Spygate, Part #9: The Deputies Meetings
The secret Situation Room meetings, also known as the “Deputies Meetings”, were handled by the Obama Administration from August 2016 to December 2016 to monitor Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election, with various members of the Cabinet and heads of intelligence agencies in attendance.
But who attended, how were they organised and what was their scope? And did they do what they said they were doing?
This will be a deliberative look at each members’ actions and how they affected the presidential campaign in various ways.
On July 31, 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, ran by Director James Comey, opened an investigation into the Trump campaign titled “Crossfire Hurricane”, named after the Rolling Stones documentary of the same name. It focused on the actions of four members of the Trump campaign:
- Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
- Paul Manafort
- Carter Page
- George Papadopoulos
As such, this was an incredibly important time… for Director John Brennan of the Central Intelligence Agency.
As noted previously, the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation was partially triggered by information received by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Counterintelligence Mission Center, which served as a conduit to the Federal Bureau of Investigation by using contacts developed by the intelligence agency between Russian individuals and members of the Trump campaign.
The information, more specifically, was received at a time where, coincidentally, Donald Trump secured the Republican Party nomination, which occurred on July 20, 2016, the day before a high-level security meeting between several White House officials.
“The CIA breakthrough came at a stage of the presidential campaign when Trump had secured the GOP nomination but was still regarded as a distance long shot. Clinton held comfortable leads in major polls, and Obama expected that he would be transferring power to someone who had served in his Cabinet.” — The Washington Post
“Intelligence sources said the logs discovered by National Security Council staff suggested Rice’s interest in the NSA materials, some of which included unmasked Americans’ identities, appeared to begin last July around the time Trump secured the GOP nomination and accelerated after Trump’s election in November launched a transition that continued through January.” — Sara Carter, Circa
In the first week of August — directly after the creation of Crossfire Hurricane — Director Brennan contacted Avril Haines via telephone, as he had received intelligence in relation to President Vladimir Putin.
An envelope which contained “eyes only” instructions was sent by courier from the Central Intelligence Agency to the White House. The contents of the envelope were shown to four people: President Barack Obama, and three of his senior aides, most likely Denis McDonough, Susan Rice and Avril Haines.
Within the envelope was a valuable source that Director Brennan had used to ascertain certain information, a source which he intentionally kept away from the Presidential Daily Brief. This was because, by 2013, the Presidential Daily Brief was being received by over 30 recipients.
“Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.
But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objects — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.” — The Washington Post
As a result of this, Director Brennan created a secret task force at the Central Intelligence Agency’s Headquarters, which was composed of several dozen analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The Working Group reported to two different groups.
- President Barack Obama and less than 14 senior United States Government officials.
- A team of operations specialists at the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Also in early August 2016 — presumably the same week — agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, where they questioned her about a letter they had received in early March 2016 from a foreign source, supposedly written by Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz to Leonard Benardo of the Open Society Foundations regarding the Midyear Exam investigation.
During this meeting, the agents offered to give Attorney General Lynch a “defensive briefing”. Shortly after this, the Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded that the Benardo letter was an unreliable document.
President Obama ordered his aides to determine ways to retaliate or deter against the Russian Government through three steps:
- Gain a high-confidence assessment from the United States intelligence agencies on Russia’s role and intent.
- Check vulnerabilities in state-run election systems.
- Seek bipartisan support from Congressional leaders for a statement condemning Moscow and urging states to accept federal assistance.
The same week, Rice, Haines and Lisa Monaco convened meetings in the White House Situation Room, which would later be referred to as “Deputies Meetings”. These meetings were initially attended by:
- Director John Brennan, Central Intelligence Agency
- Director James Clapper, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
- Director James Comey, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Attorney General Loretta Lynch, United States Department of Justice
As time passed, another Cabinet member joined the Deputies Meetings: Vice President Joe Biden.
The Deputies Meetings needed to defend against any potential leaks, and therefore followed the same protocols taken during the planning stages of the raid of Osama bin Laden.
At a later time, agendas were directly sent to Cabinet secretaries, including Secretary John Kerry and Secretary Ashton Carter. When an agenda was received, their subordinates were ordered never to open the envelopes. Further to this, some agendas were withheld until the participants had arrived in the Situation Room and sat down.
Ordinarily, a video feed from the White House Situation Room is fed into various National Security Council offices to allow senior aides to view the events with zero sound. However, during the Deputies Meetings, the video feeds were switched off.
One of these Deputies Meetings was hosted by Haines, where the attendees of the meetings argued that any deliberative attempt to strike back against Russia would become a tool of propaganda for President Vladimir Putin, while another was concerned about the potential effect any action may have on Election Day 2016.
Haines would later note she was “very concerned” during this time about the potential of Russians gaining influence within the Trump campaign, although she apparently remained unaware of the existence of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
As an aspect, or an offshoot, of one of these meetings, Susan Rice informed both Michael Daniel and Celeste Wallander (who would later gain access to the Steele memos) to cease their planning of retaliation against Russia for their cyber attacks on companies and political campaigns and to stand down from the efforts.
