WASHINGTON – Was the entire Russia-collusion investigation based entirely on a tall tale that most democrats knew was baloney?
One of the more striking developments to emerge from congressional testimony by former FBI Director James Comey on Thursday was that there is apparently no evidence of potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign other than a dossier full of sensational but widely discredited allegations.
It would seem remarkable if the charges in that dossier – unproven and so roundly denied and ridiculed – were indeed the only evidence the FBI has had this whole time.
But PRT confirmed that apparently was the case by asking a congressional source familiar with the Russia investigation whether there was ever any evidence other than the dossier.
“There simply has been no evidence of collusion whatsoever,” succinctly replied the source.
The dossier published on Jan. 10 by Buzzfeed included such salacious allegations against then-President-elect Trump that Democrats initially claimed it would make him susceptible to blackmail.
Former British secret agent Michael Steele was paid by a Hillary Clinton supporter to compile the 35-page series of memos comprising the dossier for the Washington-based opposition research firm Fusion GPS.
It accused the Trump campaign of conspiring with Russia to hack Democratic Party computers, but it was filled with bizarre and unseemly allegations.
Trump called an allegation that he engaged in perverse behavior in a Moscow hotel “horribly made up,” and “disgusting.”
Trump’s associates also called the charges against them false.
- Not one of the charges against Trump or his aides has ever been publicly verified.
- The charge that Trump attorney Michael Cohen met in August in Prague with Russian agents to cover up payments to Russian hackers was disproved when he produced his passport and travel documents.
- Four other targets of Steele’s allegations have denied them, including a Russian diplomat formerly stationed in Washington.
- Obama’s former National Intelligence Director, James Clapper, said his agency could not confirm Steel’s charges or identify his sources.
- According to the Washington Times, Obama’s former acting CIA director, Mike Morrell, said, “Steele paid intermediaries to talk to former Russian intelligence officers who are noted for peddling ‘innuendo and rumor.’”
- Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward called the dossier “garbage.”
Fusion GPS circulated the dossier in Washington, but media outlets shied from reporting it until Buzzfeed published the documents on Jan. 10. CNN followed with massive coverage, while providing a link to the report’s salacious details. Other mainstream media outlets then covered the dossier story prominently.
Reports followed that the FBI was using the dossier as a “road map” to investigate Trump “and his associates on allegations they colluded with Russian intelligence on the hacking.” The New York Times even reported the FBI offered to pay Steele $50,000 to continue to investigate Trump aides last fall, but the deal fell apart.
Comey testified last week that he could not comment on the dossier’s contents in an open hearing, but that he had briefed Trump on it on Jan. 6 because “we had been told by the media it was about to launch.”
In his testimony, Comey never mentioned the existence of any other potential evidence under investigation showing collusion with Russia.
What he did say appeared to confirm there was no other evidence.
As PRT previously reported, Comey debunked a Feb. 14, report from the New York Times that stated, “Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.”
The former FBI chief said, “In the main, it was not true.”
He also testified, “There have been many, many stories based on — well, lots of stuff but about Russia that are dead wrong.”
Only one Democrat has said he has seen evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, and, if he still maintains that, he isn’t saying so.
House Intelligence committee ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told MSNBC on March 22, “there is more than circumstantial evidence now” that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia.
So, on Monday, PRT asked Schiff’s media representative if, following Comey’s testimony, the congressman stood by that claim.
Although much of the dossier has been discredited and nothing in it has ever been publicly verified, Schiff still quoted from it during a March 20 House Intelligence Committee hearing.
But if Schiff does maintain he has seen evidence of collusion, he still will be the only Democrat to claim so.
A parade of Democrats in a position to know have said they have seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump team and Russia, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Mark Warner and Joe Manchin of the intelligence committee, Obama’s former spy chiefs, CIA Director John Brennan and former DNI Clapper.
Democrats now appear to be moving on to try to see if they can snare anyone in a cover-up over an investigation that never seemed to be supported by any evidence.
“That’s why,” the congressional source told PRT, “Democrats are starting to drop the collusion narrative and move on to obstruction of justice.”
“Democrats have known for a long time collusion charges are false, but they’re hoping if they can get investigations to encompass enough people and go deeply enough, eventually they’ll find something – not collusion, but something else that’s useful. Classic fishing expedition,” said the source.
Democrats are hoping to base an obstruction of justice charge against Trump on Comey’s recollection of a Feb 14. conversation he had with the president at the White House.
However, in his opening remarks, submitted in written form, the former FBI director made clear he did not think the president was trying to interfere in the Russia investigation or pressure him to drop it.
“I had understood,” Comey testified, “the president to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December.
“I did not understand the president to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign,” he continued. “I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls.”
But under persistent questioning by Democrats, Comey later claimed he interpreted Trump’s expression of “hope” that he would drop the Flynn inquiry as a directive to stop the probe.
“I took it as a direction,” Comey said. “I mean, this is the president of the United States, with me alone, saying, ‘I hope’ this. I took it as, this is what he wants me to do.”
Democrats have seized upon that as evidence of obstruction of justice by the president.
Legal experts from left to right have disagreed.
Writing in the Washington Post, former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy argued: “Not every form of interfering with an investigation, or even the closing down of an investigation, is felony obstruction. Only corrupt ones. Prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused not only acted intentionally but also with an awareness that his actions violated the law.”
“In describing their Feb. 14 meeting,” he continued, “Comey understandably inferred, from Trump’s request that others leave the room, the president’s possible awareness that he was about to do something inappropriate. But this suspicion must be balanced against what Trump actually did, which was merely to plead on Flynn’s behalf, not order an outcome.”
McCarthy concluded: “This was clearly not corruption. And without corruption, there cannot be obstruction.”
In fact, as PRT reported, Comey actually appeared to indicate the president encouraged the investigation because it was important to learn if any of his associates had, in fact, colluded with Russians.
“Yes, sir. Yes,” replied the former FBI chief.
So, if there never was any real evidence of collusion, how did the FBI’s Russia investigation ever get started back in July 2016?
As PRT reported, former CIA Director Brennan testified before the House Intelligence Committee on May 23 that he saw no signs of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. But he saw some contacts. And he was worried that might lead to collusion. So he recommended the FBI launch an investigation.
“I know what the Russians try to do,” testified Brennan. “They try to suborn individuals and they try to get individuals, including U.S. persons, to act on their behalf, either wittingly or unwittingly.”
He continued: “And I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons and so, therefore, by the time I left office on Jan. 20, I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons, involved in the campaign or not, to work on their behalf, again, either in a witting or unwitting fashion.”
Nonetheless, Brennan then concluded, “And so, therefore, I felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well-founded and needed to look into those issues.”
Following that testimony, McCarthy suggested in National Review that Trump should flip the script on his inquisitors in three bold moves that would turn Democrats from hunters into the hunted:
1) Appoint a special counsel to investigate political spying, including unmasking and leaks to the media.
2) Have Congress hold hearings on whether the Obama Justice Department colluded with the Hillary Clinton campaign to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
3) Have Congress hold hearings on collusion between the Clinton Foundation and Russia.
McCarthy contended those investigations could succeed where the Trump-Russia collusion investigation failed, because, unlike the latter, there is evidence of actual wrongdoing.
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