Democrats are upset by Attorney General William Barr’s comments that members of the FBI were spying on the Trump campaign when they should be more upset that a presidential administration was “intruding” into the 2016 election, Rep. Doug Collins, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said Friday.
“We’ve seen that political bias,” the Georgia Republican told Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom.” “He is being honest here and moving on to the (special counsel Robert) Mueller report, and we’ll confirm what we already know.”
Collins said he does think that Mueller reset the story when he spoke of spying and it’s a “good thing, (as) we’ve been talking about this from day one, not simply what the reports are.”
Meanwhile, Democrats who wanted to get the Mueller report finished are not happy with it because they don’t like its conclusions, so “they are trying everything else.”
Former FBI Director James Comey said on Thursday he did not know what Barr was talking about with comments about spying, because the FBI and Department of Justice were conducting court-ordered surveillance. Collins said it is “getting old for Comey” to continue to pop up.
“He is getting scrutinized for something he is a part of,” said Collins. “He doesn’t like the term of what was happening. He has to answer those questions again. His light will continue to fade.”
Collins added that he thinks the difference between the words surveillance and spying are “a matter of wording.”
“(Bill Barr) wanted to make sure he said it was spying,” said Collins. “They were looking into a campaign and what was going on here.”
Political consultant W. Samuel Patten, who pleaded guilty to illegally steering foreign money to President Trump’s inaugural committee, was sentenced to probation by a federal judge Friday, avoiding any jail time.
The investigation into Patten was a spin off of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said she considered Patten’s cooperation with the Mueller investigation in handing down a lenient sentence. In addition to the three-year probation, Jackson also sentenced Patten to 500 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine. The sentence is so far the most lenient sentence handed down to a guilty plea resulting from the Trump-Russia probe.
“I fully recognize the seriousness of my conduct and the crimes that I committed,” Patten said to Jackson just before the sentencing. “I behaved as though the law didn’t apply to me and that was wrong.”
Patten, 47, who worked closely with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, was charged last year by federal authorities with failing to register as a foreign agent when he steered $50,000 from a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician to Trump’s inauguration. The complaint filed against Patten alleged that he worked as an unregistered agent from 2014-2018, violating the Foreign Agent Registration Act.
“None of them were minor and all of them were absolutely intentional,” Jackson said of the violations. “This isn’t a mere technicality and it wasn’t an oversight. You hid and misrepresented the true nature of the work on behalf of the Ukrainian party. I’m probably most troubled by that because it goes beyond the failure to register.”
The maximum sentence for his charge is five years in federal prison.
There were “clearly” people in the FBI who were investigating both the Trump campaign and the Clinton campaign during the 2016 election, Sen. John Kennedy said Friday, adding that he believes Attorney General William Barr will get to to the bottom of what was going on.
“When Bill Barr issued his [Robert Mueller report] summary, you would have thought according to some of my Democratic friends it was the second coming of the Apocalypse,” the Louisiana Republican told Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom.” “It is clear to me that there were a handful of people at the FBI and maybe Justice who acted on their political beliefs in 2016. I think some of them put their thumb on the scale against (Donald) Trump. I think some might have put their thumb on the scale against (Hillary) Clinton.”
The FBI is not supposed to act on political beliefs, Kennedy added. “and they don’t need a hug and a cup of hot cocoa and told ‘don’t do it again,'” said Kennedy. “They need to be fired, and if necessary, prosecuted. You had a handful of bubbleheads that decided they were smarter and more virtuous than the American people and they were going to try to influence the election.”
Meanwhile, Kennedy called on Democrats to leave Barr alone and let him do his job and release a redacted version of Mueller’s report, but he warned that if “every third word is redacted and you can’t make any sense out of it, I’ll join them raising fresh hell. But that’s not going to happen.”
President Donald Trump’s approval rating has climbed to 45%, a new Gallup poll reveals.
It is up from the 39% approval rating he received in March.
