A top Republican plans to grill FBI Director Christopher Wray about the bureau’s role in “aiding and abetting political misinformation campaigns” through its deployment of British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s dossier to obtain secret spy court surveillance against a Trump campaign associate.
Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to Wray giving the bureau chief a heads up on some of what he planned to ask him during a closed-door intelligence briefing scheduled for Wednesday.
Among the topics that Nunes said House Republicans planned to raise were “matters related to Special Counsel Durham’s indictments” and “reforms needed to prevent FBI investigations from aiding and abetting political misinformation campaigns, such as those surrounding the Steele dossier.” Steele had been hired by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which itself had been hired by the Perkins Coie law firm and Clinton campaign general counsel Marc Elias, with funding from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
AFTER STEELE SOURCE INDICTMENT, WILL DURHAM GO AFTER THE FBI?
Michael Sussmann, a Democratic cybersecurity lawyer, was indicted in September for allegedly concealing his work for the Clinton campaign when pushing claims of a secret back channel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank. The grand jury indictment centers on a September 2016 meeting between Sussmann and then-FBI general counsel James Baker, with Durham alleging Sussmann told Baker he was not working for any specific client, while the special counsel contends Sussmann was secretly doing the bidding of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and working on behalf of technology executive Rodney Joffe. Sussmann pleaded not guilty .
Igor Danchenko, a U.S.-based and Russian-born researcher, was charged “with five counts of making false statements to the FBI,” which Durham claims he made about the information he provided to Steele for the dossier. Danchenko pleaded not guilty , too.
“PR Executive-1” in Durham’s indictment against Danchenko is Charles Dolan, a longtime ally of the Clintons, whom Durham alleges was an originator of a false dossier claim he passed to Danchenko, who then gave it to Steele. Danchenko was charged with making false statements in 2017 to the FBI about his sources, including about the role Dolan played in supplying at least the basis of certain claims. Durham pointed out that Dolan spent years doing business in and for Russia, met with Danchenko in Moscow in 2016, and passed information to the Steele source during that election.
Nunes said his colleagues will press Wray on “the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, including the systemic problems associated with FBI execution of FISA authorities as identified by the DOJ Inspector General, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and Congressional investigations.”
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded in December 2019 that Steele’s dossier played a “central and essential” role in the FBI’s effort to obtain wiretap orders against former Trump campaign associate Carter Page. The DOJ watchdog determined the FBI’s investigation was filled with serious missteps and concealed potentially exculpatory information from the FISA court, criticizing the bureau for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions,” particularly its reliance on Steele.
Declassified footnotes from Horowitz’s report indicate the bureau became aware that Steele’s dossier may have been compromised by Russian disinformation. FBI notes of a January 2017 interview with Danchenko showed he told the bureau he “did not know the origins” of some of Steele’s claims and that the most salacious allegations may have been made in “jest.” Horowitz said Danchenko “contradicted the allegations of a ‘well-developed conspiracy’ in” Steele’s dossier.
Durham discovered Danchenko was investigated by the FBI as a possible “threat to national security,” according to documents declassified by then-Attorney General William Barr. The FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” team apparently became aware of this information by December 2016.
So far, Durham has obtained a single guilty plea from ex-FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith for editing a FISA filing fraudulently to state Page was “not a source” for the CIA.
Nunes also said he would also ask whether the FBI “has used any National Intelligence Program-funded personnel or capabilities” in relation to Attorney General Merrick Garland’s controversial October memo on school boards. He also plans to ask about “counterintelligence threats associated with China.”
Wray should also be prepared to answer questions about “the FBI’s recent raids on the homes of reporters associated with Project Veritas, including media leaks associated with those raids, and the FBI’s commitment to preserving First Amendment protections,” Nunes said.