PROOF OF CORRUPTION

BRIBERY, IMPEACHMENT, AND PANDEMIC IN THE AGE OF TRUMP

SETH ABRAMSON

PROOF OF CORRUPTION

THE SEVENTH EXCERPT FROM PROOF OF CORRUPTION

NOW AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER

 

In late September 2019, the New York Times reports that the DOJ official named by Attorney General Barr “to review the origins of the counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Trump’s [2016] campaign, John H. Durham, is looking into the role of Ukraine, among other countries.”1 The DOJ tells the Times that “while the attorney general has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating.”2 As part of his assistance of Durham’s investigation, Barr conferences privately overseas with foreign leaders and intelligence services, receiving Trump’s help in scheduling certain of his meetings.3 Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham writes a letter to the prime ministers of Australia, Italy, and Britain, opining that U.S. intelligence used a “deeply flawed dossier filled with hearsay” during the 2016 election and urging them to cooperate with Barr.4

In October 2019, as he is seeking the Italian government’s cooperation with Barr, Trump welcomes the Italian president to the White House—an honor he still will not have afforded Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky by early 2020.5 As for the United Kingdom, The Independent reports on November 1 that “UK intelligence officials [are] shaken by [the] Trump administration’s requests for help with [Durham’s] counter-impeachment inquiry,” with one British official saying, “It is like nothing we have come across before, they are basically asking, in quite robust terms, for help in doing a hatchet job on their own intelligence services.”6

The full scope of the Durham-Barr investigation, and therefore its potential effect on the 2020 general election campaign, remains unknown, though on October 24, 2019, the New York Times reports that the investigation has become a criminal investigation—a development the Times says “is likely to open the attorney general to accusations that he is trying to deliver a political victory for President Trump.”7 Indeed, by late October, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) had already “made waves,” per The Hill, by declaring, in an apparent reference to the Durham-Barr investigation, that “the Trump Justice Department is investigating foreign government influence, VP Biden conflicts of interest, and possible corruption.”8

The Durham-Barr probe comes under additional scrutiny when it is revealed by Politico that “in the five months since Attorney General William Barr tapped Durham to investigate the origins of the Russia probe . . . he has not requested interviews with any of the FBI or DOJ employees who were directly involved in, or knew about, the opening of the Russia investigation in 2016. . . . The omission raises questions about what, exactly, Durham—alongside Attorney General Barr—has been investigating.”9 According to the digital media outlet, Barr’s theory of the case in the Durham probe is that the CIA, under former director John Brennan’s leadership, was secretly engaged in a rogue operation to prevent Trump’s election, and tricked the FBI into participating in the scheme.10 In fact, as reported in The Guardian, from late 2015 through the summer of 2016 no fewer than seven allied intelligence agencies—including entities in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, Estonia, and Poland—sent information to U.S. intelligence officials establishing that individuals in Trump’s “inner circle” were meeting secretly in overseas locations with “Russian intelligence operatives.”11 Nevertheless, Barr opts, per NBC News, to use “accusations made by George Papadopoulos”—the Trump campaign adviser sentenced to prison in September 2018 for lying to federal law enforcement—to support his conspiracy theory about 2016 election interference by the CIA.12

On Wednesday, October 9—the day before Lev Parnas is scheduled to appear before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and forty-eight hours before Igor Fruman is expected to speak to the same three congressional panels—Barr unexpectedly travels to New York to meet with prosecutors from the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York.13 Subsequent reporting will reveal that Barr has been “aware of the [FBI] investigation into Parnas and Fruman since shortly after he came into office in February [2019].”14 No reason for Barr’s trip to New York is ever given by the DOJ.15

As Barr is meeting with New York prosecutors, his longtime friend Rudy Giuliani is at Trump International Hotel in D.C. having lunch with Parnas and Fruman, according to the Wall Street Journal.16 Asked by the Washington Post—following Parnas’s and Fruman’s arrest that evening—what his business had been with the two Soviet-born businessmen, Giuliani will say only that Parnas and Fruman had “helped [him] find” certain “former Ukrainian government officials.”17

