The Cambridge Four: spies who hijacked America (2)
Uncovering the mysteries of Russiagate
by Steven P. Schrage, phD
Read the first part of the article
Steele’s role pushing anti-Flynn stories was revealed in his dossier and the testimony of an aide to Republican Senator John McCain. Steele met the aide in London during the fall of 2016, telling him that “Flynn had an extramarital affair with a Russian woman in the U.K.” and using details mirroring the other Cambridge Four stories. The Washington Post also reports Steele and Dearlove discussed how his anti-Trump work might integrate with UK government actions from at least “early fall” 2016.
Yet by winter 2016, these efforts were imploding. After Trump’s election, FBI agents texted about “a lot of scared MFers” at headquarters who needed to “[s]tart looking for new jobs fellas.” Yet doubling down on questionable investigations might have been some of the FBI Keystone Cops’ only escape route.
Before the election, Halper and the FBI made several wired-up spying attempts: secretly recording and questioning Page and Papadopoulos to try and catch them in statements supporting Steele’s Trump-Russia conspiracies. Their clown car operation backfired spectacularly, often contradicting Steele. Halper at one point awkwardly put a phone down as if to record Papadopoulos while spewing questions about Russia. On an FBI recording, Halper apparently admitted he was “three sheets to the wind“ drunk.
The supposedly “confidential” source Halper seemingly made a public, last-ditch attempt to try and legitimize allegations of a Russian conspiracy at Cambridge through a December 16 Financial Times newspaper article. Halper claimed he and Dearlove quit the seminar that hosted Flynn due to “unacceptable Russian influence.” Halper’s partner Andrew initially called Halper’s assertions “absurd.” Another professor added that “Cambridge is a wonderful place for conspiracy theories, but the idea there is a Machiavellian plot here is ridiculous… it’s real Reds under the Bed stuff – the whole thing is ludicrous.”
But Andrew later seemed to flip, giving legs to his Cambridge Four comrades’ smears by authoring an 2017 article implying their falsely accused “Russian spy” behaved seductively towards Flynn. That this fake “spy” was a new mother – and Andrew’s own student mentee for years – made this more disturbing.
Despite Halper’s article, a few weeks later these efforts were dead. A memo to terminate the Flynn investigation was on its way to FBI director on January 4, finding “no derogatory evidence.” Flynn would soon lead the NSC, where he would be empowered to expose the Cambridge Four and could bring them to their own career guillotines. They would likely be joined by Director Comey, McCabe, and FBI officials whom Democrats had widely derided earlier for botching the Hillary Clinton email investigation before they staked what remained of their credibility to Steele’s falsehoods. Then everything changed.
A General, a Walrus, and a “Kill Shot”
McCabe’s FBI subordinate Peter Strzok – who earlier texted that the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation was like an “insurance policy” in case of Trump’s election which “[w]e’ll stop” and he could “SMELL the Trump support“ at a Walmart – intervened on January 4 to pull the memo terminating Flynn’s investigation.
The next day, January 5, Strzok attended an Oval Office Meeting with President Obama, National Security Adviser Rice, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and FBI Director Comey. Among the topics were intercepted calls between Flynn and Russia’s Ambassador discussing sanctions. Strzok’s notes indicate Vice President Biden suggested that Flynn somehow violated a 216-year-old, possibly unconstitutional, and never successfully prosecuted, law called the Logan Act.
All of this – White House discussions, the taping of Flynn, Flynn-Russia conversations – were highly classified. They were never supposed to go public. If no one commits a felony by leaking them, this whole situation likely disappears. It is hard to believe anyone in Trump’s White House, or even in the last days of Obama’s presidency, would try to prosecute Flynn for a “Logan Act” violation of a possibly unconstitutional law he probably didn’t even violate, and that hasn’t been successfully prosecuted in its over two centuries of existence.
If this law – created to stop private citizens from intervening in foreign affairs – applied to incoming presidential teams, likely Joe Biden, Susan Rice, and most of the incoming international teams of Presidents Obama, Bush, Reagan, and Clinton would be guilty. Under our Constitution, it is the job of presidential campaigns to announce how they will change policy. So, unless someone commits the leak against Flynn, this all would be resolved internally. It is never transformed into a public Russia-Trump conspiracy tearing US apart. But as we all now know, and history recorded, that is not what happened.