The retaliation efforts were carried out by the Cyber Response Group, a unit within the National Security Council which featured representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the United States Department of State and the Pentagon.
One of these individuals was Anthony Ferrante, who was in charge of coordinating the United States Government’s response to Russian attempts to meddle in the presidential election as the top cybersecurity official from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In the present day, Ferrante is investigating the Steele memos on behalf of BuzzFeed News. Anyway, back to the first week of August 2016…
Director Comey also met with President Obama in the Oval Office for a one-on-one meeting, where Director Comey suggested that he write an opinion piece for The New York Times about the potential for Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election. Director Comey planned to avoid mentioning the Crossfire Hurricane investigation in the opinion piece.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: “W– we– we know that– there were s– there were strong objections in– by Republicans in the Senate to being public about this. But at one point, you actually volunteered to put it all on paper?”
JAMES COMEY: “Yeah– I think it was in August, I volunteered that– that I would be– I remember saying that I’m a little tired of being the independent voice on things, after the beating I’d taken after the July 5th announcement. But I said in a meeting with the president, ‘I’m willing to be the voice on this and help inoculate the American people. But I also recognize why this is such a hard question, because if you announce that the Russians are trying to mess with our election, do you accomplish their goal for them? Do you undermine confidence in our election by having the president of the United States, or one of his senior people, say this publicly? Will the Russians be happy that you did that?’ And so I– I wrote an op-ed, was going to go in a major newspaper that laid out what was going on. Not the investigation, ’cause that was too sensitive to reveal, but that, ‘The Russians are here and they’re screwing with us. And this is consistent with what they’ve done in the past,’ and they never took me up on it. The Obama administration deliberated until the beginning of October.”
On August 1, 2016, Director Clapper attended the Department of Defense Intelligence Information Systems Worldwide Conference in Atlanta, GA.
On August 4, 2016, Director Brennan contacted Director Alexander Bortnikov of the Federal Security Service (FSB), where he warned Director Bortnikov against future interference in the United States presidential election.
“When Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s internal security service, told me during an early August 2016 phone call that Russia wasn’t interfering in our presidential election, I knew he was lying. Over the previous several years I had grown weary of Mr. Bortnikov’s denials of Russia’s perfidy — about its mistreatment of American diplomats and citizens in Moscow, its repeated failure to adhere to cease-fire agreements in Syria and its paramilitary intervention in eastern Ukraine, to name just a few issues.
When I warned Mr. Bortnikov that Russian interference in our election was intolerable and would roil United States-Russia relations for many years, he denied Russian involvement in any election, in America or elsewhere, with a feigned sincerity that I had heard many times before. President Vladimir Putin of Russia reiterated those denials numerous times over the past two years, often to Donald Trump’s seeming approval.” — John Brennan, The New York Times
The next day, on August 5, 2016, Michael Morell published the article “I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton” in The New York Times.
The same day — August 5 — the 55th birthday of President Obama was hosted at the White House. During the party, which was attended by Donna Brazile, she was pulled to the side by both Susan Rice (a member of the Deputies Meetings) and Eric Holder separately, where both of them encouraged Brazile to place Russian hacking at the top of her priority list.
The next day, on August 6, 2016, Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Seriously, what is going on with Trump and Russia?” with a 1 minute, 45 second video attached. The same day, President Obama and the First Family left for their vacation at Martha’s Vineyard.
Two days later, on August 8, 2016, Special Agent Peter Strzok texted Lisa Page about a joint intelligence piece for Director Comey to prepare for him to brief Denis McDonough on August 10, 2016.
In mid-August 2016, Director Brennan shared intelligence with Director Comey, which showed that the Russian Government was actively interfering in the 2016 United States presidential election.
Starting from August 11, 2016, Director Brennan started to personally brief — in consultation with the White House — each member of the “Gang of Eight” about the Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election.
JOHN BRENNAN: “Third, through the so-called Gang of Eight process we kept congress apprised of these issues as we identified them. Again, in consultation with the White House, I personally briefed the full details of our understanding of Russian attempts to interfere in the election to congressional leadership; specifically: Senators Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr; and to representatives Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff between 11th August and 6th September , I provided the same briefing to each of the gang of eight members. Given the highly sensitive nature of what was an active counter-intelligence case, involving an ongoing Russian effort, to interfere in our presidential election, the full details of what we knew at the time were shared only with those members of congress; each of whom was accompanied by one senior staff member.”
As noted by Director Brennan, the “Gang of Eight” at the time were:
- Senator Richard Burr
- Senator Dianne Feinstein
- Senator Mitch McConnell
- Representative Devin Nunes
- Representative Nancy Pelosi
- Senator Harry Reid
- Speaker Paul Ryan
- Representative Adam Schiff
On the day the briefings started — August 11 — Representative Pelosi declared that the hacking of the Democratic National Committee was a modern version of the Watergate scandal, conducted by the Russians. At the same time, Director Clapper visited Estonia in person.
