In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, 19 April, Devin Nunes (D-CA) told the Fox and Friends team that the House GOP’s intelligence investigators are now “laser-focused” on information the CIA gave to the FBI (relating to Russiagate) in 2016. The discussion forms a relatively minor part of the interview, but it’s a key point with major implications. (The Russiagate/Spygate portion starts about 5:50.)
Nunes connects his point with what we might call “discovery” work done by Trey Gowdy, former congressman from South Carolina, and Daniel Chaitin at the Washington Examiner relates it back to references made by Gowdy in May 2019 to looking into emails between John Brennan and James Comey in December 2016.
In 2016, we know from great work that Trey Gowdy did at the time … that the CIA gave information over to the FBI in 2016. We now are laser-focused on that. We need to know: Exactly what did the CIA give to the FBI in 2016?
Chaitin goes on to summarize other Nunes points:
Nunes told Fox News on Sunday that “there’s a bunch of questions” about three “phony documents” that Durham is examining that House Intelligence Committee Republicans are also investigating. One of them is the Steele dossier. The other two are the 2017 intelligence community assessment [the ICA] on Russian election interference and Mueller’s report, which Nunes said is “filled with both lies and omissions.”
I recommend listening very carefully to what Nunes said in the interview. He spoke of what the CIA gave to the FBI in 2016; he mentioned Gowdy’s work on that; and the balance of his comments was about questions regarding what he calls “phony documents.” Those documents include not just the Steele dossier – long regarded as having little value and containing much nonsense – but the ICA on Russian interference, and the Mueller report.
Nunes has disparaged both of the latter before, and has been calling the Mueller report the “Mueller dossier” for some time. But don’t miss the fact that it’s one of the main points he made Sunday morning in highlighting the laser focus on what the CIA gave to the FBI in 2016.
Racing to get the Steele dossier into the ICA
It is natural for Chaitin to take up Nunes’s reference to Gowdy and find a likely link in Gowdy’s series of TV appearances in mid-May 2019, when he discussed who was more anxious to incorporate Steele dossier information in the ICA – Brennan of the CIA or Comey of the FBI. At the time, Comey and Brennan had started pointing fingers at each other on that topic, each claiming the other was the more anxious party.
Gowdy’s bottom line, conveyed in an interview with Fox’s Martha McCallum on 15 May 2019, was that Comey had the better case (i.e., that Brennan pushed harder to get the Steele dossier information included in the ICA).
This assessment was based on Gowdy’s review of documentation that still has yet to be made public. It was in reference to his conclusion about it that Gowdy said investigators should track down emails between Brennan and Comey in December 2016 (when the ICA was being polished up for release).
Catherine Herridge, then with Fox News, reported at the same time that the email chain Gowdy referred to did exist. (See last link in preceding paragraph.) Herridge’s report contained this passage:
Sources familiar with the records told Fox News that a late-2016 email chain indicated then-FBI Director James Comey told bureau subordinates that then-CIA Director John Brennan insisted the dossier be included in the intelligence community assessment on Russian interference, known as the ICA.
I don’t think this email chain is the actual reason for the “laser focus” Nunes alluded to on Sunday. I think his reasoning is based on intelligence and documentary substance – i.e., the “lies and omissions” and other problems with the material in his list of three documents – rather than on evidence about Brennan and Comey.
But that doesn’t mean the Brennan-Comey dynamic in preparing the ICA on Russian interference is unrelated. It is, rather, central to understanding what happened.
In laying out the next points, I rely on readers to have familiarity with the Russiagate/Spygate topic. My purpose here is to keep it brief and make the point.
The intersection of the following is key:
- Whether the Steele dossier was included in the ICA;
- Who wanted that the most;
- The fact that the Steele dossier has been not only unverified but on a number of points debunked;
- The House GOP’s current laser focus on what the CIA gave the FBI in 2016;
- John Durham’s focus on John Brennan in the Spygate investigation.
Given all that the FBI had reason to know was wrong with the Steele dossier, it was of course not only highly improper to use it as the main basis for the FISA applications on Carter Page; it was wrong to incorporate it in the ICA as well. There is evidence that both Comey and Andrew McCabe pushed to include it in the ICA (documented in the IG report on Crossfire Hurricane/Spygate).
But Gowdy believes Brennan was the more urgent instigator, and Catherine Herridge’s report would back that up. (For what it’s worth, Rand Paul says a senior official told him the same thing in 2019.)
Gowdy is right that it’s important to determine for sure who was the most interested. And Nunes is right – as I read him – that the conclusion about that is material to figuring out the void of evidence behind the Steele dossier, the ICA, and the Mueller report.
Who was pushing harder on the ICA would tell us who had the stronger motive.
The FBI’s motive would be pretty obvious. Incorporating the Steele dossier as documentary material for the ICA would strengthen its appearance of validity in the eyes of U.S. intelligence. It would backstop what the FBI was doing with the Steele memos, making them the core of the case for the Carter Page FISA applications. That was especially important after Trump won the election, and would potentially have the opportunity to look into what the FBI had been doing.
The Brennan motive
Why would Brennan push to include the Steele dossier? Brennan, remember, told Trey Gowdy in testimony in May 2017 that he had other “intelligence and information about contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons.” Jeff Carlson had a good selection of Brennan’s statements to Gowdy in this article:
I was aware of intelligence and information about contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons…and it served as the basis for the FBI investigation.
Brennan said this as well:
I made sure that anything that was involving U.S. persons, including anything involving the individuals involved in the Trump campaign was shared with the bureau [FBI].
Brennan told Gowdy the CIA did not rely on the dossier for any part of its analyses in 2016.
