In a series of tweets March 17 and 18, President Donald Trump made a number of inaccurate or misleading statements about the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. As a reader service, here's a quick guide to his claims.
"As the House Intelligence Committee has concluded, there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump Campaign. As many are now finding out, however, there was tremendous leaking, lying and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice & State.#DrainTheSwamp" - - Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2018
The House Intelligence Committee made no such conclusion. The Republican majority offered a preliminary set of conclusions, released in a one-page summary of a draft 150-page report, which said they found "no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy" between the Trump campaign and Russia. Democrats on the committee have said the investigation was still incomplete and key witnesses had not been interviewed. The House panel investigation has been deeply split along partisan lines from the start, in contrast to a parallel Senate probe.
The president's sweeping attack on the FBI, Justice and the State Department appears to mostly refer to former FBI Director James Comey, who Trump fired in 2017, and former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, who was fired late on March 16 for allegedly authorizing disclosures about the details of an investigation into the Clinton Foundation.
Comey, after he was fired, passed a memo concerning a conversation with Trump to a professor, in hopes, he said, that it would be disclosed to the media. The reference to State is more obscure, but it may refer to contacts betweentwo State Department officials and Christopher Steele, the former British spy who wrote the "dossier" that alleged connections between Trump and Russia.
"The Fake News is beside themselves that McCabe was caught, called out and fired. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars was given to wife's campaign by Crooked H friend, Terry M, who was also under investigation? How many lies? How many leaks? Comey knew it all, and much more!" - Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)March 17, 2018
The question of McCabe's wife's political activities emerged during the campaign and Trump constantly has gotten it incorrect. The timeline shows any connection to Hillary Clinton is pretty thin, though McCabe claims that Trump brought up his wife in almost every conversation.
On March 12, 2015, Jill McCabe, a hospital physician, announced her candidacy for the Virginia Senate. The political action committee of then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close Clinton ally, gave $452,500 to McCabe, and the state Democratic Party gave her campaign an additional $207,788. That was about one-third of the $1.8 million budget for her campaign.
Meanwhile, on March 2, 2015, the New York Times first reported on Clinton's email server setup while she was secretary of state. At the time, McCabe's husband, Andrew McCabe, was running the FBI's Washington, D.C., field office.
In July 2015, the FBI launched a criminal investigation of Clinton's server. The D.C. field office provided resources and personnel to the email probe. In September, Andrew McCabe moved to the FBI's headquarters, taking the No. 3 position.
In November 2015, Jill McCabe lost her race. Three months later, in February, Andrew McCabe became the FBI's deputy director and part of an executive team overseeing the Clinton email probe.
In any case, it's hard to see how McAuliffe would know that the husband of someone he was supporting in a Virginia legislative race was going to be promoted months later.
In 2016, reports emerged that the FBI was investigating $120,000 of donations to the McAuliffe's campaign and inauguration made by U.S.-based companies controlled by Chinese businessman Wang Wenliang. No charges have been filed.
"The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!" - Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)March 18, 2018
There are so many things incorrect in this single tweet that it's hard to know where to begin.
First, special counsel Robert Mueller III was appointed because Trump fired Comey and then went on television and suggested it was because of the Russia probe. That left the Justice Department little choice but to appoint an independent prosecutor. (Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, so the decision was made by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.) Mueller's probe has yielded concrete evidence of Russian meddling, including the indictments of Russian individuals and entities.
Second, the investigation did not start with the dossier written by Steele. (Steele was working for political research firm Fusion GPS, which has a contract with a law firm that worked for the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.) Instead, it was a tip from the Australian government, which notified U.S. authorities about a drunken conversation between a Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, and an Australian diplomat in May.
Papadopoulos claimed the Russians had "political dirt" on Clinton. The memo released by the Republican majority of the House Intelligence Committee, which Trump has approvingly cited, confirms the counterintelligence investigation into Russian meddling began in July, 2016, because of the tip about Papadopoulos. The information in the dossier only came to the attention of the FBI later.
Third, there is no evidence the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application to monitor Carter Page was used to spy on the Trump campaign. On Sept. 26, 2016, Page announced he was taking "a leave of absence" from the campaign. On Oct. 21, the FBI sought and received a FISA court order to begin surveillance on Page. So that was just days before the election - and after Page was no longer part of the campaign.
The order is renewed at least three more times over the next year, meaning that the FBI is able to convince the judges - all appointed by Republicans - that surveillance continues to provide assistance to investigators.
As for the probe being a "witch hunt," the number of guilty pleas and indictments so far demonsrate that Mueller is finding evidence of malfeasance.
"Wow, watch Comey lie under oath to Senator G when asked "have you ever been an anonymous source. . .or known someone else to be an anonymous source. . .?" He said strongly "never, no." He lied as shown clearly on@foxandfriends. - Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2018
This tweet is prompted by a passage in McCabe's statement defending himself against charges of unauthorized leaking about the Clinton investigation: "I chose to share with a reporter through my public affairs officer and a legal counselor. As deputy director, I was one of only a few people who had the authority to do that. It was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter."
During May 2017 testimony, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, asked Comey two key questions: "Director Comey, have you ever been an anonymous source in news reports about matters relating to the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation?"
Comey replied: "Never."
Then Grassley asked: "Question two, and relatively related: Have you ever authorized someone else at the FBI to be an anonymous source in news reports about the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation?"
Comey replied: "No."
Whether Comey's answer was untruthful may turn on the question of authorization. McCabe asserts he had the authority to have the conversation with the reporter and that Comey was "aware of the interaction." But he does not say Comey authorized the conversation - and Grassley did not ask if Comey was aware of anyone in the FBI acting as an anonymous source.
Trump jumped to the conclusion that Comey lied. Nevertheless, Comey's emphatic responses may cause him trouble.
"Spent very little time with Andrew McCabe, but he never took notes when he was with me. I don't believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at a later date. Same with lying James Comey. Can we call them Fake Memos?" - Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)March 18, 2018
Just because McCabe supposedly did not take notes, he still could have summarized the conversations for a memo immediately after the conversation. Comey had a practice of emailing his summary to a few close aides, thus creating a record and time stamp. The time between the conversation and the record of it would be an important part of establishing the memo's credibility.
"Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added. . .does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!" - Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)March 18, 2018
Mueller is a registered Republican, as is the man who appointed him, Rod Rosenstein. Publicly available voter registration information shows that 13 of the 17 members of Mueller's team have previously registered as Democrats, while four had no affiliation or their affiliation could not be found, The Washington Post reported.
Nine of the 17 made political donations to Democrats, their contributions totaling more than $57,000. The majority came from one person, who also contributed to Republicans. Six donated to Hillary Clinton.
Federal regulations prohibit the Justice Department from considering the political affiliation or political contributions of career appointees, including those appointed to the Special Counsel's Office. So Mueller is legally prohibited from considering the political affiliations of the people he has hired.
It's worth noting that Trump himself was big donor to Democrats, including seven times for Hillary Clinton, before he decided to run for the Republican presidential nomination. Trump switched his party registration at least five times; he was a registered Democrat from 2001 to 2009.