Prior to the news breaking of Parnas’s and Fruman’s Wednesday night arrest at Dulles, Giuliani tells The Atlantic that he is planning to travel to Vienna on Thursday.18 On Thursday morning—with news of his business associates’ arrest still not public—Giuliani tells the Wall Street Journal that Parnas and Fruman are, like him, planning to travel to Vienna, though, per reporting in the Daily Beast, Giuliani’s contention is that “the three [will] be in the same city” but will “do no business with one another.”19 Instead, Giuliani tells the Journal, the three men only plan to meet up again after Parnas and Fruman return to the United States, a claim seemingly nullified by the subsequent revelation that Parnas and Fruman had one-way tickets to Vienna.20 Once Giuliani learns that his associates have been arrested by the FBI, he refuses to comment further on either their or his own trip to Austria.21 CNN soon reports that Parnas and Fruman were headed to Vienna to “help with a planned interview [scheduled for] the next day [with Viktor] Shokin”; the interview was to have been conducted, CNN reveals, by Trump adviser Sean Hannity.22

In December 2019, the Washington Post reports that Durham “[cannot] offer evidence to the Justice Department’s Inspector General to support the suspicions of some conservatives that the [Russia] case was a setup by American intelligence.”23 After DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz releases his report on the origins of the Mueller investigation on December 9, 2019—a report that finds no evidence of political bias at the FBI, and also that the so-called Steele dossier played no role in forming a factual predicate for the Russia investigation—Barr takes what Vox calls the “unusual” step of attacking the very institution that he leads.24 In response to news of the draft report’s conclusions, Barr privately tells “conservative allies” that his department’s duly appointed inspector general “won’t be the last word” on the Russia probe.25

Barr’s criticism of former MI6 Russia desk chief Christopher Steele as being a source of biased intelligence against candidate Trump is undercut when a Washington Post report reveals, in early December, that not only is Steele “a personal friend of Trump’s daughter Ivanka,” but during the period from 2010 to 2012 he had even discussed the possibility of doing consulting work for the Trump Organization.26

While Inspector General Horowitz’s report finds no political bias in the conduct of the Russia investigation, when it is released in December 2019 the report does identify seventeen inaccuracies across nine months’ worth of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant applications in the Russia investigation; all of the warrants involve Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who had, prior to the 2016 presidential election, described himself as an “informal adviser” to the Kremlin, and after the election had withheld evidence about both private pre-election meetings with Kremlin officials in Moscow and his disclosures of those meetings to the Trump campaign.27 While Horowitz will observe in the seventeen FISA-warrant errors “significant omissions and inaccurate information”—including about whether Page had been a CIA source between 2008 and 2013—the New York Times will compare these seventeen errors in the years-long Russia investigation to the seventy-five FISA-warrant errors the DOJ had previously uncovered in a single 2000 self-audit.28

In response to the inspector general’s report, Barr gives an interview to NBC News that unnerves many. In it, he contends that in 2016 the Obama administration—not Russia—was the “greatest danger” to American democracy, going on to contradict Horowitz’s report by insisting that the Trump campaign was “clearly spied upon” and accusing the FBI of possibly acting in “bad faith” in its investigation of Trump-Russia ties.29 Of the 2016 Trump campaign’s 272 clandestine, unreported, and in many instances unprecedented contacts and meetings with Kremlin agents in the United States and abroad, Barr will demur from any criticism, insisting that “presidential campaigns are frequently in contact with foreign persons.”30 Moving “well beyond” any criticisms of the Mueller investigation contained in Horowitz’s report, Barr calls the special counsel’s investigation “bogus” and “completely baseless” and falsely asserts that Mueller’s report—which drew no conclusions on the matter of “collusion,” finding only that a Trump-Russia hacking conspiracy could not be proven under the U.S. justice system’s highest burden of proof, “beyond a reasonable doubt”—failed to find “any” evidence of “collusion.”31

