Was ‘Russia Collusion’ a Diversion From the Real Scandal?
For over two years, The Epoch Times has been investigating the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign and related FISA abuse, what’s now often known as “Spygate.”
According to investigative journalists John Solomon and Seamus Bruner, co-authors of “Fallout,” the seeds of this scandal go back well before President Trump came into the picture, as far back as 2009—and directly involve the highest offices of the country.
This is American Thought Leaders ????????, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: John Solomon, Seamus Bruner, it’s such a pleasure to have you both on American Thought Leaders.
John Solomon: Thank you.
Seamus Bruner: It’s a pleasure.
Mr. Jekielek: You [co-wrote] this incredible book, “Fallout.” I’ve been reading it. Man, is this a dense book—lots of facts, lots of information in there. You make an incredible connection in there. We’ll talk about this; we’ll dig in, but basically, you make the case that the Russia collusion hoax has its origins in the Obama administration’s mishandling of the Russia relationship. That would be one way to put it. Tell me more.
Mr. Solomon: I think the seminal moment for me when I realized that these events, going back from 2009 all the way to the president’s impeachment in 2019, were connected was when I had a dinner with a senior Clinton campaign official about two springs ago. I started talking about everything I learned about Christopher Steele, and he said, “Why do you think we did the project?” I said, “Well, I assume it was to dirty up Donald Trump,” and he said, “Well, actually it started much earlier than that.” [I asked,] “What does that mean?”
He said, “Well, we came into the 2016 campaign worried that Peter Schweizer’s book, “Clinton Cash,” or the Clintons’ cashing in on the Russia policy was going to be one of our liabilities, and we want to scare Republicans away from it. So we started researching people like Paul Manafort and all the figures that later came out in the scandal. We were just looking for a way to scare Republicans off from using Russia as an election issue.”
I started to think, “Oh my gosh. This isn’t what we thought it was. It was a neutralization effort to keep an issue off the table in the 2016 election. Then Donald Trump kind of plays into it, and then when Christopher Steele takes it to the FBI, it takes off in an entirely different direction. Is that what happened?” And I remember the aide looked up and down about two or three times and finally said, “Yeah, that’s what happened.” And so that gave us the inspiration to go back and say, “Well, what failed so badly that they felt like they needed to cover it up, or have a neutralization, or a stay away sign on it?” We put that story together. In the process of my interview, which Seamus didn’t even know I had, he digs up a document, and this document is extraordinary. It’s a document of the polling data. Why don’t you tell him what you found?
Mr. Bruner: Right. Working with Peter Schweizer on “Clinton Cash,” I became fully immersed in the Uranium One story and didn’t find out until years later through the wonder of Wikileaks that when “Clinton Cash” was coming out, the Clinton campaign was freaking out about it and sending emails back and forth: “How do we get a copy of this book? Should we put one of our guys getting books on it?” Also through Wikileaks, I found out [that] in late 2015, the Clinton campaign had hired a polling company to do some internal polling of voters. Not the polls you see on TV, this is an actual, accurate poll and focus tested poll.
They asked this group of respondents, “What is the number one issue that makes you uncomfortable casting your vote for Hillary Clinton?” By far and away, I think it was 67 percent responded [the Uranium One story]—17 percent said they were much less likely to vote for Hillary Clinton after hearing about the Uranium One story, and 50 percent said they were somewhat less likely, so in total, 67 percent were less likely to vote for her. The email scandal, by comparison, was 31 percent. It’s interesting that the email scandal became the headline because it really distracted from the Uranium One story.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s really fascinating. There’s two vantage points here. One, Uranium One is something we’ve covered as well, and we worked with you on this a little bit as well, but a lot of people just keep calling it the debunked Uranium One story. I’m going to want you to talk about that. The other thing is, I don’t think it’s generally in the American consciousness that the Obama administration did poorly with Russia, necessarily, right? Or is it?
Mr. Solomon: That shows that the deflection strategy managed to keep that subject off the table for people to talk about. But there was a report done, I think it was with the Brookings Institution, that went back as the Democrats started to escalate on Donald Trump and the Russia issue. They wrote this column saying, “Hey guys, the Obama record on Russia really wasn’t that good. We got taken in and hoodwinked as Democrats and liberals.”
What you find out when you do the research—and Seamus did a great job of personifying Putin and his tactics—is how cunning and how thoughtful he is in terms of how he’s going to approach the American relationship. He’s playing chess 10 steps ahead of the rest of us. He is looking to use a strategy that he calls, “geopolitical energy domination.” He did it once; he did it in Eastern Europe. He made everyone in Eastern Europe reliant on Russian gas, and therefore, he can control Eastern Europe now because he can shut off their gas or raise their prices if they don’t do what he says, and he wanted to replicate that strategy in the West by going after uranium. That’s his strategy. We have documents that his own people wrote that lay it out.
Then separately, you have the Obama administration—Obama, Biden and Clinton—and they want to reboot the relationship. The relationship went off the rails in 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia. There was a military conflict there at the end of the Bush administration. President Bush had planned at the end of the 2008 presidency to do a new nuclear deal where he would make new sales of nuclear energy from Russia to United States utilities. He pulled that off the table because of the invasion.
The Obama administration, with Hillary Clinton at the lead and Joe Biden in the background, made the decision, “Let’s put that back on the table—that’s our carrot. He wants nuclear business; we can give him nuclear business. We want a better relationship, a more stable world.” They’re thinking about Iran at that point, the Iran deal. You can’t do an Iran deal without Russia in the game, and they started on this track of really giving away a lot of things in INERMA [International Energy and Raw Materials] policy.
Basically, we want to get in good graces, so we’ll sell them a lot of uranium from our utilities. We’ll sell them some raw uranium under our ground. We’ll help them build their own Silicon Valley because they envied our Silicon Valley, so they create a place called Skolkovo. The current administration [at the time] does all that and they feel like, “Alright, we’re getting on a great track.” Then all of a sudden, Vladimir Putin pulls the rug out and goes into Crimea in Ukraine.
