This isn’t a bombshell. It’s a thermonuclear warhead. Keep in mind, the issue is not that the Russians were correct in their intelligence assessment (that reference will be clear a couple of paragraphs hence). The issue is that Obama was briefed on this by Brennan about the time Crossfire Hurricane was launched.
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe responded to a query from the Senate Judiciary Committee today, with a letter listing some intelligence community (IC) information he has declassified about the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane. Ratcliffe’s letter can be read here.
The letter is short and to the point. Here’s what it conveys in the first bullet point:
In late July 2016, U.S. intelligence agencies obtained insight into Russian intelligence analysis alleging that U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal against U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump by tying him to Putin and the Russians’ hacking of the Democratic National Committee. The IC does not know the accuracy of this allegation or the extent to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication.
Here’s what it conveys in the second bullet point:
According to his handwritten notes, former Central Intelligence Agency Director Brennan subsequently briefed President Obama and other senior national security officials on the intelligence, including the “alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on July 26, 2016 of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisors to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services.”
These disclosures indicate that John Brennan could have briefed Obama on the Russian intel assessment about Hillary’s intentions as early as 28 July, when Brennan says he briefed Obama on the intel he purports to have had, on Putin personally pushing to discredit Hillary and boost Trump.
Even if Brennan didn’t brief Obama on the Russian-sourced Hillary intel that early, the second bullet point indicates he did it no later than August, when he was briefing the other “senior national intelligence officials.” According to the Washington Post story from June 2017, Brennan briefed Obama and a select group of his top advisers in the first week of August 2016 on “Trump-Russia.” Within a day or so, Brennan was forming his intel task force dedicated to the “Trump-Russia-election” topic, to go with the larger interagency task force on “Russian interference.”
It’s very likely that the events of late July 2016 — the media onslaught of the “Trump-Russia narrative” (which erupted en masse during the Democratic convention), the Steele meeting with the Ohrs, the initiation of Crossfire Hurricane — all took place at a point when Brennan knew about the Russian intel, and was taking it into consideration in everything he did. We just don’t know yet the extent of what Brennan did.
Here is bullet point number three, to round it out.
On 07 September 2016, U.S. intelligence officials forwarded an investigative referral to FBI Director James Corney and Deputy Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Peter Strzok regarding “U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s approval of a plan concerning U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering U.S. elections as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private mail server.”
I’m sure we will find, when we look, that a Strzok-Page text exchange becomes even clearer with this knowledge enlivening our understanding.
Crossfire Hurricane was launched 31 July 2016. The U.S. intel community knew at that point that the Russians believed Hillary Clinton was working on a plan to smear Trump with a Russian-collusion allegation.
In hindsight, one obvious question is whether Alexander Downer’s unusual approach with his “scoop” on George Papadopoulos was orchestrated at just that time – to justify launching Crossfire Hurricane as a cover-up of what Hillary was doing.
Because, of course, this wasn’t just about what Hillary was doing. She was never alone at the end of that tree limb. As important as she was, she wasn’t the only one with the juice to employ Perkins Coie, Fusion GPS, and a cast of characters across U.S. and foreign governments, media, and East European oligarchs in the matter. In fact, I doubt she had that juice on her own.
Whether the “Russian intelligence” was a legitimate “get” or some kind of Russian disinformation, it still comports with what we already know to have been the case. Hillary was planning an anti-Trump smear, and in Fusion GPS’s hands the smear was, in fact, about Trump allegedly colluding with Russia, regarding her emails and the U.S. election.
What’s important here is that, according to Ratcliffe’s disclosures, Brennan, top national security officials, James Comey, Peter Strzok, and Barack Obama all knew about it by 7 September 2016. Comey probably knew before 7 September. (Remember how many times Comey referenced the “Russian intelligence” that said Loretta Lynch had assured a Hillary surrogate that the probe of Hillary’s emails wouldn’t “go too far.” Comey was in the loop on some curiously Hillary-implicating Russian intelligence.)
They knew. Yes, I know, they would have known without being cued by Russian intelligence. They were in on it. The point is that the Russian intelligence briefings are concrete evidence that they knew. They unquestionably had the data point that the Clinton campaign was at least thought to be instigating the “Russia-Trump collusion narrative,” six weeks before they went to the FISA court for the Carter Page surveillance authorization. They had this information from the perception of one of the big targets: Russia.
We had to get to this disclosure. We would not have done so except by the painfully extended process we’ve been enduring. This is how bad it was. The Russians thought Hillary was working an op to smear Trump with a collusion narrative, and the Obama administration launched, accelerated, and doubled down on an op against the Trump campaign — all at the same time. If anything has to look like a cover-up, an instance of obvious coordination, or both, it’s that pair of facts. No wonder Michael Flynn was so much the focus of the anti-Trump op in late 2016 and early 2017.
Note that the timing on this would come from the advisory point in Ratcliffe’s final paragraph: “Attorney General Barr has advised that the disclosure of this information will not interfere with ongoing Department of Justice investigations.” Translated, this probably means it would no longer interfere with ongoing investigations. This information is exactly on point for the Durham investigation, but John Durham has what he needs.
Ratcliffe indicates he is still considering how much more to declassify the source information about this, and whether to make it available to the public. However, he assured Graham that “the IC welcomes the opportunity to provide a classified briefing with further detail at your convenience.”