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In all that FBI surveillance, no one ever came up with anything to pin on Trump

Everything The FBI Knows Today About Trump/Russia They Knew In 2016

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Robert Mueller

In a post on 23 May, we looked at the 9 days in January of 2017 when the Obama administration became the deep state. That post showed who was involved in using federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies against the incoming Trump administration.

This post, emphasizes a single point, one whose import requires a stand-alone focus to absorb.  It is just this: in 2016, the FBI already knew everything it was going to know. From the means of intelligence available to it, they knew whether Trump and his closest connections had nefarious or even just questionable links to Russians or people connected with Russians.

There is a tendency to imagine that an ongoing “investigation,” such as Robert Mueller’s in the present day, must be uncovering new information about links to Russians.  People have a mental idea, likewise, that something like the Carter Page FISA surveillance, which was authorized in October 2016, allowed the FBI to start looking at things that happened in October 2016.

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Perhaps, our minds suppose, the FBI could then reconstruct by other methods things that happened before October 2016 – while continuing to monitor what was going on with Mr. Page after October 2016. However,   we think of things as unfolding at the time we find out about them, or of insight being gained on or after,  the dates when we know formal decisions were made.

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In the age of big data, our thinking is wrong.

I’ve made this point many times before, but always as part of a more extensive post (e.g., most recently, here).  The issue probably gets lost in the weeds that way, when it needs instead to be always in the foreground of our thinking.

We don’t even need a lot of detailed information to recognize how much the FBI knew by the end of 2016.  We only need three data points about the surveillance.

The Russian Focus

The first, and ultimately most important, is that U.S. agencies would have had the suspect Russians whose names keep coming up under surveillance not only during the election cycle but for years before it.

The FISA constraints that limit surveillance apply almost entirely to the correspondents on the “U.S. person” end of communications transactions.  Foreign targets are fair game.  But that doesn’t mean the FBI doesn’t get a good picture of which Americans are involved with the top foreign targets.  When the U.S. has had Russian oligarchs and government operatives under surveillance for years, the FBI knows who their associates are, and what they’re into.  (I’ve laid out before the extent to which top DOJ and FBI officials were familiar with many of these Russian targets and their connections.)

The FBI’s options for identifying untoward links between Trump and Russians were the same throughout the entire period preceding 2016, and extending to the end of the campaign.  The idea that U.S. agencies had to be awakened in 2016 to the potential of their activities, and were starting with a blank or murky vista on them, is a misleading impression created by the “Russia” narrative.

There were better odds of finding such links — if they existed — than of finding almost any other kind because the Russians were already being tracked.

The Campaign Focus

The second data point is that Paul Manafort and Carter Page were both under FISA surveillance in 2016. Manafort was reportedly under scrutiny at the time he joined the Trump campaign in late March of 2016.  We’ve known this for months and considered it in light of other significant things that happened in March 2016 – things that may have included the activation of Stefan Halper as a “confidential source” (or agent-provocateur) for the FBI.

CNN reported in September 2017 that Manafort had been under FISA surveillance since as early as 2014, and was still so when he joined the Trump campaign.  On the assumption that Manafort was highly likely to be in contact with Trump and/or members of Trump’s professional entourage between 2014 and March 2016, that means the FBI could have had much of the Trump team under surveillance as well.

That said, keep in mind: the basis for persistent surveillance had a connection to whatever improper activity the FBI suspected or was trying to build a picture of.

If members of Trump’s team, or Trump himself, couldn’t be made targets of persistent interest, that’s a clear-cut indicator they weren’t detected in wrongdoing (or even the potential for it).  They got looked at.  There just wasn’t anything to see.

The form of surveillance would have been specific types of retrievals from routinely-collected metadata, but could also have entailed individually-targeted data retrievals.  Moreover, CNN refers by name to “wiretapping,” and actual wiretapping may have occurred too.

But again, the critical point is that any communication involving a Ukrainian or Russian overseas at one end was fundamentally fair game anyway.  The Ukrainian/Russian connection – even if it was a fig-leaf for surveillance of Trump, once Trump was a serious candidate (by the autumn of 2015) – was still the nominal national security “hook” justifying the surveillance package worked against Manafort.

Starting surveillance of Manafort in 2014 meant that data retrievals on Manafort and his first- and second-order universe of contacts went back sometime before 2014.  We can call it as far as 2009, although it’s likely that – at that time – some forms of information were available from earlier dates.

Even if it was somehow possible that the FBI failed to follow up on Trump as a Manafort contact before March 2016, Manafort’s role in the campaign, assumed that month, would have ensured that the surveillance included most (or all) critical members of the Trump campaign team.

Sometime between the end of March, when Manafort joined the campaign, and 9 June 2016, when he attended the meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump, Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya, the FISA warrant for Manafort reportedly expired. (See CNN, above.)  But the FBI had the opportunity under that warrant, for as long as it needed, to perform data retrievals that would encompass numerous Trump campaign personnel.

The Carter Page FISA warrant was approved in October 2016.  Like the Manafort surveillance, approval of monitoring on Carter Page meant the FBI had the authorization to retrieve communications data on Carter Page going back as far as necessary – and available – to investigate the nature of Page’s Russian connections.  The FBI could also retrieve information on Page’s U.S. correspondents up to “two hops” from him.

Page didn’t have to be in current contact with the Trump campaign at that point.  He just had to have been in contact with its members in the retrievable past.  We know he was.  That past association would have opened the Trump campaign up for FBI surveillance again.