It marks the third time Trump has achieved a 45% job approval rating in the Gallup trends poll. His other 45 percent ratings were recorded in his first week in office and again after his first meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Fifty-one percent of those polled disapprove of his job performance.
Here is how the poll breaks down:
- 89% of Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing.
- 8% of Democrats approve.
- 39% of independents approve.
Gallup noted it is the pollster’s first measure of Trump’s approval since special counsel Robert Mueller completed his probe.
The poll, conducted April 1-9, surveyed 1,012 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Outrage by liberals and Democrats over Attorney General William Barr noting that “spying did occur” on the 2016 Trump campaign is a sorry example of moving the goal posts. Last year, the active debate was not over whether spying occurred — which it did by a reasonable use of the word — but whether it was justified. Barr was careful not to weigh in on that debate. Yet Democrats, spurred on by their liberal base and supported by the media, have been out to portray Barr’s statement as some sort of shocking betrayal of his role as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
“Perpetuating conspiracy theories is beneath the office of the Attorney General,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., fumed in calling for Barr to retract his statement. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Barr’s statement, “strikes another destructive blow to our democratic institutions.”
Yet last year, it wasn’t being disputed that among other things, that the FBI conducted surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign official, that included wiretapping after obtaining a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant. In a 2018 memo by none other than Schiff, minority Democrats on the intelligence committee argued, “DOJ and FBI would have been remiss in their duty to protect the country had they not sought a FISA warrant and repeated renewals to conduct temporary surveillance of Carter Page, someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government.”
At the time, Republicans had been arguing that the FBI launched the investigation into Russian interference on the basis of a dossier that was based on research funded by the DNC and Clinton campaign. Democrats were arguing that “Christopher Steele’s raw intelligence reporting did not inform the FBI’s decision to initiate its counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016.” Instead, they argued that it began with information the FBI received that Russians were wooing a different Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos.
Outside Congress, the debate also focused on whether there was “probable cause” for the FISA warrant, which those pushing back against Trump and Republicans argued that there was.
“Commentators like National Review’s Andrew McCarthy try to discredit the Mueller investigation by sliming the process to spy on a former Trump advisor,” argued an op-ed from the liberal Brennan Center for Justice. “Here’s why they’re wrong.”
So, the issue they were taking with conservative McCarthy was that he was attacking “the process” that was used “to spy on a former Trump advisor” — rather than arguing about whether the spying occurred.
Indeed, the article itself is a case that the FISA warrant was totally justified.
“Now that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application for an order to surveil former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page has been released in heavily redacted form, the attacks on the FBI’s application have been predictably loud yet incorrect,” the op-ed read. “They miss the critical question related to such an application: Was there probable cause to believe that Page was an agent of a foreign power?”
So, the “critical question” concerned not whether there was surveillance, but whether there was probable cause, to which the Brennan Center argued, “the unredacted portions easily meet this probable cause standard and support the FISA court’s multiple orders.”
The surveillance and wiretapping was thus indisputable, as was the fact that it allowed investigators to go back to when Page did work on the Trump campaign. It also doesn’t even get into the fact that, according to the New York Times, “Agents involved in the Russia investigation asked [Stefan] Halper, an American academic who teaches in Britain, to gather information on Mr. Page and George Papadopoulos, another Trump campaign foreign policy adviser.”
This is all perfectly consistent with what Barr said.
“I think spying did occur. But the question is whether it was predicated — adequately predicated,” Barr testified before Congress. “I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that. I think it’s my obligation. Congress is usually very concerned about intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies staying in their proper lane.”
The only part he’s stating unequivocally is that there was spying. He is not making a claim that the FISA warrant was illegally obtained on the basis of a Clinton-funded discredited dossier. He just said it was worthy of looking into to make sure the process was proper.
So then the only real argument is if Barr was wrong to use the word “spying” rather than saying “surveillance did occur” or “wiretapping did occur.”
