A Common Thread in Events Ahead of Mueller Report

A Common Thread in Events Ahead of Mueller Report
Attorney General William Barr shakes hands with U.S. Attorney John Huber at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., in March, 2019. (Courtesy Justice Department)
Jeff Carlson
News Analysis

The weeks leading up to the release of the special counsel report gave us a nearly unprecedented volume of news events connected to the Spygate scandal, Ukraine, and ongoing investigations.

From the release of depositions to the latest comments from newly installed Attorney General William Barr, the news flow has been nearly overwhelming. Here's a walk through some of the more significant events of the past few weeks.

Barr was confirmed on Feb. 14, despite the objections of Democrats over a 19-page memo that Barr had written to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in June 2018, describing why he believed President Donald Trump hadn't obstructed justice when he fired former FBI Director James Comey.

On March 5, Barr further angered the left when he announced that he wouldn't recuse himself from the ongoing Russia investigation being conducted by the special counsel. Barr made his decision after consulting with several senior “career ethics officials.”

Disclosed around this same time was that Barr is a longtime friend of special counsel Robert Mueller—of more than 30 years. Mueller had been a guest at the weddings of Barr's daughters, and both men’s wives attended the same Bible study. During a June 2017 meeting with Trump at the White House, Barr told the president that Mueller was “a straight shooter and should be dealt with as such.”
Barr had been asked by the president to consider the possibility of working on his personal legal team, but Barr declined and told the president he wasn't interested in the position. During his confirmation, Barr explained his decision, saying, “I didn’t want to stick my head into that meat grinder.”
Following Barr’s refusal to recuse himself from the special counsel probe, a series of revealing and interconnected events rapidly unfolded.

Barr–Huber Meeting

On March 7, Barr had a meeting with U.S. Attorney John Huber of Utah, who serves as vice chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee. The meeting was notable because Huber had been appointed by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate “all the allegations that the House Judiciary Committee members sent to us.”
Sessions wrote in a March 29, 2018, letter:
“Mr. Huber is conducting his work from outside the Washington, D.C. area and in cooperation with the Inspector General. The additional matters raised in your March 6, 2018, letter fall within the scope of his existing mandate, and I am confident that Mr. Huber’s review will include a full, complete, and objective evaluation of these matters in a manner that is consistent with the law and the facts.”

Release of Congressional Testimonies

A day after Barr’s meeting with Huber, on March 8, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) released a transcript of a congressional interview with DOJ official Bruce Ohr. The release would be the first in an ongoing series of interview transcript releases that has included those of Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Bill Priestap, James Baker, George Papadopoulos, and Nellie Ohr. The Epoch Times had previously obtained, and reviewed, copies of these transcripts.

McCain Aide Deposition Unsealed

On March 14, an unsealed deposition of David Kramer, a longtime associate of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), revealed that he had been in contact with at least 14 members of the media regarding the Steele dossier. The Steele dossier was produced by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, who was hired by Fusion GPS, which, in turn, was contracted by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) through their law firm Perkins Coie.

Kramer also provided ongoing updates to Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson, Steele, and other members of the media regarding a meeting where McCain provided then-FBI Director Comey with a copy of the dossier obtained by Kramer.

Kramer also confirmed that he was BuzzFeed News’ source for the dossier. BuzzFeed published the dossier online in January 2017, resulting in a defamation lawsuit by Aleksej Gubarev, whose company XBT/Webzilla was mentioned in the document. The Epoch Times covered the Kramer deposition in a previous article.

Chair Ceremony for Sessions

On March 21, a Cabinet chair ceremony was held for former Attorney General Sessions. In attendance were Rosenstein, Barr, Huber, former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, and Trump's recent pick for associate attorney general, Jessie Liu. (Liu has since withdrawn her name from consideration for that post.) Barr stated that Sessions, who received a standing ovation, “set an agenda and priorities that are just what the country needs." Rosenstein stated that “Sessions stayed true to his values.”

