Six days ago, blogger “sundance” at Conservative Treehouse spoke for many when he highlighted a point from a Devin Nunes (R-CA) appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News talk program. In the segment on 11 April, Nunes said the Obama administration’s spying on the Trump campaign began in 2015.
Nunes made this point (although he didn’t stress it) after Attorney General William Barr told a Senate panel that, yes, in his opinion, “spying” had occurred.
The transcript is from CTH:
Well Sean, let’s just, let me make it as clear as I possibly can. Okay, and now, thank God, we have an attorney general who calls spying for what it is.
In late 2015, early 2016, spying began on the Trump campaign.
That acknowledgment has got them pretty excited over at CTH. If I don’t concur with quite all of sundance’s interpretations and analyses (much as I admire his research), and already believed in any case that it was clear the whole Spygate/Russiagate thing started in 2015, I do agree the nugget from Nunes’s Hannity segment is important.
Nunes has seen a lot of material the public still hasn’t: documentation that has dates and evidence of provenance attached to it. If he or someone with similar access says the spying started in 2015, that’s not a reconstruction of events from clues. It’s a statement from knowledge based on direct evidence.
And with sundance’s most important point, I agree, and have for some time – largely because with all the spying that’s been done against Trump, we know ipso facto that the FBI, the Justice Department, and Robert Mueller have known since before Mueller’s special counsel appointment that there was nothing to find in relation to “collusion with Russia.” They knew that in 2016. There is good reason to believe they knew it in 2015.
They were never actually looking for it. A more likely deduction is that they were looking through the lives of Trump and his associates for opportunities to plant negative interpretations or the appearance of “evidence.”
The spying started in 2015 – this is sundance’s point, and mine too – because it was part of an operation against Trump. It was not done in response to any sort of “evidence” against Trump. Law enforcement wasn’t the motive for it. The law enforcement apparatus was just one of the tools. The motive was, apparently, to thwart and if possible take down Trump – should that become necessary. As numerous others have concluded, the operation was the “insurance policy” Peter Strzok referred to in his text to Lisa Page in August 2016.
There may be a smoking gun on a calendar date in 2015. If there is, it will probably take a full-blown investigation by agents of the federal government to find it. A smoking gun, per se, is not currently evident from the clues available to the general public.
But what is available is a series of characteristic events involving the same people who have starring roles in Spygate and Russiagate, and the same patterns that have emerged from those intertwined dramas.
Reading comprehension for Spygate
Don’t despise these facts and concepts as mere models or abstractions. Take them to heart, for the most important of reasons: this is how you understand Spygate and Russiagate. The story in this article, the story of a strange meeting between John Brennan and Bill Clinton in 2015, lays out the meta-pattern of both -Gates. We will know we’ve identified the origins and path of Spygate by the fact that it fits this model. (For that matter, I think you’ll agree that the story here is probably, in fact, part of Spygate.)
The most characteristic feature of the Spygate/Russiagate pattern is this. The Democrats and others behind Spygate take the dubious or questionable activities from an ongoing third-party saga of some kind, and try to tar Trump with them.
How do the Democrats know those activities are occurring? This is the most characteristic aspect: because they, the Democrats, are already involved in them.
Add in one more feature. The mainstream media already know about the activities, and have been following them for some time. There’s corporate expertise that enables the vetting of potential narratives about Trump and “whatever” (e.g., Trump and Russian oligarchs). If Democrats, government functionaries, and media veterans all know a whole lot about Oleg Deripaska, for example, there’s a better chance that nothing he does, or nothing that’s sitting right there in a news article from four years ago, will emerge to refute their narrative.
The incident in this case is a bizarre little corner of Spygate, and for a change, it doesn’t involve any Russians that I can see. But it has all the features outlined above. It’s Spygate – or maybe Operationgate – in microcosm. Watch it carefully, and recognize how it changes the narrative.
There was never a law enforcement suspicion about “Trump and Russia.” This story is a guide to understanding what has really been happening.
A plane on a tarmac
The story starts with a U.S. government plane on a tarmac in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, from 1-3 August of 2015.
