Special counsel Robert Mueller is more than a year and five months into his investigation into whether President Donald Trump “colluded” in some illegal fashion with Russian President Vladimir Putin (or any other Russians). But Mueller has yet to reveal what he has—or hasn’t—concluded.
On the other hand, there’s now an impressive body of public evidence to address another facet of this international controversy: collusion against Trump.
Evidence on this matter has trickled out slowly over the course of about two years. It has come in the form of sworn testimony from witnesses interviewed by Congress, information revealed by the Justice Department’s inspector general, government documents and text messages, and court files.
Taken together in context, the evidence points to two important findings. First, U.S. government insiders, colluding with numerous foreign citizens and governments, conspired to interfere in the 2016 election. Second, after the election, these figures conspired to undermine, oust, and perhaps even frame Trump and some of his associates.
The methods used, according to factual accounts and witnesses, include collusion with reporters and politicians, leaks to the press, and paid political-opposition research. Officials in the intelligence community were involved in the effort, which included the use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), domestic and foreign informants or spies, and electronic surveillance.
Highlights of ‘Collusion Against Trump’ Evidence
Here are a few highlights among the hundreds of bits of supporting information:
Anti-Russian Ukrainians partnered with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and news reporters to help coordinate and execute a campaign against Trump and his one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort, according to Ukrainian-American Alexandra Chalupa, a paid consultant for the DNC.
Yemen-born ex-British spy Christopher Steele used Russian sources to gather unverified political opposition research against Trump for the DNC and the Clinton campaign. Steele and the company he worked for, Fusion GPS, delivered the research to reporters, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and the FBI. The bureau then used the material, in part, to obtain warrants to wiretap one or more Trump-related associates, in apparent violation of strict FBI rules called Woods procedures. The Woods procedures prohibit the FBI from presenting a single unverified fact to the FISC to get a warrant.
There were orchestrated leaks of anti-Trump information and allegations to the press, including by ex-FBI Director James Comey and some of his colleagues, friends, and acquaintances.
At least two Trump opponents explicitly spoke of developing an “insurance policy” in case Trump won: then-FBI agent Peter Strzok (who temporarily served on Mueller’s investigative team) and Comey friend Benjamin Wittes, who outlined a conspiracy in his Lawfare blog in October 2016: “What if Trump wins? We need an insurance policy against the unthinkable.”
Wittes wrote that his vision of an “insurance policy” against Trump would rely on a “Coalition of All Democratic Forces” to challenge and obstruct Trump, using the courts as a “tool” and Congress as “a partner or tool.” He even mentioned names of people he said had agreed to help with the plan and evoked possible impeachment—two weeks before Trump was elected.
The U.S. Intelligence Community allegedly engaged in questionable surveillance practices and politically motivated “unmaskings” of U.S. citizens, including Trump associates Steve Bannon, George Papadopoulos, Jared Kushner, Carter Page, and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Obama administration officials taking part in these activities included national security adviser Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, CIA Director John Brennan, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Some of the same FBI officials who were questioned over their role in clearing Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified information, and who gave immunity to her close associates, also played roles in building the case against Trump for alleged improper Russia ties.
Unprosecuted Alleged Crimes
As the evidence has been revealed, numerous crimes have been alleged against officials related to the controversies. Some have been officially referred to the Justice Department (DOJ) for prosecution. However, to date, no public prosecutions have been announced.
Examples include the following:
Power told congressional investigators that many of the hundreds of “unmasking” requests made in her name during 2016 were not made by her. If that’s true, it appears someone committed serious national security crimes by impersonating her to obtain sensitive intelligence information. However, there has been no indication that the DOJ or Congress are investigating.
FBI officials have provided conflicting information about Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe reportedly told Congress that two agents who interviewed Flynn didn’t think he’d lied.
While reviewing text messages of FBI agents involved in questionable behavior, the DOJ’s inspector general (IG) caught a senior FBI official violating federal regulations by taking gifts from a member of the media. The IG says the official then lied about the interactions. The IG referred the case for prosecution, but said the Justice Department “declined” to prosecute the case against one of its own.
Last January, Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) referred the author of the “Trump dossier,” Steele, to the DOJ for a criminal investigation and possible prosecution, but no public action has been announced.
Justice Department and FBI shakeups
As allegations of impropriety have mounted against top officials at the DOJ and FBI, there’s been an atmosphere of disruption and chaos within the agencies. Since January 2017, there have been at least 22 high-level personnel changes.
Fired: Sally Yates, acting DOJ attorney general
Resigned: Matthew Axelrod, principal deputy attorney general
Resigned: Peter Kadzik, DOJ assistant attorney general of legislative affairs
Resigned: Mary McCord, acting assistant attorney general
Fired: James Comey, FBI director
Removed from Mueller team: Lisa Page, FBI attorney
Removed from Mueller team: Peter Strzok, FBI deputy assistant director of counterintelligence
Demoted: Bruce Ohr, deputy assistant attorney general, director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force
Reassigned: Grant Mendenhall, assistant director, counterterrorism
Reassigned: James Baker, FBI general counsel
Resigned: James Rybicki, chief of staff to FBI Director James Comey and successor Christopher Wray
Announced future retirement: Andrew McCabe, FBI deputy director
Retired: Michael Kortan, FBI assistant director for public affairs
Resigned: Rachel Brand, associate attorney general
Resigned: David Laufman, chief of DOJ National Security Division
Fired: Andrew McCabe, FBI deputy director
Resigned: Greg Brower, FBI assistant director, head of the Office of Congressional Affairs
Resigned: James Baker, FBI general counsel
Resigned: Lisa Page, FBI attorney
Fired: Peter Strzok, FBI deputy assistant director of counterintelligence
Late Summer 2018
Who Investigates the Investigators?
In the end, all of this highlights a scenario that may be unique, at least in terms of scope, in modern U.S. history.
When some at the top levels of our government intelligence and law enforcement agencies are accused of malfeasance or crimes, they have the power to choose not to investigate or prosecute themselves. They can launch investigations into their political enemies and claim obstruction if the enemies try to stop them, and they can withhold key information from the elected body that has oversight power over them: Congress.
A great deal of time and public money has been spent looking into Trump and his associates. We’ll soon know the results of the Mueller probe. But how can the public rest assured that the other side of the coin is receiving appropriate scrutiny?
Sharyl Attkisson is the New York Times bestselling author of “Stonewalled,” a five-time Emmy Award winner, and the host of Sinclair’s national investigative television program “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.” She is a recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting and has reported nationally for CBS News, PBS, and CNN.