Now the Clintons, the Bidens, and the Obama folks know two things: their policy didn’t work, and now there’s a book about to come out by Peter Schweizer that reveals how much money on the sidelines people were collecting. They have to neutralize that story, and that’s where I think the Christopher Steele dossier gets its origins.
Mr. Jekielek: How is it that Uranium One, this whole scandal, is being described as debunked? Speak just a little bit on that.
Mr. Bruner: So there’s never been a full, thorough, complete investigation, official or otherwise. What John, Peter, and I have done is probably the closest to a full investigation of the Uranium One story that’s ever been done. When they say it’s been debunked, I’m not quite sure what they’re talking about.
The most recent coverage was just a couple months ago. The Washington Post talked about the Hoover investigation out in Utah, how Jeff Sessions had tasked John Hoover to look into the Uranium One matter, and Hoover was supposed to do this investigation. The Washington Post said they used inside sources and unnamed sources to say that it wasn’t really an investigation so much as a review. That’s as close as an investigation as we’ve had. There’s never been a report.
So when they say debunked, they’re declaring it—there’s nothing really debunked about it. I’m not even quite sure what issue it is that they’re saying is debunked. Did Putin buy the uranium? Yes. Did several Obama figures lobby on behalf of Uranium One, and did the Clintons take money from shareholders in the deal? Yes. They say it is debunked [because] you can’t prove the intent of the donations. Of course, proving intent is always very difficult because they’re never going to [find] that smoking gun email, quid pro quo, “We’ll give you the uranium for the money.”
Mr. Jekielek: There’s this very interesting figure, you guys dedicate a chapter to him in the book, Doug Campbell. It was fascinating to read about him. Of course, he was in the news at various points in the past, but I just don’t think a lot of people will know about Doug Campbell and what he did, his actual infiltration into Russian uranium companies and so forth. Give me a thumbnail here about him, and then I want to talk a little bit about some of these incredible documents that you guys found related to this.
Mr. Bruner: John found Doug Campbell, and he’s known him for quite some time.
Mr. Solomon: Doug Campbell, to everyone who knew him in his Florida life, was a globetrotting businessman. What they didn’t know was that he was a CIA-FBI asset for more than 30 years—an operative. When he would go on his business trips selling agricultural products in the 80s and 90s, he was helping the CIA figure out what countries in the world were paying bribes and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and things like that. He would inform the CIA, who were the most corrupt regimes, whether it was in Africa, Latin America, or Europe, and he built a lot of cases for the CIA, for the intelligence community.
Somewhere in the 2006-2007 timeframe, he’s handed off for a period of time from the CIA to the FBI. Again, everybody who knew him at church just thought he was just an everyday businessman, globetrotting, selling wheat and other things, but he really was what we know as a confidential human source, an informer, an operative, whatever you want [to call it], different words for different people. He was working under the control of the FBI.
In 2006-2007, they gave him a mission: we want you to get inside Vladimir Putin’s nuclear empire. He said, “I sell agricultural products.” [They responded], “You have to get in the nuclear empire.” Through his really garrulous, friendly, loving way, he won the graces of a guy that was in the trucking side of uranium business in America who had close ties with the Russians, and he worked his way into the good graces of the top American figures for a company known as Rosatom. Rosatom is the Russian state-controlled nuclear empire of Vladimir Putin.
He gets in and very early on, he finds out if you’re going to be a consultant for the Russians, you have to pay kickbacks. “They’re asking m5e to kickback money,” so he goes back to the FBI and says, “They want kickbacks.” [The FBI tells him,] “Go ahead. You’re authorized to make them.” There’s an amazing anecdote in the book where the first time he’s about to deliver $50,000 in cash in a briefcase to the Russian head of Rosatom in the United States, he can’t sleep the night before. They have a pen camera in there, and they’re going to record this transaction for the FBI, and he thinks he’s going to get caught and killed. He can’t sleep and his hands are sweaty. I remember him telling the story. Well, he delivers the money; they take it gladly; and now he’s on the inside, and for three or four years, he’s informing the FBI.
At the same time, the Obama administration is doing these deals and is going to give billions of dollars of American utility contracts to Russia. The American government arranges it. They allow them to buy uranium under the ground—a transaction that’s known as Uranium One.
Believe it or not, that was not the most valuable thing that Vladimir Putin got out. He wanted those billions of dollars of nuclear fuel contracts because then American utilities would be reliant on Russian fuel for years to come and he knew, the documents show, if he got that deal in place, Americans would not mine their own uranium. All of America’s uranium mines have shut down. We couldn’t produce uranium tomorrow if Vladimir Putin shut us off.
And so Doug Campbell gets into all of this. He’s reporting this in real-time to the FBI, and the FBI is telling him, “Your information has made it to President Obama’s desk. It has made it to the desk of Robert Mueller.” He’s sitting there and all of a sudden, after delivering oodles of evidence, he comes out and finds out that they just approved the Uranium One deal. The Obama administration just gave them 20 percent of America’s [uranium] after he just told them that this is their strategy of global domination. They’re paying kickbacks. He asked the agent, “Why did they let this happen?” The agent said, “You have to ask your politics about politics.” And he [Campbell] became very demoralized.
That’s the most important part of the story that’s never been debunked. People argue, “Do donations follow policy or does policy follow donations?” That debate is going to go on in Washington long after we’re gone. But it is irrefutable that at the moment the Obama administration—Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, President Obama—authorized all of these transfers of contracts in uranium to the Russians, they knew the recipient company, Rosatom, was engaged in conspiracy in the United States. Racketeering, kickbacks, extortion, and bribery, that’s what the ultimate indictment came out to be. There are four men sitting in prison. They convicted four people for this.
But before all that happened, we allowed all these assets to transfer into Russia’s control, and we facilitated Vladimir Putin’s goal of getting to uranium domination of the market. Then he pulled the carpet out from under us, went into Ukraine, and our relations went back to this cold war setting. That is not in dispute. You can’t find a Member of Congress that can debunk one sentence of that story.
Now, there was one question when I left my reporting in 2017 and 2018 that was unanswered which is about the CFIUS group. That is the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the body of 10 federal agencies that decide: “If we’re going to transfer something valuable of American strategic interest like uranium or a port to a foreign entity, does it pose a national security risk?” And so the one thing that the Obama defenders say is, “Maybe Doug Campbell had this whole criminal case, [but] we really didn’t know about it, and so you can’t stick us for approving this.”
