'Somebody cooked up the plot': The hunt for the origins of the Russia collusion narrative

Key GOP senators are firing off subpoenas in a concerted effort to identify those who helped sustain a Russia collusion probe without the supporting evidence.

Published: June 4, 2020 10:22pm

Updated: June 5, 2020 8:33am

Hollywood once gave us the Cold War thriller called "The Hunt for Red October." And now the U.S. Senate and its Republican committee chairmen in Washington have launched a different sort of hunt made for the movies.

Armed with subpoenas, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., want to interrogate a slew of Obama-era intelligence and law enforcement officials hoping to identify who invented and sustained the bogus Russia collusion narrative that hampered Donald Trump’s early presidency.

And while Graham and Johnson aren’t exactly Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, they and their GOP cohorts have a theory worthy of a Tom Clancy novel-turned-movie: The Russia collusion investigation was really a plot by an outgoing administration to thwart the new president.

“What we had was a very quiet insurrection that took place,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, the Tennessee Republican, told Just the News on Thursday as she described the theory of Senate investigators. “And there were probably dozens of people at DOJ and FBI that knew what was going on.

“But they hate Donald Trump so much … that they were willing to work under the cloak of law and try to use that to shield them so that they could take an action on their disgust,” she added. “They wanted to prohibit him from being president. And when he won, they wanted to render him ineffective at doing his job.”

For much of the last two years, the exact theory that congressional Republicans held about the bungled, corrupt Russia probe — where collusion between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin was ultimately disproven and FBI misconduct was confirmed — was always evolving.

But after explosive testimony this week from former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who openly accused the FBI of keeping him in the dark about flaws, failures and exculpatory evidence in the case, the GOP believes it may prove the Russia case was a conspiracy to use the most powerful law enforcement and intelligence tools in America to harm Trump.

Two years of declassified memos are now in evidence that show:

  • The FBI was warned before it used Christopher Steele’s dossier as evidence to target the Trump campaign with a FISA warrant that the former British spy might be the target of Russian disinformation, that he despised Trump and that he was being paid to help Hillary Clinton’s campaign. But agents proceeded anyway.
  • The bureau was told by the CIA that its primary target, Trump adviser Carter Page, wasn’t a Russian spy but rather a CIA asset. But it hid that evidence from the DOJ and courts, even falsifying a document to keep the secret.
  • The FBI opened a case on Trump adviser George Papadopoulos on the suspicion he might arrange Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton but quickly determined he didn’t have the Russian contacts to pull it off. But the case kept going.
  • The FBI intercepted conversations between its informants and Papadopoulos and Page showing the two men made numerous statements of innocence, and kept that evidence from the DOJ and the courts.
  • The FBI investigated Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn for five months and concluded there was no derogatory evidence he committed a crime or posed an intelligence threat and recommended closing the case. But higher-ups overruled the decision and proceeded to interview Flynn.
  • The FBI and DOJ both knew by August 2017 there was no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion but allowed another 18 months of investigation to persist without announcing the president was innocent.

That is just a handful of the key evidentiary anchors of the storyline Republicans have developed. Now they want to know who helped carry out each of these acts.

“There are millions of Americans pretty upset about this,” Graham said this week. “There are people on our side of the aisle who believe this investigation, Crossfire Hurricane, was one of the most corrupt, biased criminal investigations in the history of the FBI. And we’d like to see something done about it.”

Graham tried to take action to approve 50-plus subpoenas from the Senate Judiciary Committee to witnesses on Thursday but was forced to delay a week.

Johnson, meanwhile, successfully secured about three dozen subpoenas to get documents and interviews with key witnesses from his Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Evidence is growing, Johnson said, that there was not a "peaceful and cooperative" transition between the Obama and Trump administrations in 2017.

"The conduct we know that occurred during the transition should concern everyone and absolutely warrants further investigation,” he said.

With Rosenstein’s testimony now behind them, the senators have some lofty targets for interviews or testimony going forward, including fired FBI Director James Comey, his deputy Andrew McCabe, ex-CIA Director John Brennan, and the former chiefs of staff for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Blackburn said during an interview with the John Solomon Reports podcast that the goal of the subpoenas and witnesses was simple: to identify and punish the cast of characters who sustained a Russia collusion narrative that was never supported by the evidence.

“Somebody cooked up the plot,” she explained. "Somebody gave the go-ahead to order, to implement it. Somebody did the dirty work and carried it out — and probably a lot of somebodies. And what frustrates the American people is that nobody has been held accountable.

“Nobody has been indicted. Nobody has been charged, and they're all getting major book deals and are profiting by what is criminal activity, if you look at the statutes that are on the book, and if you say we're going to abide by the rule of law and be a nation of laws.”

For Blackburn, identifying and punishing those responsible is essential for two goals: to deter anyone in the future from abusing the FBI and FISA process again and to ensure Americans there isn’t a two-tiered system of justice in America.

"I think when you Google [Russia collusion] in future years, you're going to see a screenshot of this cast of characters that cooked this up, because it is the ultimate plot," Blackburn said.

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