Finding gaps in much coverage of the Trump administration, RealClearInvestigations has been exploring them. Here is an archive of our reporters' recent work.
Giuliani-Style 'Shadow' Diplomacy Is Par for Course for U.S. Presidents, Eric Felten, Oct. 23, 2019
Most media have treated Rudolph Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine as sneaky and suspect. But presidents since George Washington have turned to individuals without formal government positions to help negotiate issues ranging from trade to war. While critics deride such efforts as “back-door,” “secret,” or “shadow” undertakings, many presidents have found it useful to dispatch people they trust, who can think and operate outside the constraints of official channels in handling delicate matters.
It's Not All About the Bidens: Why Trump Has Ukraine on the Brain, Lee Smith, Oct. 7
The impeachment inquiry Democrats have launched may ultimately hinge on a simple question: Did President Trump try to force a foreign power (or powers) to help him take down a political opponent, Joe Biden? But the backdrop of their effort is far more complex and convoluted, connected not just to Trump’s phone call with the president of Ukraine and related evidence but the three-year war of attrition the Democrats have waged against the president.
'Straight Shooter' Justice Watchdog Has Held Fire on Top Brass, Paul Sperry, Sept. 30
The Justice Department watchdog’s past high-profile probes of FBI cases involving Hillary Clinton, James Comey, and others show a pattern of kid-glove treatment and pulling punches for some powerful people. That suggests Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on FBI surveillance abuses could disappoint those hoping for a thorough, tough and fair check on government wrongdoing from a man routinely portrayed within the Washington Beltway as a “straight shooter.” A three-article package (related sidebars are here and here) enlists Justice Department investigative veterans in a warts-and-all look at Horowitz’s track record.
How Many Spy Targets Were There in Russiagate? One ... or Four? Eric Felten, Sept. 24
It has been more than a year since it was revealed that federal agents secured warrants to surveil onetime Trump presidential campaign adviser Carter Page both before and after the election. In all the arguments over whether those warrants were legitimately obtained, a related question has largely been neglected: Was Carter Page the only person in the Trump orbit to be put under surveillance? There is reason to think others were too.
Trump-Russia and Clinton-Libya: A Story of 2 Probes and the FBI, Mark Hemingway, Sept. 9
Records recently posted online by the FBI indicate that it did little to investigate allegations from private sources connected to Republicans about a scheme in which associates of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to exploit their connection to her to profit from the turmoil in Libya in 2011. The FBI received the documents in June 2016, around the same time it launched an exhaustive, three-year investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia based, in part, on information from private sources connected to Democrats that in the main would prove to be false – the Steele dossier.
U.S. Intel Gatekeeper Dragging Feet on Trump-Russia Files, Insiders Say, Paul Sperry, Aug. 28
More than three months after President Trump granted his attorney general unprecedented power to declassify intelligence files, key U.S. intelligence agencies are still withholding documents related to the Trump-Russia affair, say people with direct knowledge of White House discussions on the subject. The source of the logjam: the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Why the Mystery of Russiagate Hinges on the Mystery of Joseph Mifsud, Eric Felten, July 30
Who and what is Joseph Mifsud? “He's a Maltese diplomat who's widely portrayed as a Russian agent,” says Devin Nunes, ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, “but seems to have far more connections with Western governments, including our own FBI and our own State Department, than with Russia.” Sorting out the Mifsud mystery is crucial to understanding how and why members of the Trump team were treated by the FBI as potential traitors. But it requires making sense of events jumbled enough to be the denouement of a Raymond Chandler novel.
The Shaky Standing of Mueller's Footnotes, Eric Felten, July 23
A close reading of the Mueller report's thousands of footnotes finds many raising more questions than they answer, especially regarding the Special Counsel's methods and intent. Some footnotes show that key allegations often rely on the flimsy say-so of media accounts; others show a willingness to accept the claims of anti-Trump critics at face value. Mueller and his team also used the footnotes as the place to include unsubstantiated gossip and speculation, including what might be called "Chessgate."
Justice Dept. Watchdog Has Evidence Comey Probed Trump, on the Sly, Paul Sperry, July 22
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz will soon file a report with evidence indicating that as FBI Director, James Comey was misleading the president, sources say. Even as he repeatedly assured Trump that he was not a target, Comey was secretly trying to build a conspiracy case against him, while at times acting as an investigative agent. Comey also had an agent inside the White House who reported back to FBI headquarters about Trump and his aides, according to other officials.
