A good observation was made today:
@Comey *deliberately* didn’t tell the “Gang of Eight”, the most senior congressional leaders with TOP SECRET clearance the CI investigation existed (https://t.co/4wA8lWlQkK)*, and even then only with top DOJ approval (https://t.co/Ke0nLcYwOh)
— Undercover Huber (@JohnWHuber) May 22, 2018
It prompted further questions:
EXCELLENT point. Why did Comey hide the existence of the CI investigation from congressional oversight for 8 months BUT, the existence of the same investigation was leaked to the NY Times? https://t.co/S0rUH0vOuA
— Dan Bongino (@dbongino) May 22, 2018
I’ve long wondered about this myself. I may have an answer.
Comey and Brennan have given two very differing sets of Congressional testimony regarding the FBI Counterintelligence Investigation (originally covered here).
Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee on March 20, 2017.
Brennan testified before the House Intelligence Committee on May 23, 2017.
Comey’s opening statement contained the following:
I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.
Comey does not specify when Congressional notification occurred.
STEFANIK: So since, in your opening statement, you confirmed that there is a counter-intelligence investigation currently open and you also referenced that it started in July. When did you notify the DNI, the White House, or senior congressional leadership?
COMEY: It’s a good question. Congressional leadership, some time recently. They were briefed on the nature of the investigation in some detail as I said. Obviously the Department of Justice has been aware of it all along. The DNI, I don’t know what the DNI’s knowledge of it was because we didn’t have a DNI until Mr. Coats took office and I briefed him his first morning in office.
STEFANIK: So just to drill down on this, if – if the open investigation began in July and the briefing of congressional leadership only occurred recently, why was there no notification prior to the recent – to the past month?
COMEY: I think our decision was it was a matter of such sensitivity that we wouldn’t include it in the quarterly briefings.
STEFANIK: So when you state our decision is that your decision? Is that usually your decision what gets briefed in those quarterly updates?
COMEY: No, it’s usually the decision of the head of our counter- intelligence division. [Comey blamed FBI Counterintelligence Head Bill Priestap]
STEFANIK: And just again, to get the detailed — on the record, why was the decision made not to brief senior congressional leadership until recently when the investigation had been open since July? A very serious investigation — why was that decision to wait months?
COMEY: Because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Comey did not inform Congressional leadership of the FBI Counterintelligence Investigation until Late February or early March 2017.
BRENNAN: Through the so-called Gang-of-Eight process we kept congress apprised of these issues as we identified them. Again, in consultation with the White House, I personally briefed the full details of our understanding of Russian attempts to interfere in the election to congressional leadership. Specifically, Senators Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr and to representatives Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff between 11th August and 6th September , I provided the same briefing to each of the gang of eight members.
Given the highly sensitive nature of what was an active counter-intelligence case, involving an ongoing Russian effort, to interfere in our presidential election, the full details of what we knew at the time were shared only with those members of congress; each of whom was accompanied by one senior staff member.
Brennan was very careful to get his actions on record – including specific dates – and throwing Comey under the Congressional bus in the process.
By briefing the Gang of Eight, Brennan lent the full credibility and weight of the CIA to the FBI’s Counterintelligence Investigation.
During testimony, Brennan repeatedly made the assertion that he turned over any and all evidence the CIA had to the FBI.
It was well beyond my mandate as director of CIA to follow on any of those leads that involved U.S. persons. But I made sure that anything that was involving U.S. persons, including anything involving the individuals involved in the Trump campaign was shared with the bureau [FBI].
… and we were uncovering information intelligence about interactions and contacts between U.S. persons and the Russians. And as we came upon that, we would share it with the bureau.
Brennan’s notification to the Gang of Eight prompted then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid to write not one, but two letters to Comey. Both demanded investigation with the details to be made public.
Reid’s first letter, which was somewhat vague, was sent on August 27, 2016. Reid’s second letter, far angrier and declaring Comey to be in possession of material information, was sent on October 30, 2016.
