FBI shut down Michael Flynn probe but didn’t lock it up

FBI shut down Michael Flynn probe but didn’t lock it up

Second of two parts.

Defense attorney Sidney Powell has mounted a tenacious battle to convince the Justice Department and the courts that her client, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, deserves a clean slate in what she claims was an FBI set-up to get him to lie about a phone call with a Russian diplomat.

In May, a remarkable set of secret FBI documents materialized in U.S. District Court files, compliments of U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen, who was appointed by Attorney General William P. Barr to investigate the Flynn case. Mr. Jensen’s dogged pursuit uncovered evidence that tended to exonerate the former national security adviser.

The stunning disclosure was the FBI’s “closing communication,” dated Jan. 4, 2017. After five months of investigating Mr. Flynn, whose code name was Crossfire Razor, the FBI counterintelligence team exonerated him of any improper contacts with Russians or any derogatory information.

This would cover the 2014 dinner of intelligence specialists at England’s University of Cambridge, where Mr. Flynn, then director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, met graduate student Svetlana Lokhova, a Russia-born British citizen; as well as Mr. Flynn’s 2015 trip to Moscow to accept a speaking fee at a gala for RT, the Kremlin’s propaganda TV network.

A U.S. appeals court is weighing Ms. Lokhova’s libel lawsuit accusing major news organizations of wrongly implying that she is a Russian spy who was in an inappropriate relationship with Mr. Flynn. The lawsuit lays the blame for rumormongering on Cambridge professor Stefan Halper, the FBI informant who spied on two Trump campaign volunteers.

The closing memo contains gossip about Ms. Lokhova that her attorney, Steven Biss, says proves that Mr. Halper lied about her.

While checking on Mr. Flynn, the FBI contacted an “established” confidential human source (CHS) who told agents about Crossfire Razor speaking at an unidentified location that involved “dinner and drinks.”

This source’s profile fits that of Mr. Halper.

The source said he “witnessed” Mr. Flynn getting into a cab with a person whose name is redacted. Mr. Biss says it is surely Ms. Lokhova.

The memo states: “The CHS stated that a [redacted] surprised everyone and got into [Crossfire Razor’s] cab and joined CR on the train ride to [redacted]. The CHS stated that s/he was somewhat prominent members of [redacted]. The CHS believes that [redacted] father may be a Russian oligarch living in [redacted].”

Ms. Lokhova’s says the “oligarch” claim is the type of rumor spread by Mr. Halper, who did not attend the dinner.

The memo deletes the dinner’s date and place. It does not identify the confidential human source. There is no official confirmation that it was Mr. Halper.

In his first appeals court brief, Mr. Biss states: “Lokhova’s allegations about Halper and the scheme to manufacture evidence of ‘Russian collusion’ have been corroborated. … On April 29, 2020, the Department of Justice released an FBI ‘Closing Communication’ which confirmed that Halper told the FBI in 2016/2017 that after the February 28, 2014 dinner Lokhova ‘surprised everyone and got into CR’s [Flynn‘s] cab and joined CR on the train ride to [redacted].”

Ms. Lokhova says Mr. Halper’s apparent testimony to the FBI could not possibly be true. He could not have “witnessed” such a cab ride because he did not attend the dinner and she never got into a cab with Mr. Flynn. She left with her husband. She never saw Mr. Flynn again after that night.

“He left with the DIA liaison and went back to the hotel,” Ms. Powell told The Washington Times.

For someone who news media suggested was a Russian agent connected to Mr. Flynn, Ms. Lokhova was of no interest to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators and prosecutors. They never contacted her.

If Mr. Biss is correct, then the closing memo contains good news for Ms. Lokhova. It said the FBI ran counterintelligence checks with U.S. and foreign services. The bureau found nothing derogatory, meaning Ms. Lokhova was cleared of being a Russian agent.

The clearing of Mr. Flynn also covered his much-analyzed 2015 trip to Moscow, where he was photographed sitting next to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The cozy dinner scene came to symbolize the media’s Trump-Russia conspiracy theories.

