by Byron York | August 29, 2019 01:31 PM
A just-released Justice Department inspector general’s report provides new details on a January 2017 plan by then-FBI Director James Comey, top bureau officials, and the nation’s intelligence chiefs to spring a scandalous allegation on President-elect Trump, quickly record his reaction, use a prearranged secure videoconference to discuss the information, and fit it all into the FBI’s ongoing (but unknown to Trump) “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation.
The allegation came from the Steele dossier, the collection of unverified tales about Trump and Russia compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. The story was that in a Moscow hotel room in 2013, Trump had watched as prostitutes performed a kinky sex act — and Russian intelligence service cameras rolled. This is what the Steele dossier said:
TRUMP’s (perverted) conduct in Moscow included hiring the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where he knew President and Mrs. OBAMA (whom he hated) had stayed on one of their official trips to Russia, and defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him. The hotel was known to be under FSB control with microphones and concealed cameras in all the main rooms to record anything they wanted to.
The new inspector general’s report shows that Comey and other top officials placed great credibility in the allegation, which even Steele himself reportedly had grave doubts about.
On Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, Comey, along with CIA head John Brennan, national intelligence chief James Clapper, and NSA Director Mike Rogers, met with Trump in Trump Tower in New York. Together, they briefed the president-elect on the findings of the intelligence community investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.
But the group, and especially Comey, had bigger plans than that. Before the meeting, they agreed that after briefing Trump on Russian efforts, the others would leave and Comey would stay to brief Trump alone about the Steele Moscow sex allegation.
Comey and top FBI officials prepared meticulously for the moment. The IG report says Comey had a planning meeting with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, chief of staff James Rybicki, general counsel James Baker, and “the supervisors of the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election.” (It is unclear who was in that last group, although the now-famous FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page played large roles in the investigation.)
The IG report says the group “agreed that the briefing needed to be one-on-one, so that Comey could present the ‘salacious’ information in the most discreet and least embarrassing way.” But however it was presented, the FBI leaders worried that Trump might “perceive the one-on-one briefing as an effort to hold information over him like a ‘Hoover-esque type of plot.'” That was a reference to the FBI’s notorious founding director J. Edgar Hoover, who relished keeping (and using) embarrassing secrets on top political leaders.
The group discussed how Trump might react. In particular, they considered whether he would “make statements about or provide information of value to the pending Russia interference investigation” known as “Crossfire Hurricane.”
Perhaps Trump would say something incriminating. The FBI officials made plans for Comey, immediately after leaving the meeting, to write down everything he could remember about whatever Trump said. Comey also wanted to discuss Trump’s reactions with top aides immediately. Comey told the inspector general it was “important for FBI executive managers to be ‘able to share in [Comey’s] recall of the salient details of those conversations.'” Bureau officials also wanted to be able to respond if Trump publicly “misrepresent[ed] what happened in the encounter.”
So, preparations were made. “Comey said he had a secure FBI laptop waiting for him in his FBI vehicle and that when he got into the vehicle, he was handed the laptop and ‘began typing as the vehicle moved,'” the report says. He worked on his account as the FBI car took him to the New York field office, where aides had set up a secure video teleconference with Rybicki, McCabe, Baker, and the “Crossfire Hurricane” supervisors. Comey continued to work on his memo after that and sent the group a final version the next day, Saturday, Jan. 7.
In his memoir, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, Comey wrote that at the Trump Tower briefing he assured the president-elect, “We are not investigating you, sir.” At the moment Comey said those words, he had the “Crossfire Hurricane” team ready for a secure video conference on Trump’s response to the Steele dossier allegation.
Three days later, on Tuesday, Jan. 10, CNN viewers saw anchor Jake Tapper report this: “We have a CNN exclusive for you now. CNN has learned that the nation’s top intelligence officials provided information to President-elect Donald Trump and to President Barack Obama last week about claims of Russian efforts to compromise the president-elect.” The report went on to say that the “compromising personal” information about Trump came from “a former British intelligence operative whose past work U.S. intelligence officials consider to be credible.”
Of course, in this case, Steele’s work was not at all credible. But the fact that the nation’s intelligence chiefs considered it so important that Comey would brief the president-elect made it newsworthy. And not long after CNN reported on the briefing, BuzzFeed published the entire Steele dossier.