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FBI considered resolving Russia collusion concerns with defensive briefing to Trump, memos show

Ex-Obama AG Loretta Lynch says bureau raised Carter Page concerns well before start of Crossfire Hurricane probe, never followed up with her.

Published: March 7, 2023 7:50pm

Updated: March 8, 2023 12:02am

Nearly four years after the now-discredited Russia collusion probe was formally closed, the Justice Department has released heavily redacted memos showing the FBI initially considered resolving concerns about Moscow targeting Donald Trump's campaign by simply giving the GOP presidential nominee a defensive briefing back in 2016.

The information was contained in a new release of documents in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the conservative group Citizens United, which sought the interviews conducted by the Justice Department inspector general of key players involved in the Russia probe, including former DOJ official Bruce Ohr's wife and former Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

More than 90% of the 460 pages of documents released by the government were blacked out by redactions mostly requested by the FBI or the inspector general's office.

You can read the full production of documents here:

The memos' few visible text entries nonetheless contained valuable new nuggets that show how the FBI failed to stop the politically motivated and uncorroborated allegations that Trump and Russia colluded to hijack the 2016 election.

For instance, former State Department official Kathleen Kavalec provided new details to the DOJ IG about her fateful contact in October 2016 with former British MI6 spy Christopher Steele, the Hillary Clinton-funded author of the now-infamous and discredited Steele dossier that formed the basis of the FBI's request for a FISA warrant targeting the Trump campaign just a few weeks before Election Day 2016.

Congressional investigators learned about Kavalec's contact with Steele only in May 2019 after the probe ended, and they argued it raised red flags because Steele had broken his cover as an FBI informant by going to State and to news reporters to share details of his research.

Kavalec would later reveal to the Justice IG that Steele was upset that the FBI had not worked more quickly to process his allegations or create impact before Election Day.

"My sense was that he had shared information with the FBI, and he was frustrated," Kavalec told the DOJ IG investigators. "And he felt that they weren't acting on the information.

"I think there was a sense of frustration that people weren't, you know, responding to the information." Kavalec confirmed she relayed the information she got from Steele to the FBI.

This reporter broke the story in 2019 of Kavelec's contact with Steele, a development that delayed release of the DOJ IG's final report, which ultimately concluded the FBI engaged in misconduct and made serious errors during its investigation of the Trump-Russia allegations.

Another key nugget contained in the newly released memos comes from the transcript and investigator notes of the DOJ IG's interview with Lynch.

While most of the transcript is redacted except for expressions like "Um-hmm" and "Okay," a key section was left visible confirming that the FBI's concerns with the allegations of the Trump-Russia connection predated the formal opening of the Crossfire Hurricane probe on July 31, 2016.

Lynch testified that then-FBI Director James Comey and his deputy, Andrew McCabe — both of whom were later fired — pulled her aside earlier in the spring of 2016 to flag intelligence that then-Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page had contacts with Russian officials.

Lynch testified the contact occurred in "the late spring of 2016 when I had a pull aside meeting with Director Comey and Deputy Director McCabe and they provided me information ... about some efforts that may have been underway by Russian intelligence operatives to contact Carter Page."

"There was no action item presented and it was preliminary," she said later in the interview.

But the former attorney general's most eye-opening revelation came when she relayed what the FBI was thinking about doing to resolve the concerns about the Trump campaign.

"We talked about possibly providing a defensive briefing, but that was a preliminary discussion," she relayed during the interview. "... It was simply something that might happen down the road."

She confirmed the defensive briefing would have been given to Trump's campaign under the plan discussed with the FBI brass.

Many FBI experts, including former Assistant Director for Intelligence Kevin Brock, have long argued the FBI did not have solid grounds to warrant opening a full counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign in the middle of the 2016 election and that a preferred option based on FBI practices of the past would have been to give Trump a defensive briefing warning that his campaign might be targeted by Russia.

Remarkably — despite the explosive possibility that a presidential campaign might be targeted by a Russian influence operation — Lynch said she did not recall the FBI ever followed up on Carter Page.

"I don't recall a specific update on Carter Page," she told the investigators.

In fact, Lynch said she never recalled being briefed on Crossfire Hurricane or reading the FISA warrant application targeting Page and the Trump campaign that would be approved by a court at the FBI's request in October 2016, just weeks before Election Day.

The possibility that Comey and McCabe met with Lynch in spring 2016 to discuss Trump-Russia has been raised before, including briefly in the final DOJ IG report.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz reported in December 2019 that neither Comey nor McCabe could recall such a discussion.

"Comey told the OIG that he did not recall having such a conversation with Lynch, and that he did not think it was possible for such conversation to have occurred in the spring of 2016," Horowitz wrote. "He also said that he did not recall himself having any knowledge of Carter Page's existence until the middle of 2016."

David Bossie, president of Citizens United, told the "Just the News, No Noise" television show Tuesday night that Lynch's account furthered the concern that Trump was treated more hostilely than other Americans would have been in the same circumstance.

The FBI "hated President Trump more than they loved our country," Bossie said. "That is at the end of the day what this is about. This is the Obama administration, the Clinton cabal, and the out-of-control Justice Department wanting to destroy Donald Trump rather than treat him in the way that he deserved to be treated."

Longtime television news host Lou Dobbs, who highlighted many of the FBI failures in the Russia probe over the years, said the FBI's refusal to simply give Trump a heads-up about the Russia concerns and instead launch a three-year probe that consumed America likely changed the course of history.

"So much could have been quite different," Dobbs told Just the News. "For example, President Trump wouldn't be in the seventh year of a political persecution that started just about that time in the midsummer of 2016."

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