Global Money-Laundering Case

On the same day, Bloomberg reported that the Swedish bank Swedbank “may now be facing substantial fines for money laundering that could put pressure on its capital buffers.” The story was notable because it tied into existing investigations in Danske Bank’s Estonia money-laundering case, which originated with the release of the Panama Papers.
The investigation of Swedbank began in 2016, but new allegations were raised that the Swedish bank had withheld information from U.S. investigators. Allegations were recently made by Swedish press that Trump’s former campaign chairman received nearly $1 million in "black money" through Swedbank, from accounts linked to the former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.
This ongoing investigation, which remains under-reported, is looking into allegations of money laundering across major financial institutions in multiple countries. It's likely that the investigation will only grow larger.

McCabe–Page Text Messages

On March 22, Catherine Herridge of Fox News released two pages of texts between former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, some of which related to obtaining the FISA warrant to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Specifically, some of the texts reflect concerns from the Department of Justice (DOJ) over “possible bias of the chs,” or confidential human source, likely referring to Steele.
Page noted, “This might take a high-level push.”

Mueller Concludes Investigation

Later that same day, a bigger announcement hit when it was revealed that Mueller had finished his investigation and submitted his report to Rosenstein, who in turn, gave it to Barr.
The investigative conclusion also meant that Mueller wouldn't be recommending any further indictments. In other words, the special counsel’s investigation had finally concluded, without making a single Russia collusion-related indictment.
In a letter to Congress, Barr said that he would “consult with Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and Special Counsel Mueller to determine what other information can be released to Congress and the public consistent with the law.”

It was at this point that the true fireworks and posturing began.

Two days later, on March 24, Barr delivered a principal conclusions letter to Congress. Frequently mischaracterized as a summary of the Mueller report, Barr’s letter specifically noted, “I am writing today to advise you of the principal conclusions reached by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III and to inform you about the status of my initial review of the report he has prepared.”

According to Barr’s letter, Mueller “employed 19 lawyers who were assisted by a team of approximately 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, and other professional staff. The Special Counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, issued almost 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.”

Barr stated that the special counsel’s report was divided into two parts, with the first focusing on Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, along with the Russian government’s efforts to engage in hacking operations to gather and disseminate information.

Notably, the special counsel “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

The second part of the report “addresses a number of actions of the President—most of which have been the subject of public reporting—that the special counsel investigated as potentially raising obstruction-of-justice concerns.”

Barr noted that the special counsel didn't draw a conclusion on “whether the president’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction” and quoted the special counsel as stating, “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

As Barr wrote, the decision by the special counsel to lay out the facts without reaching a conclusion left it to the attorney general to determine whether there was any crime. Barr said that after he reviewed the special counsel’s findings on the matter of collusion and consulted with department officials, he and Rosenstein concluded that the evidence was “not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

Barr noted that “the report identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct.”

This conclusion can also be arrived at through the application of simple logic. Trump was told three times by Comey that he wasn't under investigation. Therefore, the president couldn't obstruct an investigation of himself, as he didn't know there was one. If the claim was that Trump was obstructing an investigation into others, one would need to rationalize against presidential pardon authority.

In other words, the president would have no need to obstruct an investigation into someone from his campaign or administration, as his ability to pardon is unquestionable.

Horowitz Probe to Conclude in Months

Following the delivery of Barr’s letter to Congress, a slew of other news came out. On March 25, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) went on Fox News and stated that he had talked to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz “very recently to get an update in terms of timing,” and that Horowitz hoped to be done with his investigation into FISA abuse in May or June.
Ratcliffe said that Horowitz also was looking into the origins of collusion and the probable cause used by the FBI to initiate their investigation. Ratcliffe also noted that Huber, the U.S. attorney in Utah, has "been dispatched to look into the criminal aspects" that might be associated with Horowitz’s work.

Calls to Investigate the Investigators

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and personal attorney for Trump, sounded a note of offense, telling Fox and Friends that the Mueller report provided complete vindication. He also called for an investigation into the origins of the collusion claims, saying: “This had to come from somewhere. It didn’t just come out of thin air. I want to know who did it, who paid for it, who fueled it, because the person who did it, and the group who did it, knows it’s untrue because they invented it.”

'Treason' Comments by the President

That same day, while signing a declaration recognizing Golan Heights as the sovereign territory of Israel, the president made a number of remarks in response to questions from reporters. According to Steve Herman, the White House bureau chief for Voice of America News, when the president was asked if he thought the special counsel acted honorably, he responded “yes.” When asked about the Mueller probe, Trump said, “It was 100 percent the way it should’ve been.”
He continued, “There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things, against our country.”
The president closed his comments by stating: “It was a false narrative, it was a terrible thing. We can never let this happen to another president again.”

