January 2017: Flynn had to be removed quickly so agencies could keep spying on new Trump administration

January 2017: Flynn had to be removed quickly so agencies could keep spying on new Trump administration
Michael Flynn, RNC 2016. PBS News Hour video

Key data points typically make a lot of things fall into place.  It only took two releases from the trove of Justice Department documents on the Michael Flynn case to have that effect this week, and the effect continues to evolve.  A picture is resolving itself of how “Spygate” transitioned from one phase to the next between the 2016 election and Donald Trump’s inauguration day.  And it looks as bad as it seemed it would, from the early clues.

We don’t need to go into a lot of detail in a new article on this.  Most of the work has already been done, months or even years ago.  I will link to a few previous articles for those who are interested in understanding the matter in greater depth.

For a shorter read, I append here a small tweet series I sent on Friday.

Will this presidential election be the most important in American history?

As laid out in this article from Thursday, the date on which Peter Strzok intercepted the close-out of the FBI’s Flynn investigation – 4 January 2017 – tells us a great deal.  It tells us the decision to do that was part of the same operational move as the decision to move on the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) and the Steele dossier: to brief them to Obama (on 5 January) and sell them to the public as a narrative about Trump.

Those things all went together, as the maneuvers of a transitioning campaign to bring down Trump.  They went with the “leak” to Washington Post writer David Ignatius the following week, which was published at the same time the Steele dossier was posted online by BuzzFeed, and which showcased the classified intelligence on Michael Flynn’s phone calls with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.  That was the same intelligence the FBI had before 4 January, when its agents were ready to close the investigation of Flynn because it revealed no wrongdoing.

(Much of this was previewed, incidentally, in an article from May of 2018.)

First target

Once we have that under our belts, we can move on to the next level of understanding.  That’s the level at which it becomes crystal clear why the first target was General Flynn.  It’s because Flynn was going to be installed as Trump’s national security adviser: the supervisory keeper of the National Security Council.

And the NSC was where the anti-Trump “holdovers” from the Obama administration (a) had been executing the top level of the Spygate campaign, and (b) probably intended to continue executing certain aspects of it, even after Trump was inaugurated.

There have been a number of clues in this regard.  Reporting from as early as March 2017 indicated that much of the “unmasking” of U.S. persons for the Spygate operation was being done at the NSC.  The reason, which I outlined in an article from quite a while back, is that the NSC is the least-auditable entity in the federal government.  There are formal arrangements for auditing its activities, as with all federal agencies, but their effectiveness depends on the attitude of the president himself.

A cancer is growing on Obama’s presidency

Because of the prohibitions and restrictions surrounding use of U.S. person information (USPI) by the federal law enforcement agencies (which have one role) and the CIA (which has another), using USPI for the purposes of the Spygate operation has to be done at a level higher than all of them.  That’s the only level at which boundaries can be crossed without leaving a hard paper trail, essentially on the president’s say-so and without fear of intervention by monitors or auditors.

The NSC is the obvious worker-bee hive for something of that nature, which is why it became the venue for the interagency task force formed the first week of August 2016 to work the “Russia-Trump” theme for the Obama administration.  The FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane was an agency aspect of that, as was the intelligence task force of “about three dozen” analysts from the CIA, NSA, and FBI, sponsored by John Brennan.

The NSC has representatives from all the relevant agencies.  It has every kind of special-access IT network in the federal government.  It’s in the White House complex.  And as Admiral Mike Rogers could tell you, it’s beyond the reach of auditors from a subordinate agency like NSA.  NSA may detect what’s going on at the NSC, but that doesn’t mean it can shut down what’s going on.

Obama meets with national security principals in the Situation Room in 2014. (Image: The Obama White House)

The Carter Page FISA series is another clue.  It makes starkly clear what Spygate was about: spying on the Trump campaign.  The important thing at this point is not even so much that it was undertaken as that it was continued into the first five months of the Trump administration.

That’s a strong clue that the Spygate principals wanted to keep spying on Trump.

Structural moves, their meaning now made clear

So is the gun-decked effort to get a special counsel appointed.  James Comey acknowledged that he leaked memos from his specially crafted memo stash about Trump to the media, in the hope of getting a special counsel operation going.  That operation would have the power Spygate needed: the power to keep trying to find – or manufacture – dirt on Trump, using the tools of law enforcement, and calling it an “investigation.”

Ambushing for fun and profit. Comey is interviewed by Nicolle Wallace at the 92nd St Y in NYC. YouTube

I’m not the first person to recognize that, by any means.  But with the picture resolving itself in hindsight, it’s increasingly clear what the goals and methods of Spygate have been.  The Mueller special counsel appointment was one of them.  It wasn’t an investigation based on a statutory predicate.  There was no statutory predicate.  It was a spying, dirt-manufacturing operation.

