As far back as at least 2014, some within the FBI were so convinced a foreign power was trying to interfere with a potential candidate for the 2016 presidential election that, among other things, they pressed then-FBI Director James Comey why the bureau hadn’t gotten a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant.
Memos show the FBI seemed to slow-walk the request.
Instead, those around the presidential candidate were given a so-called defensive briefing, in which they were informed of the nature of the threat and what they could do to protect themselves against it.
The foreign power is unknown, but the 2016 candidate is Hillary Clinton. The man who defeated her, Donald Trump, declassified the heavily redacted documents as he left office.
They show an FBI dealing with a foreign influence threat in a much different manner from its years-long excavation effort to find any link between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The documents, obtained by investigative reporter John Solomon’s Just the News, don’t offer any evidence that a FISA warrant was ever approved (or denied, for that matter).
However, they’re not indicative of a bureau approaching the threat with alacrity.
The documents, declassified Jan. 19 and published Wednesday, show that agents were so concerned the warrant was being kicked around without much action that they brought the matter to Comey’s attention, even breaking the chain of command in doing so.
“The FISA application has remained in limbo for the last four months, even though subsequent investigative activity by [redacted] provided additional probable cause for the FISA application,” an FBI employee said in an email to Comey dated April 14, 2015.
The email said investigators had “identified attempts by the [redacted government] to influence the U.S. presidential election, U.S. presidential candidates, and U.S. politicians through illegal campaign contributions.”
The field office conducting the investigation was “still uncertain as to why the application has not been sent to DOJ for final approval although several reasons have been put forth by CD [Criminal Division], most recently that the decision to put the application on hold originated ‘on the seventh floor.’”
The “seventh floor” is FBI slang for the higher-ups; the FBI director and other management officials have their offices on the seventh floor at the FBI headquarters in Washington.
It added that while the investigation was “superficially connected to political candidates … it does not target the candidate(s), and there is no evidence the candidate is even aware of the potential targeting.”
“Don’t know anything about this but will get smarter,” Comey said in a reply.
A month before, another FBI official stressed the importance of moving quickly to investigate.
“[The Wall Street Journal] is reporting that Hillary Clinton plans to formally announce her 2016 Presidential candidacy in April 2015,” the March 2, 2015, email read.
“To me, this underscores the need for us to push this FISA. By the time we get it signed and go up, we would only be up a few weeks before she announces, at best. On the other hand, if we wait for the events to unfold which we discussed on the [teleconference], her announcement may occur in advance of us getting the FISA coverage. That puts us even further behind the curve on the intel necessary for this operation.”
Clinton would announce on April 12, 2015, two days before Comey received the email regarding the status of the FISA application.
Whether a FISA warrant was eventually issued, Clinton’s legal team was given a defensive briefing in October of 2015.
Lawyers David Kendall and Katherine Turner “were advised the FBI was providing them with this briefing for awareness and so Ms. Clinton could take appropriate action to protect herself,” a summary memo read. “They were also told the FBI was seeking their assistance to identify other appropriate recipients of the brief, if any.”
“Kendall and Turner were asked to advise the FBI, Section Chief [David] Archey, if Ms. Clinton is approached by anyone connected to or acting at the direction of the [redacted government].”
In brief, here’s what we know about the Trump-Russia investigation, according to a timeline by The Washington Post:
In April 2016, low-level Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos was told by a contact with Russian connections that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton involving emails. A month later, he passed this on to an Australian diplomat, who passed it on to American authorities after the Democratic National Committee emails were dumped onto WikiLeaks in June.
In July, another low-level adviser, Carter Page, gave a speech at a university in Moscow. Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who was putting together a dossier on Trump for a firm paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, said Page had met with high-level Russian officials while he was there. This dossier, to the extent that it hasn’t been discredited, remains unproven.
At no point was a defensive briefing given to the Trump campaign, either about Papadopoulos or Page.
Instead, the Steele dossier — essentially opposition research by the Clinton campaign — was used to obtain a FISA warrant against Page.