Well, I began doing some reporting with Senator [John] Barrasso of Wyoming a few years ago. He began digging, and I had sources telling me, “Yes, the FBI did tell the entire Obama administration,” but I don’t have [official] sources. We’re writing the book one day and that’s when Seamus, the extraordinary investigator, kicks in with another great discovery. Tell him your discovery.
Mr. Bruner: Right, right. After “Clinton Cash” came out, there were still some of these missing pieces. The money was there, the approval was there. “Debunked” is not the right word. They would say that there’s no smoking gun, no quid pro quo. That was what they hammered first before they said that it was debunked, so I was always looking for the smoking gun.
I went to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] reading room website one day, and I just searched Uranium One, and all of a sudden, there’s this new document. It says that it was released a couple of months back. I look at it thinking, “Oh my gosh.” This document proves that the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission], the DOE [Department of Energy], and several other agencies that are on the CFIUS [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] committee were informed of Doug Campbell’s findings—the ones that had been in the presidential daily briefing.
So Obama knew, Robert Mueller knew, and there’s a lot of other familiar names who knew before the Uranium One deal was approved, like John Brennan at the CIA and James Clapper who was the DNI [Director of National Intelligence]. If anything with the Uranium One approval, the person it falls on most is the DNI. The DNI is supposed to prepare a threat assessment and ask, “Does this deal pose any threats to the United States?” And of course it did. You can see with Russia’s oil and gas strategy in Ukraine that Russian control of energy resources in the United States is not a good idea.
I looked at this document, and I sent it to John. John said, “Oh yeah, I worked on the questions for that document with John Barrasso.” It kind of got quietly released, and anyway, it’s one of the more smoking gun type documents.
Mr. Solomon: There’s a really important public interest issue in that document too, because there are two ways to conduct government: really thoroughly or really on a cursory level. What the NRC says is, “Okay, yeah, we did get briefed. We knew that Rosatom was involved in these activities and there was a target in the United States that they were focused on. We didn’t realize that ARMZ—which is one of the subsidiaries of Rosatom and is the one that’s buying Uranium One—had any connection to a company called Tenam where the bribery was going on.”
Well, that’s an amazing statement for two reasons. One, anyone who spent five minutes on Google would find out they were sister entities and that ARMZ would sell what Tenam would buy and produce. Tenam would get the raw materials, and then ultimately ARMZ, so they were connected. Five minutes of Google searching would have found that.
But more importantly, in the FBI’s own files, there was evidence that the Tenam people who Doug Campbell was working with, the American nuclear officials for Vladimir Putin [were involved]. He [WHO?] was asking for Tenam people to help get Uranium One through because if Uranium One didn’t get through, there wouldn’t be a lot of trucking business in the United States that Tenam could do.
Remarkably, the FBI has these documents, and the people making the decision either didn’t take the time to look at them, or weren’t curious enough. They certainly weren’t thorough enough and made a decision on less than the full amount of information that they should have made it on—that’s bad. Doesn’t matter whether Barack Obama, Donald Trump, or anyone else is the president, you want those decisions to be made on the merits and somehow, they glossed over some really compelling evidence.
Mr. Bruner: Right, right. The timeline is actually fascinating because the year 2010 is a very busy year, particularly the months of May and June. The FBI has the Campbell investigation going on, and so they’re well aware of Russia, Rosatom, Tenam, all the bribery, kickbacks, and money laundering going on there.
Also in May of 2010, there was an espionage operation that got busted. The infamous Anna Chapman who was kind of like the Bond villain or Bond girl bombshell—she was posing on the cover of Maxim—was a spy working for the Kremlin in the United States. They called it the Illegals Program, and there were roughly a dozen Russian spies. Some of them were getting close to former nuclear officials in the Clinton administration, so there’s nuclear elements to this spy operation. You’ve got bribery, kickbacks, money laundering, extortion and also espionage related to nuclear matters. And so what is the FBI thinking? That’s May.
June is when you have the speech in Russia with Bill Clinton getting $500,000 from a Kremlin-backed bank. He actually asked the Clinton State Department to meet with several executives of Russian companies, Russian officials. They never get back to him, and he ends up meeting with Vladimir Putin instead. At this meeting, Vladimir Putin kind of mocks U.S. law enforcement, “Better be careful. Your law enforcement are everyday locking up citizens,” talking about the spy ring, and so they kind of have a laugh that Russian spies are getting busted in the United States.
Well, two months after that, August 2010 is when the NRC letter reveals that they were briefed on these Russian bribery operations—that’s in August. The CFIUS review gets triggered in September. So within a six month period, you’ve got multiple criminal, corrupt Russian actors getting busted. Convictions were made for all these crimes. Basically, the bottom line is there are so many red flags that this deal was an automatic no. One of the guys we quote in the book is a brilliant guy named James Rickards. He worked for the CIA and was actually tasked with setting up a CFIUS support group where he would actually work with the CIA to investigate CFIUS deals. Well, he says that this one was magically kept away from them. They knew about all the other CFIUS deals. This was, he said, being handled on an inside track.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating.
Mr. Bruner: And he says that there’s zero question, this deal falls into the category of absolutely just say no.
Mr. Solomon: In the Anna Chapman story, [here’s] one of the things I think a lot of Americans don’t know. The documents were declassified a few years ago, and I spent a few months going through them, and I read everything about it. The reason that the Anna Chapman ten-woman spy ring was rolled up in the United States was that one of the members was getting closer and closer to Hillary Clinton. She was trying to embed herself in a job in the State Department.
She began working for one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest Democratic donors, a lifelong friend, and she embedded herself in there. He didn’t know that she was an illegal or Russian. Her next step from that donors office was, “I’m going to get a job inside the State Department,” and at that point, the FBI decided, “We need to roll this up because an American official is potentially in danger,” and they roll up that ring.
Years later when we look back at this and we go to some of the experts [that’s what they say]. One of the most important experts that I’ve talked to over the last few years is a guy named Daniel Hoffman. Why is he important? Most people have never heard of his name. He was the CIA station chief in Moscow when all this went on. He is one of the preeminent American experts on Russia spy tradecraft.