But, even if people want to litigate this issue, it should be seen as a reasonable use of the word. My colleague Byron York noted several examples of the New York Times describing wiretapping as spying.
After the House voted to reauthorize FISA last year, the Brennan Center issued a press release headlined, “U.S. House Votes to Authorize Warrantless Domestic Spying on Americans.” The bill, it warned, would “endorse warrantless searches of millions of Americans’ online and phone communications.” The release quoted co-director of the Brennan Center, Elizabeth Goitein, as saying, “The House just voted to turn the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act into a tool for domestic spying on Americans.”
This isn’t to say it’s hypocritical, as in this case, the discussion was about allowing warrantless access, whereas in the previous case, the argument was that there was probable cause for a warrant. But again, a debate over whether a warrant is justified on the basis of probable cause is different than whether the underlying government activity can be described as spying. It’s reasonable to argue that yes it can.
Bill Priestap, left, with Michael Horowitz, DoJ inspector general.
By Eric Felten, RealClearInvestigations
April 12, 2019
Attorney General William Barr shocked official Washington Wednesday by saying what previously couldn’t be said: That the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign in 2016 involved “spying.”
The spying, which Barr vowed to investigate, is not the only significant possible violation of investigative rules and ethics committed by agents, lawyers, managers, and officials at the FBI and the Department of Justice. A catalogue of those abuses can be found in recently released testimony that Edward William Priestap provided to Congress in a closed-door interview last summer. From the end of 2015 to the end of 2018 Bill Priestap was assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, which meant he oversaw the FBI’s global counterintelligence efforts.
In that role, he managed both of the bureau’s most politically sensitive investigations: the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information and the probe into whether Donald Trump or his campaign conspired with Russia to steal the 2016 presidential election. His testimony provides rare insight into the attitudes and thoughts of officials who launched the Russia probe and the probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose final report is expected to be released very soon.
More important, his testimony contains extensive indications of wrongdoing, including that the FBI and DoJ targeted Trump and did so with information it made no effort to verify. It paints a portrait of the Obama-era bureau as one that was unconcerned with political interference in investigations and was willing to enlist the help of close foreign allies to bring down its target. And, perhaps presaging a defense to Barr’s claim that American officials had spied on the Trump campaign, it showcases the euphemisms that can be used to disguise “spying.”
Filling In the Blanks
Priestap’s testimony took place on June 5, 2018, in Room 2226 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The questioning, by congressmen and House committee staff, focused on whether the FBI had applied the same rigor to the Clinton investigation that it had to the Trump probe.
The transcript the public can read today contains not only those questions and Priestap’s responses, but also the tell-tale redactions of anxious bureaucrats. One thing that is very clear is that the Sharpie brigades at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice really, really didn’t want anyone to know where Bill Priestap was a week into May 2016.
Rep. Jim Jordan: Where in the world was Bill Priestap?
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Not long into the questioning that Tuesday morning last summer, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) asked, “Do you ever travel oversees?”
“Yes,” said Priestap.
“As little as possible.”
The seeming comedy routine notwithstanding, Jordan later asked how many times in his 2½ years running the counter-intelligence shop Priestap had traveled abroad.
“I want to say three times,” he said.
“And can you tell me where you went?” Jordan asked.
“The ones I’m remembering are the [REDACTED].”
Jordan drilled in: “All three times to [REDACTED]?
Priestap said the trips he remembered “off the top of my head were all [REDACTED].”
Jordan asked whether Priestap remembered when he went to this place. Priestap said “No.”
Jordan was back at it in later rounds of questioning, asking whether Priestap had traveled to a given location at a given time in 2016. Over and again, censors from the FBI and DoJ have redacted the location and the time.
What could this exotic destination be? How is the timing of Priestap’s trip there a matter of national security? What secrets were the redactors trying to protect?
