Sunday, August 20, 2017

Strzok by surprise (October Surprise, that is)

October Surprise. Uncredited image from Merriam Webster.
You may have heard Thursday or Friday about a weird little detail in the Mueller investigation of the Trump campaign—Rachel Maddow featured it on her show Friday night: the departure from the team of Peter Strzok, former head of FBI counterintelligence, who has now returned to the FBI, but not to counterintelligence: he's working in the human relations department.

The what? He's in personnel?
Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent and associate dean at Yale Law School, said that she had "never heard of an agent being moved to the human resources department."...
"I have seen instances where if some issue comes up, the agent might be moved to another investigation or to the operations center, where you essentially field calls all day," Rangappa said. "But why he would be moved to HR is just bizarre."  (Natasha Bertrand for Business Insider)
There are a lot of ideas floating around as to what might be going on here, but I think I bumped into the real thing at Narativ, the Trump-Russia blog of the news producer Zev Shalev, and it's a blockbuster, as Rachel would say.

Shalev introduces the idea of a connection between this event and James Comey's strange behavior two weeks before the election, allegations from the Steele dossier, and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, and his statement to Fox News of October 26:

“I’m sorry, I don’t believe in polls. Every election I ever won, I outperformed the polls,” Giuliani said. “I think he’s [Trump] got a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next few days. I mean, I’m talking about some pretty big surprises. We’re not going to go down and certainly won’t stop fighting. We’ve got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn this around.” 
As has been noted often enough, Giuliani seemed to know something, because on the 28th Comey informed various congressional committee heads that a new source of Hillary Clinton's State Department emails had been discovered, Jason Chaffetz promptly leaked the information on Twitter, and the story rapidly began spreading that the FBI had "reopened" the Clinton investigation (not quite true) and that the emails were on a laptop belonging to the ridiculous Anthony Weiner, whose wife Huma Abedin had apparently been using it as some kind of backup, and the shit hit the fan, not to be dissipated a week later when Comey came out to say "Never mind."

Another thing Giuliani did, on October 28, as Seth Abramson was reporting in December, was to tell listeners to Lars Larson's radio show
that current agents in the FBI had committed Hatch Act violations to get him information about the ongoing Clinton investigation. Specifically, wrote CNN, “the former mayor said he was in contact with former agents ‘and a few active agents, who obviously don’t want to identify themselves.’” Giuliani wasn’t even being especially coy; he was quite clearly indicating that the reason the current FBI agents who’d spoken to him didn’t want to identify themselves was because their contact with him had been illegal.
And this in turn suggested why Comey had made his statement: he himself suggested he had been forced, against agency policy, to announce the development in the Clinton email story by the belief that the story was certain to be leaked anyway, and Giuliani's statement (which he walked back the next day, denying that he'd spoken to any active agents) revealed who the leakers were going to be.

Christopher Steele had been trying to get the FBI interested in his findings on the Trump campaign, but without success:
the bureau kept stalling instead focusing on Clinton. According to the Independent Newspaper which interviewed Steele:
“The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton. Some of its agents had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani, by then a member of the Trump campaign, since his days as public prosecutor and then Mayor of the city,” The Independent wrote.
Shalev's new bit of information is that Peter Strzok, the counterintelligence man who just left the Mueller investigation and was demoted by the FBI, was in the center of these events—he was the agent who interviewed Hillary Clinton on November 4.

Shalev won't take the leap to the next level, but let's go through this together. If Special Counsel Mueller were to learn, in the course of his investigations, that one of his top investigators had been deeply involved in that anti-Clinton crusade as a rogue FBI agent, to the point of revealing information about the investigation to Giuliani, in clear violation of the Hatch Act, then Mueller would have to get that person off the team, and the FBI would have to remove him from investigative work pending the outcome of an internal investigation in which they decided how to discipline him and whether to prosecute him for the crime.

And if Strzok were that investigator, what just happened to him would make perfect sense. As that Business Insider story goes on to say,
A former FBI agent who worked with Strzok on and off over several years in the bureau's counterintelligence division said that Strzok's move to HR means he has now been separated from counterintelligence work altogether. 
The FBI sometimes parks agents in the human resources department, the agent explained, when they need to be reassigned quickly away from substantive matters and there's no other place to put them. 
Comey's letter certainly seems to have been a decisive factor in the election result, as Nate Silver has been saying since December, and it looks more and more likely in this sense that that story, of rogue FBI agents plotting with Giuliani and Erik Prince and the Trump campaign to steal the election, is true.  And Mueller knows it, and we'll all know it soon.

Cross-posted in No More Mister Nice Blog.

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