While special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has concluded without any criminal charges related to collusion with Russia leveled against anyone connected to the Trump campaign, evidence of the real scandal—that the entire Trump-Russia investigation was a witch hunt—continues to dribble out. The investigation into that scandal and Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation misconduct remains ongoing, and there is still much to learn.
One key area not yet fully considered concerns the strong likelihood that the FBI initiated an investigation into the Trump campaign, or individuals connected to the Trump campaign, prior to the July 31, 2016, launch of Crossfire Hurricane, the investigation into the Trump team. A few stray statements from former FBI lawyer Lisa Page’s House Judiciary Committee testimony suggest that scenario.
Page, who testified over a two-day period last July, answered an array of questions, from the handling of the Midterm Exam investigation into Hillary Clinton, to the investigation of potential collusion with Russia. On the latter investigation, Page revealed that former FBI agent Peter Strzok had both initiated Crossfire Hurricane and approved the launch of the investigation. Page explained Strzok had served in these dual roles because “it was a Sunday, and so there’s nobody around.”
Page later said she believed Crossfire Hurricane had been launched as a “full investigation” and not a “preliminary investigation.” She also confirmed that there are three basic types of investigations: an assessment, a preliminary investigation, and a full investigation.
Page added that, because there are multiple types of assessments, without the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG) in front of her, she was hesitant to explain the various investigations in detail. However, she did note that when a preliminary or full investigation is opened, agents may use more investigative tools than those available at the assessment stage.
This testimony calls to mind the Washington Post’s article last year, “Secret FBI source for Russia investigation met with three Trump advisers during campaign.” In that piece, the Post reported that an unnamed professor—and “longtime U.S. intelligence source”—“began working as a secret informant for the FBI as it investigated Russia’s interference in the campaign.”
The Post further noted that the academic, since identified as Stefan Halper, first met with Trump campaign advisor Carter Page “a few weeks before the opening of the investigation,” and then after Crossfire Hurricane’s July 31, 2016, start, he met again with Carter Page and “with Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis,” offering the latter his “foreign-policy expertise” for the Trump team. Then in September, Halper “reached out to George Papadopoulos, an unpaid foreign-policy adviser for the campaign, inviting him to London to work on a research paper.”
In reporting Halper’s mid-July contact with Carter Page, the Post explained that “the FBI commonly uses sources and informants to gather evidence and its regulations allow for use of informants even before a formal investigation has been opened. In many law enforcement investigations, the use of sources and informants precedes more invasive techniques such as electronic surveillance.”
That is all very true. But Lisa Page’s testimony now highlights a point missed at the time: An assessment is a formal FBI investigation. It is just a different category of investigation. As a formal investigation, FBI employees must comply with the provisions in the DIOG, which includes ensuring the assessment serves “an authorized purpose” and has a “clearly defined objective.” The DIOG also mandates that “all assessments be documented in the appropriate form,” and states that “the effective date of the Assessment is the date the final approval authority approves,” the appropriate form.
Yet in her testimony, Lisa Page mentions only one investigation—the launch of Crossfire Hurricane on July 31, 2016. That must have been initiated as a full investigation, as Lisa Page believed, because the guide requires the FBI to launch a full investigation to pursue a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act surveillance order, as the agents later did in order to tap Carter Page’s conversations.
So, if Crossfire Hurricane was the only investigation launched by FBI headquarters, who initiated the earlier investigation? There must have been one if the FBI used Halper as confidential human source to obtain information in mid-July from Carter Page, because that reach-out occurred before the launch of Crossfire Hurricane. The guide only allows limited pre-assessment activities, such as: accessing public information, records or information, online services or resources; conducting a voluntary clarifying interview; or accepting information already known from an existing confidential human source.
Here, Page’s testimony proves informative: When asked how the FBI headquarters obtained a copy of the dossier, Page stated the dossier “came from Christopher Steele through his [FBI] handler” to the FBI headquarters. We know from Bruce Ohr’s testimony that Steele handed his memos to Mike Gaeta, an FBI agent out of the New York field office, then stationed in Rome. Ohr also suggested Gaeta may have served as Steele’s handler.
Being a handler is one thing. Directing a confidential human source to meet with an individual connected to the Trump campaign is another. And under the DIOG, Gaeta (or another FBI agent) could not direct Halper to approach Page as a confidential human source absent the official opening of an investigation, whether it be at the assessment or preliminary investigation stage.
No mention, though, has been made of an earlier investigation initiated by Gaeta or another FBI agent stationed outside of the FBI’s D.C. headquarters. Why not? And if the FBI wasn’t running Halper, who was?