The Labyrinthine Ways and Wages of Stefan Halper, Eric Felten, July 16
Stefan Halper, the shadowy Cambridge academic who may have helped the FBI spy on the Trump campaign, was paid more than $1 million by a U.S. agency for research papers of dubious value, says a new government report. But even as it shed new light on Halper’s work, the report left unanswered central questions about his Trump-Russia role and raised new ones about the circuitous winds on which Washington dollars manage to fly out the window.
Mueller's Own Report Undercuts Its Core Russia-Meddling Claims, Aaron Maté, July 5
While the Mueller report found no Trump-Russia conspiracy, it offered much detail to support the sweeping conclusion that Russian military intelligence hacked and leaked embarrassing Democratic Party documents, and a government-linked troll farm orchestrated a sophisticated social media campaign. But a close examination of the report shows that none of those headline assertions are supported by its evidence or other publicly available sources.
Insinuendo: Why the Mueller Report Doth Repeat So Much, Eric Felten, July 1
Why were Democrats at first disheartened by the special counsel’s report but later buoyed by it, to the point that they called Robert Mueller to testify at congressional hearings? Because of its grudging tone, its sly assertions resembling proof, and its insistence that not being found guilty should not be confused with innocence. Such rhetorical devices crafted a vindicating document that could also be read as an indictment.
It Started With a Lie: Bruce Ohr's Linchpin Role in Russiagate, Eric Felten, June 12
Why did Bruce Ohr admit to FBI colleagues that his wife worked for opposition researchers Fusion GPS while failing to disclose it to his ethics overseers at the Justice Department? The answer speaks volumes not just about how the Trump-Russia affair gained traction but about the way Washington works.
'Scorched Earth': Mueller's Targets Speak Out, Paul Sperry, June 6
Now that Robert Mueller has ended his probe finding no election collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, 10 witnesses and targets of his sprawling, $35 million investigation agreed to speak with RealClearInvestigations because they no longer feel in legal jeopardy. They include several people who became household names during the two-year probe as well as lesser-known figures whose lives were also upended and finances imperiled when they came into Mueller’s crosshairs.
Trump-Russia's Turning, and the Knives Are Out, Eric Felten, May 25
There are a growing number of indicators that the leading players in the 2016 election drama are turning on one another, making a mad dash for the lifeboats to escape being dragged under with the political Titanic that is Christopher Steele and his dossier.
Spy vs. Spy Euphemism at the FBI, Eric Felten, May 20
While Washington pols and pundits angrily debate who counts as a spy, and whether any such exotic creatures have ever been employed by the FBI, new evidence is emerging that the FBI not only uses spies, but has done so extensively, including in the Trump-Russia investigation.
New Russiagate Prober Has Haunted FBI for Months,Eric Felten, May 14
John Durham, the prosecutor tapped by Attorney General William Barr to investigate how Trump-Russia allegations emerged and spread within federal law enforcement, has already been looking into whether the FBI’s former top lawyer, James Baker, illegally leaked to reporters.
Who Were the Mueller Report's Hired Guns? Paul Sperry, May 5
Special Counsel Robert Mueller spent more than $732,000 on outside contractors, including private investigators and researchers, records show, but his office refuses to say who they were. The arrangement has led congressional investigators, government watchdog groups and others to speculate that the private investigators and researchers who worked for the special counsel’s office might have included Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS.
When Loretta Met Bill on the Tarmac, Eric Felten, May 4
We have a new window on what may have gone on inside Loretta Lynch’s jet after it landed in Phoenix — the story as told by the former attorney general to lawmakers and staff of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In it, Lynch describes an encounter with Bill Clinton that is both perplexing and preposterous, a story that defies innocent explanation.
FBI Man Points to Wrongdoing Well Beyond Spying, Eric Felten, April 12
Spying, which Attorney General William Barr has vowed to investigate, is not the only significant possible violation of investigative rules and ethics committed by agents, lawyers, managers, and officials at the FBI and the Department of Justice. A catalogue of those abuses can be found in recently released testimony that ex-FBI official Edward William Priestap provided to Congress in a closed-door interview last summer.