Peter Strzok: “Bill” was in London.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Turns out the Sharpie brigades weren’t nearly as thorough as they thought. A long-available transcript of text messages between FBI agent Strzok and lawyer Page – the paramours who worked on both the Clinton and Trump investigations – provide the answer. It’s right there on the page detailing texts between Strzok and Page on May 4, 2016. At around 9:31 that Wednesday evening, Strzok writes to say he is worried about getting a memo into shape that is expected that night or the next morning. He feels pressured even though “I don’t know that Bill will read it before he gets back from London next week.” Go to a text from the next Monday morning, May 9, and Strzok is wondering who will be receiving the daily report on the Clinton investigation, what “with Bill out.”
So there we have it. Bill Priestap was in London on or around May 9. Which strongly suggests that all three of the international trips taken by him during his tenure as FBI counterintelligence chief were to London.
Still, there is a reason the censors had out their Sharpies. It has to do with another question Jordan asked Priestap: “Okay. So what were you doing in [REDACTED] in the [REDACTED] of 2016?”
“So,” Priestap replied, “I went to meet with a foreign partner, foreign government partner.” In other words, almost certainly British intelligence. Not exposing our British partners has been the Justice Department’s justification for locking up secrets about the beginnings of the Trump investigation. The redactions try and fail to hide that Priestap met repeatedly with his British counterparts in 2016.
Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos was also in London. So was the FBI, around the same time.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File
Students of the Russia-collusion saga will recall that some of the earliest and most significant events cited as leading to the FBI’s investigation of Team Trump took place in a certain REDACTED country during a REDACTED season in 2016. It was over breakfast on April 26 in London that the mysterious Maltese professor, Joseph Mifsud, told young Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Five days later, on May 1, Papadopoulos had drinks with Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in a London bar where he shared this piece of gossip/intel. And, of course, London is home to the author of the anti-Trump “dossier,” Christopher Steele.
According to the official story laid out in the New York Times, Australian officials did not pass on this new information for two months. And while Steele was retained by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS in the spring to dig up dirt on Trump for the Clinton campaign, the official story is that he did not start working with U.S. officials until the summer.
And so it is more than passingly curious that Priestap kept going to London when these significant events were occurring. Jordan asked Priestap about his second trip there: “What did it have to do with?”
Priestap demurred: “I’m not at liberty to discuss that today.”
After some dodging and weaving, Jordan came back to the question, but this time with an uncomfortable specificity: “Was your second trip then concerning the Trump-Russia investigation?” he asked.
“Sir, again, I’m just not at liberty to go into the purpose of my second trip.”
Priestap could have answered “no” without perjuring himself, he could have quickly put this matter to bed. His “I’m not at liberty” answers strongly suggest that the Trump-Russia investigation was exactly what his second trip to London was about.
Attorney General Barr’s statement that “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign makes another part of Priestap’s testimony – about why an FBI asset in London named Stefan Halper reached out to Papadopoulos and to another Trump foreign policy adviser, Carter Page — even more significant.
Stefan Halper: also in London.
Weeks before Priestap’s testimony was taken last summer, the efforts of Halper, an American scholar who works in Britain, had been exposed. Republicans had been spluttering with outrage that the FBI would deploy a spy against an American presidential campaign. Democrats had been countering that while the bureau used informants, only the ignorant and uninitiated would call them spies.
Democratic staff counsel Valerie Shen tried to use her questioning of Priestap to put the spying issue to bed. “Does the FBI use spies?” she asked the assistant director for counterintelligence (who would be in a position to know).
“What do you mean?” Priestap responded. “I guess, what is your definition of a spy?”
“Good question,” said Shen. “What is your definition of a spy?”
Before Priestap answered, his lawyer, Mitch Ettinger, intervened. “Just one second,” he said. Then Ettinger – who was one of President Bill Clinton’s attorneys during the Paula Jones/Monica Lewinsky scandal – conferred with his client.
