The two top officials running the FBI in the spring of 2016 informed Attorney General Loretta Lynch of intelligence they received linking the Russian government to Trump 2016 presidential campaign associate Carter Page months before the bureau formally launched the investigation into the Trump campaign, according to the report on the FBI’s surveillance of Page released by the Department of Justice (DOJ) watchdog last week.
Lynch told DOJ Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz that in the spring of 2016 FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe pulled her aside after a weekly meeting at FBI headquarters and shared information about Page that Lynch believed they learned from a member of the intelligence community.
“According to Lynch, Comey and McCabe provided her with information indicating that Russian intelligence reportedly planned to use Page for information and to develop other contacts in the United States, and that they were interested in his affiliation with the campaign,” the report, released by the DOJ IG on Dec. 9, states.
The timing of the encounter between Lynch, Comey, and McCabe raises questions about what actions the nation’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies took in connection to the Trump campaign before formally opening a counterintelligence investigation—codenamed Crossfire Hurricane—on July 31, 2016.
Coinciding with the timing of the Lynch-Comey conversation, the FBI began monitoring Page as early as April 6, 2016, when the field office in New York opened a full counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign associate. The field office told the inspector general that the investigation was opened because of Page’s contacts with Russian intelligence officers and because Page told Russian officials that he was one of the unnamed witnesses in a U.S. indictment of Russian intelligence officers.
The New York field office monitored Page to see if Russian intelligence officers would contact him again, according to the report. An FBI counterintelligence officer told the IG that she drafted national security letters to obtain Page’s cell phone numbers and residence information.
The findings of the inspector general confirm the claim by House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who told The Epoch Times in October that there is evidence the Trump campaign was being investigated long before the FBI opened a formal probe in late July 2016.
“There are many indications that surveillance was being conducted against the Trump campaign before the official opening of the investigation,” Jack Langer, the spokesman for Nunes, told The Epoch Times. “If this is the case, we want to know what exactly happened, why it happened, and who ordered it. This is an issue of continuing concern to Intelligence Committee Republicans.”
Comey and McCabe both told the inspector general that they do not remember briefing Lynch about Carter Page in the spring of 2016. Comey said he did not become aware of Page until mid-2016; McCabe said he was not aware that the New York field office was investigating Page, according to the report.
Comey’s lack of recollection is notable because the New York field office provided information to the FBI headquarters to be used for a “director’s note” and a separate “Director’s Brief” to be held on April 27, 2016, according to a footnote in the IG report. The inspector general noted that investigators were unable to question Comey on the matter because he declined to have his security clearance reinstated.
Comey and McCabe told Lynch they were considering providing a defensive briefing to the Trump campaign, but Lynch believed the possibility was “preliminary” and “something that might happen down the road,” the report states. The FBI never provided the defensive briefing, according to the report.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the FBI counterintelligence agent, the New York field office conducted “limited investigative activity” on the Page case before transferring it to the Crossfire Hurricane team on Aug. 10, 2016.
Within days of taking over the case, the Crossfire Hurricane team sought to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant on Page, according to the IG report. On August 15, a Crossfire Hurricane case agent submitted a request the FBI’s general counsel for a FISA warrant on Page. The effort fizzled on August 22, 2016, when the general counsel determined that there was not enough evidence to warrant surveillance.
The Crossfire Hurricane team renewed its efforts to surveil Page immediately after receiving several reports compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele on September 19, 2016. The FBI obtained the FISA warrant on Page on October 21, 2016.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded that the FISA warrant applications on Page contained 17 significant errors. Among the errors, the FBI concealed from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court its knowledge that Page was reporting his contacts with Russian intelligence officers to another U.S. government agency. Page told Fox News on the heels of the IG report’s release that he was an asset for the CIA.
Horowitz concluded that the failures implicated the entire chain of command at the FBI. The inspector general said he did not find evidence to suggest that bias against then-candidate and eventually-President Donald Trump contributed to the FBI’s failures.
According to Horowitz, Lynch’s recollection about the spring 2016 conversation with Comey and McCabe is “consistent” with the information related to the New York field office’s investigation and subsequent indictment of Russian intelligence officers.
It is unclear who, if anyone, Lynch identified as the member of the intelligence community who she believed was the source of information on Page from Comey and McCabe. Notably, then-CIA Director John Brennan and then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper began receiving foreign intelligence about alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russia in the spring of 2016, concurrent with the Comey-McCabe-Lynch conversation. Brennan has testified that he forwarded the intelligence to the FBI. That intelligence “served as the basis for the FBI investigation,” Brennan said.
Attorney General William Barr appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham earlier this year to investigate the origins of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign, among other issues. Brennan said in October that “I am supposedly going to be interviewed by Mr. Durham as part of this non-investigation.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller investigated the allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and could not find evidence to substantiate the claims.