What Did Comey Know in July?

Yesterday FBI Director James Comey said that the counter-intelligence investigation into whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election began in late July 2016. It is interesting to go back now and look at what the FBI knew at the time that triggered that investigation.

Yesterday Martin took a thorough look at why the intelligence community might have been keeping an eye on Michael Flynn. After being forced into early retirement in 2014, he established an ongoing relationship with Russia that included being honored by Russia Today at an event in 2015. His involvement in the Trump campaign would have certainly raised questions early on in the process.

Josh Marshall takes a look at some other things that happened in July.

  • July 7 – Carter Page travels to Moscow to give a speech that is fairly hostile to U.S. foreign policy (and is reported to have met with Igor Sechin at the time to discuss the Rosneft deal). Page had been named as a foreign policy advisor to Trump back in March 2016.
  • July 11-12 – Trump campaign officials lobby to have language removed from the Republican Party platform related to the U.S. providing lethal aid to Ukraine.
  • July 22 – Wikileaks releases the first batch of hacked DNC emails.
  • July 27 – Trump says, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you can find the 33,000 [Clinton] emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

But that isn’t all that happened in July. David Corn interviewed Christopher Steele about the dossier he produced and provided something of a timeline for how it developed. He noted that Steele initiated his probe in June and that by July had become alarmed enough by what he found that he sent a report to a contact of his in the FBI. By August, the FBI asked Steele for all of the information he had gathered, as well as to identify his sources. The fact that Comey has now revealed that the investigation began in July provides corroboration to the timeline Steele relayed to Corn back in October 2016. It also suggests that the FBI took the information Steele provided very seriously.

One final note about this timeline: the Steele dossier identifies Mikhail Kalugin as the person at the Russian embassy in D.C. who was responsible for funneling payments to the people involved in this operation. As has been reported, Kalugin left the U.S. abruptly in August—just as the investigation was getting underway—to return to Russia. In other words, he was removed from the possibility of being questioned in the probe that was underway. That fact doesn’t speak to collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, but it lends further corroboration to what is contained in the Steele dossier.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.