‘Questionable allegiance’

In fact, there was far more to the RT chapter of Mr. Flynn’s life. The trip was approved by the Defense Intelligence Agency, according to investigative reporter John Solomon. The Defense Intelligence Agency provided a protective briefing on how to navigate Moscow’s byzantine spy apparatus, which was always attuned to a visiting VIP. In addition, on his return to the U.S., Mr. Flynn gave the Defense Intelligence Agency a series of briefings on what he saw and heard in Moscow.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, received a classified briefing from the Defense Intelligence Agency on Mr. Flynn in early 2017. He asked the agency to declassify certain points but never heard back.

While investigating Mr. Flynn, the FBI analyzed past travel and put surveillance teams on him to see if he made contact with a Russian at an unidentified “event,” according to the closing memo. This presumably would have happened between Aug. 16, 2016, when the FBI opened the inquiry, and Jan. 4, 2017, the date of the closing memo. The FBI said there was no contact.

The FBI ended up clearing Mr. Flynn in its closing statement: “Following the compilation of the above information, the [Crossfire Hurricane] team determined that Crossfire Razor was no longer a viable candidate as part of the Crossfire Hurricane umbrella case. A review of logical databases did not yield any information on which to predicate further investigative efforts. While a CHS provided some information on CR’s interaction with [redacted] the absence of derogatory information on [redacted] limited the investigative value of the information.”

The Washington Times provided the closing memo to Mr. Halper’s attorney, Robert Luskin.

“Professor Halper does not intend to comment,” Mr. Luskin said.

Mr. Halper’s modus operandi has been challenged elsewhere. The Washington Times reported in 2018 that national security experts whom he listed as consultants for a pricey Pentagon study on Russia-China said they never contributed to his work.

Mr. Grassley asked for an inspector general’s probe. The inspector general found last year that the Pentagon and Mr. Halper failed to verify that he spoke with or visited the sources he put into a statement of work for over $1 million in contracts.

Mr. Halper is described as “Source 2” in a voluminous report on FBI wiretap abuse by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz. Two Trump volunteers have publicly identified Mr. Halper as the FBI informant who made contact with them in 2016.

As a job interview, Mr. Halper first met with the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane team on Aug. 11, 2016, as agents assessed whether to hire him for the Trump campaign targeting. He told agents “that he had been previously acquainted with Michael Flynn.”

Flynn associates say he has never met Mr. Halper. The FBI formally opened a case on Mr. Flynn five days later.

The FBI met with Mr. Halper again the next day. They settled on him to reach out to campaign volunteers George Papadopoulos and Carter Page.

Mr. Halper was not always a model confidential human source. In 2011, the FBI fired him for “aggressiveness toward handling agents as a result of what [Mr. Halper] perceived as not enough compensation,” the Horowitz report says. It also said he had “questionable allegiance” to his own stable of intelligence sources.

The FBI ultimately graded Mr. Halper’s reliability as high for the Trump probe.

In May 2017, while he sat on the sidelines in England and before he was outed as an FBI spy, Mr. Halper became a cheerleader for the Mueller investigation.

He appeared on BBC radio the day after Mr. Mueller was appointed. Asked whether the investigation was on par with Watergate, Mr. Halper said, “There is a sense this issue is moving in that direction. It clearly has gathered a fair amount of momentum.”

By then, Mr. Halper had secretly recorded conversations with Mr. Papadopoulos and Mr. Page. Both denied any role by themselves or the campaign in Kremlin election interference.

As for Mr. Flynn, the FBI never finished the case-closing paperwork. Bureau leaders stopped the process after learning that Mr. Flynn had spoken with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the transition. Mr. Flynn eventually pleaded guilty to lying about the call. The Justice Department wants the judge to throw out that confession.

Lokhova goes to court

In May 2019, Ms. Lokhova filed a defamation lawsuit against Mr. Halper and four media outlets in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.

“Lokhova is not and never has been a Russian spy or an agent of Russian intelligence or any branch or agency of the Russian government,” the lawsuit says. “She is Russian by birth. That’s it. … Lokhova never had an affair with General Flynn. Indeed, she has never been alone with General Flynn, ever.”

The lawsuit told of the emotional cost of unfounded media stories: “She lives in constant fear and with a deep sense of betrayal and dismay. Plaintiff experiences a recurring nightmare about being separated from her baby as a result of arrest on a false charge manufactured by Halper and his handlers. Plaintiff has contemplated suicide to end the suffering caused by the enormous weight and stress of being collateral damage in Halper’s international conspiracy and scandal.”