Needless to say, that means there was a Clinton involved, and a senior member of the Obama administration (who was using the plane). The Clinton was former president Bill Clinton, in town for a little-advertised – indeed, a somewhat secretive – conference on medical technology.
The Obama official was CIA Director John Brennan. Brennan, oddly enough, was also there, at least ostensibly, for the conference.
Just why it was necessary for a C-40B to sit on a tarmac for three days isn’t clear. The CIA Director is an important person, to be sure, but he’s also the head of a big organization stuffed to the gills with competent officials and analysts who don’t necessarily need him available for briefings or snap decisions 24/7. If he’s going to be gone for three days on a jaunt of this kind, he could ordinarily be dropped off and picked up, with an aide and a couple of secure portable devices in tow.
Yet Brennan, attending this medical technology conference, had a “flying office” at his disposal the entire time he was there. The extremely curious local media were given little information about the plane, and airport authorities reportedly never confirmed on the record that Brennan was its official VIP passenger. The reporter for the Jackson Hole News and Guide had to ferret that out from others.
Brennan’s presence is also confirmed by photos from the conference, and a speakers list from a page that is no longer extant in its original location on the Web. (More on that in a moment.)
One distinct possibility stands out, of course. Brennan could have had the exclusive use of the plane because it would be a secure place to meet with Bill Clinton. It would be, at any rate, a secure place to meet with somebody. (Keep in mind that Bill Clinton has Secret Service protection, and meeting with him requires prior planning. Note, on the other side, that Clinton’s press representative told the local reporter he did not make use of the plane.)
All in all, the Clinton-meeting explanation seems likelier than accepting that it’s mere happenstance, when a CIA Director attending an extracurricular medtech conference at a resort hotel in Wyoming has the same arrangement that the secretary of state or defense has when he’s traveling on official business.
The Clinton Foundation connection
Why in the world were Brennan and Clinton both at a medical technology conference? It isn’t clear why Brennan was there (which is ultimately the point. We’ll come back to it). Clinton, however, was there as the top-billed speaker for the conference, which was sponsored by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and his foundation, the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation.
Dr. Soon-Shiong is a Los Angeles-based cancer researcher and entrepreneur who became a billionaire with the cancer drug Abraxane. (Some readers may recognize his name more recently as the purchaser of the Los Angeles Times, with the media company Tronc.)
Soon-Shiong had – of course – launched a partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative in January 2014. Several times between then and August 2015, Bill Clinton had participated in media-ready activities for their joint venture. See this appearance on the Golf Channel, for example.
Interestingly enough, Soon-Shiong (whose personal origins were as an ethnic Chinese immigrant in South Africa, before becoming a U.S. citizen) had also launched a UK-based arm of the venture at Oxford in 2014.
In early August 2015, Soon-Shiong was riding high. He had sold the company that owned Abraxane to Celgene in 2010, making a tremendous profit while also retaining a big chunk of stock in his old company. (At one point, the estimate of his personal wealth was as high as $13 billion.)
He had also, in 2015, bought a company that had a developmental cancer drug, Cynviloq, which is considered an improved, more advanced version of Abraxane. Soon-Shiong had his partnership going with the Clinton Foundation, and was able to put together a conference at the Four Seasons in Teton Village that brought in such luminaries as Bill Clinton, former senator Bill Frist, and Forbes owner Steve Forbes.
In October 2015, Soon-Shiong met with then-Vice President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C., on the topic of spearheading a “Moonshot to cure cancer” to which Biden would lend his name.
In light of all this good work being done, it’s interesting that at the time of the August 2015 conference, little information about it was apparently available without the privileges of a registered participant.
Some of the speakers, including Clinton, made casual appearances in Jackson Hole, if only for a few minutes. (Clinton got coffee at Starbucks and shook a few hands outside.)
But the sense conveyed by News and Guide reporter Johanna Love was that information about the conference was scarce. Online searches for national media reporting on it turn up nothing. Soon-Shiong has a collection of videos from his work over the years – e.g., the Clinton partnership videos, tours of research facilities, his own conference appearances – but not videos from the August 2015 conference in Jackson Hole.