In 2018, he wrote a column for me when I was at The Hill saying, “You have the Russia intentions all wrong. They weren’t trying to pick Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. They weren’t trying to help Trump; they weren’t trying to hurt Trump. They weren’t trying to help Hillary Clinton; they weren’t trying to hurt her. Their whole goal in life is to compromise politicians of all sizes so that Americans distrust their democracy. They become less trustful of it.” He went back, and he reevaluated a lot of these episodes that were the original anecdotes of the Russia collusion—which your publication has done a great job [covering]. I’ve done some of it; Seamus has [done some of it]—that now have been thoroughly debunked.
He says, “The Russians intended you to discover this.” There’s a tactic in the Russian playbook, the spy playbook, called discoverable influence operations. They do it in such an obvious way that Americans discover it and then they spent their next few days scratching their heads like, “What are the Russians up to? Why are they compromising Hillary Clinton or why are they compromising Donald Trump?” They want us to think that. They want us to discover it. It’s part of their playbook.
When you go back through the 2009 to 2019 period and you look at that the way a professional CIA expert looks at it, the Russians wanted Anna Chapman’s people to be found with Hillary Clinton. “… Hillary Clinton has a Russia problem.” They wanted that $500,000 check to Bill Clinton at that speech to come up, because then it caused distrust.
They want the meeting at the Trump Tower to be discovered. Why do we know that? The Russian lawyer that went and did that meeting was here in the United States on one of the rarest of visas—it’s called a parole visa. It means the Justice Department went to a federal court and said, “You must let this woman into the country because she’s very important to one of our cases.” And while she’s under the thumb of the Justice Department, what does she do? She walks over and has a meeting with Donald Trump’s team at Trump Tower.
If you were doing real spy work, that would be the most obvious thing you wouldn’t want to be discovered [doing], right? You’d use someone that looked like a normal, everyday person. They want these things to be discovered so that we go into a three or four-year debate. The way the Russia scandal played out, we played Vladimir Putin’s expectations to beyond anything he could imagine. We got our country in a big tizzy. We fought with each other. We accused each other of being Russian spies. That’s exactly what he wanted, and none of it was true. It was all smoke and mirrors. And I think that’s what the book really points out.
Mr. Jekielek: This actually reminds me of a line that I highlighted for myself out of the book. I’ll read it and then I’ll link it to something that was very close in there. You wrote, “Not even Putin, in his wildest dreams, could imagine how some computer server hacks and $150,000 spent on social ads in 2016 would be amplified by a bogus scandal propagated and sustained for three years by America’s own institutions.”
This is the case you’re making, but then you kind of go a little bit further, and I’ll read an assertion that you made. You said, “We are entering a new era of information warfare, and foreign adversaries are not the only perpetrators. American institutions, long trusted to give us the truth neutrally, are now active participants in misinformation, deceit, or shading of the facts. The consequences are far-reaching, and the solutions are not easily devised.” This is one of the lessons actually of your book and of the fallout of the last decade which you guys described as the “decade of deceit.”
I wanted to talk a little bit about that because first of all, there’s this connection to flesh out a little more. How does this all translate to the Russia collusion hoax and Spygate? In what they were talking about when you were speaking to the officials earlier, was there an expectation there would be FISA warrants pulled on this information that was put out?
Mr. Solomon: I think that it is pretty clear from my interview with the senior Clinton campaign official and others that when it started, it really never was envisioned to be that. When it started, they didn’t think that Donald Trump was going to be president. There were 18 guys and one woman on stage. They didn’t know which way that was going to shake out. They were looking for any Republican dirt in Russia that could neutralize the issue.
But then President Trump, in some ways, plays into that, right? Who does he pick of all the people that he could pick as his campaign chairman? Paul Manafort. That was the person that Hillary Clinton started looking at and the Democrats started looking back in late 2015, early 2016. He almost accidentally played into the trap.
And I think the seminal moment, the day that will live in infamy when people step back 20 years [forward] in history, writing from 30,000 feet, is July 5th 2016, because two amazing things happened that day. That’s the day that James Comey walks out on stage and says, “I’m dropping the Hillary Clinton email case. I think she did terrible things, but we can’t prove intent and so we’re closing it down.” It’s that very same day that Christopher Steele walks into an FBI office in London and says, “Here’s my dossier on Donald Trump.” At that moment, whether by intent or by accident, the switching of the scandal begins. It’s no longer Hillary Clinton’s email scandal or the “Clinton Cash” scandal; it’s now “Donald Trump has a Russia problem.”
When I talk about deceit, I’ll just use one example that just again this week was in the news, so it’s very important. This past week, Christopher Steele lost a judgment in Great Britain. A justice in Great Britain concluded that one of his memos in the dossier—because there are 16 or 17 memos that make up the dossier—was false. He didn’t do enough validation of it before he shared it with the FBI and other people, so he’s liable under British law.
What is that memo about? Well, it’s about a very debunked false story that more than 100 times the FBI has said, from the fall of 2016 to today, was never true. It was never true, but yet it was perpetrated time and again on major television networks and major news publications. It’s the story of the alpha bank server, the idea, perpetrated in multiple news stories at a time when the FBI had already concluded it wasn’t true at its release, that somehow there were these pings between a server at alpha bank in Moscow and Donald Trump’s tower, and therefore they’re secretly having communications, and this is how they plotted.
The FBI dismissed that in October of 2016. And yet, dozens upon dozens of times, I watched colleagues in my industry continue to report this was true and accurate and the holy grail of the conspiracy. And as recently as a few weeks before Bob Mueller testified in Congress at the end of his report, it came up again, and finally a congressman asked him in the hearing, “What about this alpha bank thing?” Well, he finally got an answer, “I don’t believe it was true, ever.”
How can the American media, how can the Democrats, liberals, intelligence, Republicans, or whoever spread that story dozens of times, continue to perpetrate a story that was demonstrably proven to be false? That is this new era of decade of deceit. What you learn when you unravel the Russia investigation is we had an FBI agent, if you believe the inspector general’s conclusions, who took a document that said that Carter Page was an asset of the CIA, and he changed it to hide the fact that he’s working for the CIA. If the FISA court ever knew Carter Page was working for the CIA, they wouldn’t have been spying on him.