Brennan Changes His Tone

John Brennan, the former CIA director and the instigator of the FBI’s investigation, went on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," where he struck a very different tone than he had previously. When asked if he had received bad information, Brennan responded: “Well, I don't know if I received bad information but I think I suspected there was more than there actually was. I am relieved that it's been determined there was not a criminal conspiracy with the Russian government over our election.”

Michael Avenatti Arrested

In an unexpected twist to the day's events, Michael Avenatti, the former lawyer for Stormy Daniels and Alexandra Chalupa, was arrested and charged with multiple offenses. According to NBC News reporter Tom Winter, Avenatti was charged with “attempting to extract more than $20 million in payments from Nike by threatening to use his ability to garner publicity to inflict substantial financial and reputational harm.”
Avenatti was then charged again for “embezzling a client’s money in order to pay his own expenses and debts and also defrauded a bank by using phony tax returns to obtain millions of dollars in loans.”
The Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service would later unveil a 36-count grand jury indictment against Avenatti, who could now face a “sentence of more than 300 years in federal prison.”

White House on Offensive

Tim Murtaugh, the director of communications for Trump's 2020 campaign, sent out a March 25 memo to all television producers regarding the “credibility of certain guests.” In particular, the memo cited a list of “guests who made outlandish, false claims, without evidence, on your airwaves." Included were Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), DNC Chairman Tom Perez, and former CIA Director Brennan. The memo asked the producers to “employ basic journalistic standards when booking such guests.”

Brennan’s name would rightly and repeatedly be brought up. On March 27, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called for Brennan to testify before Congress, in a tweet that stated: “A high-level source tells me it was Brennan who insisted that the unverified and fake Steele dossier be included in the Intelligence Report ... Brennan should be asked to testify under oath in Congress ASAP.”

Additionally, Paul broached the question that many have been asking, “What did President Obama know and when?” It would seem unlikely that the CIA director would instigate and pursue an investigation into an opposing presidential candidate without some measure of authorization from the president.

Calls for Schiff to Resign

The following day, on March 28, House Republicans called on Schiff to resign as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in a letter that was signed by every single Republican on the panel. The letter noted that the “findings of the Special Counsel conclusively refute your past and present assertions and have exposed you as having abused your position to knowingly promote false information.”
The letter concluded by stating, “We have no faith in your ability to discharge your duties in a manner consistent with your Constitutional responsibility and urge your immediate resignation as Chairman of this Committee.”

Obama’s Role Questioned

On March 28, Paul redoubled his calls for an investigation into Obama’s role in the events, noting that the investigation and the promulgation of the dossier “occurred under President Obama’s administration.” Paul said we need to ask these questions: “Was President Obama involved? Was this done for partisan purposes? Was this done to try to elect Hillary Clinton? Was this done with malintent?”

Media Reporting

On the same day, The Epoch Times published its second major investigative piece into the events of the 2016 election, "Spygate: The Inside Story Behind the Alleged Plot to Take Down Trump." The comprehensive, 15,000-word guide to two years of reporting on the Spygate scandal by The Epoch Times explains the weaponization of the intelligence community and other government agencies to relentlessly pursue a manufactured collusion narrative against President Trump.
Meanwhile, the mainstream media continued in their denial that they had engaged in any wrongdoing, despite two years of spreading unsubstantiated leaks as facts in an effort to promote the Russia-collusion narrative. In a March 31 exchange with acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, CNN reporter Jake Tapper said: “I’m not sure what you’re saying the media got wrong. The media reported the investigation was going on. Other than the people in the media on the left, not on this network, I don’t know anybody who got anything wrong.”

Mulvaney’s response to Tapper was perfectly noted: “That’s fine, if that’s your recollection of history, that’s great.

“Face it, the media got this wrong. It’s okay. People get stuff wrong all the time, just not at this level.”