Back on the record, Priestap presented what smacks of pre-approved testimony: “I’ve not heard of nor have I referred to FBI personnel or the people we engage with as – meaning who are working in assistance to us – as spies. We do evidence and intelligence collection in furtherance of our investigations.”
Shen was happy with the answer, and so she asked Priestap to confirm it: “So in your experience the FBI doesn’t use the term ‘spy’ in any of its investigative techniques?” Priestap assured her the word is never spoken by law-enforcement professionals – except, he said (wandering dangerously off-script), when referring to “foreign spies.”
“But in terms of one of its own techniques,” Shen said, determined to get Priestap back on track, “the FBI does not refer to one of its own techniques as spying?”
“That is correct, yes.”
“With that definition in mind, would the FBI internally ever describe themselves as spying on American citizens?”
So there we have it with all the decisive logic of a Socratic dialogue: The FBI could not possibly have spied on the Trump campaign because bureau lingo includes neither the noun “spy” nor the verb “to spy.” Whatever informants may have been employed, whatever tools of surveillance may have been utilized, the FBI did not spy on the Trump campaign – didn’t spy by definition, as the bureau doesn’t use the term (except, of course, to describe the very same activities when undertaken by foreigners).
What’s telling about this line of questioning is that it inadvertently confirms Republican suspicions — and Attorney General Barr’s assertion. If House Democrats believed there had been no spying on the Trump campaign, they could have asked Priestap whether the FBI ever spies on Americans, given the common meaning of the verb “to spy.” They could have flat-out asked whether the FBI had spied on Trump World. Instead, Democratic counsel asked whether, given the FBI’s definition of spying, the bureau would “internally ever describe themselves as spying on American citizens.” It would seem that Democrats were every bit as convinced as Republicans that the FBI spied on Trump’s people.
Interpreting ‘Political Interference’
Democratic lawyer Shen also seemed to be engaged in damage control when she asked Priestap whether “political interference in the Department of Justice or FBI investigation [is] ever proper?”
Surprisingly, Priestap said it was: “In my opinion, I can imagine situations where it would be proper.” He explained that the political appointees in an administration might determine “that the national security interests of the country outweigh the law enforcement/prosecutive interest of the FBI and Department of Justice.”
Shen then appeared to push him to clean up his answer, suggesting that what Priestap was describing wasn’t “a political determination” but “a policy interpretation balancing national security and law enforcement.”
“Yeah. I guess,” Priestap said. “And maybe I misunderstood your question.” Then what does he do but repeat his belief that political appointees — and “by political, I could imagine, for example, the National Security Council” — might act on the notion that national security outweighs other considerations.”
“Right. Yeah. Right,” Shen said. “Let me rephrase.” She explained she wasn’t asking about decisions political officials make, but rather, decisions officials make for political reasons. Then came the rephrased question: “Is interference in a Department of Justice or FBI investigation ever proper when motivated by purely political considerations?” [Emphasis added]
“Not in my opinion,” responded Priestap.
What Shen was laboring to establish was that the only sort of investigative behavior that could be called political interference was when someone at DoJ or FBI acted out of “purely political considerations.” That’s a standard that leaves plenty of room for politics.
But does it leave room enough for the “dossier”? The political abuse foremost in Republican minds was, and remains, that collection of howlers and hearsay allegedly compiled by Christopher Steele, who was sold to the public as a high-minded former British spy instead of a man being paid by the Clinton campaign to dirty up Trump. Steele’s efforts were lapped up by the FBI and DoJ even though the lawmen knew Steele was peddling political work-product — opposition research paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Carter Page: Was he the real quarry, or was Donald Trump?
In particular, Republicans have charged that Steele’s dossier was presented to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court without full disclosure of its partisan origins, thus perpetrating a fraud on the FISA court. The accusation was formalized in May 2018, when Republicans demanded the appointment of a second special counsel because, they claimed, “the FBI and DOJ used politically biased, unverified sources to obtain warrants issued by the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISA Court) that aided in the surveillance of U.S. citizens, including Carter Page.”
