The three-page referral, released by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe to members of Congress in partly redacted form, apprised Comey and FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok that intelligence suggested that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton had approved a plan concerning the Trump campaign and Russia’s alleged hack of the Democratic National Committee.
In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Comey claimed not to remember ever receiving the referral.
Ratcliffe sent copies of the partly redacted, three-page referral (pdf) to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, alongside written notes (pdf) taken by CIA Director John Brennan.
Last week, Ratcliffe released a summary (pdf) of the contents of the documents, in which he alleged that Clinton approved the plan on July 26, 2016, and that Brennan’s handwritten notes concern a briefing he provided to President Barack Obama in late July. The information about the plan came from a Russian intelligence analysis obtained by U.S. authorities, according to Ratcliffe.
The Clinton plan was meant to distract the public’s attention from the Clinton email scandal, the CIA referral to Comey and Strzok states.
Brennan’s notes describe an “alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on 26 July of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russia security services.”
Brennan’s notes then show three bullet points from “POTUS”—an acronym for President of the United States—the only unclassified one of which states, “Any evidence of collaboration between Trump campaign + Russians.”
The notes also include a lengthier classified list of bullet points under the heading of “JC,” an apparent reference to the acronym for James Comey, suggesting that Brennan either briefed or was instructed to brief Comey.
In the summary letter last week, Ratcliffe noted that since the information came from Russian intelligence, it should be treated carefully with the potential that it’s either exaggerated or intentionally misleading. The timing and the content of the intelligence are nevertheless significant considering the context of the events that unfolded shortly before and after July 26, 2016.
On July 22, 2016, Wikileaks released thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee. Just over a month earlier, the DNC alleged that its network had been hacked by the Russians.
On July 25, 2016, Clinton campaign senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan publicly discussed potential links between the Trump campaign and Russia and insinuated that the Republican candidate may be compromised. On the same day, the FBI confirmed that it had opened an investigation into the hacking of the DNC.
On July 26, 2016, Clinton accepted the Democratic presidential nomination and allegedly approved a plan to dirty up the Trump campaign. On the same day, former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele drafted a memo for his infamous dossier claiming an extensive Russian government hacking operation. Also on the same day and across a continent, Australian diplomat Alexander Downer informed the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in London about a conversation he had with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, in which Papadopoulos mentioned that Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
On July 27, 2016, Trump said in a news conference, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
On July 28, 2016, FBI attorney Lisa Page wrote to Strzok, “Have we opened on him yet?” Page included a link to an article titled “Trump and Putin. Yes, It’s Really a Thing.”
Strzok replied: “Opened on Trump? If Hillary did, you know 5 field offices would.”
On July 29, 2016, Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and senior FBI leadership, including Comey, discussed the Downer tip, as well information on two other Trump campaign associates, Carter Page and Paul Manafort, during a morning meeting. McCabe would later tell the Justice Department inspector general that he didn’t recall the discussion.
On July 30, 2016, Steele drafted a memo alleging an eight-year-long Russian effort to cultivate Trump and worries within the Kremlin about the political fallout from the DNC email hack.
On July 31, 2016, Strzok drafted an electronic communication memorializing the official opening of a full investigation into a potential conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, titled Crossfire Hurricane. Strzok presented Papadopoulos’s conversation with Downer as the central pretext for the investigation.
While a full accounting of the events is yet to be made public, the timing of the events suggests that the FBI may have pivoted its investigation of the DNC email hack into an investigation of the Trump campaign and Russia around the time Clinton allegedly approved the plan to stir up scandal around Trump and Russia.
Special counsel Robert Mueller, who took over the Crossfire Hurricane investigation in May 2017, eventually indicted Russian intelligence officers for allegedly hacking the DNC. The indictment suggests that the DNC email hack was part of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
Jeff Carlson contributed to this report.