GOP Fears Mueller's Collusion Bias Lives On in Final Report, Paul Sperry, April 15
Seeking to manage public perceptions about the Mueller report as much as Democrats are, Republicans say their counterparts are bent on cherry-picking its details to make it still look as if President Trump coordinated with Russia, part of their effort to keep the collusion narrative alive heading into the 2020 presidential election. They fear Mueller will make it easy for them to continue spinning that tale.
Dossier-Tied Firm Pitching Journalists Daily on 'Collusion,' Paul Sperry, March 20
Key Democratic operatives and private investigators who tried to derail Donald Trump’s campaign by claiming he was Putin's puppet have rebooted their operation since his election with a multimillion-dollar stealth media campaign for impeachment. The Democracy Integrity Project, led by Daniel J. Jones, employs the oppo-research duo behind the infamous Trump dossier: Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS and ex-British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Its financial backers include actor/director Rob Reiner and billionaire activist George Soros.
Days After Comey Firing, McCabe's Team Re-Engaged Fired Dossier Author, Paul Sperry, March 4
Two days after then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe formally put President Trump under criminal investigation in May 2017, bureau officials reached out to the author of the controversial "Steele dossier" for more information, even though they had fired him for misconduct six months earlier.
McCabe Investigated Not Just Trump but Sessions Too, Paul Sperry, March 4
Top FBI official Andrew McCabe did not just investigate President Trump. As he notes in a little-publicized part of his new book, McCabe even investigated his department boss — then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions — after Senate Democrats asked McCabe to look into allegations Sessions perjured himself during his confirmation hearings when he denied meeting with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign.
Trump Looks to Uproot Numbers-Only Bias Test Widely Used in U.S., Paul Sperry, Feb. 14
In what would be one of the Trump administration’s most far-reaching moves regarding race relations, top White House officials are planning a sharp pullback from federal efforts to correct imbalances in outcomes for minorities in everything from housing to hiring. On the table: a ban on the use of a controversial numbers-focused racial-bias theory known as “disparate impact.”
School-Safety Panel Said to Pull Punches, Fearing 'Racist' Tag, Paul Sperry, Jan. 25
For fear of being labeled racist, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stopped short of linking the Parkland, Fla., school massacre to lenient Obama-era discipline policies aimed at reducing suspensions and arrests of minority students, say staffers and others involved in an investigation of school safety led by her. Education Department officials, as well as investigation witnesses, said DeVos and co-commissioner Jeff Sessions, then the U.S. attorney general, thought it would be politically radioactive to single out the race-based policies for blame in the tragedy, despite the evidence, so they excluded it entirely from the final report.
John Huber, Justice Dept. Sheriff Who Never Quite Rode Into Town, Paul Sperry, Dec. 22, 2018
The Salt Lake City-based prosecutor has developed almost mythical status among pro-Trump tweeters since former Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed him to investigate why the FBI spied on Trump’s aides and whether they protected Hillary Clinton and her foundation over alleged misdeeds. But more than a year since his appointment, his lack of traction on either front is leading many once hopeful supporters to dismiss his investigation as a “sham."
Cohen's 'Appointment in Prague' Was Dossier Bunk, Mueller Files Indicate, Paul Sperry, Dec. 11
It was one of the most incendiary allegations in the Clinton-financed opposition research known as the Steele dossier. But a flurry of court filings by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller appears to blow it out of the water, strongly suggesting that Donald Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen never met with “Kremlin officials” in Prague in 2016.
For Trump, Cohen Plea Deal's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Exoneration, Paul Sperry, Dec. 3
Contrary to media speculation that Robert Mueller is closing in on President Trump, the special prosecutor’s plea deal with Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen offers further evidence that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russians during the 2016 election, according to congressional investigators and former prosecutors.
The Silence of Mueller's Trump-Russia 'Canaries,' Paul Sperry, Nov. 12
People with direct knowledge of the situation say it's highly unlikely that former Trump associates who have struck deals to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller are singing about Russian collusion.
'Nothing to Gain,' Kavanaugh Accuser Raises Nearly $1 Million, Paul Sperry, Oct. 29
During Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings, Democrats repeatedly asserted that Christine Blasey Ford had “nothing to gain” by coming forward with her explosive accusation of attempted rape against the Supreme Court nominee. In fact, Ford stands to gain some $1 million and counting from national crowdfunding campaigns launched by friends and other supporters, while she is said to be fielding book offers.