Shen, the House Oversight Committee minority counsel, brushed that accusation aside with what appeared to be an unambiguous and definitive question: “Mr. Priestap,” she asked, “are you aware of any instances of the FBI and DOJ ever using politically biased, unverified sources in order to obtain a FISA warrant?”
Priestap gave the most unambiguous and definitive of answers: “No.” One might be tempted to think that was an endorsement of the dossier, a confirmation that the FISA warrant applications were largely based on information that was neither politically biased nor unverified. But that would be taking the question and the answer on face value, when something rather less straightforward was going on.
Shen followed with another broad, all-encompassing question about the propriety of the FBI and DoJ’s behavior: “Are you aware,” she asked Priestap, “of any instances where the FBI or DOJ did not present what constituted credible and sufficient evidence to justify a FISA warrant?”
Priestap’s response is a textbook case of circular logic: “If it’s not justified, the court doesn’t approve it. So, like, if we’re not meeting the standard required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the requests are turned down.”
“So, in other words,” said the Democratic counsel, “by definition, if you presented information and a FISA court approved it, that would constitute credible sufficient information?”
“In my opinion,” said Priestap, “yes.”
Sit back and savor that exchange for a moment. One of the most senior officials in the Federal Bureau of Investigation – an organization that regularly refers for prosecution people who don’t tell the full truth – champions this peculiar standard of credibility: If you can snooker a FISA court judge, the information used to traduce the court is rendered by definition “credible sufficient information.” What is the condition of the FBI if its leaders think whatever you can get past a judge is good enough?
This strange concept of legal alchemy aside, the question remains whether the dossier was used merely as a vehicle to get information on Carter Page, or whether the real quarry was Donald Trump himself. As before, Shen was unintentionally helpful at winkling inadvertent truths out of her cooperative witness. It started with the softest of softballs: “Are you aware of any FBI investigations motivated by political bias?”
“I am not.”
“Are you aware of any Justice Department investigations motivated by political bias?”
And a little later: “Are you aware of any actions ever taken to damage the Trump campaign at the highest levels of the Department of Justice or the FBI?”
And there Shen might have left it, having elicited basic denials that the FBI and Justice had abused their power. But then she pushed her luck, asking a question that wasn’t worded quite carefully enough: “Are you aware of any actions ever taken to personally target Donald Trump at the highest levels of the Department of Justice or the FBI?”
Priestap must have pulled quite the face because Shen immediately declared, “I’ll rephrase.” Here’s how she tried it the second time: “Are you aware of any actions ever taken against Donald Trump at the highest levels of the Department of Justice or the FBI?”
Before Priestap can answer, his lawyer, Mitch Ettinger, interjected: “I think you need to rephrase your question.”
At which point Shen’s Democratic colleague Janet Kim jumped in to help: “Are you aware of any actions ever taken against Donald Trump at the highest levels of the Department of Justice or the FBI for the purpose of politically undercutting him?”
At last, Priestap was able to say, “No.”
That long road to “no” strong suggests that the highest levels of Justice and the FBI personally targeted Trump and took action against him. The only caveat is that Priestap believes none of that targeted action was done to undercut Trump politically. That may be so (however much the savvy observer may think otherwise). But it doesn’t blunt the main takeaway — that the bureau and DoJ targeted Trump.
So what did we learn from Bill Priestap’s compendious and revealing testimony?
- We learned that the FBI and Justice targeted and took action against Trump.
- We learned that the FBI, according to Priestap, is incapable of securing a FISA warrant with information that isn’t credible, although the judge’s approval of the warrant means by definition that the information is credible.
- We learned that the FBI believes political interference in an investigation can be proper as long as the bureau isn’t acting purely politically.
- We learned that the FBI did send at least one asset to do to the Trump campaign an activity that even the bureau would call “spying” — if it were done by foreign operatives.
