US Intelligence officials were quick to speak through their stenographers in the media to downplay the contents of a memo released last week by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe about the origins of Russiagate. The memo made an explosive claim: Russian intelligence assessed that Hillary Clinton approved a campaign in July 2016 to link Donald Trump to Russia’s alleged hacking of the DNC to distract from Clinton’s email scandal.
After a week of sanctimonious statements from former intelligence officials, who according to Politico, were "aghast" with Ratcliffe’s decision to declassify the intelligence, the DNI declassified documents that showed the claim was not as "unverified" as these spooks would like the American people to believe.
In the memo released last week, Ratcliffe said handwritten notes from former CIA director John Brennan indicated that Brennan briefed President Obama on Clinton’s alleged plot. On Tuesday, Ratcliffe declassified those notes.
"We’re getting additional insight into Russian activities from [REDACTED]," Brennan’s notes read. "CITE [summarizing] alleged approved by Hillary Clinton a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service,"
Speaking with CNN after his notes were released, Brennan confirmed that he briefed Obama on this allegation.
"These were my notes from the 2016 period when I briefed President Obama and the rest of the national security council team about what the Russians were up to and I was giving examples of the type of access that the US intelligence community had to Russian information and what the Russians were talking about and alleging," Brennan said.
Before Brennan’s admission, the former CIA chief denounced Ratcliffe’s move to declassify the information and said the DNI is "is anything but an intelligence professional" and said Ratcliffe’s "selective declassification of information" was done to help President Trump. While Ratcliffe’s move was undoubtedly politically motivated, Brennan is in no position to judge anybody’s professionalism.
Brennan, who landed a job as an analyst for NBC in 2018, has used his prominence as a former CIA chief to make wild accusations about President Trump and Russia. After the 2018 Helsinki Summit, Brennan took to Twitter to accuse Trump of "treason" and said the president is "wholly in the pocket of Putin." In August 2018, Brennan penned an Op-Ed for The New York Times that said President Trump’s claims of no collusion are "hogwash." After Robert Mueller found no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, Brennan changed his tune and said he must have received "bad information." Whoops.
Ratcliffe also released a declassified CIA memo from September 2016 addressed to former FBI Director James Comey and then-Deputy Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Peter Strzok as part of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation into Trump campaign officials’ alleged ties to Russia.
"Per FBI verbal request, CIA provides the below examples of information the CROSSFIRE HURRICANE fusion cell has gleaned to date,” the memo reads. "An exchange [REDACTED] discussing US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s approval of a plan concerning US presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering US elections as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server."
Last week, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham asked Comey if he remembered receiving the memo, but the former FBI chief conveniently forgot. "That doesn’t ring any bells with me," Comey said.
The inspector general report on the FBI’s spying of the Trump campaign revealed multiple instances of the agency withholding and misrepresenting information to the FISA court to obtain surveillance warrants. For example, the FBI withheld the fact that Trump campaign advisor Carter Page had been working with the CIA in his dealings with Russia. The September 2016 memo alleging Clinton ordered to stir up a scandal linking Trump to Russia is just another example in a long list of information the FBI ignored to fit its narrative.
As Graham pointed out during the hearing and the great Russiagate debunker Aaron Maté pointed out on Twitter, the fact that the Clinton campaign tried to hype Trump-Russia ties is nothing new. It is well known that the campaign hired Fusion GPS and former British spy Christopher Steele to compile a now-discredited dossier about Trump’s alleged ties to Russia that relied heavily on internet rumors.
Ratcliffe’s memo says Clinton allegedly approved a campaign to stir up a scandal to distract from her emails on July 26th, 2016. A look at the timeline of events suggests Russian intelligence based this analysis, at least partly, on open-source information.
WikiLeaks began publishing emails from the Democratic National Committee on July 22nd, shortly before the Democratic National Convention. The emails were damning and revealed the DNC had a preference for Clinton and actively worked against the Bernie Sanders campaign.
The blog Moon of Alabama found Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook appeared on CNN on July 24th and made what was possibly the first allegation that Russia had "hacked" the DNC in support of Trump. Mook made the claim with no evidence, citing unnamed "experts."
"What’s disturbing to us is that experts are telling us Russian state actors broke into the DNC, stole these emails, and other experts are now saying that the Russians are releasing these emails for the purpose of actually of helping Donald Trump," Mook said.
As Bernhard put it at Moon of Alabama, "Mook’s TV appearance was probably a test balloon raised to see if such claims would stick." And stick they did.
The following day, The New York Times published a story that said, "the Russian-intervention narrative fits with Mrs. Clinton’s efforts to establish the idea that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia wants to see Mr. Trump elected to weaken America and hurt its closest NATO allies."
In an interview on July 26th, 2016, President Obama alluded to the idea that Russia "hacked" the DNC to help Donald Trump. "What we do know is that the Russians hack our systems, not just government systems but private systems," Obama said. "What the motives were in terms of the leaks, all that – I can’t say directly. What I do know is that Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin."
The allegation that Russia hacked the DNC first came from the private cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike in June 2016. In its investigation, the FBI relied on CrowdStrike’s work and never had access to DNC servers. This year, a bombshell was revealed by declassified testimony from CrowdStrike President Shawn Henry before the House Intelligence Committee in 2017.
Henry admitted his firm had no "concrete evidence" that alleged Russian hackers stole data from the DNC servers. "There are times when we can see data exfiltrated, and we can say conclusively. But in this case it appears it was set up to be exfiltrated, but we just don’t have the evidence that says it actually left," Henry said.
As far as attributing the "hack" to Russia, Henry said, "There are other nation-states that collect this type of intelligence for sure, but the – what we would call the tactics and techniques were consistent with what we’d seen associated with the Russian state."
While Brennan and other former officials express their disdain at Trump’s DNI for selectively declassifying this latest information, it is important to understand that the claim underpinning the entire Russiagate narrative still has many holes. And the conspiracy would have never been born without selective leaks of information by Obama-era intelligence officials.
Dave DeCamp is the assistant news editor of Antiwar.com and is based in Richmond, VA. Follow him on Twitter @decampdave.