November 6, 2019 | From The Epoch Times
The investigation into the 2016 presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump started earlier than the official date listed in the final report by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.
According to the Mueller report, the FBI opened the counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign on July 31, 2016. But Nunes told The Epoch Times that “the FBI investigation did not begin at the end of July.”
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In a wide-ranging interview, Nunes also confirmed that the FBI didn’t appropriately brief the congressional “Gang of Eight”—the House speaker and minority leader, the Senate majority and minority leaders, and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees—about its probe of the campaign and that the intelligence community continued scooping up Trump’s communications even after Inauguration Day.
Nunes says that the surveillance of the Trump campaign is the greatest political scandal in modern American history, and in a newly published book about Nunes’s work to expose the spying, author Lee Smith arrived at the same conclusion. Nunes emphasized that the media played a major role in the scandal by disseminating opposition research at least partly funded by the campaign of Hillary Clinton.
At the core of the scandal is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant the FBI obtained to spy on Trump campaign associate Carter Page. The bureau used an unverified dossier of opposition research in the FISA warrant application, without mentioning that the dossier was funded by Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Clinton and the DNC paid for the dossier through a law firm, Perkins Coie, which, in turn, hired Fusion GPS, a political opposition research firm. Fusion GPS hired former British spy Christopher Steele, the author of the dossier, who paid second- and thirdhand sources with ties to the Kremlin for the claims in the dossier.
The FBI paid Steele as a confidential human source but cut ties with him after learning that he was leaking to the media. Notably, the FISA application cites a media article to buttress Steele’s claims, even though the article appears to have resulted from a leak by Steele himself.
“So it’s clear all of this was being done with the help of the media, and then being plugged into the FBI,” Nunes said.
“And the only question that you really have is, at what point did this whole Clinton campaign operation with Fusion GPS, what time did it merge with the FBI investigation? Because we know that the FBI investigation did not begin at the end of July and that’s really what [U.S. Attorney John] Durham needs to get to the bottom of and then figure out who was responsible for all of it.”
Attorney General William Barr appointed Durham earlier this year to investigate the origins of the FBI’s probe of the Trump campaign.
The Mueller report states that the FBI opened its counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign on July 31, 2016, after learning that George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign adviser, mentioned to a “representative of a foreign government” that Russia had damaging information on Clinton.
The assertion by Nunes that the FBI’s investigation started earlier than that could mean that either FBI officials were improperly probing the Trump campaign without formally opening an investigation or that another probe predated Crossfire Hurricane, the code name for the operation that FBI agent Peter Strzok opened and approved on July 31 of that year.
Three weeks prior, at the FBI’s direction, undercover informant Stefan Halper met with Page, the Trump campaign associate, at a symposium at Cambridge University, and they remained in touch for several months. The New York Times first reported that Halper was acting on instructions from the FBI.
While FBI agents can conduct some activity without opening a full investigation, tasking an informant to interact with potential witnesses without opening a probe would be in violation of the bureau’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG) (pdf).
Before opening a full investigation, FBI agents can open an assessment, which doesn’t require a “particular factual prediction.” Nevertheless, the basis for an assessment “cannot be arbitrary or groundless speculation,” the DIOG states. During the assessment, the agents are authorized to collect publicly available information, search FBI and Justice Department records, conduct clarifying interviews, and accept voluntary information from private entities. Tasking an informant to interact with witnesses, as was done with Halper, isn’t one of the authorized activities.
During Mueller’s testimony in late July this year, Nunes asked the special counsel whether his team interviewed Steven Schrage, the man who invited Page to the symposium where Page met Halper.
“Those areas, I am going to stay away from,” Mueller replied.
The special counsel’s investigation concluded in March, finding insufficient evidence to establish that anyone colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.
After Mueller’s testimony, Nunes told Fox News that he’s investigating what role Schrage played, including whether Schrage handled the Steele dossier.
Nunes told The Epoch Times that he’s still investigating the issues tied to the spying on Trump’s campaign.
“Just last Friday—I’m not going to get into it—but we’ve sent additional followup letters based on our ongoing investigation into FISA abuse and other matters,” Nunes said. “So our investigation continues.”
(Excerpt from The Epoch Times. Article by Ivan Pentchoukov.)