- We learned that the origins of the Trump-Russia tale will never be fully understood until the part played by British intelligence is made clear.
That’s an awful lot to take away from one largely neglected transcript. But it suggests just how much remains unknown about the Trump-Russia investigation while providing a glimpse at the people that want to keep it that way.
Source: Real Clear Politics
President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, in an exclusive interview with the Washington Examiner, said Julian Assange could expose a “plot” involving Ukraine to falsely accuse Trump of colluding with Russia.
Assange helped elect Trump with 2016 dumps of damaging Democratic emails allegedly hacked by Russia. He was charged with a single count of computer-hacking conspiracy relating to Chelsea Manning’s 2010 leaks of military and diplomatic secrets.
Trump distanced himself from the case, but Giuliani said Assange’s apprehension — after nearly seven years in the embassy — could benefit the president, who was recently exonerated of criminal collusion with Russia by special counsel Robert Mueller.
“Maybe it will shed light on the plot to create an investigation of President Trump based on a false charge of conspiracy with the Russians to affect the 2016 elections. Keep your eye on Ukraine,” Giuliani said. “It’s possible with all his sources he might know or have information of how it all started.”
Giuliani specified that he was talking about Assange exposing the origins of the federal investigation of possible Trump collusion with Russia and was not raising the possibility of Assange disproving that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Giuliani said he believed Assange may be able to “show who invented [the] false story that [Trump] colluded with Russians.”
Giuliani, a former U.S. attorney and New York City mayor, said he was “not sure yet” if Assange helping exonerate Trump would lighten his possible criminal penalties.
In a report submitted March 22, Mueller found no evidence of Trump criminally colluding with Russia, according to Attorney General William Barr’s summary of Mueller’s findings. Barr said Tuesday that he expected to release a redacted version of Mueller’s report within a week.
Assange is accused of conspiring to hack a U.S. government computer system. He allegedly communicated with Manning about cracking a password, though charging documents did not make clear if any records were accessed as a result. The charge carries up to five years in prison.
Following Assange’s arrest, experts raised the possibility that Assange would seek to “graymail” the Trump administration into dropping charges, meaning threaten to expose secrets — whether true or not — in an effort to nix the prosecution.
There are some unresolved Russia-related claims that could damage Trump, including former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s claim he overheard a July 2016 phone call in which adviser Roger Stone told Trump that he spoke with Assange, who intended to release hacked emails. Mueller’s team also focused on author Jerome Corsi, finding it implausible that he “predicted” in July 2016 that Assange had Podesta’s emails and would release them in October.
Giuliani answered with a firm “no” when asked if Assange’s arrest could put Trump in new legal jeopardy in relation to the 2016 email releases.
Although candidate Trump routinely reveled in WikiLeaks’s disclosures about Hillary Clinton, Trump as president has consistently professed ignorance about Assange and efforts to broker a pardon on his behalf. Former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., tried in vain to speak with Trump about a pardon for Assange, and on Thursday Trump claimed he knew “nothing” about either Assange or the WikiLeaks organization.
Julian Assange was arrested in Britain on a single charge of conspiracy but that is almost certainly just the opening salvo by the United States as prosecutors draw up more serious charges that could well result in the WikiLeaks founder spending the rest of his life behind bars.
Former CIA officers point to the colossal scope of the classified information dumps perpetrated by the Australian national, 47, and argue that he was responsible for American deaths. Few people are more despised by the American intelligence and criminal justice communities. Using a single, straightforward, and relatively minor charge is a common legal tactic designed to speed up an extradition process.
Arthur Rizer, a former federal prosecutor and U.S. Army veteran, described Assange as an “information terrorist” and “intelligence mobster.” He told Washington Examiner: “There are a million things other this guy could be charged with. And I wouldn’t be surprised if one of things he’s charged with is espionage.”