When could we imagine in our country’s history, an FBI lawyer would change the document to change the meaning of someone who, by the way, was helping our country? When would American news media continue to report a story like that? I know every time I call the FBI, they say, “It’s not true; don’t go with that. We debunked it. Here’s a statement. We debunked it.” They must have been talking to the same reporters that wrote that story, yet the reporters continued to report that story. Institutions that we relied upon to tell us the truth or at least admit what they knew and didn’t know and to stay out of politics and stay above it are now in the swamp of politics, in the swamp of false information and misinformation.
That is the underlying concern I have when I came out with this book. It was sort of therapy for me. I don’t know about Seamus, but for me, I realized these institutions that were key to democracy have now been dragged down into the era of politics where lying goes on in politics all the time. I think one of the famous sayings I learned the first time I came to Washington was, “Show me a politician, I’ll find you a liar.” It’s a joke. In politics, there has always been deception and manipulation. But there have been these institutions, the State Department, the FBI, and the news media, that have been above it. And this is the decade about 2009 when they were sucked into the vortex, and I worry about the future of America as long as that dynamic goes on.
Mr. Jekielek: Seamus, you’ve been researching all of this for years now. Was there some document which you found along the way which was this, “Oh my goodness! I found the holy grail here.” Can you tell us of one situation? It’s incredible how many endnotes and how many documents you reference in this book.
Mr. Bruner: There are several actually. It’s almost like gaslighting because they say there’s no smoking gun, but we know the full story, whether it’s with Spygate or the Uranium One story. And yet, we still find more documents that prove that everything Schweizer, Solomon, and others have reported is completely true.
One that just comes to mind right now: I was searching for who was representing the Russians in the purchase of Uranium One, because you need financial advisors on both sides of the ocean, and they actually hired a firm here in Washington. I just swung for the fences, “Well, who is this guy?” I have a strategy where you search .gov websites, and I put the guy’s name in. There’s a press release. He represented ARMZ specifically to advise on CFIUS matters. He’s a former Commerce Department executive from the Bush administration now in private practice who was the chairman of the State Department Advisory Committee for international economic policy.
You have this guy working inside the State Department. He meets with Hillary Clinton back in the timeline of 2010. In April 2010, Hillary Clinton (Secretary Clinton), and her designated fall guy for the CFIUS decision [met]. She says, “I knew nothing about it,” and she kind of throws this guy, and he jumps willingly, in front of the bus. He says, “No, I handled that. It never was raised to the secretary’s attention.” Well, how on earth is the Russians taking control of uranium not raised to the secretary’s attention?
This guy is working for the Russians, on their payroll, advising them how to take over an American company with nuclear implications, and he’s also inside the State Department advising Hillary Clinton. It gets into the weeds of what he advised Hillary Clinton, but one of the bottom line things he advises is, “We need to open up investments into the United States.” It just seems like a total conflict of interest.
Actually on the State Department website, they have a picture of him. It’s the CFIUS guy on the left, Hillary Clinton in the middle, and this lawyer. They have these advisory committees, so they bring in private sector guys, but he [the lawyer] basically crafts State Department policy. So that was a huge smoking gun to me. It’s six months or less before the deal. How do you work at the State Department and for the Russians? We actually lay out a few people directly on the Kremlin’s payroll. This isn’t Rosneft or something. This is actual Kremlin state-owned agency payroll. Then they get a job at the State Department, and they work on energy issues. Why do we have— it just seems like a total conflict of interest.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating.
Mr. Solomon: When you talk to intelligence experts, one of the greatest concerns that they’ve seen in the erosion of national security in the last 15 years is the ability of our enemies and our frenemies, the Russias and the Chinas particularly because they’re very savvy, through cash and influence in business arrangements, to get inside government agencies for espionage influence and intelligence gathering. Our guard is so much lower down than it was during the era of the Cold War.
They [the intelligence experts] are not only talking about everyday Americans. They’re sure we can go watch the movie “The Americans,” and get reacquainted with what it was like during the Cold War. They’re talking about business people. They’re talking about national security experts. They’re talking about intelligence analysts. Our guard is so much lower according to these experts that China, Russia, and people like that are able to facilitate so much more extraction, they call it exfiltration of information, than we would ever have given away 10 or 20 years ago.
It makes our country an open book, which allows our enemies to manipulate and get a leg up on us in ways that they wouldn’t have gotten in the 60s, 70s, or 80s. It’s another part of the fallout of this culture we’re living in. We’re blind to what our very determined enemies are doing with our own resources.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, as I was reading, I was thinking about essentially how incredibly successful the whole Russian strategy was. If the strategy was to gain energy dominance, there was success on the gas side, and clearly there was success on the uranium side. I don’t think anyone would even debate that at this point. So that’s Russia, right? Credibly, I think to myself, China has actually been much more effective by most standards and most people that I’ve been able to speak with.
Then with Russia, you guys actually mentioned in the book, some of the tools that have been used by the current administration against Russia. Here’s my question. Comparing the administrations in terms of dealing with Russia, how does it play out? The Trump administration is portrayed as being very, very, very close to Russia, obviously, in quite extreme ways. What’s the reality?
Mr. Solomon: Listen, the reality is the sanctions that are on Russia today are far more severe than anything Barack Obama ever did, including after Crimea. Under the Obama administration, there was no lethal aid given from the United States, to Ukraine. President Trump gave that.
If you switch to China and you look at the court cases in the last few months, they’re beginning to unravel a program called the Thousand Talents Program, where these academics in America take cash to work with the Chinese. It’s portrayed certainly as an influence operation. Well, if you look at when these contracts started, they all occurred under the Obama years. They began then, and they’re being uncovered and now reversed by President Trump. I think if you talk to people on the front lines, and they set aside for a second whether they like President Trump or not and say who’s doing a better job of tightening up this concern that I just mentioned, the security concern, the Trump administration has been credited by the intelligence professionals and law enforcement professionals as being more aggressive.
