Imagine for a moment that you were working for U.S. intelligence when you learned the following about some of the people working on the Trump presidential campaign.
- Paul Manafort, who was the campaign manager, passed sensitive campaign data to a known Russian agent, Konstantin Kilimnik, who was acting as the go-between for Manafort with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Manafort’s presence on the campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump campaign. That presented a “grave counterintelligence threat.”
- The candidate and senior campaign officials attempted to obtain advance information about the release of damaging DNC and Clinton emails by WikiLeaks (an organization that was knowingly collaborating with Russian government officials) from Roger Stone, who they believed had inside information.
- Michael Cohen, who was the candidate’s personal lawyer, reached out to the Kremlin directly to solicit the Russian government’s assistance about building a Trump Tower in Moscow at the end of 2015, a project that would have brought the candidate hundreds of millions of dollars in profits.
- George Papadopoulos, a member of the campaign’s foreign policy team, learned about Russian active measures to influence the election from Joseph Misfud, someone with longstanding Russia ties, in April 2016 and told at least two foreign governments about it.
- Carter Page, another member of the campaign’s foreign policy team, had longstanding ties to Moscow and during visits to Russia in 2016, met with a figure about whom the intelligence community had counterintelligence concerns.
It is possible that any one of those items in isolation might have been overlooked. But if you combine that with the fact that Trump’s primary foreign policy advisor, Michael Flynn, had also been a paid guest at the 10th anniversary celebration of Russia Today (RT) at a luxury hotel in Moscow in December 2015, a pattern begins to emerge.
The bullet points above are some of the findings contained in the final report from the Senate Intelligence Committee on their bipartisan investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. We can have a discussion about whether or not they prove that the Trump campaign was “colluding” with Russia, but what is not possible is to suggest that our intelligence services were wrong to open an investigation. Given the pattern that was emerging, they would have been derelict in their duty if they had failed to do so.
In addition, the report addressed what happened during the transition.
“Russia and other countries took advantage of the Transition Team’s inexperience, transparent opposition to Obama Administration policies, and Trump’s desire to deepen ties with Russia, to pursue unofficial channels through which Russia could conduct diplomacy,” the report said. “The lack of vetting of foreign interactions by Transition officials left the Transition open to influence and manipulation by foreign intelligence services, government leaders, and co-opted business executives.”
It added, “Russian officials, intelligence services, and others acting on the Kremlin’s behalf were capable of exploiting the Transition’s shortcomings for Russia’s advantage. Based on available information it is possible — and even likely — that they did so.”
Once again, we can disagree about whether or not this amounts to collusion. But at minimum, it is a dangerous level of incompetence that threatened this country’s national security.
Not much in the Senate Intelligence Report is new information. But what is significant about it stems from the fact that, regardless of the obvious pattern that was emerging during the fall and winter of 2016, Attorney General William Barr has ignored all of that and launched a new probe into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. Previewing what he wants to find, he called the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian interference “one of the greatest travesties in American history,” claiming that it had been undertaken “without any basis” and that the investigators were “trying to sabotage the presidency.” Even worse, Barr is obviously planning to release the cooked-up results of his investigation in the weeks prior to the November election, in direct violation of Justice Department policy.
In preparation for that interference in the election from the attorney general, it is important for all of us to be aware of the findings not only of the Mueller probe and Inspector General Horowitz’s investigation. We can now add the bipartisan findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee—making it clear that Barr is doing nothing more than using the Department of Justice to carry out a political vendetta against those who dared to question Donald Trump’s ties to Vladimir Putin.