Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Durham to Right Wingers: "Blame Hillary"

Just before Bill Barr resigned as Trump's attorney general, he was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Strassell and indicated exactly what he wanted from the Durham report.

The attorney general also hopes people remember that orange jumpsuits aren’t the only measure of misconduct. It frustrates him that the political class these days frequently plays “the criminal card,” obsessively focused on “who is going to jail, who is getting indicted.”…One danger of the focus on criminal charges is that it ends up excusing a vast range of contemptible or abusive behavior that doesn’t reach the bar.

What was the "contemptible or abusive behavior" he wanted Durham to highlight? Last summer Barr told Fox News that he was proud of the work Durham was doing to crystalize "the central role played by the Hillary campaign in launching, as a dirty trick, the whole Russiagate collusion narrative."

In other words, the entire investigation was about Durham producing a document that right wingers could use to blame Hilary Clinton for the whole Trump/Russia affair. Never mind that, when Trump sued Clinton and associates for orchestrating the whole thing, a federal judge didn't just throw the case out of court, he ordered the former president to pay the defendants $938,000 for filing a bogus lawsuit.

That didn't stop Durham from doing exactly what Barr wanted. And it worked. Here is the so-called "legal analyst" at Fox News, Gregg Jarrett.

In July 2016, CIA Director John Brennan rushed to the White House to brief then-President Barack Obama and Joe Biden, our current president, about alarming new evidence uncovered by American intelligence. The agency had obtained reliable information that "Hillary Clinton had approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal against Donald Trump by tying him to Putin and the Russians" (page 81 of the report).

It was an outrageous and wholly invented accusation unsupported by anything except Hillary’s craven imagination. Her shrewd goal was to frame her opponent for unidentified crimes that he never committed and, thereby, damage or sink his candidacy.

Who was the source for that "reliable information?" I'll let Durham answer that question (emphasis mine).

In late July 2016, U.S. intelligence agencies obtained insight into Russian intelligence analysis alleging that U.S Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal against U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump by tying him to Putin and the Russians' hacking ofthe Democratic National Committee. The IC does not know the accuracy of this allegation or the extent to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication.

Even Durham had to admit that it came from Russian intelligence and was not "reliable information." Yet he devoted much of his report to what he calls the "Clinton plan intelligence." Here's Durham's major claim:

On July 28, 2016, Director Brennan met with President Obama and other White House personnel, during which Brennan and the President discussed intelligence relevant to the 2016 presidential election as well as the potential creation of an inter-agency Fusion Cell to synthesize and analyze intelligence about Russian malign influence on the 2016 presidential election...

Brennan stated that the inter-agency Fusion Cell, a team to synthesize and analyze pertinent intelligence on Russian malign influence activities related to the presidential election, was put in motion after his meeting with President Obama on July 28th. Email traffic and witness interviews conducted by the Office reflect that at least some CIA personnel believed that the Clinton Plan intelligence led to the decision being made to set up the Fusion Cell.

According to Durham, all of that activity was focused on dealing with the Clinton Plan intelligence. But let's keep in mind the context of what was going on at the time. On July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks. Based on a tip from Australian intelligence, the FBI opened its Crossfire Hurricane investigation on July 31th. 

Meanwhile, CIA Director Brennan was working some late nights.

By early August, the sense of alarm had become so acute that CIA Director John Brennan called White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. “I need to get in to see the president,” Brennan said, with unusual urgency in his voice.

Brennan had just spent two days sequestered in his office reviewing a small mountain of material on Russia…There were piles of finished assessments, but Brennan had also ordered up what agency veterans call the “raw stuff” — unprocessed material from informants, listening devices, computer implants and other sources. Clearing his schedule, Brennan pored over all of it…

Brennan’s review session occurred against the backdrop of these unsettling developments. But his call to the White House was driven by something else — extraordinary intelligence that had surfaced in late July and reached deep inside the Kremlin, showing that Putin was himself directing an “active measures” operation aimed not only at disrupting the U.S. presidential race but electing Trump.

In the midst of the hack and leak, the focus was on what Russia was doing. The big news for Brennan was that they weren't just interfering in the election. They were doing so to elect Trump. 

According to the Washington Post. Brennan wrote up his own dossier and sent it directly to the White House. 

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race. 
But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

The dates are a little off. Durham said that Brennan met with President Obama on July 28th and the Post suggests that it was early August. But the "Fusion Cell" Durham refers to was set up as a result. Here's how the Post reported it:

Brennan convened a secret task force at CIA headquarters composed of several dozen analysts and officers from the CIA, the NSA and the FBI...

They worked exclusively for two groups of “customers,” officials said. The first was Obama and fewer than 14 senior officials in government. The second was a team of operations specialists at the CIA, NSA and FBI who took direction from the task force on where to aim their subsequent efforts to collect more intelligence on Russia.

Regardless of what gossip Durham heard, the Fusion Cell was not set up to investigate the Clinton Plan intelligence. It was designed to figure out WTF Russia was up to - with a main concern being the prospect of a cyber-assault on voting systems before and on Election Day.

I'm sure that both Barr and Durham know all of this. They've probably even reviewed Brennan's entire dossier on how Putin himself was directing the "active measures" to interfere in the election on behalf of Trump. But they went into this whole thing with a narrative about blaming Clinton that they wanted to sell to right wingers. Damn the evidence and the truth!

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