It [Dossier] wasn’t part of the corpus of intelligence information that we had. It was not in any way used as a basis for the intelligence community assessment that was done.
Naturally, the focus as regards the Brennan testimony from May 2017 has been mostly on whether he perjured himself before the House, given the later revelations that the dossier was incorporated in an annex to the ICA on Russian interference.
But the important passages are the first and second one. Brennan stated he gave information to the FBI about Russia-U.S. person contacts; that some of the information involved the Trump campaign; and that this information served as the basis for the FBI investigation.
Why is it important to revisit these things we have known for a long time, in light of what Nunes said on 19 April?
Because time has demonstrated that, outside of the Steele dossier, there was nothing else there to base the FBI investigation on.
That’s Nunes’s ultimate point, when he refers to the deficiencies of the ICA and the Mueller report. Aside from the boilerplate in the ICA about Russia’s historical patterns and practices, it’s all a bunch of hooey, like the great majority of the Steele dossier. And the fatal drawback of the Mueller report is that the report doesn’t include readily available material that would make that clear. In that way, the Mueller report is highly misleading.
Don’t be too quick to say, “Yes, but we knew that. We knew there was nothing else there.” (Peter Strzok even said so in his notorious text message, right?)
The point matters not just because there was nothing else there, but because everything that went into the Steele dossier, the ICA, and even the Mueller report was nevertheless designed to bolster the same story. The same story spawned all three documents, yet was based on nothing that can be documented.
That means it had an author, but it means something beyond that. It means it was the narrative of an offensive strategy – not a defensive reaction.
There was no long string of bits and pieces of “intelligence” that anyone “found.” They were all concocted somewhere, by someone, and deployed or withheld depending on the venue and priorities.
The Steele dossier, in 2016, was a device. It was the method of inserting “data points” about material “facts” to create a theoretically actionable situation for the DOJ and FBI.
And it is the only publicly accountable collection we have of any supposed “material facts.”
John Brennan, for his part, as CIA Director, referred to being separately “aware of intelligence and information,” implicitly from U.S. national intelligence sources (which would include intelligence sharing from foreign partners). But there has never been any verifiable accountability regarding what that “intelligence” was.
It is 100% guaranteed that if it truly existed, we would know that by now. Intelligence that dispositive would have been made available first-hand to the Gang of Eight principals, if no one else. They would have assured us they had seen it. Leakers from the intel community would have given the media assurances about it.
But these tokens of fidelity have never been offered, in spite of the roaring freight train of doubt about the entire story. The “intelligence” doesn’t exist.
And that’s why Brennan would have needed to get the Steele dossier into the ICA too. Without the Steele dossier, there is no written record or semblance of evidence for any of the Russiagate narrative.
The Steele dossier was concocted and deployed to get the narrative into the records of U.S. agencies.
It didn’t have to be in the records of the CIA, because it would be the DOJ and FBI that had the supposed “Russia” problem for action. If Russia were colluding with U.S. persons to interfere in our own election, that would be a domestic security problem, even if the CIA had relevant information about it.
Brennan was in a position from which he could inject a feed of information to the FBI, and the odds were that neither he nor the CIA would ever be challenged on the substance of it. We might even call the Steele dossier his “insurance policy” in that regard.
Playing a minor role in the ICA, the dossier would seem like corroboration of unsubstantiated claims that Putin had ordered election interference of a very specific type. It would seem like collateral evidence that Putin wanted to back Trump, and dirty up Hillary for the particular purpose of making her look bad in comparison to Trump. The dossier’s references to Russian contacts with the Trump campaign, alternately elliptical, ridiculously specific, and explained by “Russians” in absurdly convenient, reductionist language, would seem like persuasive, separate data points – set beside the implication, sanctified by a published ICA, that intelligence too classified for your understanding indicated the same things.
But there was no secret-squirrel intelligence. There was only what was entered in the Steele dossier, seemingly bolstering “intelligence” we were to take on faith through a series of opaque allusions.
What happened in 2016 – absent actual evidence that there was anything else – was apparently this: the same fake narrative was fed by different routes from the CIA to the FBI, and through the Steele dossier to the FBI.
In order to keep the focus on the role of the FBI and DOJ, and to keep the Steele dossier the center of attention, Brennan needed the dossier to figure in the ICA. Only if it did could he claim not to have known anything about it, or to have done all his work without reference to it.
Without the Steele dossier, we would long since have mounted a challenge to the ICA that would have exposed the absence behind it of any valid national intelligence specifically relevant to its findings. We would have exposed the reality that the “intelligence” being passed on from the CIA to the FBI was invalid (if there indeed was such a stream of “intelligence.” Recall that Devin Nunes made a statement in 2018 that sounded like just what he would say if there was no evidence at all of that separate, Brennan-referenced, CIA-brokered intelligence).
Is it early days to conclude that Brennan wrote or at least orchestrated the writing of the whole screenplay, on both sides of the feed? You decide. I don’t actually see him as the prime mover. I suspect that’s a consortium of which he would have been a part. But when all roads lead back to the CIA, we can certainly see why Brennan has become John Durham’s investigative focus.
We can see why the House GOP wants to know what the CIA was giving to the FBI in 2016, as Brennan affirmed so briefly in his May 2017 testimony.
And – especially in light of the recently declassified footnotes that frame Steele dossier “data points” as Russian disinformation – I still want to know what Brennan was doing in Moscow at the FSB headquarters in March 2016, and what he was doing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with a C-40B Air Force aircraft idling at his disposal for three days in August 2015, attending a medical technology conference with Bill Clinton that had no connection to his job at the CIA.