It would seem Brennan was using Reid to push Comey into going public regarding the FBI Counterintelligence investigation.
One day after Reid’s second letter, on October 31, 2016, a New York Times article, Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia made public the FBI Counterintelligence Investigation:
For much of the summer, the F.B.I. pursued a widening investigation into a Russian role in the American presidential campaign.
In classified sessions in August and September, intelligence officials also briefed congressional leaders on the possibility of financial ties between Russians and people connected to Mr. Trump.
The most serious part of the F.B.I.’s investigation has focused on the computer hacks that the Obama administration now formally blames on Russia. That investigation also involves numerous officials from the intelligence agencies.
The investigation has treated it as a counterintelligence operation as much as a criminal one, though agents are also focusing on whether anyone in the United States was involved.
It would appear one of two things happened:
- Reid’s second letter worked – and Comey leaked to the Times; or
- Comey resisted and Brennan leaked the information to the Times himself.
It was almost certainly Brennan.
Why is it that Brennan was so careful to notify the Gang of Eight while Comey waited a full six months to do so. Why is it that Brennan used Reid to push for publicizing the FBI’s Investigation while Comey stayed quiet. Why did Comey still refuse to notify Congress after the Times article made public the FBI’s Counterintelligence Investigation.
I’ve previously made the argument that Brennan strong-armed Comey into opening the FBI’s Counterintelligence Investigation. From Brennan’s testimony:
I was aware of intelligence and information about contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons that raised concerns in my mind about whether or not those individuals were cooperating with the Russians, either in a witting or unwitting fashion, and it served as the basis for the FBI investigation to determine whether such collusion — cooperation occurred.
I made sure that anything that was involving U.S. persons, including anything involving the individuals involved in the Trump campaign was shared with the bureau [FBI].
We, the CIA and the intelligence community had collected a fair amount of information in the summer of 2016 about what the Russians were doing on multiple fronts. And we wanted to make sure that the FBI had full access to that.
Repeated transfers of unofficial foreign intelligence from the CIA Director pushed the FBI towards the establishment of a formal Counterintelligence Investigation.
And with public acknowledgment of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Investigation, Trump would remain under a cloud of suspicion heading into the election.
Unless Comey was planning on ending the FBI Counterintelligence Investigation.
From the Times article:
Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. And even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.
Hillary Clinton’s supporters, angry over what they regard as a lack of scrutiny of Mr. Trump by law enforcement officials, pushed for these investigations. In recent days they have also demanded that James B. Comey, the director of the F.B.I., discuss them publicly, as he did last week when he announced that a new batch of emails possibly connected to Mrs. Clinton had been discovered.
Mr. Comey would not even confirm the existence of any investigation of Mr. Trump’s aides when asked during an appearance in September before Congress. In the Obama administration’s internal deliberations over identifying the Russians as the source of the hacks, Mr. Comey also argued against doing so and succeeded in keeping the F.B.I.’s imprimatur off the formal findings, a law enforcement official said. His stance was first reported by CNBC.
Two “senior intelligence officials” added to the Times’ story:
A senior intelligence official, who like the others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a continuing national security investigation, said the Russians had become adept at exploiting computer vulnerabilities created by the relative openness of and reliance on the internet.
“It isn’t about the election,” a second senior official said, referring to the aims of Russia’s interference. “It’s about a threat to democracy.”
As we now know, the FBI started the Counterintelligence Investigation with no Official Intelligence.
The foundation of the FBI’s Investigation was built on shaky ground – and Comey knew it.
Brennan turned over all CIA information to the FBI. Brennan briefed the Congressional Gang of Eight. It was Comey who formally opened the Counterintelligence Investigation.
Brennan was clean – or so he believed. The weight of the Investigation would fall on Comey.
It’s unclear if Brennan notified Comey when he first briefed the Gang of Eight.
My guess is he did not.
Either way, Reid’s second letter, and more directly, the Times article made things perfectly clear.
There was simply no way Comey could end the Counterintelligence Investigation now.