Mr. Halper filed a response saying Ms. Lokhova is trying to make money.

“The Complaint is a transparent effort to attract attention and renown to the Plaintiff by converting this Court into a political blog from which publicity, followers, and funding can be garnered,” Mr. Halper said.

He said the libel lawsuit “offers no factual support to justify its claim that Mr. Halper was a source for any of the eight articles, other than to suggest that it is ‘obvious’ that Halper was a source of one of these articles.”

“Conspicuously absent is any claim about anyone saying that Plaintiff is a Russian spy, that she had an affair with General Flynn, or that she was directed by Russian intelligence to do so,” he said.

Mr. Halper took offense to Mr. Biss‘ calling him a “ratf–-r,” a term derived from the political dirty tricks of the Nixon era. His attorneys asked the judge to sanction Mr. Biss, but U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema declined.

But Mr. Halper and the press won on the bigger issue.

Judge Brinkema dismissed the case on several grounds. Most of the stories appeared after a one-year statute of limitations expired from May 23, 2019, when the lawsuit was filed, and other parts of news stories were not defamatory, the judge said.

For Mr. Halper, Ms. Lokhova did not provide sufficient evidence that he was spreading rumors to the press. Ms. Lokhova quoted a reporter in 2016 as saying his source was Mr. Halper, but that was beyond the of statute of limitations, the judge said.

Judge Brinkema scolded Mr. Biss, who has taken on libel lawsuits for Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican, for his brief’s personal attacks.

“The record is clear that Biss filed an excessively long complaint and amended complaint on Lokhova’s behalf directing unprofessional ad hominem attacks at Halper and others,” the judge said. “The complaint exaggerates the nature and content of the allegedly defamatory statements.”

New player

It is difficult to find an aspect of the Russia saga that doesn’t involve Christopher Steele, the former British spy and Democratic Party-financed operative who wrote the largely discredited anti-Trump dossier. The Flynn story is no different.

A pivotal player in Mr. Steele’s operation to spread the dossier as many places as possible — the news media, FBI, Justice Department and State Department — was David J. Kramer. The former State Department official was an associate of Sen. John McCain, the late Arizona Republican. A Steele associate told him at a conference about explosive allegations about President-elect Trump dug up by a former spy in London.

McCain dispatched Mr. Kramer to a secret meeting in London with Mr. Steele, who told him that Mr. Trump stood in the middle of a far-reaching election conspiracy with the Kremlin. (This would prove untrue.)

Mr. Steele sent the dossier by encryption to the investigative firm Fusion GPS, his American handler. In days, Mr. Kramer was promoting the dossier all over Washington.

It was Mr. Steele’s second dossier wave. Before the election, he came to Washington to pitch his claims to the mightiest of the news bureaus in the nation’s capital. He also took it to the State Department while a surrogate relayed dossier claims to the Justice Department and the FBI.

The FBI came to embrace the dossier and used it as evidence for wiretaps and to put Trump people under investigation. It wanted to pay Mr. Steele to keep investigating Mr. Trump, and it insisted that the dossier’s most stunning claims against Mr. Trump be included in an intelligence community historical report on Russian interference.

Mr. Kramer’s most fateful meeting was with a BuzzFeed reporter. After Mr. Kramer left the room, the reporter photographed each of 35 pages. The site published the entire document days before Mr. Trump took office.

A year later, December 2017, Mr. Kramer arrived as a witness before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The committee recently released the transcript, which showed that someone else — Mr. Steele — was peddling the Flynn-Lokhova tale.

“There was one thing he mentioned to me that is not included here, and that is he believed that Mr. Flynn had an extramarital affair with a Russian woman in the U.K.,” Mr. Kramer said.

So, among Mr. Steele’s list of allegations against Trump aides was the Lokhova false rumor. How many other Washington players heard Mr. Steele’s gossip on Flynn is not known.

Ms. Lokhova has told her story in a book, “Spygate Exposed.”

“A Cambridge historian’s eyewitness account of America’s first presidential coup,” says a book blurb. “An innocent woman, Svetlana Lokhova was pulled into this fabricated narrative through dishonest accusations — for instance, that she was General Flynn’s paramour and a Russian spy.”

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