Five days after that the January 5 Oval Office meeting, I met Halper in Virginia. I didn’t think much about that meeting until Durham’s team requested I review my records. Because Halper had seemed increasingly erratic in our dealings, making it difficult to advance my doctoral work, I requested to start recording our conversations back in 2015 to document his guidance.
When I listened to my January 10, 2017 recording a few weeks ago, I expected to find boring academic discussions. Instead I found something else. In the recording Halper laid out what was about to happen to Flynn, something he had no independent reason to know. “I don’t think Flynn’s going to be around long,” he said, adding, “the way these things work” was that “opponents… so-called enemies” of Flynn would be “looking for ways of exerting pressure… that’s how it builds.” Flynn, he said, would be “squeezed pretty hard,” and Flynn’s “reaction to that is to blow up and get angry. He’s really f*cked. I don’t where he goes from there. But that is his reaction. That’s why he’s so unsuitable.”
Those still defending the Crossfire Hurricane investigation will say there is no smoking gun here. There is no confession that individuals lied to ensnare Flynn, leaked classified information, or illegally undermined and sabotaged America’s government.
As someone experienced in crime and terrorism efforts, I can assure you of a hard truth: there almost never is. That is why we have jury trials, congressional investigations, and adversarial processes to uncover the truth.
That is why the most disturbing thing is that the Cambridge Four, their FBI/intelligence handlers, and others have been hidden from critical public and government inquiries for over four years. Context (including my background and materials) is vital, as is the chance for Halper, myself, Carter Page, and others involved to publicly testify, defend themselves, and answer questions. Yet for now, the context I can add makes this more troubling.
Halper would not have independently known Flynn, Trump’s most trusted security advisor, was about to go down. Halper knew the Cambridge Four’s Flynn affair allegations were, at best, unsubstantiated speculations, if not intentional lies. The FBI sought to close Flynn’s investigation and had mounting evidence undermining Steele’s Page and Papadopoulos allegations.
Even if Halper knew about Flynn’s “Logan Act violation” calls, it wouldn’t have mattered. Trump’s Administration would not prosecute this. It was, as Obama’s Acting Attorney General Sally Yates even admitted, “certainly unlikely” Obama’s Administration would either – it would expose their Crossfire investigation and spark bipartisan ridicule over a legally and politically suspect “Logan Act” prosecution in Obama’s last 10 days.
Halper was often unhinged and “mercurial,” as FBI described him in his 2011 firing. Months earlier he exploded screaming to block my long-planned outreach to the Trump campaign, likely fearing I would expose him and the Cambridge Four. Now Halper’s efforts were collapsing like a house of cards, likely leading to the Cambridge Four’s actual exposure, possibly even prosecution, once Flynn came to power. He should have been at wits’ end. Yet in the recording he was as eerily calm, almost cocky, as I’ve ever heard him.
One of the remaining tasks of investigators is determining the precise source of the leaks about Flynn to the Washington Post. These leaks were a critical inflection point. They revived the Trump-Russia investigations that were about to die and stopped Flynn before he could expose the fabrications and incompetence behind it all.
This is not a classic whistleblowing situation, wherein the confidentiality of the leaker should ideally remain sacrosanct in light of an important, socially-beneficial disclosure. This is the opposite: a leak seemingly manufactured with the intent of creating a media firestorm around a figure the FBI had already investigated, to no effect. The FBI’s key “confidential” source was already naming himself in a major global newspaper as he openly pushed Russia conspiracy theories.
Fairness demands individuals have a chance to testify under oath and defend themselves, yet members of the Cambridge Four, once again, have links that should be explored. It is demonstrably true that Halper knew Ignatius for decades, and he also bragged to me Ignatius was his press contact. Ignatius’ Post colleague, Robert Costa, was also Halper’s former student, and has described Halper as a “friend” he “had dinner with on many occasions.”
When Halper was outed as an FBI informant in 2018, Ignatius quickly filed a story calling Halper a “bit player” and a “middle man,” in what may have been an attempt to turn attention away from his long-time source. It is also worth noting that Flynn’s lawyer, Sydney Powell, has accused Pentagon official James Baker of making the leak – a charge a Pentagon official denied – and of coordinating with Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, on what she called a “kill shot” on Flynn.
Baker leads the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment (ONA), which reported paying Halper $411,575 while he surveilled Trump’s team. ONA claims this enormous sum – more than the annual salary of the President of the United States – was paid to Halper for fairly normal, largely publicly-sourced, reports to this office. I always found it strange that Halper profusely thanked me for introducing him to Carter Page, even after Page was accused of being a “Russian spy.” The disclosure that some of these payments started around the time Halper met Page, provided me with a theory on why he was so grateful.