But we’ve taken three drops in a bucket that should be filled with gallons of water and problems. We’re barely touching the surface with these prosecutions and these efforts. Now, one place it has tightened up a lot—and it’s not in dispute; you can talk to Democrats or Republicans—President Trump’s team, particularly Secretary Mnuchin, has tightened up the CFIUS process. When there’s a strategic asset up now it’s going through a much more aggressive review process. There’s no longer this “Well, we didn’t know that ARMZ was related to Tenam under Rosatom.” They’re asking harder questions. And if you look at the rejection rate, the number of foreign-owned transactions that are being rejected is going up by a large number, so there are some signs of progress.
But we lost so much ground from the early 2000s to 2020, that it can take years to catch back up. The Chinese have gained enormous influence. The Russians have gained enormous influence. If everything got better today, there are still utility contracts that mean American utilities are going to be reliant on Russian uranium for years to come. That’s a key source of cash for Russia. Damage is done, and the issue is we’re slowing it, we haven’t stopped it, and we certainly haven’t reversed it. That’s the challenge that the next generation of American leaders are going to have in the security realm.
Mr. Bruner: Just jumping on John’s point about the CFIUS process and Treasury Department being much harsher, I found a pretty funny letter. When I was looking into the guy who represented the Russians in the successful Uranium One takeover, the State Department advisor, he actually got a new gig working for the Chinese in the Broadcom-Qualcomm semiconductor deal. Most people haven’t heard of it, but it did not go through in the Treasury Department and is one of the signs that the Trump administration was taking CFIUS much more seriously. There’s this letter that says, “Dear Mister CFIUS expert who’s representing our adversaries, the deal is not going through.” It’s in the book, and it’s just a great little anecdote about how the previous administration gave away the farm to our adversaries, and this administration has been much [better].
Mr. Solomon: The bellwether shift is even apparent on the campaign trail. Four, five, six, or seven years ago, Joe Biden was the guy that said that China is no problem. All the people saying that are xenophobes. And now you have Joe Biden saying China is a problem and we have to get back to buying America first. His policy yesterday sounds a lot more like Donald Trump in 2015 than Joe Biden in 2011. So the Democrats have gotten wise to this.
I think everybody has stepped back, but we have not fully assessed how much ground we lost in the competition with the Russias and Chinas of the world. Until we get that assessment and adjust to it, America is still very vulnerable on the national security front and on the economic supremacy front. I’m not sure with all the discourse we have that seems to be focused on tiny, petty issues that there’s any strategic thinkers really stepping back saying, “How are we going to fix this for the long term?” That concerns me for the next generation of Americans to come.
Mr. Jekielek: You spoke to this question that’s on my mind. How many people are there out there that can play both sides like this that are working for essentially Russia or China and at the same time are working for the State Department or some other agency?
Mr. Bruner: How much time do we have? [Laughter]
Mr. Jekielek: We’re laughing here, but this isn’t funny.
Mr. Bruner: It’s scary even, and I wonder how do they justify it? How do you take money directly from a foreign government? You just go to the Department of Justice’s website (DOJ), actually the FARA website of the DOJ, Fara.gov. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of filings. It’s American companies that have to issue these filings, and then you look on the filings at how many individuals [are involved]—a dozen just on this one specific deal, this one client. Who’s the guy? Who’s the government client, Russia or China?
They’re supposed to be rigorous disclosures for, “Who are you talking to on behalf of the Chinese or on behalf of the Russians?” They’re never [rigorous enough]. I mean, Paul Manafort’s FARA violations were a decade old, and they only got brought up for political reasons. I’ll just give one example of the FARA filings. Uranium One, once it gets bought out by Russia, is now a Russian state-owned entity. They hired American lobbyists. They hired the Podesta group, while John Podesta, the brother of the Podesta group, is inside the Obama administration. So the Podesta group was one of the most well-connected lobbying firms at the time. That’s just one example. There’s many, many more lobbying firms who represent foreign clients. Sometimes they file the disclosures; sometimes they don’t.
Mr. Solomon: [Here is] my favorite anecdote in the Doug Campbell episode. Being undercover for four or five years is an incredibly stressful job. He’s a James Clancy figure, except it’s real. It’s right after Uranium One is approved after some of the early nuclear fuel deals are cut with the Obama administration. The Russians feel like they’ve got enough ground in America now that they’re going to open up an American office in tandem. They opened up in Maryland. It actually turns out that Rod Rosenstein, the eventual Trump deputy attorney general, became a US attorney that brings this case and these criminality cases against the Russians.
They’re sitting around, they open up their office, and they all go out to dinner with Doug because they credit Doug for making these extraordinary gains for them, unaware that he’s working for the FBI and recording all this. They’re bragging. They could not believe how easy it was to get all of these gifts, all of these giveaways from the Obama administration. They use a terrible term for President Obama, a racial epithet, but they’re just bragging. They’re drinking vodka, and they’re bragging. “I can’t believe how easy it was to play the Americans,” and the FBI are sitting, listening, and informing. He goes back and tells him the story.
It’s that moment, that level of embarrassment that I think, ultimately, is why Hillary Clinton, Obama, Biden, and the team tried to change the subject in the 2016 election, put it on Donald Trump. Because if all those things became public, Americans would really realize just how much the Russians played the fiddle on us. We thought we were playing them. We were going to bring democracy to them, and they were going to fold at our hands and suddenly become a Western-friendly country.
There are two countries where we’ve made that calculation wrong: Vladimir Putin’s Russia and without a doubt, China. We miscalculated. I interviewed Newt Gingrich recently, who 20 years ago was a big advocate of opening up trade with China, and he said, “I had it wrong. I thought what happened in Perestroika in the Soviet Union would happen in China, and I was wrong.” But the Russians saw it, and they laughed at us. They were laughing into an FBI microphone with Doug Campbell recording it. That’s the sort of anecdotes that I think hopefully will wake up America to what ground we lost in the last decade of deceit.
Mr. Jekielek: So, John, you’ve been one of the few people or organizations out there. “Just the News” is your new organization that’s been looking at this whole Russia collusion issue, Spygate, I know there are many names, Crossfire Hurricane, that all feed into it. How did you get into this in the first place?
