AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
Early this month, in yet another blow to “Russiagate,” Igor Danchenko, a key contributor to reports alleging a conspiracy between Russia and Donald Trump, was arrested for lying to the FBI. The indictment states that Danchenko repeatedly told Bureau agents that the information contained within the now-discredited Steele Dossier was sourced from Russia. In reality, the indictment claims, the accusations that suggested deep ties between the 2016 Trump Campaign and Russia were largely derived from “chatter and gossip circulating in American political circles” (and that is describing this compilation of lies generously). Now, one of D.C.’s premier “nonpartisan” think tanks, the Brookings Institution, appears to be enmeshed in the controversy.
For five years, accusations ranging from a conspiracy theory that Trump was an acquired Russian asset to Vladimir Putin “hacking” the 2016 election were largely derived from this dossier and promoted as verified fact across much of the mainstream media. Regarding the arrest, the left-leaning outlet The Nation published an article by Aaron Mate that referred to the Steele Dossier and the media’s fixation with it as “a case study in mass hysteria and media credulity.”
While this latest revelation has effectively severed any last shreds of credibility the Steele Dossier might have had, it raises new questions as to how such a baseless conspiracy theory was accepted as truth by the media and virtually every elected Democrat. In an ironic twist, while the Steele Dossier exposed nothing about Trump, the establishment reaction to the Steele Dossier has revealed corruption and partisan manipulation across the mainstream media, and now, appears to implicate numerous figures associated with the Brookings Institution.
The Brookings Institution is a 105-year-old think tank that purports to “represent diverse points of view.” Danchenko worked at the organization for several years under “Russian Expert” Fiona Hill (who, very interestingly, went on to play a key role on the National Security Council in the Trump administration, and was a “star” witness against the President at Trump’s first impeachment). According to the Wall Street Journal, Brookings was where Danchenko received his “entrée” into the inner circles of “America’s liberal foreign-policy elite.” It was Fiona Hill who introduced him to ex-spy Christopher Steele. As noted by Fox News Contributor Jonathan Turley, “Brookings appears so often in accounts related to the Russian collusion scandal that it could be Washington’s alternative to the Kevin Bacon parlor game. It appears that many of these figures are within six degrees of Brookings.”
While the think tank purports to be “nonpartisan,” the role of Brookings scholars and personnel in the “Trump Resistance” movement has raised serious questions about the organization’s activities.
The day after the 2016 election (something Brookings scholars assured supporters would not happen) Brookings employees were told that they could take the day off to process the emotional trauma of Trump’s victory. Many of the workers who did show up came to work in black attire: mourning outfits to mark the day. While many reportedly acted traumatized and humbled, the work of some Brookings personnel was anything but. Before Trump was even sworn into office, it appears that core members of the Brookings Institution were hard at work undermining the legitimacy of his win.
Brookings maintains a legal website called Lawfare that unleashed a torrent of articles making the case for Trump’s immediate investigation, impeachment, and yes, his arrest. In July 2016, Lawfare Executive Editor Susan Hennessey and Editor-in-Chief Ben Wittes published a blog post entitled “Is Trump a Russian Agent? A Legal Analysis.” They made the case that there were grounds to target Trump directly under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This was one of the earliest overt moves to directly get the FBI to investigate the soon-to-be President of the United States on the basis of D.C. rumors.
Normally, the blog posts of a think tank are largely inconsequential to the wider world. In the case of Brookings, however, we know that senior officials at the FBI were actively consuming their content. Last year, it was revealed that former FBI agent Lisa Page texted a Brookings blog post to Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, saying, “You should read this – the D [Director James Comey] surely has by now. Some of the internal links are well worth your time as well.” Only a few days later, the FBI formally opened the now infamous Crossfire Hurricane investigation into links between the Trump Administration and Russia. Wittes also wrote numerous pieces that defended and lionized former FBI Director Comey who later revealed that the two were close friends and had been for some time. In the days leading up to the 2016 election, Wittes published a blog post titled “A Coalition of All Democratic Forces, Part III: What if Trump Wins?” where he coined the phrase “insurance policy” as to what must be done if Trump won. This was one of the most visible and outright calls for an across-the-board resistance campaign against the President of the United States at every level of government and society. The left-leaning New York Magazine referred to Wittes as “The Man Who Made Liberals Newly Enamored of the Deep State.”
Hennessey and Wittes continued the drumbeat of articles all but declaring Trump was as good as indicted all through the election, and all throughout the administration.
Lawfare became the de facto defender and protector of disgraced and rejected bureaucrats who failed in their campaign to take down Trump. Another Ukraine impeachment star witness, former Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, joined the blog after leaving the Trump Administration. Former FBI General Counsel James A Baker, who was heavily involved in the early days of the FBI’s Russiagate investigation, also joined the publication as a contributor. The blog routinely defended disgraced ex-FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, later retaining Strzok as a contributor. They, in turn, routinely invoked and celebrated the publication. As recently as last month, Page was encouraging her followers to donate to them. Sounding like she might expect to be a criminal defendant one day, she wrote, “When they ship me off to Girly Gitmo and take away my ability to send texts, I hope I’ll still at least have access to https://lawfareblog.com”.
Frighteningly, Susan Hennessey herself is now on Biden’s national security team, in a post at the National Security Division of the Department of Justice. And for all Lawfare’s tireless “reporting” about the intricacies of Russia-gate, the indictment of Danchenko was dismissively reported by the blog with less than 500 words by an intern.
Brookings’ apparently deep ties to the origins of the Russia Hoax also highlight concerns about the culture that seems to have taken hold at this institution that has been admired in Washington for more than a century. The organization has been the subject of a number of eyebrow-raising stories in recent years.
In August 2016, Brookings was at the center of a major New York Times expose that suggested its research had been heavily compromised by corporate money. The Times reported:
“Thousands of pages of internal memos and confidential correspondence between Brookings and other donors — like JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank; K.K.R., the global investment firm; Microsoft, the software giant; and Hitachi, the Japanese conglomerate — show that financial support often came with assurances from Brookings that it would provide “donation benefits,” including setting up events featuring corporate executives with government officials, according to documents obtained by The New York Times and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.”
In 2014, the Institute was involved in another swirl of charges, including allegedly offering Norway political favors while accepting multi-million-dollar donations from the country. That same year, the Institute was revealed to have taken millions of dollars from Qatar under deeply questionable circumstances that many suggested undermined the institution’s scholarship on the Middle East. The think tank was also the subject of a Washington Post article in 2017 exposing favorable coverage of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, while the organization also accepted funding from the CCP-linked company.
Brookings’ apparently decaying culture was not merely a matter of accepting donations, either. In 2017, at the height of the #MeToo movement, Brookings suspended senior fellow Leon Wieseltier for his “inappropriate behavior” toward women. And in yet another recent controversy, Brookings has hired Kimberlé W. Crenshaw as a Nonresident Senior Fellow. Crenshaw, a Neo-Marxist, and one of the leading writers on Critical Race Theory, believes objectivity cannot exist, the Civil Rights Movement accomplished little, and openly calls for discrimination on the basis of race.
The ongoing Durham investigation has embarrassed and humbled the mainstream media and many, once-hallowed Washington institutions. While most of these embarrassments cut deeply, an investigation by a Special Counsel’s office is another level entirely. And that is to say nothing of potential civil exposure. This well-endowed Washington institution better hope it has good insurance.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.