Director Clapper worked on preparing the classified briefings for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, as being the nominees of both the Republican Party and Democratic Party allowed them access to some classified information.
Around this time, counterintelligence specialists at the Federal Bureau of Investigation briefed Donald Trump and his surrogates and leadership, and Hillary Clinton and her surrogates and leadership, about the Russian Government’s interference of the 2016 United States presidential election, and issues surrounding cybersecurity.
On August 15, 2016, Special Agent Strzok texted Page: I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40…”
Meanwhile, Secretary Jeh Johnson arranged a conference call with dozens of state officials in an attempt to enlist their support in the White House’s election defence campaign, with one of the officials called being Brian Kemp.
Two days later, on August 17, 2016, Trump, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Governor Chris Christie attended their first classified briefing held by intelligence officials — the officials were from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and it was held at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York Field Office.
The next day, on August 18, 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Division issued a warning titled “Targeting Activity Against State Board of Election Systems”, restricted to “NEED TO KNOW recipients”, where they disclosed that they were investigating cyber intrusions into websites hosted in Arizona and Illinois.
On August 19, 2016, Special Agent Strzok texted Page that he was preparing for a meeting with Director Clapper, who then after the meeting contacted Director Comey.
Two days later, on August 21, 2016, President Obama and the First Family left Martha’s Vineyard to return to Washington, DC.
On August 24, 2016, Director Brennan and Director Clapper shared the stage together for a symposium at the Nixon Library, where they discussed the Presidential Daily Brief.
It was the next day, August 25, 2016, that Director Brennan contacted Senator Reid through a secure telephone line as part of his classified “Gang of Eight” briefings. During the conversation, Senator Reid was informed that Russia was attempting to assist Trump with winning the election, and that members of the Trump campaign may be working with Russians to achieve this. Director Brennan also advised Senator Reid that, as the Central Intelligence Agency focused on foreign affairs, he would have to speak with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to discuss further.
Another two days later, on August 27, 2016, Senator Reid sent a letter to Director Comey, where he expressed concern and questioned the range of Russian interference. Senator Reid also requested for an investigation to be opened, unaware of the existence of Crossfire Hurricane. In the letter, Carter Page was cited. However, Director Comey later informed the Crossfire Hurricane team that he was contacted by Senator Reid prior and was warned that a letter would be sent.
On the same day, Senator McConnell received his own personal briefing from Director Brennan, where he questioned the underpinnings of the intelligence gathered. Senator McConnell agreed during the briefing to sign a letter to state election officials about potential election interference, requesting that altered language be used for it.
Hillary Clinton then received her first classified briefing — alone, for 2 hours — from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence at a Federal Bureau of Investigation facility in White Plains, NY.
In late August 2016, the Crossfire Hurricane investigation team learned of the memos written by Christopher Steele from Special Agent Michael Gaeta, where they then briefed Director Comey and deputies on their existence.
Around this time, Admiral Rogers pushed for a counter-cyber-strike against Russia for their actions, proposing a number of potential scenarios, although none of them were presented to President Obama.
On August 29, 2016, Michael Isikoff published the article “FBI says foreign hackers penetrated state election systems” in Yahoo! News.
As August 2016 was coming to a close, Director Brennan became more concerned over Russia’s cyber attacks on the United States during the presidential election.
In September 2016, Director Comey again refused to divulge the existence of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. The same month, presumably after September 23, 2016, Jonathan Finer briefed Secretary Kerry on the 2-page Steele memo summary, although once they both agreed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had it in hand, they dropped the subject, and Finer placed the summary in a safe.
On September 2, 2016, Special Agent Strzok and Lisa Page prepared a set of talking points for Director Comey, as he was preparing for a meeting with President Obama, who wanted to know everything they were doing. Shortly after this, Strzok and Page then discussed their authorship of the opinion piece — this is most likely the same opinion piece Director Comey discussed with President Obama in August 2016.
In early September 2016, the Obama Administration decided to officially blame Russia for the cyber-attacks on the United States. As such, Secretary Johnson, Director Comey and Monaco travelled to Capitol Hill in a caravan of black SUVs, where they then met with the “Gang of Twelve”, which included Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative Adam Schiff.
During this meeting, they tried to arrange a bipartisan letter to be sent to State Governors to defend the election infrastructure. The Republican Party members of the United States Congress disagreed with the plan, as they viewed the request as partisan.
On September 5, 2016, President Obama attended the G20 Summit, where he met directly with President Putin. During this meeting, President Obama warned President Putin to end his interference in the 2016 United States presidential election. The same day, Dana Priest, Ellen Nakashima and Tom Hamburger published the article “U.S. investigating potential covert Russian plan to disrupt November elections” in The Washington Post, which was then discussed by Special Agent Strzok and Lisa Page.
