NRO: Whatever happened to Carter Page as the person responsible for the collusion investigation?

John Sexton Posted at 8:41 pm on January 02, 2018

National Review’s Andrew McCarthy has an interesting response to the NY Times’ recent revelation that drunken boasting by George Papadopoulos was responsible for kickstarting an FBI investigation into Trump and Russia. As McCarthy points out, just months ago the NY Times’ published a lengthy story claiming the investigation started after the FBI became suspicious of Carter Page.

Back then, no fewer than six of the Times’ top reporters, along with a researcher, worked their anonymous “current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials” in order to generate the Page blockbuster. With these leaks, the paper confidently reported: “From the Russia trip of the once-obscure Mr. Page grew a wide-ranging investigation, now accompanied by two congressional inquiries, that has cast a shadow over the early months of the Trump administration” [emphasis added].

But in the new Papadopoulos report, Carter Page is barely mentioned. So what happened here? McCarthy argues that this shifting of goal posts may have something to do with a political problem created by the fact that the FBI sought a FISA warrant based on an oppo-research document (the Steele dossier) paid for by the Clinton campaign.

And as I outlined in a column last weekend, a significant part of what got the FBI and the Obama Justice Department stirred up about Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow was the Steele dossier — the anti-Trump reports compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. Alas, six months after the Times’ planted its feet on Page as the linchpin of the Trump-Russia investigation, we learned that the dossier was actually an opposition-research project paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. We further learned that at Fusion GPS, the research firm that retained Steele for the project, Steele collaborated on it with Nellie Ohr, the wife of top Justice Department official Bruce Ohr — and that Bruce Ohr had personally been briefed on the project by Steele and a Fusion GPS executive.

It is an explosive problem, this use of the dossier by the Obama Justice Department and the FBI in an application to the FISA court for authority to spy on Trump’s associates. Politically, it suggests that the collusion narrative peddled by Democrats and the media since Trump’s victory in the November election was substantially driven by partisan propaganda. Legally, it raises the distinct possibilities that (a) the FBI did not adequately verify the claims in the dossier before using them in an application to the secret federal court; and (b) the Justice Department of the then-incumbent Democratic administration did not disclose to the court that the dossier was produced by the Democratic presidential campaign for use against the rival Republican candidate.

How believable is it that an offhand comment by Papadopoulos spurred the collusion investigation, not the Steele document which openly discussed such collusion? McCarthy suggests this doesn’t seem very likely at all:

We’re now told that when the emails were leaked, Australian officials put two and two together, figuring these emails might be what Papadopoulos was talking about “that night at the Kensington Wine Room.” The Aussies thus tipped off their American counterparts to the barroom conversation between Papadopoulos and Downer. That, not the dossier explicitly alleging a Trump-Russia conspiracy, is what provoked the investigation.

The media has already been eager to frame any GOP interest in what prompted the surveillance as a distraction from the real story, i.e. evidence of collusion which is always just around the corner. But how do we know there isn’t a real scandal lurking here, i.e. partisans at the DOJ using an unverified Clinton oppo document (which was used as an October surprise) to target elements of the opposition party for surveillance. I can’t imagine the left brushing this off so quickly if Trump had paid for the dossier and Hillary’s people were the targets.