According to a former Washington Post reporter, numerous sources were checked before the January 12, 2017 Ignatius story was published. While Flynn’s lawyer Powell suggested Baker leaked to Ignatius, it might be safer for Halper, rather than highly monitored government officials like Baker or Clapper, to provide information to his long-time media contact Ignatius, former student Costa, or one of their Post colleagues. Halper’s confidential FBI source role could be used to hide him from Congressional or public scrutiny. Halper’s FBI handler Somma could be hidden by a DOJ policy shielding lower-level employees, while foreign members of the Cambridge Four can selectively dodge U.S. investigations.
This exactly corresponds to what has happened so far.
My former supervisor, using his booming voice and bold ideas, likes to be the center of attention. Yet for two years his allies with powerful intelligence, political, and media ties seem to have done the impossible. They made this massive figure almost completely disappear.
The Mueller and DOJ IG investigations of these scandals relied in large part on input from DOJ and FBI officials linked to potential abuses – including the FBI’s Comey, McCabe, Strzok, Lisa Page and DOJ’s Andrew Weisman. When Congress grilled long-time FBI leader Mueller about why he didn’t interview “Steven Schrage” or others who might expose DOJ or FBI improprieties, he stammered: “[i]n those areas, I am going to stay away from… I stand by that which is in the report and not so necessarily with that, which is – which is not in the report.”
Given Mueller’s stated preference to “stay away” from those with information that might implicate members of his team and the DOJ IG’s reliance on DOJ insiders, it’s not surprising that people like me who were in a position to expose the Russiagate narrative were not interviewed.
What is surprising for anyone valuing journalistic standards, is that those under government investigation for abuses of power have so easily avoided hard questions. Some have even been given media contracts to spin their own actions. Imagine if Nixon’s allies appointed the Watergate burglars to investigate themselves, then placed them in nightly news positions where they could attack anyone questioning them. Politics shouldn’t destroy our principles.
There is too much to fully detail here, but further revelations – and they are forthcoming – will make these moves even more damning. How Cambridge Four members and Carter Page came together is a comedy of errors rivaling Dumb and Dumber. An FBI source had information that should have stopped Carter Page’s invasive surveillance in August 2016 before it started. A covert anti-Trump operative sought to be appointed to one of the world’s most powerful positions that could be used to undermine the president.
Evidence suggests undisclosed famous officials, including Republicans, tried to cover up their links to Steele’s smears. The IG report contains statements by Crossfire officials that appear factual inaccurate, inherently inconsistent, or highly improbable, raising questions about whether they risked prosecution to conceal their acts.
“I don’t remember.” That should be the official, trademarked motto of the government officials involved in these events. It is what former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates responded under oath. She had been asked if Vice President Biden raised the Logan Act in their Oval Office discussion of Flynn on January 5, 2017, seven days before the felony leak on Flynn’s alleged “Logan Act” violation was published.
These issues should be beyond politics. They should have been dealt with before now. They would have, if Washington insiders could “remember” things, like how to provide legally-mandated documents under our Constitution or their duties to the public.
This is also beyond the pervasive, often subconscious, partisanship that now blinds us. The intelligence leak claiming Russia supported Bernie Sanders over Vice President Biden in 2020’s critical Nevada Democratic caucuses, shows how US national security powers could just as easily be deployed against Democrats as against Republicans.
In my work after 9/11, I saw how those national security powers combined with unaccountable government officials could do things George Orwell never dreamed over. Russia and foreign interference in elections should be taken seriously. Yet pushing the threat of Russia – now a country with a GDP the CIA publicly estimates is far closer to Indonesia’s than our own – like we are in the middle of a 1950’s Red Scare push by Senator Joseph McCarthy, should not be used as a political weapon to cover up or excuse our own government officials’ abuses.
For years, political and intelligence officials have concealed key documents – and even my former supervisor the Walrus – in ways that have divided America and derailed our government’s work. If Biden, Trump, or members of their teams grossly abused national security powers to upend democracy, we deserve to know as soon as possible.
This should not be turned into an “surprise” used to throw any new presidential administration into chaos. Allowing politicians and national security officials to cover up or even profit from abuses of power, puts us on course for even greater disasters. America can’t afford another government and media strike out, after four years of too much denial, incompetence, and coverup.
November 30, 2020