The day after, on September 6, 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence held a classified briefing with Congressional staff members about Russian hacking and interference in the presidential election, while Director Brennan completed his own personal briefings with the “Gang of Eight”.
Between September 7–8, 2016, the Intelligence and National Security Summit was held, which was attended by Director Clapper, Shawn Henry, Representative Schiff, Deputy Director McCabe, John Carlin, Stuart Evans, Admiral Rogers, William Evanina, Director Comey and Director Brennan.
It may have also attended by Special Agent Strzok.
“And ooh, you’re at ODNI on Wed. LX? Me too!”
“Gotta figure that out tomorrow. Insider threat perhaps. Maybe Electoral shenanigans. I’m between Clapper and Evanina and another person or two.” — Peter Strzok, September 5, 2016
On September 8, 2016, Ken Dilanian, Robert Windrem and William Arkin published the article “What Really Happened at Donald Trump’s Intelligence Briefing” in NBC News.
Three days later, on September 11, 2016, Director Brennan was interviewed on CBS’s “Face the Nation”, where he warned about Russia’s capabilities in the cyber-realm. Director Brennan also noted that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s e-mails.
“CIA Director John Brennan warned on Sunday that Russia has ‘exceptionally capable and sophisticated’ computer capabilities and that the U.S. must be on guard.
When asked in a television interview whether Russia is trying to manipulate the American presidential election, Brennan didn’t say. But he noted that the FBI is investigating the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails, and he cited Moscow’s aggressive intelligence collection and its focus on high-tech snooping.
‘I think that we have to be very, very wary of what the Russians might be trying to do in terms of collecting information in a cyber realm, as well as what they might want to do with it,’ he told CBS’ ‘Face the Nation’ on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.” — CBS News
The next day, on September 12, 2016, Representative Pelosi, Senator McConnell, Senator Reid and Speaker Ryan met with President Obama in the Oval Office to discuss Zika funding.
It was during this Oval Office meeting that President Obama requested for the Senators and Representatives to join him in asking the states to work the White House on protecting the election network infrastructure, which included the development of a bipartisan statement. Senator McConnell pushed for the statement to be “watered down” from the original request.
The same day — September 12 — Steve Ricchetti contacted Donna Brazile to arrange a call between herself and Vice President Biden.
On September 14, 2016, Monaco attended a Center For Strategic and International Studies conference, where she warned that there would be retaliation from the United States for the hacking of political organisations. Other attendees at the conference included James A. Baker and George Toscas.
“They come as the FBI is probing the extent to which Moscow is carrying out an unprecedented digital campaign to potentially undermine confidence in the political process here.
The nation’s top national security officials warned Wednesday that the United States is prepared to respond to whoever is behind the hacks of political organizations such as the Democratic National Committee.
‘Nobody should think that there’s a free pass,’ said Lisa Monaco, President Obama’s adviser on homeland security and counterterrorism, when asked at a Center for Strategic and International Studies conference about the hacks linked to Russia.” — The Washington Post
Monaco then spoke at the 10-year anniversary of the United States Department of Justice’s National Security Division, where she said that it would be very difficult for Russia to hack the elections. Meanwhile, Special Agent Strzok was briefed by the National Security Agency.
In mid-September 2016, the Steele memo provided by Special Agent Gaeta reached the Crossfire Hurricane investigation team.
On September 22, 2016, Senator Feinstein and Representative Schiff released a joint statement about Russian interference in the presidential election, where they mentioned the briefings they had received from Director Brennan.
A few days later, on September 27, 2016, Ali Watkins published the article “The White House Asked Congress To Keep Quiet On Russian Hacking” in BuzzFeed News, which directly related to the joint statement.
“But sources tell BuzzFeed News that the White House — which has stayed silent despite mounting pressure to call out its Moscow adversaries — tried to delay the statement’s release. The public accusation was of such concern to the administration that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was personally involved in the negotiations over releasing it, according to a congressional source.
Feinstein and Schiff, both Democrats, agreed to omit part of their original statement for security reasons, according to another congressional source. That request, which stemmed from concerns over classification, came from the CIA, a congressional source added Wednesday.” — Ali Watkins, BuzzFeed News
In late September 2016, Director Comey ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Counterintelligence Division — headed by Bill Priestap — to protect the 2016 United States presidential election from foreign interference.
On September 28, 2016, Senator McConnell, Senator Reid, Speaker Ryan and Representative Pelosi sent a bipartisan joint letter to Todd Valentine to warn him about potential cyber-attacks which may affect the presidential election. On the same day, Director Comey testified before the House Judiciary Committee, where he discussed the attempted intrusions into voter database registrations in July, August and beyond.
In October 2016, the Obama Administration officially ruled out moving forward on Director Comey’s plan to write and publish an opinion piece for The New York Times.
