KremlinGate and the limits of classified evidence

John R. Schindler writes: President Trump’s Russia problem is off the front pages for the first time in months. In retaliation for the Assad regime’s continued use of chemical weapons against civilians, Trump attacked a Syrian airbase using 59 cruise missiles launched from U.S. Navy ships.

To the great distress of many of the president’s most ardent fans, the Trump White House has honored Obama’s Syrian “red line,” which his predecessor so embarrassingly walked away from almost four years ago, thereby handing the Syrian problem—and much of the Middle East—over to Vladimir Putin. It’s no wonder that the Kremlin is suddenly critical of the new administration, using strong words to express its displeasure with Trump’s muscular act against the Assad regime, which is Moscow’s loyal client.

But none of this means the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of KremlinGate is going away. In fact, we now know that it’s been underway for almost a year. According to a new report in The New York Times, John Brennan, the CIA director during President Obama’s second term, knew last summer that Kremlin interference in our election was a serious and fast-growing problem. He was so worried that, in late August, Brennan personally briefed eight senior members of Congress on new evidence of Russia’s meddling—in some cases, the CIA director interrupted their summer vacations to share the bad news.

The Times doesn’t indicate what that urgent new intelligence was, but members of the Intelligence Community with access to that evidence have told me there are several top-secret reports—mainly, but not exclusively, signals intelligence from NSA—demonstrating links between Team Trump and top Kremlin officials, hinting at collusion with Moscow during last year’s election. Although none of these reports individually is conclusive—there is no “smoking gun” as Beltway wonks like to say—taken together they lead to the disturbing finding that Trump’s campaign was in cahoots with Moscow to hurt Hillary Clinton. That the IC knew much of this last summer invites disturbing questions about the Obama administration’s puzzling inaction last fall, in the weeks leading to the election.

FBI director James Comey has tamped down expectations of any quick resolution of his Bureau’s investigation of KremlinGate. He is surely correct that this weighty matter is best addressed thoroughly and judiciously, not rashly. We need the facts—not assertions or unprovable claims from dodgy dossiers. The existence of top-secret evidence pointing to collusion between Team Trump and Team Putin means that investigators and prosecutors have red meat to work with, but that does not necessarily mean that indictments are coming soon.

Comey faces a particular problem, little understood by the public or even by most journalists covering KremlinGate. That’s the fact that classified evidence is inadmissible in court, and top-secret information will never be shown to a jury. FBI agents therefore face the uncomfortable difficulty of knowing (from highly classified reports) what was going on—and finding unclassified corroboration if they want to prosecute anybody.

Hence the pressing need to get co-conspirators to “flip” on each other and, even better, coercing confessions from those facing possible prison time. [Continue reading…]

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