Black-holing the Jackson Hole records
In fact, there seems to have been a recent effort to remove information about the conference from the Web. When I first came across the local news story about Brennan’s plane, several weeks ago, conference records at the original website, CancerBreakthroughs2020.org, were still intact. Not only were the names Bill Clinton and John Brennan still there, listed as speakers, but the original formatting was in place, and there were images from the conference with Clinton and Brennan in them.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to take my word for that at this point. But I can still document that, as of 16 April 2019, there was a cached version of a brief slug about the conference in which the speakers were listed. (I.e., a version accessible by using the down-arrow in the Google search results entry and clicking “Cached.”)
The images from the conference are no longer there.
Meanwhile, a search through the Wayback Machine archive showed that the same slug about the August 2015 conference is present – but the list of speakers has been removed from it. The webpage has been archived at Wayback a number of times, with the archiving all being done before 2019. In every one of the archived versions, the slug for the August 2015 conference is there, but it’s missing the speakers list. The images are also removed, but you can see where they used to be.
That means the same information has recently been removed from every one of the archived versions. The original website has also been allowed to expire – and so has a follow-on website that apparently hosted the same content.
The images posted from the conference still come up in a Google search, but hardly any of them can now be retrieved at high resolution. Most can be viewed only in the Google image results.*
Bill Clinton appears again
The year 2016 seemed to pass without a great deal happening, except for one incident, which was again an interesting one. Bill Clinton went to Dr. Soon-Shiong’s Jackson Hole conference again in August 2016. This was at the height of the presidential campaign for Hillary Clinton, and Bill sheared off from it without fanfare to be at the Soon-Shiong conference.
That curious development drew Fox News’s attention at the time. The Fox reporting focus was on whether Bill Clinton was receiving a speaking fee. (Dr. Soon-Shiong has donated to Democrats over the years, with one prior donation to a Republican, Rudy Giuliani, in 2007. In 2016, at an appearance in Pennsylvania, Soon-Shiong endorsed Hillary Clinton as his favored candidate for president. But there is no record of a campaign donation to her.) The Clinton campaign said Bill received no fee for the August 2016 gig.
The media were as incurious as we would expect about Soon-Shiong and the Clinton connection. As far as anyone could tell from a distance, this was a non-issue: a Clinton Foundation “good works” effort, and a successful doctor doing what he could with his lifetime’s accumulation of wealth and expertise.
Sudden Trump-Involvement Syndrome
After the election, however, it suddenly became a big deal that Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, whom no one had ever heard of in the political world, was able to meet with President-elect Donald Trump in November 2016, for a dinner during the jam-packed presidential transition.
I can find no prior connection between Soon-Shiong and Trump, so the most likely explanation of the meeting is that it was arranged by someone who wanted Trump to meet with Soon-Shiong. Soon-Shiong was reportedly enthusiastic, but he couldn’t have gotten in the door without a broker to open it for him. Who that broker was has remained unreported. (Note: Soon-Shiong is not listed as a donor to the Trump inaugural fund.)
A second meeting in January 2017 was reportedly about Soon-Shiong possibly being appointed to one of the positions Trump would need to fill. The media had struck up a drumbeat about Soon-Shiong meeting with Trump in November 2016, and after the second meeting in January, the drumbeat accelerated.
The character of these search results is actually funny, especially compared with the laconic dearth of information back when Soon-Shiong’s Washington connections were with Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, and John Brennan.
The impression left by the search results is classic. With headlines and content slugs, the results imply that Trump was having a noteworthy number of meetings with a high-flying, even flamboyant, and (suddenly) somewhat controversial wealthy doctor, one who had deep connections to the pharmaceutical industry.