JAMES COMEY: “And so I– I wrote an op-ed, was going to go in a major newspaper that laid out what was going on. Not the investigation, ’cause that was too sensitive to reveal, but that, ‘The Russians are here and they’re screwing with us. And this is consistent with what they’ve done in the past,’ and they never took me up on it. The Obama administration deliberated until the beginning of October.”
However, an alternative plan was created in its place by the Obama Administration: in the event Hillary Clinton was defeated on Election Day, then the White House would co-ordinate with Congressional Republicans, former Presidents of the United States, and former Cabinet-level officials — which included both Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell — to verify the election, which included confirmation that Russia pushed for Trump to win over Hillary. This plan was discussed with Ben Rhodes.
“In October 2016, senior staff in the Obama White House discussed what they should do if Hillary Clinton won the November election and Donald Trump refused to accept the result as legitimate. They had cause to be worried. At that time, Trump had openly speculated that the election might be ‘rigged.’ During his final debate with Clinton on October 19, he said that his opponent ‘should never have been allowed to run’ and declined to answer the question of whether he would concede. ‘I’ll keep you in suspense,’ the Republican nominee said.”
“The Obama White House plan, according to interviews with Rhodes and Jen Psaki, Obama’s communications director, called for congressional Republicans, former presidents, and former Cabinet-level officials including Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, to try and forestall a political crisis by validating the election result. In the event that Trump tried to dispute a Clinton victory, they would affirm the result as well as the conclusions reached by the U.S. intelligence community that Russian interference in the election sought to favor Trump, and not Clinton. Some Republicans were already aware of Russian interference from intelligence briefings given to leaders from both parties during the chaotic months before the election. ‘We wanted to handle the Russia information in a way that was as bipartisan as possible,’ Rhodes said.” — New York Magazine
Meanwhile, Secretary Kerry’s top aides produced an action memo which included retaliatory measures against Russia, such as economic sanctions, with the plan to retaliate after Election Day 2016. The action memo was then signed by Secretary Kerry.
Director Clapper and Secretary Carter both then recommended to President Obama that Admiral Rogers be relieved of his command of the National Security Agency. However, this plan was thwarted when Senator John McCain stated he would block any nominees that wanted to proceed with a plan to split the leadership of the National Security Agency and the United States Cyber Command.
In early October 2016, Director Comey visited the White House Situation Room for two Deputies Meetings with other Obama Administration officials — including Susan Rice — where they discussed the creation and release of a public statement about Russian meddling in the presidential election. In the second Deputies Meeting, Director Comey declined to place the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the joint statement, as he viewed it as being too political and too close to the election.
On October 7, 2016, Dmitri Alperovitch, while on holiday in Italy, received a phone call from a senior United States government official that the joint statement identifying Russia as being behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee would be released.
At 03:30 P.M., the joint statement from Secretary Johnson of the Department of Homeland Security and Director Clapper of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was released, where they directly accused the Russian Government of being behind the recent e-mail compromises and being behind “Guccifer 2.0”.
Shortly after the release of the statement, Susan Rice then called for Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to visit the White House, where she asked him to deliver a message to President Putin.
On October 9, 2016, Trump and Hillary engaged in their second presidential debate, where Hillary explicitly accused the Russian Government of tipping the balance of the presidential election in favour of Donald Trump.
HILLARY CLINTON: “But, you know, let’s talk about what’s really going on here, Martha, because our intelligence community just came out and said in the last few days that the Kremlin, meaning Putin and the Russian government, are directing the attacks, the hacking on American accounts to influence our election. And WikiLeaks is a part of that, as are other sites where the Russians hack information, we don’t even know if it’s accurate information, and then they put it out.
We have never in the history of our country been in a situation where an adversary, a foreign power, is working so hard to influence the outcome of the election. And believe me, they’re not doing it to get me elected. They’re doing it to try and influence the election for Donald Trump.”
By October 10, 2016, both Trump and Hillary had been given their second classified briefings by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, while their respective transition teams had been briefed on the Russian hack, as on October 10, Robert Windrem and William M. Arkin published the article “Trump Told Russia To Blame for Hacks Long Before 2016 Debate” in NBC News.
The next day, on October 11, 2016, President Obama considered a proportional response to President Putin. This proportional response was then discussed between Alperovitch and officials of the Obama Administration.
On October 12, 2016, Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated during a press conference that the release of John Podesta’s e-mails by WikiLeaks was consistent with previous Russian Government-directed efforts.
At the same time, Director Comey attended the Special Agent-In-Charge Conference, where he gave a speech about combating misinformation surrounding his July 5 announcement.
Devlin Barrett and Damian Paletta then published the article “FBI Suspects Russia in Hack of John Podesta Emails” in The Wall Street Journal.