Justice Department Ties a Trump FISA Release to Obstruction, Lee Smith, Oct. 26
In court filings, the Department of Justice has deployed what could be its nuclear option to prevent President Trump from declassifying information about spying on his campaign: For the first time, it is claiming that such a move would interfere with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation -- meaning Trump would be vulnerable to an obstruction charge.
Renovation Records Undercut Ford's Exit-Door Account, Paul Sperry, Oct. 2
Real estate and other records undercut a key part of Christine Blasey Ford’s account of why she finally came forward with charges of attempted rape against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Her account of a 2012 therapy session eliciting her anxious need for an emergency exit door doesn't square with home renovations years earlier. “The door was not an escape route but an entrance route” for tenants, a source says.
Sparing Rod: Unpacking the Trump-Rosenstein Relationship, Lee Smith, Oct. 1
Although Trump seems to hold all the cards in his fraught relationship with Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, who controls the Russia investigation, knows how to take advantage of the president’s political inexperience. A careful assessment of Rosenstein’s actions — and the paperwork supporting them — shows evidence of shrewd bureaucratic calculation.
Suppressed Blasey Yearbooks: Fast Times at Holton-Arms, Paul Sperry, Sept. 27
Democrats used the high school yearbooks of embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to discredit what they call his “choir boy defense” against sex-assault charges leveled by Christine Blasey Ford. But Ford's own suppressed yearbooks featured a photo of an underage Ford attending at least one party, alongside a caption boasting of girls passing out from binge drinking. They also openly referenced promiscuous behavior by the girls.
How Anti-Trump Leakers Moved From Offense to Defense, Lee Smith, Sept. 12
Anti-Trump leaking from within the intelligence community was initially an offensive operation aimed at disrupting Trump’s agenda, especially through leaks suggesting Russian collusion. But now the leaking has become increasingly defensive in the face of irregularities in the FBI’s investigation of Trump, marked by the willingness of press outlets to run stories backing off earlier reported leaks that proved to be deeply misleading.
FBI Kept From Spy Court Russian View of Carter Page as an 'Idiot', by Paul Sperry, Sept. 6
The FBI omitted from its application to spy on Carter Page the fact that Russian spies had dismissed the former Trump campaign adviser as unreliable – or as one put it, an “idiot” – and therefore unworthy of recruiting, according to congressional sources who have seen the unredacted document.
FBI Never Examined Vast Bulk of Weiner Laptop Emails by Paul Sperry, Aug. 23
When then-FBI Director James Comey announced he was closing the Hillary Clinton email investigation for a second time just days before the 2016 election, he certified to Congress that his agency had “reviewed all of the communications” discovered on a personal laptop used by Clinton’s closest aide, Huma Abedin, and her husband, Anthony Weiner. I fact, only 3,077 of the 694,000 emails were directly reviewed for classified or incriminating information. Three FBI officials completed that work in a single 12-hour spurt the day before Comey again cleared Clinton of criminal charges.
There's Method in Trump's Slackness on Opening Files Lee Smith, Aug. 29
President Trump’s allies in Congress and the media have long wondered why he doesn’t declassify documents withheld by the Department of Justice that could vindicate him in the Russia probe. Current and past senior U.S. officials say he's not the impulsive hothead portrayed by major media, epitomized by his "witch hunt" bluster on Twitter. Rather, he’s characterized by the sources as a deliberative, strategic executive inclined to keep his powder dry now for possible detonation later.
Trump Tower Meeting Looks Increasingly Like a Setup, Lee Smith, Aug. 13
The June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between high-ranking members of the Republican presidential campaign staff and a Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties remains the cornerstone of claims that Donald Trump colluded with Russia to steal the election. A growing body of evidence, however, indicates that the meeting may have been a setup – part of a broad effort to tarnish the Trump campaign involving Hillary Clinton operatives employed by Kremlin-linked figures and Department of Justice officials.
Privately, Intel Officials Back Shutting Out Brennan, Clapper, Lee Smith, Aug. 2
President Trump has been criticized for politicizing the intelligence community by threatening to strip the security clearances of former top officials including John Brennan and James Clapper. But numerous past and present senior intelligence officials say that the Obama administration started the politicization – and that revoking the clearances of those who abuse the privilege for partisan purposes may help right the ship.
