­eled to Rome in Oc­to­ber 2016 and ce­mented a $50,000 deal with Mr. Steele to con­tinue in­ves­ti­gat­ing Mr. Trump, even though it had lit­tle luck with cor­rob­o­rat­ing his in­for­ma­tion.

The wire­tap ap­pli­ca­tion signed by the FBI cer­ti­fied that a Ya­hoo News story backed up Mr. Steele’s claims as an in­de­pen­dent source. The Ya­hoo story, in fact, came from Mr. Steele.

Mr. Comey pro­vided a dossier brief­ing to Pres­i­dent Obama. He trav­eled to Trump Tower to do the same for the pres­i­den­t­elect. Af­ter­ward, he went to the FBI field of­fice for a video con­fer­ence to fill in agents con­duct­ing a coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence probe into Trump aides. In other words, Mr. Comey was an in­ves­ti­ga­tor.

It is un­clear to this day how the dossier in­flu­enced the FBI mind­set. Mr. McCabe, as deputy di­rec­tor, was one of the first agents to be briefed on the dossier and opened a spy in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Mr. Trump in May 2017. Did Mr. Steele af­fect the de­ci­sion? Mr. McCabe’s mem­oir doesn’t men­tion the dossier.

In­side the FBI’s coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence unit, agent Peter Str­zok ex­pressed a strong dis­like for Mr. Trump and his vot­ers in mes­sages to Lisa Page, a se­nior FBI coun­sel. He pledged to “stop” Mr. Trump and re­ferred to an un­spec­i­fied “in­sur­ance pol­icy.” He talked of new dossier al­le­ga­tions com­ing his way.

Fired by Mr. Trump, Mr. Comey made sure that his memos for the record about his White House dis­cus­sions made their way to The New York Times. Mr. Trump at one meet­ing men­tioned the probe of re­tired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and asked whether Mr. Comey could con­sider “let­ting this go.” A White House coun­sel later said it was without prece­dent that a for­mer FBI di­rec­tor would leak in­for­ma­tion to the

For­mer Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Di­rec­tor James R. Clap­per was an ar­dent Trump critic. News net­works were more than will­ing to hear him im­ply, and some­times state out­right, that the pres­i­dent was a Rus­sian as­set or agent — in other words, a traitor.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

For­mer CIA Di­rec­tor John O. Bren­nan, a vo­cal op­po­nent of Pres­i­dent Trump who fed in­for­ma­tion to suc­ces­sor James B. Comey, pre­dicted a large num­ber of Rus­sian con­spir­acy in­dict­ments. When proved wrong, he sug­gested he was mis­in­formed.

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