The next day, on October 13, 2016, Jim Sciutto, Nicole Gaouette and Ryan Browne — with contributions from Stephen Collinson, Michelle Kosinksi, David Wright and Tom Kludt — published the article “US finds growing evidence Russia feeding emails to WikiLeaks” in CNN.
Again, the day after, on October 14, 2016, William M. Arkin, Ken Dilanian and Robert Windram published “CIA Prepping for Possible Cyber Strike Against Russia” in NBC News. The same day, Vice President Biden was interviewed by Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press”, where he said that the Obama Administration would send a message to President Putin, but he hoped nobody would find out about said message.
On October 15, 2016, Lisa Page texted Deputy Director McCabe:
“Just called. Apparently the DAG now wants to be there, and WH wants DOJ to host. So we are setting that up now. We will very much need to get Cohen’s view before we meet with her. Better, have him weigh in with her before the meeting. We need to speak with one voice if that is in fact the case.”
On the same day, Michael McFaul visited the White House, where he ran into Ambassador Kislyak.
In mid-October 2016, Steele visited the United States Department of State, where he briefed various employees of the nature of his research into the connections between Trump and Russia.
Also in mid-October 2016, detailed talking points were issued to Special Agents-In-Charge at the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist them in answering questions surrounding Director Comey’s July 5, 2016 statement about exonerating Hillary for the Midyear Exam investigation.
On October 18, 2016, President Obama and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi hosted a joint press conference at the White House Press Garden, where President Obama mocked Trump for calling the presidential election a rigged system.
“President Obama ridiculed Donald J. Trump on Tuesday for saying that the presidential election was rigged against him, telling Mr. Trump, the Republican nominee, to ‘stop whining and go try to make his case’ to win more votes than Hillary Clinton.
At a news conference in the White House Rose Garden, Mr. Obama said, ‘I have never seen in my lifetime, or in modern political history, any presidential candidate trying to discredit the elections and the election process before votes have even taken place.’”
“There is no evidence, he said, that a presidential election has ever been rigged. He said there was little indication that it could be, given that elections are run by state and local authorities, with people from both parties supervising polling sites and ballot counting.” — President Obama
Later that evening, President Obama and First Lady Obama hosted their final State Dinner for Prime Minister Renzi and spouse Agnese Landini, which was attended by Vice President Biden, Ian Cameron, Secretary Carter, Secretary Johnson, Secretary Kerry, Neil King, Attorney General Lynch, McDonough, Monaco, Shailagh Murray, Assistant Secretary Nuland, Representative Pelosi, Ambassador Power, Ben Rhodes, Susan RIce, George Stephanopoulos, Chuck Todd and Jonathan Winer.
On October 19, 2016, Lisa Page texted Deputy Director McCabe:
“Hey can you give me a call when you get out? Meeting with WH counsel is finally set up and I want to talk about timing. Thanks.”
On October 20, 2016, the National Security Agency compliance officer briefed Admiral Rogers of a FISA compliance issue.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL ROGERS: “Sir, in 2016, I directed our Office of Compliance, ‘let’s do a fundamental baseline review of compliance associated with 702’.”
SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD: “Okay.”
ADMIRAL MICHAEL ROGERS: “We completed that effort — my memory is, I was briefed on something like on October 20th — that led me to believe the technical solution that we put in place was not working with the reliability that was necessary. And then from memory, we had through- we went to the Department of Justice, and onto the FISA court at the end of October. I think it was something like the 26th of October.”
The next day, on October 21, 2016, Director Comey briefed both former and retired agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the decisions made during the Midyear Exam investigation to assist them in combating falsehoods and exaggerations.
On October 24, 2016, Admiral Rogers informed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court of significant non-compliance with the National Security Agency’s minimisation procedures which involved queries of data acquired under Section 702.
Two days later, on October 26, 2016, Admiral Rogers informed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court of the FISA compliance issue.
On the final day of the month, October 31, 2016, the Obama Administration delivered a message via secure channel to Moscow, where they used a line originally developed for averting a nuclear exchange.
By November 2016, the Steele memos were being passed around the top national security echelons of the Obama Administration.
On November 1, 2016, Russian officials confirmed that they had received the Obama Administration’s secret message through the secure line, while President Obama was interviewed by Versha Sharma at Now This News, where he discussed the re-opening of the Midyear Exam investigation by Director Comey, where he mentioned that he made a deliberate effort to avoid an appearance of meddling in a federal investigation.
VERSHA SHARMA: “So what we’re hearing from them is that some of them are a little less likely to vote or support Secretary Clinton because of the new email review. This is something people are trying to figure out. Do you think that this is an actual controversy?”
