Several individuals connected to a 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign plot to cast Donald Trump as a covert Kremlin collaborator are working in high-level jobs within the Biden administration – including at least two senior Biden appointees cited by Special Counsel John Durham in his “active (and) ongoing” criminal investigation of the scheme, according to recently filed court documents.
Jake Sullivan, who now serves as Biden’s national security adviser, and Caroline Krass, a top lawyer at the Pentagon, were involved in efforts in 2016 and 2017 to advance the Clinton campaign’s false claims about Trump through the media and the federal government, documents show. Other evidence shows that two other Biden officials – senior State Department official Dafna Rand and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler – also are entangled in the so-called Russiagate scandal.
It’s not known whether these Biden appointees have been interviewed by Durham’s investigators. But as the probe widens, some government ethics watchdogs anticipate that Biden’s presidency could be pulled into the scandal, which saw the FBI abuse its surveillance powers to spy on a Trump campaign adviser based on Clinton opposition research.
Just as the Democrats have used their control of Congress to cast President Trump and the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol as threats to American democracy, Republicans are vowing if they regain power after November’s congressional elections to investigate the years-long effort to question Trump’s 2016 victory and undermine his presidency.
The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Turner, recently pledged to hold hearings and issue subpoenas “to get to the bottom of [Russiagate] so this never happens again, so we never have Americans having to distrust their own government because of the politicization of the FBI [and] of our intelligence community.”
RealClearInvestigations has learned that Congress has referred to the Special Counsel’s Office at least a dozen cases of potential perjury involving former Clinton campaign officials and Obama administration officials who have testified behind closed doors about their involvement in Russiagate. Hill lawyers and investigators have met with Durham’s staff about the criminal referrals stemming from the sworn depositions.
Republican sources say that the roles played in Russiagate by Krass, Sullivan, Rand, and Gensler may be among the first to draw attention in hearings. Although the full range of their efforts has not been made public, here’s what is known so far.
Clinton Donor and Top CIA Lawyer
Krass, 54 – whom Biden appointed as general counsel of the Defense Department early last year – is the former top CIA lawyer cited by Durham as “General Counsel of Agency-2” in his indictment of former Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann.
Durham alleged Sussmann first tried to plant a fabricated report with the FBI’s general counsel about a secret cyber-link between Trump and Russia-based Alfa Bank in order to set in motion an investigation of Trump before the 2016 election. Then, after the election, Sussmann filed a similar report with Krass’ legal shop at the CIA, the prosecutor said.
Although a Washington, D.C. jury in May acquitted Sussmann of lying about who was paying him to approach the FBI, the trial revealed that FBI field agents specializing in cyber crimes debunked his report within days of receiving it, and even suspected some of the evidence was cooked up. “We think it’s a set-up,” one agent warned in an internal FBI email. FBI brass working under then-Director James Comey, however, prolonged the investigation for several months.
Nevertheless, after Trump won the election, Sussmann brought the same Trump-Alfa Bank ruse to Krass – a Clinton donor and Obama appointee, then working under CIA Director John Brennan. Durham has found evidence that Krass welcomed the tip.
“We’re interested,” he said Krass told him in their December 2016 phone call. “We’re doing this review and I’ll speak to someone here, and someone will get back to you to arrange a meeting.”
Krass allegedly told Sussmann she would consider the information for inclusion in the intelligence review of alleged Russian interference in the election that Obama had ordered at the time. A declassified version of the review, known as the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA), was released to the public the next month and accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of meddling in the election to help Trump win. A classified version included an annex with several unfounded and since-debunked allegations against Trump developed by the Clinton campaign as part of the so-called Steele dossier. It’s not known if the two-page annex, which claimed the allegations were “consistent with the judgments in this assessment,” included the Alfa Bank canard, since several sections remained blacked out when it was made public in 2020.
John Brennan, Obama CIA Director: His agency seemed eager to move on any allegation against Trump.
The ICA became a foundational document for subsequent Trump-Russia probes and has been used by Democrats and the media to suggest the 2016 election was stolen from Clinton.
“The greatest concern with the role of Krass is her ‘interest’ [in Sussmann’s tip] despite the lack of foundational support [for it],” George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told RCI. “As with the FBI, the Clinton campaign found eager [Obama] officials to move on any such allegation [against Trump].”
On Feb. 9, 2017, Sussmann secured a sit-down meeting at CIA headquarters with “a representative from the Office of General Counsel,” according to documents reviewed by RCI, where he turned over more dubious material allegedly linking Trump to Russia. The CIA lawyer he met with worked under Krass, who did not leave the agency until several months later, despite the change in administrations.
The attorney, identified at trial only as “Steve M.,” said he would pass the tips on to CIA technical experts, as well as an FBI liaison officer, but they too dismissed the data as “self-generated,” meaning they appeared to be designed to arrive at a predetermined conclusion of a nefarious cyber-link. Complete datasets were withheld from the CIA.
Apparently, the CIA did not even ask for the source of Sussmann’s walk-in tip, including where he got the data files he gave the agency. The FBI exhibited a similar lack of curiosity when Sussmann reported the false Trump-Alfa Bank connection.
However, like FBI brass, Krass and her boss at the time, CIA chief Brennan, were aware of Clinton campaign efforts to portray Trump as a Kremlin agent, and it was no secret that Sussmann’s Perkins Coie law firm represented her campaign.