Mr. Solomon: You know, it’s serendipity. Early on, when the Russia story broke, at the end of the campaign that began, I did some checking in the news organization that I was working for then to find out if this is real or not. I started calling intelligence and FBI experts, and I got the same story that the New York Times reported in October, which was “There’s not a whole lot here. There’s a lot of smoke, but no fire. We’re not sure this is true, so don’t sink down it now.” It’s remarkable because a lot of the rest of the media clearly went in a different direction.
So I was ignoring the story. It’s in the spring of 2017. One of my favorite issues I’ve done as a reporter over 20 years was when I really focused on the civil liberty implications of the FBI’s growing powers. So FISA, National Security Letters, when I was at the Washington Post I did a lot of work on that. I’ve worked very closely with the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] over the years because the more we give these incredible spy powers to our agencies, for all the right reasons, to stop terrorism and stop counterintelligence threats, the more American liberties could be at risk if they’re not properly exercised.
If you told me in March of 2017, that the Russia story was really a story about civil liberties being violated, I would say, “No, you gotta be kidding me.” I thought it was just a counterintelligence investigation that was spinning its wheels. But it really began in the spring of 2017.
Sarah Carter, my good friend, and I wrote a story together about how at the end of the Obama administration, the Justice Department belatedly disclosed a whole bunch of violations of spy power, some involving FISA, some involving what is known as 702, upstream telephone records, searches intercepts, and they just dumped them on the court. It’s a problem because the court is supposed to get them in real-time. You’re not supposed to store them up and say, “Oh, surprise. We’ve been violating [the law]—500 times in the last five years.”
But that’s what happened at the very end of the Obama presidency, ironically a week or 10 days before the election occurred when Donald Trump took over. That’s dropped on the court. The court doesn’t let anybody know for months because it takes a while to declassify this information. I jumped on that as a very important civil liberties story, that there have been scores, if not hundreds, I can’t remember the total number, of violations that were belatedly self-disclosed after the fact.
I got on the “Sean Hannity Show,” and I came back from the “Sean Hannity Show” one night at about 10 or 11 o’clock at night. I pulled into my home, and there was a blue sedan with US government license plates with its parking lights on right by my mailbox. I remember thinking, “Oh, am I in trouble? Are these guys coming to pick me up? I don’t think I brought up anything that terrible today.” I got out of the car. I remember this; I’ll bring my wife into this because it’s such a funny moment. She had peered out the window because she saw my headlights coming. She saw the two guys from the government car, so she closed it, and she went to bed and left me out there by myself.
But, the two fellows came up. They were clean-cut, looked like military officials. They said, “Are you John Solomon?” I said, “Yes.” And they said, “We just saw what you wrote today, what you talked about in Sean Hannity, and we want to let you know you’re at the tip of a very large iceberg.” And I’m thinking, “I am? I thought I just did a story about bad violations of the national security laws.” [They said,] “It’s much bigger than that. And you have to keep digging, if you want to find that.”
I said, “Well, what is the iceberg? What am I looking for? If I’m at the tip, what am I sitting on?” And they said, “We can’t tell you much because it’s classified. But this we will tell you, the most awesome powers of the US intelligence community were used to carry out a political dirty trick.” I said, “What do you mean political dirty trick?” At this point, I’m not even registering it to Russia. They said, “A political opposition research project, and I think if you study the current headlines, you’re smart enough to figure it out.” Then I’m starting to think, “Russia, wow, maybe it’s about Russia.” And so I kept pressing. They couldn’t say a lot. They said a few things that were helpful.
I remember the last question I asked before they got back in the car. I said, “Why me? Why are you coming forward? Why here at the mailbox?” They said, “You asked us to use these tools to keep you safe from the next terrorism threat, the next counterintelligence threat. If these abuses are discovered, if they’re found out, we will lose these tools, you will not sleep safe, and I won’t be able to do my job. So go out and expose us. Find out who misused these powers. Make sure that we can still use them for the right reasons. We don’t use them [that way] anymore.” That led me down this path.
I remember I ran in the house that night. I typed up everything I could remember, because I didn’t have a notebook with me. I wasn’t expected to be found there. I just started typing up everything I knew to Sarah Carter. I sent an email at 2:20 in the morning. [At] 2:25 in the morning, Sarah Carter responded back; she was still up. That set us on this extraordinary path of, “We’re going to find out what these guys are talking about.” Layer by layer, week by week we began to realize that this was the use of the FBI, the NSA database, and the NSA intercepts, the US intelligence [community] most awesome tools were being used to carry out a dirty trick to create a false picture that Donald Trump was in bed with Russia.
And as we prove or try to lay out in “Fallout,” it was a dirty trick to keep Hillary Clinton’s baggage and the Obama administration’s failures from being the subject of the day. I look back at that moment. I remember how extraordinary it is now. I think, “Wow, would I have done this if those guys didn’t show up?” And the answer is, “probably not.”
But I also look back, because one of the things I know those two gentlemen wanted that night was accountability for the people who had carried out and misused these tools, who had lied to the FISA court, who had certified the information—the “Steele Dossier” was verified when it was actually not true—who had altered a document to hide Carter Page’s role as a CIA asset. I look back, and after three and a half almost four years of work, I sort of feel in some ways I failed. Yes, we’ve gotten a lot of the information. We’ve told the whole story, but we’re now four years into the exposure of all these things, and no one has been held accountable.
If they aren’t, I won’t sleep well for the guys who took the risk to come out and meet me because the temptation to do this again in another administration, in another election, in another era is too great until someone gets punished. That’s what I worry about. I feel like that’s the unfinished chapter of “Fallout.” Until there’s accountability, everything that just happened could be repeated again.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s the same incredible story. Let’s talk solutions in a moment. Before we do that, how did you two get connected and into this book?
Mr. Bruner: Peter Schweitzer introduced us. Peter Schweitzer is really a hero in his own right. I mean, of all the investigative journalists in the country, I’m a little biased, but I think John Solomon and Peter Schweitzer, as well as Sarah Carter and too many to list, are just just incredible reporters. I’ve worked with Peter Schweitzer since 2011. I studied political science at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. Most people have never been to Tallahassee, and I wouldn’t really recommend it for a visit, but it’s a beautiful place to live. I volunteered for Peter Schweitzer on his book, “Throw Them All Out.”