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: “Well, obviously, it’s become a political controversy. You know, the fact of the matter is is that, er, Hillary Clinton, having been in the arena for 30 years, oftentimes gets knocked around and people say crazy stuff about her and when she makes a mistake, an honest mistake, it ends up being blown up as if it’s just some crazy thing and, so I understand why if you’re voting for the first time or even the second time, you know, all that noise coming at you, you think, oh well, there’s something, maybe, I should be worried about. I just want everybody who’s watching to know that Hillary Clinton not only is going to make a great President, and not only is she willing to work on the issues that your viewers care about most, but I trust her. I know her. And, er, you know, I wouldn’t be supporting her if I didn’t have absolute confidence in her integrity and her interest in making sure that young people have a better future.”
VERSHA SHARMA: “I think the timing of this release or this letter that Comey sent to Congress is what’s confusing a lot of people. Were you yourself upset with the timing at all?”
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: “Well, you know, I’ve- I’ve made a… very deliberate effort to make sure that I don’t look like I’m meddling in what are supposed to be independent processes, er, for making these assessments. Setting aside the particulars of this case, I know that, er, she is somebody who has always looked out for the interests of the- of America, and the American people first, and I do think that there is a norm that, you know, when there are investigations, we don’t operate on innuendo, we don’t operate on incomplete information, we don’t operate on leaks. We operate based on concrete decisions that are made. When this was investigated thoroughly the last time, the conclusion of the FBI, the conclusion of the Justice Department, the conclusion of repeated Congressional investigations was that, you know, she had made some mistakes, but that there wasn’t anything there that was, you know, prosecutable.”
On the same day, the funeral of David Margolis was held at the Great Hall of the Justice Department, which was attended by Director Comey, Eric Holder, Attorney General Lynch, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and Robert Mueller.
In early November 2016, after his meeting with Glenn Simpson at BBC News’s Washington radio studio, Paul Wood reached out to the Central Intelligence Agency to try and corroborate Steele’s allegations towards Trump and his campaign. While he was not met with an official answer, an intermediary contacted him unofficially and said that there were more sources other than Steele behind the allegations.
On November 3, 2016, Ken Dilanian, Josh Meyer, Cynthia McFadden, William M. Arkin and Robert Windrem published the article “Exclusive: White House Readies to Fight Election Day Cyber Mayhem” in NBC News.
The day before the election, Secretary Kerry left the United States for Antarctica to lead an exhibition.
Before November 8, 2016, Director Comey and Attorney General Lynch met with each other to discuss the reopened Midyear Exam investigation, where the Attorney General told Director Comey to “try to look beat up” as she had informed somebody else that she would berate him.
On November 8, 2016, Election Day was held and Donald Trump was proclaimed the 45th President of the United States. Director Comey did not vote in the election.
Now, on Election Day 2016, the counterintelligence and cyber teams at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Headquarters monitored a disinformation campaign spread across Twitter and Facebook, following a series of hoaxes aimed at Hillary Clinton.
The effort carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation was done in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, where the three teams would then contact a specific team at the White House Situation Room every three hours to discuss potential problems.
… wait a minute…
On November 9, 2016, Alexandra Chalupa posted a message to Facebook about work done in conjunction between the United States Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and an Anonymous-based organisation known as “The Protectors” based in Washington, DC.
“Homeland Security/DOJ teamed up with a group that is part of Anonymous based in Washington, D.C. called ‘The Protectors’. This group saw a lot of activity during Election Day from the Russians and believe that the voting results projected don’t match the internal and public polls because the voting results were manufactured in favor of Trump in heavily Republican counties in key states, and voting results may have been described for Clinton in key Democratic countries via malware that was placed by the Russians when they hacked the election systems of more than half our states.” — Alexandra Chalupa
We’ll come back to this later.
On November 10, 2016, President-elect Trump met with President Obama in the Oval Office, where they discussed a literary of items. During the conversation, President Obama warned President-elect Trump to avoid hiring Lt. Gen. Flynn for his future Administration.
Andrea Chalupa, the sister of Alexandra, then tweeted: “All election day Anonymous hackers working w/DOJ updated my sister: they were at war w/RU hackers in our systems”.
Again, we’ll come back to this.
On November 15, 2016, an IP address associated with the Department of Homeland Security attempted unsuccessfully to penetrate the Georgia Secretary of State’s firewall. At the same time, President-elect Trump started to receive top secret briefings.
The day after, November 16, 2016, Director Clapper resigned from his position as the Director of National Intelligence.
On November 17, 2016, Admiral Rogers met with President-elect Trump at Trump Tower without the knowledge of the Obama Administration, as Director Clapper testified before the House Intelligence Committee in an open hearing that the intelligence communities did not have strong evidence connecting the Russian cyber-attacks to WikiLeaks disclosures.
On November 22, 2016, President-elect Trump received his second briefing by senior United States intelligence analysts in New York.
On November 25, 2016, a senior Obama Administration official sent a statement to The New York Times, where they stated that the results of the 2016 United States presidential election accurately matched the will of the American people.
In late November 2016, Director Comey and President Obama sat with each other — alone — in the Oval Office.