Rizer, now a director at the R Street Institute, said that charges of manslaughter, obstruction of justice, and mishandling of classified material were possible. “He could also be charged with many different counts of the same thing, because he published so many things,” he added.
Charles Stimson, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs and a Navy reservist told the Washington Examiner, “I’m sure there will be superseding indictments. There’s no doubt in my mind as a prosecutor. They might have a superseding indictment that’s sealed already,” he suggested.
“It’s the practice of the DOJ in a lot of instances to bring forward a single count indictment at the beginning of a long and complicated case to start the proceedings.”
The plan for how to deal with Assange was probably drawn up by the Obama administration and honed under Trump, Stimson, a Heritage Foundation scholar, said. Who would be privy to it? “I suspect [former DOD general counsel and DHS Secretary] Jeh Johnson and the previous team at the Obama administration knows and that senior leaders in the Trump administration know too.”
Daniel Hoffman, a former CIA station chief in Moscow, said Assange was likely in further legal jeopardy, saying, “There’s the Chelsea Manning case and there’s the DNC hacking lawsuit brought against him.” It was also an open question as to “what aspects of the Mueller report fit in to all this.”
He rejected the notion that Assange could claim to be a mere journalist with free-speech protections. “WikiLeaks is more than just a repository for classified information, they’re actually out actively seeking it. And the question is whether Assange was enabling individuals like Chelsea Manning to steal classified information. That would make him a co-conspirator.”
While he doubted “there was a direct link between Assange and Russia” but he said “there may have been third party cut-outs — mutually trusted intermediaries — used by WikiLeaks and Moscow. That might make an espionage trail difficult for prosecutors to establish.
“WikiLeaks would get the information that the GRU [Russian military intelligence] hacked, but they wouldn’t get it from GRU but rather from GRU cut-outs. And that gives Assange a fig leaf of deniability,” Hoffman said. “The cut-out is designed to conceal the real collector … But it’s a distinction without a difference.”
Hoffman said that, although Assange himself did plenty of harm, “the ones who did the most damage were the ones who stole classified information — those who hacked the DNC and Chelsea Manning stealing military files.”
Bob Baer, a former CIA case officer in the Middle East who was the model for the character played by George Clooney in the movie “Syriana,” cast that Assange could be charged under the 1917 Espionage Act. He told the Washington Examiner: “I’ve yet to see anything proving that. And you can’t bring an espionage indictment against someone just based on suspicion. I doubt they take him to trial on something like that, unless they have the goods on him,” he said.
Pointing to infamous espionage cases like the ones involving former CIA officers Aldrich Ames and Harold James Nicholson and former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, Baer said, “They caught these guys in the act passing secrets and taking money. And I would assume those standards still apply on espionage.”
Baer said WikiLeaks inflicted major damage to U.S. national security: “Think about the damage that Chelsea Manning did to the State Department… People look at the State Department and think, ‘Who in God’s name is going to tell them anything?’ It effectively blinds the United States.” In the case of some information, the cost was direct: “Giving up the NSA [National Security Agency] stuff gets people killed.”
Stimson said: “WikiLeaks was exponentially harmful to personnel to people in uniform, it put incredible pressure on our relationships with our allies, and it was grossly damaging to national security. And it was intended to be that way.
WikiLeaks has defended itself as an opponent of government corruption and a champion of free speech. It tweeted that Assange was “a son, a father, a brother. He has won dozens of journalism awards. He’s been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize every year since 2010. Powerful actors, including CIA, are engaged in a sophisticated effort to dehumanize, delegitimize, and imprison him.”
The single-count conspiracy indictment against Assange that was unsealed in the Eastern District Court of Virginia carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The DOJ stated that “Assange engaged in a conspiracy with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network.”
It alleged Assange encouraged Manning to hand classified information to WikiLeaks: “These databases contained approximately 90,000 Afghanistan war-related significant activity reports, 400,000 Iraq war-related significant activity reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables.”