Biden’s Behavior Questioned, Ukraine Allegations Raised

On April 1, old allegations involving inappropriate touching against former Vice President Biden began to resurface, stemming from a March 29 article in The Cut written by one of his accusers. The allegations, which quickly grew to include at least seven women, overshadowed a different potential scandal, involving Biden’s role in Ukraine.
Biden, who played a large role in America’s involvement in Ukrainian politics, claimed to have caused the firing of a Ukraine prosecutor. That same prosecutor was reportedly “leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into the natural gas firm Burisma Holdings that employed Biden’s younger son, Hunter, as a board member.” Expect to hear more on Biden’s Ukrainian involvement in the future.

DOJ Responds to Media Allegations

On April 4, Kerri Kupec, a DOJ spokesperson, released a statement in rebuttal to reports from The New York Times and The Washington Post, noting that every page of the Mueller report was marked with notations that they may contain “confidential grand jury information—and therefore could not be publicly released.” Kupec said that the DOJ was actively working directly with special counsel Mueller on “appropriate redactions to the report so that it can be released to Congress and the public.”

Nielsen Resigns

On April 7, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced her resignation following a request from Trump. The next day, the president asked for the resignation of Secret Service Director Randolph Alles, who reported to Nielsen. The day after that, Nielsen announced the resignation of DHS acting Deputy Secretary Claire Grady.
Notably, just several days earlier, on April 5, Trump had also pulled the nomination of Ron Vitiello to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The resignations point to a major realignment at the Department of Homeland Security.

Ukraine–Democrat Ties

Also on April 7, The Hill published an article titled “Ukrainian to US Prosecutors: Why Don't You Want Our Evidence on Democrats?”, which included an interview with Kostiantyn Kulyk, deputy head of the Prosecutor General’s International Legal Cooperation Department in Ukraine. The article touched on numerous aspects of Ukrainian–Democrat ties in the 2016 presidential election and also highlighted Biden’s previously mentioned role.

Giuliani Comments on Ukraine, Biden Role

The same day as The Hill article, Giuliani appeared on Fox News, where he made some notable comments concerning Biden’s role in Ukraine. Giuliani discussed Biden’s role in removing the Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating Burisma Holdings and Hunter Biden, who sat on the company’s board.

Giuliani, who was accused of bringing the issue up because Biden was considering running for president, responded immediately, stating: “I’m bringing it up now because I want the Ukraine investigated. I don’t care about Joe Biden. I want the Ukraine investigated. Because I think, in the Ukraine, we’re going to find a lot of answers for how the Steele dossier was put together, how the Manafort case was revived.”

Giuliani, who said the Justice Department “should investigate this,” raised questions over foreign government involvement in the origination of the Russia collusion allegations. Specifically, Giuliani asked, “How many Ukrainians were involved, and was the embassy in the Ukraine involved in helping to develop some of this evidence?"

"That’s all very, very important to pointing out where this started," he said. "This was a frame-up. An old-fashioned frame-up.”

Criminal Referrals

There were two other notable interviews that took place on the same day: one with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) on Fox's "Sunday Morning Futures" and the other with Giuliani on CBS's "Face the Nation." Nunes told Maria Bartiromo that he was ready to send eight criminal referrals to the attorney general, three of which included allegations of conspiracy to lie to Congress or the FISA court. Giuliani walked through the topic of the Mueller report, noting: “I'm not worried about the report at all. There's no way those two good lawyers [Rosenstein and Barr] would have written that kind of letter if there's any issue."
The following day, on April 8, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) publicly commented on the Nunes interview, noting that there would be additional criminal referrals to come. Meadows stated: “Overwhelming evidence shows multiple FBI and DOJ executives abused their power to undermine a duly elected President Trump. They will be held accountable.”
Meadows was personally involved in key interviews of many of the FBI and DOJ figures; it’s likely that he's referring to some of these individuals.

Barr Hearing

On April 9, Barr attended a hearing in front of a House Appropriations subcommittee. The hearing, which was scheduled to be about the Justice Department's budget, initially focused almost exclusively on the Mueller report and Barr’s conclusions letter. A number of interesting details were divulged, including a conformation of a May-June time frame for the inspector general report.
Bloomberg reported that Barr had assembled a team that would be looking at the decisions made by FBI and DOJ officials. Although Barr wouldn't confirm this during the hearing, he did say, “I am reviewing the conduct of the investigation and trying to get my arms around all the aspects of the counterintelligence investigation that was conducted during the summer of 2016.”
Barr told the subcommittee that his March 24 letter “was meant to state the bottom-line conclusions of the report, not summarize the report” and noted that he attempted to use as much of the special counsel’s language as he could. Barr concluded by telling the subcommittee that “the letter speaks for itself.”
The same day as the Barr hearing, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “Hate Crimes and the Rise of White Nationalism.” During the hearing, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) played a shortened and misleading clip from a talk by Candace Owens, who attended the hearing. Owens listened to the clip, visibly angry, but held back any response until it was finished. When her turn to speak came, Owens provided the proper context to her remarks in a strongly worded response that left Lieu appearing visibly uncomfortable and unnerved. The video of Owens’s response would go on to be one of the most watched clips in C-SPAN history.