Between November 28 — December 4, 2016, the Central Intelligence Agency shared an assessment with the Senate Intelligence Committee at Capitol Hill in a closed door briefing, where they suggested that Russia was attempting to elect Donald Trump for President of the United States during the election.
On November 30, 2016, Ali Watkins — with contributions from Sheera Frenkel — published the article “Intel Officials Believe Russia Spreads Fake News” in BuzzFeed News. At the same time, Director Brennan was interviewed by BBC News, the first time a sitting head of an intelligence agency had been interviewed by a British news source.
“In the first interview by a CIA director with the British media, John Brennan outlined a number of areas where he said the new administration needed to act with ‘prudence and discipline’ — these included the language used regarding terrorism, relations with Russia, the Iran nuclear deal and the way in which the CIA’s own covert capabilities were employed.”
“On the role of Russia in trying to influence the US election by hacking and releasing information, the CIA director confirmed Russia had sought to carry out such activity but said he would defer to domestic counterparts as to the impact.
He did confirm that he had had conversations with his Russian opposite numbers to challenge them over these actions and warn them that they would backfire.
The US should not ‘stoop to their level’ or risk escalation by responding in kind to Russian hacking but, he said, there were other ways of ensuring Russia understood such activity was unacceptable.” — BBC News
In December 2016, Director Brennan received a copy of the Steele memos, which matched his own sources on the Russian collusion charges. At the same time, the Steele memos were also passed through the United Kingdom intelligence agencies, eventually reaching GCHQ, who then passed their assessment to the National Security Agency.
Between December 5–10, 2016, the House Intelligence Committee viewed a classified letter in a secure meeting room written by Senate colleagues surrounding the Central Intelligence Agency’s assessment of Russia’s involvement in the presidential election. The viewing was held by a member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counterintelligence team and lasted a total of two hours.
On December 9, 2016, President Obama ordered a review to be carried out by American intelligence agencies about Russian interference in United States elections, with the review going back to 2008.
On December 12, 2016, Press Secretary Earnest told reporters during a press briefing that President-elect Trump had benefited from the Russian cyber attacks.
Before December 15, 2016, United States border agents in the United Arab Emirates discovered Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan’s name on a flight manifest, which detailed a flight from the United Arab Emirates to New York.
After December 15, Susan Rice unmasked the identities of President-elect Trump’s transition team members who had met with the Sheikh.
In mid-December 2016, the final Deputies Meetings was held, where Susan Rice ran through a list of proposals described as ‘heavy, medium and light’ options to retaliate against Russia— the meeting was attended by Director Clapper, Director Brennan, Secretary Kerry and Deputy Director McCabe.
On December 28, 2016, President Obama signed an executive order, where sanctions were placed on Russia.
On or after December 30, 2016, intelligence analysts investigated information to determine why President Putin had not responded to the sanctions, which led to the discovery of the calls between Ambassador Kislyak and Lt. Gen. Flynn. Agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation — after reviewing the call — then wrote a secret report surrounding the conversation between the two. Deputy Attorney General Yates then considered a Logan Act case against Lt. Gen. Flynn for the conversation.
We will cover this later, in the Flynn article.
On January 5, 2017, President Obama was briefed on the Intelligence Community Assessment, as well as a 2-page summary on the Steele memos, which was presented by Director Comey. The briefing was carried out by Director Clapper, Director Comey, Director Brennan and Admiral Rogers. After the briefing, Secretary Johnson contacted Director Comey via telephone to discuss his future briefing of the memos to President-elect Trump.
President Obama, Director Comey, Deputy Attorney General Yates, Vice President Biden and Susan Rice then held a meeting in the Oval Office, where they discussed avoiding sharing information about the Russia investigation with the Trump transition team due to the presence of Lt. Gen. Flynn.
Vice President Biden then read the 35-page report on Russian interference, while President Obama questioned the reason behind why the Steele memos were included with the Intelligence Community Assessment.
On January 6, 2017, President-elect Trump was briefed on the Russian cyber attacks by Director Clapper, Director Brennan and Admiral Rogers at Trump Tower in New York. Director Comey was in attendance, as were Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer and the national security team of President-elect Trump.
After this, Director Comey then briefed President-elect Trump on the Steele memos by himself. In response, President-elect Trump informed Director Comey that he intended for him to remain in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Director Comey responded by writing a memo about the incident.
On January 20, 2017, Susan Rice sent herself an e-mail about the Oval Office meeting she attended on January 5, 2017, as Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.
His first stop was to the Central Intelligence Agency.
“Ted Kontek was a Russia intelligence analyst in the State Department, with the highest classified clearance: TS/SCI or Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information. He saw much of the ‘wiretap’ material and says none of the transcripts point to a conspiracy. ‘There is nothing like that,’ he told me. ‘And nor would you expect there to be. People are not that stupid: the Russians know we’re listening and others know we’re listening. If you’re going to do something nefarious, you’re not going to publicise it.’” — The Spectator