Mr. Jekielek: Because he moved there [to Tallahassee].
Mr. Bruner: He moved there, yes. He’s from Seattle, by way of Washington DC, by way of Oxford. He’s lived all over, and he came down for an event in Tallahassee, Florida and never left. So there is something special about Tallahassee, but I actually thought I was going to move to Washington, DC after school and get a job here. [But I] found Peter Schweitzer, and volunteered on his book. Then when the Government Accountability Institute was founded in 2013, I got a job working there, and I just haven’t left because I love the work so much.
Peter introduced me to John, and we’ve got a great relationship going. We put out the books at the GAI, and now John and I have a book. John just keeps banging the drum, tugging on the yarn, and unpeeling the onion. It’s funny how the stories are almost fully told. But like John said, we need justice.
Mr. Solomon: We are so lucky because Peter wrote the foreword for the book. I couldn’t think of a more fitting person to do so, because the story of “Fallout” doesn’t occur if Peter Schweitzer doesn’t expose what he exposes in “Clinton Cash.” Hillary wouldn’t have gone into the 2016 election worried about her Russia baggage, if you want to call that. He’s an epic player. You can see in the book, there are these emails where the Clinton people are scheming, “We have to get rid of this Peter Schweitzer story. It’s killing us.” That’s the hallmark of an amazing journalist whose work is not an opinion; it’s based in fact, overwhelming fact. Every time you open up a Peter Schweitzer or Seamus printer book, the endnotes are almost as big as the book, and that’s such a great credit, because they document everything.
[Without him] “Fallout” doesn’t happen. We would have never learned about the failures of the Russia reboot of the Obama era if it weren’t for Peter and Seamus’s great work. So for me, it’s coming full circle. I enjoy the “Clinton Cash” book so much, and I remember how impactful it was. Then to be reconnected through Peter to do this book and take “Clinton Cash” to the next chapter, the next level has been incredibly rewarding.
We all in America have a great debt of gratitude to Peter. You look at the stories he broke over the last 12 to 20 years. They’re epic stories. They’re not small stories. They’re epic stories about how our politics and policy are being hijacked by money, corruption, and willful blindness. I feel lucky to be a little small piece of that and advance the story just a little bit with “Fallout.”
It has been a blessing to work with Seamus. This is the greatest gumshoe man I’ve ever met in my life. I learned things from him every day and every time he would send me a chapter. I despise text messaging. I don’t do “OMG”; I don’t do “I heart U”; I don’t do any of that. But three or four times, he did an OMG on me, because I would go and I’d say, “Where did you find that? I thought I knew that.” And he would redefine the book with these discoveries because he’s persistent, he’s honest, and he just looks for facts—he doesn’t have an agenda. I just remember those moments thinking, “Wow, you just transformed the book with that discovery.” And so it’s been a blast. I feel really, really lucky to have done this, and I hope Peter, Seamus, and I can find more reasons to conspire together in the future.
Mr. Jekielek: Everything you described in the book and the case you make in the book is that America’s in a pretty dark place right now, right? So the conspiring needs to be about where to go from here I think. And I know you certainly must have thought a little bit about this. I think there’s a lot of people out there feeling a bit despondent, frankly, at this point.
Mr. Solomon: Yes, I’m despondent. I have said many times on television that I look at my industry, the one I got into 30 years ago with bright eyes and a bushy tail, and I don’t recognize the state of journalism. I see people with agendas that aren’t about facts but about conclusions. “We’ll find the facts that meet that conclusion.” I see journalism that was blatantly and irrefutably wrong. There are stories we debunked by facts—not by political tactics, by facts—in the book that have never been retracted.
One of the fixes is journalism has to get on its course. It has to do the type of journalism that goes on at The Epoch Times, by Peter Schweitzer, and at the GIA [Government Accountability Institute] with Seamus. We have to get back to the facts and stop worrying about winners, losers, and outcomes. And we need to start doing journalism with depth and context again. Yeah, this is a very dense book. I’m going to confess to that. It’s dense even for me to read because it’s full of facts. But I read newspapers that 20 or 30 years ago, I couldn’t wait to open up in the morning, and I see these 147-character thin stories. Twitter has become our object, and that’s wrong. That’s not what journalism is about, so journalism has to fix itself.
I think the second institution that has led us down is the intelligence law enforcement apparatus of America. We can’t let happen what happened in the FBI, CIA, and the NSA in this story of “Fallout”. We can’t let these things happen. If we do, we become the banana republic that we always were designed to resist. If we allow spying for fake reasons, if we mislead a FISA court, if we change documents to hide someone’s CIA contribution to American security, if we smear people without the facts and then we don’t correct the record afterwards, if people do not get prosecuted for what happened in 2016 and in 2017, America is one step farther away from the democracy we were and one step closer to the banana republic that Vladimir Putin and the Chinese and others would like us to become so that we would topple.
This story for me is not about one episode, it’s about “What are we going to be in the country of the future?” I haven’t seen accountability in the profession of journalism or the profession of intelligence yet that would tell me that we’ve learned and we’re going to turn away from this, and that’s what scares me most.
Mr. Bruner: Yes, I’ll just echo what John said. The solution is accountability and justice. An example of that is when they perp-walked Paul Manafort, charged him, and threw him in Rikers, FARA filings skyrocketed. I mean, they were at 30 year lows. People wouldn’t file, “I got this new government-backed client from China.” They wouldn’t file, “Oh, I met with these legislators,” which they’re supposed to. The filings were just at abysmal levels. Nobody was filing the documents. The minute Paul Manafort was indicted for FARA violations, through the roof, everybody starts filing again. So I mean, it’s just a testament to if there’s accountability, if there’s justice, people will start following the rules again, and that’s what’s missing.
Mr. Jekielek: Such a pleasure to have you both on.
Mr. Solomon: Thanks Jan, this is great. I really appreciate it.
Mr. Bruner: Excellent.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.