WHAT DID HE KNOW, AND WHEN?
by Sharon Rondeau
Rosenstein, who oversaw the 22-month Special Counsel investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, is the sole witness on the roster for Wednesday and has not testified for two years. In January, Rosenstein joined the private law firm King & Spalding LLP to work in “corporate law.”
“Crossfire Hurricane” was the name the FBI adopted for its investigation into allegations that members of the 2016 Trump campaign “colluded” with Russian operatives to affect the outcome of the presidential election.
Recently-released transcripts of interviews with former FBI, Justice Department, Defense Department and other officials demonstrate that no tangible evidence of a conspiracy between Trump and the Kremlin was in hand prior to the opening of Crossfire despite some of those same individuals’ public assertions to the contrary over many months.
Rosenstein personally chose former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III to head the probe, appointing him eight days after President Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey on May 9, 2017.
Rosestein’s May 17, 2017 scope memo instructed Mueller to probe “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and” other related “matters.”
A second memo first released in heavily-redacted form, then declassified more fully in April, asked Mueller to investigate Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn (Ret); former Trump campaign advisors George Papadopoulos and Carter Page; and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort for any improper ties to Russia, among other items.
A DOJ Inspector General’s report released in December confirmed that all four were under FBI surveillance in 2016, if not earlier.
Rosenstein signed the last of four FISA warrant applications asserting that evidence showed the continuing need for surveillance of Carter Page’s communications. “FISA abuse” is another issue the Judiciary Committee will be investigating, according to Chairman Lindsey Graham.
In October 2017, Papadopoulos pleaded “guilty” to one count of lying to the FBI, eventually serving 12 nights in federal prison. Earlier this year he ran unsuccessfully for Congress and is now a Newsmax contributor and host of his own show, “Punching Back.”
In August 2018 Manafort was convicted of eight unrelated crimes and sentenced to 7½ years in prison. A mistrial was declared on ten other charges. Due to the coronavirus outbreak and health risk factors, Manafort was released from federal prison to home confinement last month.
On December 1, 2017 Flynn entered a “guilty” plea of one count of lying to the FBI but has since moved to withdraw the plea. When the Justice Department last month indicated it planned to abandon its prosecution of Flynn, the judge in the case, Emmet G. Sullivan, sought an opposing view from a retired judge, John Gleeson, as well as amicus curiae briefs.
Flynn’s attorney, Sidney Powell, asked for a Writ of Mandamus from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where numerous amicus briefs supportive of both sides have been filed, including an argument from Sullivan’s attorney, Beth Wilkinson.
Comey has since emerged as a vocal opponent of Trump’s policies and admited in a December 2018 interview that on January 24, 2017 he “sent” two FBI agents to interview Flynn without first going through the White House Counsel’s office.
According to testimony from former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and former FBI General Counsel James Baker, Rosenstein spoke seriously about “wearing a wire” to record the president’s conversations in an effort to make the case for his removal under the 25th Amendment, an allegation Rosenstein first denied, then claimed might have been uttered as “a joke.”
After the Mueller team completed its report finding insufficient evidence of a Trump-Russia conspiracy, Rosenstein reportedly worked with newly-confirmed U.S. Attorney General William Barr to determine whether or not Trump had obstructed justice, with which Mueller had also been tasked but about which his team reached no conclusion.
According to several sources, the FBI knew in January 2017 it had no evidence to support the allegations of “collusion” between Trump and Russia.
Within several months of the issuing of Mueller’s report, an Intelligence Community “whistleblower” claimed that Trump abused his authority during a July 25, 2019 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, which touched off impeachment hearings first in the basement of the U.S. Capitol and later publicly, although without any Republican input as to the agenda. Shortly before Christmas, the U.S. House of Representatives delivered two Articles of Impeachment to the U.S. Senate. Hearings began in January, and on February 5, 2020, the Republican-majority Senate voted down the two Articles.
The country was then beset by the coronavirus pandemic and is now engulfed in rioting in more than a dozen major U.S. cities.