“As Brennan’s top lawyer, she would know everything about that,” said Kash Patel, the former House Intelligence Committee investigator who interviewed Sussmann in a closed-door deposition in December 2017, and was the first to discover the Alfa Bank smear operation he ran at the FBI and CIA on behalf of Clinton campaign operatives.
Peter Strzok: FBI man opened an investigation, not of Clinton, but the Trump campaign.
Evidence shows that Krass had other reasons to be skeptical of Sussmann’s claims. As legal adviser to Brennan, she was involved in the referral her boss made to the FBI in 2016 to open a counterespionage case to find out how Russian intelligence intercepted information about Hillary Clinton’s plan to tie up Trump in a Kremlin scandal. The intercept revealed the Russians were on to a plot by Clinton and her then-foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan to “stir up” a scandal on Trump about Russia during the Democratic convention in late July 2016.
Brennan appears to have been less concerned about the Clinton campaign’s disinformation campaign than the fact Moscow knew about it. This so alarmed Brennan that he briefed Obama about it, according to a summary of his handwritten notes, declassified in 2020.
The referral, known as a counterintelligence operational lead (CIOL), was sent to Comey, who in turn forwarded it to then-FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok to investigate.
Strzok – who was fired by the FBI after his anti-Trump views became public – opened an investigation, not of Clinton but the Trump campaign. Krass’ chief of staff at the time, Brian Greer, confirmed that the purpose of the CIOL was not to investigate the Clinton campaign’s dirty tricks, but to run a counter-spying probe to see if the Russians had penetrated the Clinton camp. The concern, he said, was that Clinton “may have been spied on by a hostile intelligence service.”
Hillary Clinton: CIA lawyer Krass donated at least $3,575 to Clinton’s 2016 and 2008 campaigns for president.
Seemingly reflecting the attitude of his former boss at the spy agency, Greer opined that “there’s nothing illegal about” what Clinton did to Trump. “Even if it’s unsavory,” he shrugged, “that’s just politics.”
Federal campaign records reveal that Krass donated at least $3,575 to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 and 2008 campaigns for president. Before Obama appointed her to the CIA in 2014, she served as his special counsel for national security affairs in the White House.
Brennan’s handwritten notes were turned up by Durham and opened a new track in his investigation, which early on had appeared to clear the CIA of wrongdoing. But now Durham is actively investigating this CIA front, according to one of his pre-trial filings. His grand jury has interviewed at least eight current and former CIA employees, and he is seeking out other agency employees who may have attended the meeting with Sussmann.
“The government has been undertaking additional steps to determine if additional personnel were, in fact, present at this [Feb. 9] meeting with [CIA] employees,” Durham noted. “In addition, the Special Counsel’s Office maintains an active, ongoing criminal investigation of these and other matters that is not limited to the offense charged in the [Sussmann] indictment.”
Kash Patel, ex-House congressional prober: Russiagate conspirators in the Biden administration “must be held accountable or they’ll only abuse their power again.”
It could not be determined if Krass is among former CIA employees interviewed by Durham’s team. Durham’s office remains tight-lipped, and neither the CIA nor Pentagon responded to requests for comment. Attempts to reach Krass were also unsuccessful.
During his 2017 House Intelligence Committee interview, Sussmann and his lawyer promised to provide the committee copies of all the documents he gave to the CIA, but Patel said they failed to turn them over. The former staff counsel said he is confident Durham has obtained them.
Meanwhile, Judicial Watch is suing the CIA for all its records of contacts with Sussmann under the Freedom of Information Act. The Washington-based watchdog group recently filed the lawsuit after the CIA failed last year to reply to a request for the records, including notes, related to agency phone conversations and meetings with the Clinton campaign attorney.
“The CIA is in cover-up mode about its communications with the [Clinton] lawyer implicated in a shady spy operation against President Trump,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said. “What is the CIA hiding about its role in this plot against Trump?”
Fitton maintains that what happened at the CIA could be an even bigger scandal than what happened at the FBI.
As one of the Intelligence Community’s top attorneys, Krass also was involved in Obama’s sudden decision after Trump won to make it easier for the CIA and FBI to root through raw personal communications intercepted globally by the National Security Agency, according to sources familiar with high-level legal consultations regarding the revision to spying rules at the time.
The departing president’s executive order relaxing rules for mining the NSA’s highly classified databases went into effect less than three weeks before Trump took office. At the same time, the White House rushed to preserve all intelligence related to Trump and Russia and disseminate it across U.S. agencies.
The order, known as “12 Triple 3,” allowed the FBI for the first time to sift through large troves of incidental communications – including phone calls and emails – involving U.S. citizens, without NSA filtering or even wiretap warrants. In effect, agents could put advisers and appointees of Trump, along with their family members and friends, under warrantless surveillance.
The easing of longstanding restrictions on intelligence-sharing set off a massive fishing expedition.
The FBI didn’t have much time to exploit the raw intercepts before Trump put his own people in place. So in a last-minute scramble, it asked both the CIA and NSA to search their holdings and collect as much information as possible on Russian oligarchs and other figures for any links to Trump and his advisers – namely, Gen. Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Carter Page.
Read the full summary here.