Late last week the FBI document that started the Trump-Russia collusion fiasco was publicly released. It hasn’t received a lot of attention but it should, because not too long from now this document likely will be blown up and placed on an easel as Exhibit A in a federal courtroom.
The prosecutor, U.S. Attorney John Durham, will rightly point out that the document that spawned three years of political misery fails to articulate a single justifiable reason for starting the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation.
Those of us who have speculated there was insufficient cause for beginning the investigation could not have imagined the actual opening document was this feeble. It is as if it were written by someone who had no experience as an FBI agent.
Keep in mind the FBI cannot begin to investigate anyone, especially a U.S. citizen or entity, without first creating a document that lists the reasonably suspicious factors that would legally justify the investigation. That’s FBI 101, taught Day 1 at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Va.
To the untrained eye, the FBI document that launched Crossfire Hurricane can be confusing, and it may be difficult to discern how it might be inadequate. To the trained eye, however, it is a train wreck. There are a number of reasons why it is so bad. Two main ones are offered below (if you would like to follow along, the document is here):
First, the document is oddly constructed. In a normal, legitimate FBI Electronic Communication, or EC, there would be a “To” and a “From” line. The Crossfire Hurricane EC has only a “From” line; it is from a part of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division whose contact is listed as Peter Strzok. The EC was drafted also by Peter Strzok. And, finally, it was approved by Peter Strzok. Essentially, it is a document created by Peter Strzok, approved by Peter Strzok, and sent from Peter Strzok to Peter Strzok.
On that basis alone, the document is an absurdity, violative of all FBI protocols and, therefore, invalid on its face. An agent cannot approve his or her own case; that would make a mockery of the oversight designed to protect Americans. Yet, for this document, Peter Strzok was pitcher, catcher, batter and umpire.
In addition, several names are listed in a “cc” or copy line; all are redacted, save Strzok’s, who, for some reason, felt it necessary to copy himself on a document he sent from himself to himself.
Names on an FBI document are always listed in cascading fashion, with the most senior at the top and on down to the least senior. On this EC, Strzok is listed last, so the redacted names should be more senior to him. Those names could well include then-FBI Director James Comey, then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and then-Counterintelligence Assistant Director Bill Priestap. The document also establishes these redacted names as “case participants.”
Second, the Crossfire Hurricane case was opened as a Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) investigation. A FARA investigation involves a criminal violation of law — in this case, a negligent or intentional failure to register with the U.S. government after being engaged by a foreign country to perform services on its behalf — that is punishable by fines and imprisonment. It is rarely investigated.
In a normal EC opening a FARA case, we should expect to see a list of reasons why the FBI believes individuals associated with a U.S. presidential campaign had been engaged by the Russian government to represent and advocate that government’s goals.
This, however, was no normal EC. Try as we might to spot them, those reasons are not found anywhere in the document. Despite redactions, it has been fairly well established that an Australian diplomat, Andrew Downer, met a low-level Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, in a London bar for drinks; Downer then reported the conversation, which eventually made its way to U.S. officials in London.
The Strzok EC quotes verbatim an email authored by Downer. In it, Downer claims Papadopoulos “suggested” to him that the Trump team had received “some kind of suggestion” of assistance from Russia regarding information damaging to Hillary Clinton and President Obama. In other words, a suggestion of a suggestion.
Strzok apparently took this nebulous reporting by Downer and then leapt to the dubious conclusion that Papadopoulos and unnamed others were engaged by the Russians to act as foreign agents on Russia’s behalf. This, despite Downer also offering two exculpatory statements in the same email: 1) It was “unclear” how the Trump campaign might have reacted to the Russian claims and 2) the Russians likely were going to do what they were going to do with the information whether anyone in the Trump campaign cooperated with them or not.
Strzok then concludes the EC by moving the goalposts. He writes that Crossfire Hurricane is being opened to determine if unspecified “individual(s)” associated with the Trump campaign are “witting of and/or coordinating activities” — also unspecified — “with the Government of Russia.” He doesn’t even mention Papadopoulos.
Ultimately, there was no attempt by Strzok to articulate any factors that address the elements of FARA. He couldn’t, because there are none. Instead, there was a weak attempt to allege some kind of cooperation with Russians by unknown individuals affiliated with the Trump campaign, again, with no supporting facts listed.
What this FBI document clearly establishes is that Crossfire Hurricane was an illicit, made-up investigation lacking a shred of justifying predication, sprung from the mind of someone who despised Donald Trump, and then blessed by inexperienced leadership at the highest levels who harbored their own now well-established biases.
To paraphrase a fired FBI director: No reasonable FBI counterintelligence squad supervisor in the field would have approved and opened that Strzok EC. They know the rules too well.
Instead, the nation was left with an investigation of a presidential campaign that had no legitimate predication; that spawned a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act intercept of a U.S. citizen that had no legitimate predication; that resulted in a confrontation with a new administration’s national security adviser that had no legitimate predication; and, finally, that led to an expensive special counsel investigation that had no legitimate predication. No pattern-recognition software needed here.
Hopefully, Exhibit A will be displayed in a federal courtroom soon. The rule of law, upon which the FBI rests its very purpose and being, was callously discarded by weak leaders who sought higher loyalty to their personal agendas, egos, biases and politics. Accountability is demanded by the American people. Let’s pray we see some.
Kevin R. Brock, former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI, was an FBI special agent for 24 years and principal deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). He is a founder and principal of NewStreet Global Solutions, which consults with private companies and public safety agencies on strategic mission technologies.