Note that this is even aside from the use of national security letters, which enabled the FBI to retrieve data more generically, although using selection criteria that could narrow the results to effectively focus on the Trump campaign team.

The data retrievals based on national security letters require mention, partly because there would have been an interruption of more targeted surveillance between the expiration of the Manafort warrant and the approval of the Page warrant.  In that interim – in the summer of 2016 – the NSLs augmented the scope of what the FBI had available.  They just didn’t yield as much information as a targeted FISA surveillance campaign.

The Outlaw Focus

The third data point is the hundreds of unmaskings of U.S. persons done by Obama’s top national security officials.  Susan Rice, in particular, was reported to have been doing them on members of the Trump campaign, starting as early as November 2015.

We don’t know precisely what Rice was having pulled.  Unlike the FBI, she and her staff weren’t operating according to an established law-enforcement protocol.  But that’s why we should assume the NSC staff was retrieving as much information as it could, rather than administering within the constraints of a rulebook.

We have yet to plumb the depths of what was going on with this maverick operation.  It may or may not have technically violated statutory law.  (It unquestionably violated Executive Order 12333.)  But it breached the spirit of the rule of law, constitutionalism, and ethical decency.  Of all the things done under the umbrella of the “Russia” narrative, this is the one crying out the loudest for a congressional wire-brushing.

An Inverted “Investigation”

Surveillance by data retrieval is a powerful tool.  When we contemplate the role of Stefan Halper, we need to keep in mind that the FBI already knew quite a bit about whom Trump campaign members were in contact with. They also knew what Russians and other actors in the Russiagate drama were doing and talking about long before Halper’s first contact with Carter Page at the Cambridge symposium in July 2016.

The surveillance information, in fact, shaped the Halper outreach to the campaign – not the other way around.

Beyond Stefan Halper, if there was another, more closely connected confidential informant in the Trump campaign, that individual was also operating in an environment of broad and detailed FBI knowledge about (a) Russians, and (b) Team Trump’s communications.

In all that surveillance, no one ever came up with anything to hang on Trump.  Except for Manafort’s money-laundering and fraud from years ago, no malfeasance involving Russians (or Ukrainians) has been found among Trump’s campaign associates either.

And the FBI didn’t find that out last month, or in early 2017, nor did it find that out after October 2016, or even after March 2016.  The FBI has known that from the beginning, and each day along the way.

Basically, that means that the Obama administration decisions made in March or April 2016, or July or August 2016, or November or December 2016, were never about an “investigation” at all.

Cross Posted with Liberty Unyielding 

 

 

Opinion

DC Statehood Incoming: House Set to Vote Within Days

Biden and his team are wasting no time setting up ways to stack the electoral deck in their favor.

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Joe Biden and his cohorts in the Democratic Party are doing everything in their power to never lose another election again, and they are doing so with all the subtlety and grace of a three-legged hyena that stepped into a yellow-jacket nest. First and foremost, there are their recently-revealed plans to pack the Supreme Court with several new justices during Joe Biden’s first term. Now they’re looking to make good on their long-held pipe dream of making Washington DC its own state…and they are wasting no time. The House of Representatives will vote Tuesday on whether to make Washington, D.C., a State. The House Oversight Committee, chaired by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), voted the bill, H.R. 51, out of committee by a vote of 25-19 to create D.C. statehood Wednesday. But there are likely constitutional issues at play here. The ultimate argument seems to be whether the 23rd Amendment guarantees the federal Capitol at least three electors in presidential elections, Rep. Any Biggs (R-AZ) suggested Wednesday. Biggs’ view is supported by legal scholars, who opposed D.C. statehood’s feasibility without a Constitutional amendment to the 23rd Amendment. The Office of Legal Counsel in 2007 believed it was unconstitutional, the Justice Department under former President Reagan and former President Carter stated the transformation was unconstitutional, and so did Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, when he sat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The move is highly controversial, and twenty-two state attorney generals have already sent a stern letter warning President Joe Biden about the danger of moving forward.

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News

Dems Begin Assault on 2A with Bill to Confiscate Suppressors

Here comes the heat from the left.

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When it comes to the right to bear arms, there truly is no foreseeable future in which the Constitutional guarantee will disappear entirely.  It’s a logical fallacy to suggest otherwise…just look at how well outlawing guns went in Chicago starting back in 1982. There will likely never be a full repeal of the right, either, as the idea of disarming the American people, particularly as Russia and China grow ever bolder in their international devilishness, leaves the world’s greatest nation feeling like sitting ducks. So, instead of working toward a total nullification of the inalienable right, the Democrats simply work to make if more difficult, more annoying, and more expensive to own the sort of firearms equipment that they want. This year will be no exception. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced legislation on Wednesday to ban the sale and possession of firearm suppressors. His legislation, the Help Empower Americans to Respond (HEAR) Act, is co-sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), among others. It would ban the importation, sale, manufacture, transfer, and possession of firearm suppressors. Menendez commented on the legislation, saying: Gun silencers are dangerous devices with one purpose and one purpose only – to muffle the sound of gunfire from unsuspecting victims. The sound of gunshots is what signals you to run, hide, take cover, call the police and help others save themselves; however, this is nearly impossible when a gun silencer is used. That is why we must pass the HEAR Act, commonsense legislation that will prevent armed assailants from using these deadly devices to make it easier to shoot and kill another person. Of course, there was no definitive plan as to how confiscation would work, or what the left believes an acceptable amount of casualties would be for…

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