Mueller Team Assisting With Redactions

On April 10, Meadows noted that the Mueller report would be released shortly, but more importantly, he divulged that Mueller and his team were actively assisting Barr in the preparation of the redactions.

Trump: ‘An Attempted Coup’

The same day, Trump blasted former FBI Director Comey and former FBI Deputy Director McCabe as dirty cops, saying: “This was an attempted coup. This was an attempted takedown of a president. And we beat them." Trump continued, saying he was most interested in going back “to the origins of exactly where this all started,” and noting, “What they did was treason.”

Barr Says ‘Spying Did Occur’

Also on April 10, Barr appeared again at congressional budget hearings and, as before, much of the hearing centered on the Mueller report. In response to a question, Barr stated that he thought “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign. He followed up by noting the real question was  whether the spying “was adequately predicated.”
Barr also made reference to the existence of multiple, pre-existing investigations into events, noting, “One of the things I want to do is pull together all the information from the various investigations that have gone on.”
The implications behind Barr’s comments, particularly as a newly installed attorney general, are notable. It seems unlikely that Barr would have made those comments to Congress if he hadn't already seen tangible, previously amassed evidence to back them up.

Julian Assange Arrested

On April 11, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was evicted from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and arrested on two warrants from the United States and the UK. An indictment had been filed on Assange back in March 2018. Ecuador had entered into lengthy negotiations with both Britain and the United States, asking for assurances that Assange wouldn't face the death penalty. Notably, the charges unsealed by the United States against Assange don't contain capital charges and carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Former Obama White House Counsel Charged

That same day, former White House counsel to the Obama administration Greg Craig was charged by a federal grand jury with “making false statements and concealing material information about his activities on behalf of Ukraine.” The indictment stated: “The purpose of the scheme was for CRAIG to avoid registration as an agent of Ukraine. Registration would require disclosure of the fact that” an unnamed Ukrainian “had paid CRAIG and the Law Firm more than $4 million.”

The indictment makes repeated mention of an unnamed “American lobbyist,” whom Ukraine had employed to “improve Ukraine's international public image.” The lobbyist being referenced is likely Paul Manafort.

Craig said in a video statement on April 15 that Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk, a major donor to the Clinton Foundation, “helped fund” the 2012 report.

Criminal Referrals Made to DOJ

On this same day, Nunes sent his eight criminal referrals to Barr, as he had promised on April 7. In a letter sent to the attorney general, Nunes wrote that “given the sensitivities surrounding this matter, I will have my staff contact the Department to arrange for a time for Representative John Ratcliffe and me to brief you directly on the eight criminal referrals.
Nunes had previously stated that five of the referrals were for lying to Congress, two more were related to charges for “conspiracy to lie to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court," and the final referral was for a “global leak.”
Neither Nunes nor his referral letter identified the eight individuals or the specific details of the alleged crimes.

Giuliani: Assange Could Expose a Plot

On April 12, the day following Assange’s arrest, Giuliani gave an exclusive interview to the Washington Examiner, in which he stated that “Julian Assange could expose a 'plot' involving Ukraine to falsely accuse Trump of colluding with Russia.”

Giuliani noted that he was referring to “Assange exposing the origins of the federal investigation of possible Trump collusion with Russia and was not raising the possibility of Assange disproving that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta.”

Giuliani told the Examiner to “keep your eye on Ukraine.”

Mueller Report to Be Made Public

On April 15, it was reported that the DOJ was planning on making the Mueller report public on the morning of April 18. The report, which is to be delivered to Congress, will contain redactions that have been agreed upon by Barr and Mueller, who was assisting in the process.