There’s another clue about the transition from “spying on the Trump campaign” to “spying on the Trump administration.”  It’s an obscure but important one: the quiet, department-level revision made to Executive Order 12333 in the final month of the Obama administration.  The effect of that revision was to weaken the accountability and auditability of intelligence handling in the federal agencies – and most particularly, the handling of USPI.


I suspected when I first wrote about it that this wasn’t just a CYA move: a hand-wave over the previous 12-18 months of Obama administration activities.  It could have been designed, instead, to forestall any useful auditing – especially at the sheltered NSC – of how USPI was being used going forward.

No such federal guidelines can be written that seem to dispense entirely with proper auditing.  That would be too blatant a move.  But fudge the requirements enough, relax the wording, and it’s possible to postpone any reckoning for as long as someone really needs to postpone it.

That’s what James Clapper and Loretta Lynch did with the 12333 revision.

These data points, and others, build a strong case that the 4 January 2017 decision to keep the Flynn investigation open at the FBI, along with the Ignatius leak and the dispatch of FBI interviewers to Flynn a mere four days after President Trump’s inauguration, were about one thing.

They were about taking out Flynn.  Because he, of all people, would very quickly detect what was going on at the NSC, if the “holdover” agency personnel assigned to it were continuing to execute Spygate functions there.

That insight on Flynn’s part would extend to the agencies.  Flynn would know very well what had to be going on at the agencies if USPI was being misused at the NSC.

I note as this goes to post on Saturday that Andrew McCarthy has published an article laying out a similar case about the purpose of keeping the Flynn investigation open.  His take is that doing so was necessary to keep the Trump-Russia investigation open.

I think we’re at liberty to dispense at this point with the fiction that “Trump-Russia” was an investigation.  This isn’t just because, in its guise as “Trump-Russia,” there was no statutory criminal predicate.  McCarthy has always been careful to point out that “Trump-Russia” was a unique animal: a counterintelligence investigation involving a presidential candidate.  A counterintelligence investigation is not based on probable cause and statutorily defined infractions; it’s based on intelligence indicators about foreign countries’ activities.

But it’s 2020 now, and it’s clear there was never an intelligence predicate for a “Trump-Russia” counterintelligence investigation either (e.g., Brennan’s vaunted intelligence from foreign allies).  If there had been, someone – the Congressional Gang of Eight, at the least – would have seen it by now.

Moreover, counterintelligence investigations don’t entail falsified justifications in FISA applications, nor do they require unmasking dozens (perhaps hundreds) of American targets in batches at the National Security Council.  If they’re legitimate, the FBI and DOJ can do the unmasking.  If they’re legitimate investigations, the agencies are delegated to do them, precisely so that the Executive Office of the President is not directly involved in investigative procedures like selecting subjects.

The red flare from Nunes: Cycling back to the unmasking

Understanding the significance of the “unmasking” and the use of USPI at the NSC helps us see that even more clearly.  Those were not disembodied realities, unrelated to the “law enforcement” processes going on in the DOJ and FBI.  They were part of the same operation to spy on, dig dirt on, and manufacture dirt on Trump and his associates.

We owe our understanding on this point to Rep. Devin Nunes, who saw the untoward nature of this effort immediately in early 2017 and refused to drop the matter.  He has clarified repeatedly that the unmasking he became aware of targeted Trump and Trump’s associates.  (As I’ve noted before, Lee Smith’s The Plot Against the President is the must-read on this.)

Devin Nunes (Image: Screen grab of Fox News video, YouTube)

Senator Grassley is another who recognized early on the significance of what appeared to have happened, and who bolstered Nunes’s case with a series of penetrating questions to the agencies about their activities.

We also have Admiral Rogers of NSA to thank for this insight.  His move in giving President-Elect Trump a special brief in November 2016 enabled analysts (like sundance at Conservative Treehouse, who did yeoman work on this) to reconstruct in hindsight the scope of what was going on, and – very importantly – the evidence that Rogers was briefing the new president because (a) Trump was a target, and (b) the old administration was beyond the reach of moral or ethical appeal.

This isn’t mere speculation anymore.  There is another very strong clue this week that the Trump administration has lined up its ducks and is now moving on all this – exactly this aspect of Spygate – with speed and determination.

Catherine Herridge had a most informative report in the Friday evening news-dump.

Interim DNI Ric Grenell is requiring all 17 intelligence agencies to account for their handling and use of USPI.

This is what the Clapper/Lynch revision to E.O. 12333 – made only after Trump was elected – was intended to delay indefinitely.  Grenell has ordered the wirebrush audit that was never supposed to come.

I admit, I got a little carried away retweeting Herridge’s tweet on this.  I went with a Rocky allusion as the imagined musical fanfare, which seems peppy and appropriate for an early move.  But I don’t think it will be too long before the right accompaniment is, say, the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


For your convenience, you may leave commments below using Disqus. If Disqus is not appearing for you, please disable AdBlock to leave a comment.