This could be a bombshell, but perhaps not one aimed directly at former CIA director John Brennan. According to the New York Times last night, US Attorney John Durham has begun to focus on Brennan’s role in assessing the now-infamous Christopher Steele dossier on Donald Trump. Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded that the FBI knew the dossier was unreliable but continued to use it to justify the FISA surveillance warrants on Carter Page.
Just what did Brennan know about the Steele dossier, and when did he know it? Durham wants to find out, and wants all of the former CIA’s communication records as well:
The federal prosecutor scrutinizing the Russia investigation has begun examining the role of the former C.I.A. director John O. Brennan in how the intelligence community assessed Russia’s 2016 election interference, according to three people briefed on the inquiry.
John H. Durham, the United States attorney leading the investigation, has requested Mr. Brennan’s emails, call logs and other documents from the C.I.A., according to a person briefed on his inquiry. He wants to learn what Mr. Brennan told other officials, including the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, about his and the C.I.A.’s views of a notorious dossier of assertions about Russia and Trump associates. …
Mr. Durham is also examining whether Mr. Brennan privately contradicted his public comments, including May 2017 testimony to Congress, about both the dossier and about any debate among the intelligence agencies over their conclusions on Russia’s interference, the people said.
If Brennan lied to Congress, Durham might be inclined to prosecute — even though Brennan’s boss James Clapper got away with lying about surveillance programs earlier. However, Brennan might be a secondary target in this case. Reading further into the report by the NYT’s Katie Benner and Julian Barnes, it appears that Brennan had been skeptical all along of Steele and his dossier.
The question may be less of what Brennan knew and when he knew it, but who Brennan told and when that happened. This revolves around the intel-community consensus about Russian interference in the 2016 election, which turns out to have included the now-discredited dossier as part of that evaluation. Brennan, it turns out, did not want the dossier in the assessment and tried to keep it out:
Mr. Steele’s information “was a topic of significant discussion within the F.B.I. and with the other agencies participating in drafting” the declassified intelligence assessment about Russia interference, Mr. Horowitz wrote. The F.B.I. shared Mr. Steele’s information with the team of officials from multiple agencies drafting the assessment.
Mr. Comey also briefed Mr. Brennan and other top Obama administration intelligence officials including the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, and Mr. Clapper about the bureau’s efforts to assess the information in the dossier, Mr. Comey told the inspector general. He said that analysts had found it to be “credible on its face.”
But C.I.A. analysts still wanted to leave the dossier out of the assessment, as it was not vetted. Mr. Brennan’s allies have said he was among the officials who wanted to omit the dossier from the assessment.
Did the CIA actually warn the FBI about the dossier’s unreliability? Did Brennan warn Comey about it? Even more pertinent, did Brennan ever tell Comey directly and personally that Carter Page was one of the CIA’s assets against Russia? Don’t forget that the first FISA warrant on Page came in September, so if Brennan was warning the FBI about the dossier, that had to be around the same time as the FBI’s attempts to get the warrant — and certainly long before any renewals based on it.
If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then that makes those “mistakes” Comey described look a lot more purposeful. Their knowing use of a discredited dossier would also point Durham much more toward a conclusion of political bias, too. That would start to paint a very ugly picture of the FBI, and it would also pull Comey and Andrew McCabe more directly into it.
Brennan should be worried about this new direction from Durham. Comey might need to worry more.
Update: Our sister site Twitchy highlights a thread that outlines how this could be in pursuit of a perjury charge against Brennan:
It’s an interesting argument, but bear in mind that one could make an argument from the exact same data that it was Comey who committed perjury. And as Horowitz made clear, Comey had more to hide.