Mueller All But Ignores the Other Russian Hack Target: the GOP, Paul Sperry, July 17
Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election wasn’t as one-sided as Special Counsel Robert Mueller charges in his latest indictment. The Russian military spy agency that Mueller says hacked the Democratic National Committee also penetrated the computer systems of the Republican National Committee using fake emails in a phishing scheme, U.S. officials say. This evidence challenges the narrative, now reinforced by Mueller’s indictments, that Russia’s scheme was solely aimed at damaging Hillary Clinton.
7 Mysterious Preludes to the Trump-Russia Probe, Lee Smith, June 27
Before the FBI began investigating the Trump campaign in an operation code-named “Crossfire Hurricane,” there were at least seven different instances when campaign advisers were approached with Russia-related offers. Most of those contacts — including Donald Trump Jr.’s much-publicized meeting with a Russian lawyer and others in June 2016 — offered the prospect of information damaging to Donald Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Almost all of these approaches were made by people connected to the FBI, Western intelligence services or the Clintons.
One Unverified File the Feds Won't Leak: About Loretta Lynch, Paul Sperry, June 26
The FBI is refusing to allow even members of Congress with top security clearance to see intercepted material that implicates former Attorney General Loretta Lynch in a secret deal to fix the Clinton email investigation. Lynch and others say the material was part of a Russian disinformation campaign. True or false, the material is consequential because it appears to have influenced former FBI Director James B. Comey’s decision to break with bureau protocols because he didn’t trust Lynch. In his recent book, Comey said he took the reins in the Clinton email probe, announcing Clinton should not be indicted, because of a “development still unknown to the American public” that “cast serious doubt” on Lynch’s credibility – clearly the intercepted material.
The Real Carter Page vs. the One People Suspect, Paul Sperry, June 7
The FBI’s interview with Carter Page in March 2016 is one of the seminal events of the Trump-Russia probe. Democrats have long pointed to it as evidence of the bureau’s longstanding fears that Page might be a Russian spy and to downplay the role of the Clinton-financed dossier compiled by ex-British spy Christopher Steele in securing a FISA surveillance warrant against Page. But new information challenges that account, indicating that the FBI, in fact, considered Page as a cooperating witness – as an asset – until he signed on with the Trump campaign.
The Maltese Phantom of Russiagate, Lee Smith, May 29
In the shifting narratives of the Trump-Russia probe, a Maltese academic named Joseph Mifsud has remained a linchpin regarding claims of collusion. He is the professor who allegedly told Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos that the Russians had emails related to the Clinton campaign. The FBI says it opened its investigation in late July 2016 after Papadopoulos relayed that information to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, and the Australians tipped off U.S. authorities. But there is one major problem with this story: No evidence has been presented to support the claim.
Colleagues Contradict Brennan's Denial of Reliance on Dossier, Paul Sperry, May 15
Former CIA Director John Brennan’s insistence that the salacious and unverified Steele dossier was not part of the official Intelligence Community Assessment on Russian interference in the 2016 election is being contradicted by two top former officials.
Unpacking the Other Clinton-Linked Russia Dossier, Lee Smith, April 26
A copy of the little-publicized second dossier in the Trump-Russia affair, acquired by RealClearInvestigations, raises new questions about the origins of the Trump investigation, particularly about the role of Clinton partisans and the extent to which the two dossiers may have been coordinated or complementary operations.
U.S. Media Long Carried Putin's Water, by Lee Smith, March 9, 2018
With special counsel Robert Mueller’s latest indictments of alleged Russian trolls, Facebook is facing heavy fire from prominent critics at the New York Times, Washington Post, and other legacy media for uncritically spreading Russian misinformation. Those same news outlets, however, have a history of taking money to distribute Russian propaganda to its influential readers.
Mueller Still Relying on Discredited Steele Dossier, Paul Sperry Feb. 22
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is continuing to use a controversial 35-page dossier financed by the Democratic National Committee and the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign as a "road map” for investigative leads, sources familiar with his investigation say.
CIA Ex-Director Brennan's Perjury Peril, Paul Sperry, Feb. 11
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes plans to investigate the role former CIA Director John Brennan and other Obama intelligence officials played in promoting the salacious and unverified Steele dossier on Donald Trump – including whether Brennan perjured himself when he emphatically denied the dossier factored into the intelligence community’s publicly released conclusion last year that Russia meddled in the 2016 election "to help Trump’s chances of victory.”