The media were somewhat overworking the angle that Soon-Shiong was under consideration for a post in the administration, including the secretary of health and human services. Politico acknowledged, way down inside a story about it, the Trump team’s polite but definite denial that Soon-Shiong was under such consideration. But it kept coming up anyway, because there were media flogging it. (Eventually, at the end of May 2017, House Speaker Paul Ryan named Soon-Shiong to a commission created by a law signed at the end of the Obama presidency. At that point, Soon-Shiong became “the controversial cancer doctor” for media reporting purposes.)
The evidence appears good that this was a coordinated theme. Perhaps the orchestrators of the anti-Trump operation were hoping that the much-credentialed Soon-Shiong would be picked for a significant post. But Trump didn’t select him for one.
Soon-Shiong’s non-selection seems to have deflated the media effort somewhat. But within a couple of months, they went into action to start peeling the luster off of Dr. Soon-Shiong.
From 2014 to the end of 2016, he had been a highly successful cancer researcher and philanthropist, inventor of a much-lauded drug that was helping patients worldwide, a partner with some of the world’s most prestigious names to advance health care and healing.
The warts start being highlighted
In the spring of 2017, all of that came into question. A lengthy article at the medical-industry media site STAT suggested that his “Moonshot” with Joe Biden was much more style than substance. The Politico article (linked above) alluded to questionable practices with nonprofit dollars, and a penchant for notoriety.
Another article at STAT went into greater detail on that, laying forth a full-blown case that Soon-Shiong gave away millions through charitable organizations and nonprofits, only to then direct it back to his for-profit companies.
Soon-Shiong stroked onward, no longer appearing prominently with Bill Clinton or Joe Biden, but now on the hunt for Tronc – of which he was already a significant shareholder – and its major media properties, including the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune. He completed the purchase of Tronc in 2018. The media coverage of this event depicted him as a controversial figure: a high-roller about Los Angeles, photographed hugging Kobe Bryant and doing appearances with philanthropic actors, but with questions hanging over him about ethics and practices.
And lawsuits were coming. In September 2017, Cher (yes. I know, right?) emerged to accuse Soon-Shiong of buying her shares in the biopharmaceutical company Altor for a much-undervalued price back in January 2016. As interesting as it is that Cher is involved in this, there’s an even more interesting figure in a related Altor suit.
The plaintiffs bringing the lawsuit are two Washington, D.C. attorneys: Boyden Gray of Boyden Gray & Associates LLP, and Adam Waldman of the Endeavor Group. Yes, that would be the Adam Waldman: the one who used to represent Oleg Deripaska, and the BFF of Senator Mark Warner, through whom Warner reportedly worked in the spring of 2017 to prevent a limited-immunity deal with Julian Assange – on behalf of James Comey. Waldman was an acquaintance of Bruce Ohr, and Warner also pressed him to set up a direct meeting with Christopher Steele.
The Endeavor Group has a Clinton connection: Trevor Neilson, who before becoming a partner in the firm was a senior adviser to APCO, which has long done pro bono representation for the Clinton Foundation (including during the Uranium One dust-up). Even earlier, Neilson worked in the infamous Clinton White House travel office in the 1990s.
Waldman, meanwhile, has testified to communications with Daniel Jones, former Dianne Feinstein staffer, and The Democracy Integrity Project, the dark-money-funded group that has been employing Fusion GPS to continue spinning a script for the -Gates narratives since January 2017.
Be clear: no evidence is implied here that Waldman himself is involved in a plan to undercut Trump. But as with every aspect of Spygate, the coincidences pile up for the big-name players on whose periphery Waldman keeps appearing. If the Clinton Foundation and John Brennan were involved with a billionaire doctor, it would be one with a link to at least one recurring Spygate/Russiagate figure – and a doctor whom the media were now churning out negative copy about, and trying to link to Trump.
Waldman was Cher’s attorney and adviser in the sale of her shares in 2016; he formerly held a position on the Altor board of directors from 2006 to 2016, and he alleges that Soon-Shiong bought out his shares for an undervalued price as well.
