Before the Mueller investigation, there was a counterintelligence investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 elections. That investigation (or those investigations) were supposedly wrapped into the Mueller investigation. Or perhaps they continue today. We need to hear more about them.
The purpose of counterintelligence is to thwart the activity of other countries’ intelligence networks. The FBI gives a more expansive definition. For reasons I don’t fully understand, counterintelligence tends to be even more secretive than ordinary intelligence. It has also developed a mystique that may be keeping reporters from digging into questions that the American public needs to know the answers to.
Trump fired James Comey on May 9, 2017, and the next day bragged about it in the Oval Office to Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and the ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. He also divulged highly secret Israeli intelligence to the two men, and said that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was not a problem.
A counterintelligence investigation began shortly after that, according to a New York Times article. The investigation was to understand whether Trump was working for foreign interests.
But there was another counterintelligence investigation even before that. The earlier investigation seems to have begun in July 2016. This is the one that the New York Times famously and inaccurately claimed, just before the 2016 election, had found no wrongdoing on Trump’s part. This investigation looked at Carter Page and Roger Stone as possible Russian connections.
By some accounts, both of these investigations were swept into Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mueller’s investigation was chartered a week after the Oval Office meeting. The Mueller investigation is sometimes described as broader than the counterintelligence investigation. Ron Rosenstein’s order defines Mueller’s scope as “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and related matters.
That is indeed a broad mandate, but the public Mueller report focused on criminal acts. The order appoints Mueller as Special Counsel and authorizes him to prosecute crimes as appropriate, but it does not limit his purview to criminal acts.
In May, Philip Bump interviewed Adam Schiff, who wanted to know more about the counterintelligence side of the Mueller investigation and had issued subpoenas without much luck. Presumably Schiff continues to seek that report, although it has probably gone to a back burner. The Congressional Gang of Eight had been briefed on the counterintelligence investigation regularly until Comey was fired.
In Mueller’s testimony to Congress, he seemed to say that the counterintelligence investigation continued.
Was (Is?) there an investigation into the full extent of Russian interference in the 2016 election? What were its findings? Here is where that counterintelligence secrecy becomes a problem. We need to know as much as possible about Russian interference in order to deal with it next year.
That counterintelligence investigation could overlap with the “investigation” now being pursued across the globe by Attorney General William Barr and presidential attorney Rudy Guiliani. Although the theory of Barr’s and Guiliani’s case have already been debunked, an FBI investigation could provide additional information to fill in holes in the story we now know.
How were people like Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, and Sam Clovis drawn into the campaign? What was the role of Joseph Mifsud? Stefan Halper?
Were Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin connected to the Trump campaign through the NRA?
Were Donald Trump and Michael Pence aware of Michael Flynn’s phonecalls to Kislyak about sanctions in December 2017? (A number of questions are now coming out in Flynn’s trial, in which he is being extremely uncooperative.)
Was the Internet Research Agency the whole of Russia’s attempt to influence American voters by social media? (Mueller brought indictments against the IRA.)
Did Mueller receive all the information available about Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak? If not, why not? (See this Lawfare article)
What is the scope of these investigations? How was that decided?
Finally, we have to ask why the scope of the open Mueller report seems truncated. Was the investigation ended early? If so, was the reason Mueller’s health? Or at Barr’s urging? Did the counterintelligence aspects result in overclassification?
At this point, the necessity for Congress and the American people to know more about the counterintelligence investigation would seem to outweigh considerations of classification, although of course it’s impossible to know on the basis of the information available.
As much as possible of the counterintelligence investigation must be made public. With another election coming up, the country needs to know what to look for in disruptions by Russia. The government needs to know in order to prevent those disruptions. And we need to know the extent of Presidential wrongdoing.
Cross-posted at Balloon Juice