In subsequent testimony before Congress about his report, Horowitz discusses the October 2016 leak of sensitive investigative information by rogue agents in the FBI’s New York field office to Rudy Giuliani, indicating that the DOJ is “very concerned” about these offenses.32 Indeed, Horowitz’s investigation turns up what Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist James Stewart will call “hotbeds of anti-Clinton hostility” in the FBI’s Manhattan office, with Horowitz noting, per the New York Times, that field agents working in the city “leaked regularly to right-wing media sources [claims] that the bureau was turning a blind eye to what [the agents] saw as Clinton’s criminality.”33 Horowitz finds a trove of anti-Clinton messages exchanged between FBI agents during the presidential election, including exhortations to agents working on the Clinton email case, by their peers, to “finally . . . get that bitch” and “get her.”34 As the Washington Post explains, “The Russia investigation . . . isn’t the only thing the FBI did that raised eyebrows during the 2016 election; so too did [FBI director] Comey’s announcement of newly discovered Clinton emails a week and a half before the election. Clinton and others continue to blame that for her narrow loss. At issue . . . for Horowitz is Comey’s indication that part of the reason for the announcement was because of leaks from the FBI’s New York field office.”35

In his testimony, Horowitz acknowledges a number of “contacts” between FBI agents in New York City and either journalists or the Trump campaign, saying that his office had found “violat[ions] of FBI policy” and had “some investigations ongoing” in response to the evidence it had collected.36 When pressed in November 2019 about his repeated claims in October 2016 that he was speaking to “active” and “current” FBI agents about the Clinton email investigation, Giuliani offers a new explanation for his statements: “[When] I use[d] the word ‘active’ and ‘current,’ ” Giuliani explains, “I mean[t] they [the FBI agents I spoke with] are not old men, they can still do things.”37 Giuliani tells The Guardian thereafter that “in the security business” it is widely understood that the words “active” and “current,” when used with regard to law enforcement officials, mean physically active and in good health.38 Assuming Giuliani has given or will give the same explanation to Horowitz or his investigators, the president’s personal attorney is at risk of violating a federal felony statute, 18 U.S. Code § 1001, which punishes with up to five years in federal prison each instance of lying to federal law enforcement officers.39

In February 2020, the New York Times reports that “Trump administration officials investigating the government’s response to Russia’s election interference in 2016 appear to be hunting for a basis to accuse Obama-era intelligence officials of hiding evidence or manipulating analysis about Moscow’s covert operation”—and have continued their search for such a basis despite “officials from the FBI and National Security Agency” having “told Mr. Durham and his investigators that such an interpretation is wrong and based on a misunderstanding of how the intelligence community functions.”40 The Times notes that “Mr. Durham’s questioning is certain to add to accusations that Mr. Trump is using the Justice Department to go after his perceived enemies.”41

On March 31, 2020, Inspector General Horowitz releases the results of a far more encompassing internal audit of FISA applications—one not tied to any review of the FBI’s pre-or post-election Russia investigations—and reports, per NPR, that in fact, far from being uniquely present in FBI investigations of Donald Trump, there are “widespread problems with the bureau’s handling of national security surveillance warrants [that go] beyond the recent highly charged case of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.”42 Indeed, according to his report on recent non-Trump-related FISA applications, Horowitz finds “apparent errors or inadequately supported facts in all of the 25 applications . . . reviewed.”43 The findings by the Justice Department’s chief watchdog significantly undercut Attorney General Barr’s theory that the 2016 Trump presidential campaign was specially targeted for FISA malfeasance by unnamed actors within federal law enforcement—a persistent if wholly unsubstantiated “deep-state” conspiracy theory that has become, especially in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, a hobbyhorse for the president and his congressional allies.

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