In other lawsuits, Soon-Shiong is accused of “orchestrating a ‘catch and kill’” plan to suppress a cancer drug that promises to perform even better than Soon-Shiong’s Abraxane. Soon-Shiong had sold Abraxis, the owner of Abraxane, to Celgene in 2010. The “catch and kill” lawsuit stemmed from his attempts to acquire the experimental drug Cynviloq from Sorrento Therapeutics, in the 2014-2015 timeframe (i.e., just when he was partnering with the Clinton Foundation).
Although the Federal Trade Commission reportedly viewed the acquisition with disfavor – presumably because of the potential for Soon-Shiong to “catch and kill” the newer drug, which was lowering the prices of both Abraxane and Cynviloq overseas – the purchase was allowed to go forward. Soon-Shiong was then on the hook to honor a series of approval milestones for Cynviloq with the Food and Drug Administration in 2015 and 2016. But the Sorrento lawsuit alleges that he didn’t do so.
It may mean nothing that the FDA spent most of 2015 without a Senate-confirmed head. Commissioner Margaret Hamburg left the agency in April 2015, and Soon-Shiong’s purchase of Cynviloq was made in May. A new Obama appointee was finally named in September 2015, and confirmed and took his job as FDA commissioner in February 2016. According to Sorrento, “by mid-2016 Soon-Shiong hadn’t pushed forward with FDA approval and [had] let critical patents lapse.” (Again, it isn’t clear that the absence of a confirmed agency head made a difference, but I know our alert readers will ask. The September 2015 nominee, Robert Califf, had been one of the senior staffers at the FDA throughout that period.)
All of this was going on while the Clinton Foundation was partnering with Soon-Shiong (meaning Soon-Shiong was injecting money into the Clinton Global Initiative), and the “Moonshot” on cancer was being planned with Biden. It was after Trump was elected, and the media campaign to link him with Soon-Shiong flared across the horizon, that the lawsuits started.
The Brennan conundrum
This set of circumstances would be interesting – very interesting – but maybe not quite compelling enough as a potential Spygate manifestation, if it were not for the genuinely odd Brennan trek to Jackson Hole in August 2015.
Showing up with a C-40B at his sole disposal for three days, on a non-official jaunt, does require an explanation.
But so does simply being there at all. We have one photo of Brennan as a speaker – seated with Steve Forbes, apparently in front of an audience – but we don’t have a record of what Brennan said.
Logic and common sense tell us the CIA Director probably didn’t have gripping, uniquely pertinent comments to make at a medtech conference that was designed mainly to get some key people together for the benefit of the sponsor, Dr. Soon-Shiong, and his partner the Clinton Foundation. It was the “people together” aspect that was more likely the draw for Brennan. Occam’s Razor would point us to Bill Clinton as the people he needed to get together with, and vice versa. It’s very unlikely their main topic would have been biomedical technology.
The remote location and low profile of the conference meant the two could meet without national media attention. (This was three weeks before the Federal Reserve conclave held in Jackson Hole annually, which does draw a crowd.)
And for our analytical purposes, the most important potentially related event had just occurred six weeks before the conference. On 16 June 2015, Trump came down the escalator with Melania and announced his candidacy for president.
As we delve further into 2015, in future articles, we’ll see that other contemporaneous events look increasingly connected. One example is Michael Flynn’s link with the Trump campaign. Flynn met with Trump for the first time the same month as the Jackson Hole conference. It’s not clear when the first contact was made between Trump’s staff and Flynn.
But Flynn was advising other Republican candidates, including Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, and Carly Fiorina. He would probably be playing a role with a front-runner’s campaign, and was likely to talk to Trump at some point. If he was being targeted by Brennan and/or the FBI/DOJ – and some believe he was as early as 2014 – Brennan may have already known if Flynn had been in contact with Trump’s team, even at the early date of the Jackson Hole trip.
These are the things a deeper dive into 2015 will begin to elucidate for us.
* Remarkably, the one image with Bill Clinton in it from the August 2015 conference no longer appears in an online search. I’ve posted it here, saved as a single image, but am unable to replicate its appearance as one of many images yielded by a search, which I was still able to do on Tuesday 16 April. In other words, between 16 and 17 April, the image appears to have been scrubbed entirely.