The Plan to Trip Up Trump

Daniel Lazare analyzes the Justice Department’s recent report about former FBI Director James Comey.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

The recent Justice Department report about former FBI Director James Comey gives the public good reason to backtrack to a famous Trump Tower meeting.

On Jan. 6, 2017, Comey confronted the president-elect about “salacious” activities with prostitutes at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton. He also provided Trump with misleading information about the Democratic opposition research dossier compiled by ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, a bogus document whose political consequences were sure to be devastating once it was released, as it surely would be. 

Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan. (Jorge Láscar, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

But why? Thanks to Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, we now know.

The report that Horowitz released shows that Comey may have  been trying to set President Donald Trump up for a fall. Had the ploy worked, Trump might have found himself out of office for the “crime” of saying something wrong about an incident that was entirely made up. 

Before the Trump Tower visit, Comey sat down with top FBI brass – Chief of Staff James Rybicki, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, General Counsel James Baker, and others involved with the Russiagate investigation – to strategize about the upcoming meeting.

Page 17 of the OIG report tells of what they were up to:

“Baker and McCabe said that they agreed that the briefing needed to be one-on-one, so that Comey could present the ‘salacious’ information in the most discreet and least embarrassing way.  At the same time, we were told, they did not want the President-elect to perceive the one-on-one briefing as an effort to hold information over him like a ‘Hoover-esque type of plot.’  Witnesses interviewed by the OIG also said that they discussed Trump’s potential responses to being told about the ‘salacious’ information, including that Trump might make statements about, or provide information of value to, the pending Russian interference investigation.”

As the final sentence shows, Comey’s job was to confront Trump about the alleged 2013 Moscow incident and see whether he would give the FBI reason to advance its Russiagate investigation to a whole new level, that of the presidency itself.

This was the same approach the FBI would employ a couple of weeks later after listening in on a telephone conversation between Mike Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and not liking what it heard about plans to bolster U.S.-Russian relations.  The solution was to send a couple of agents to quiz the newly-appointed national security adviser and see how he would respond. After telling Flynn not to bother bringing along a lawyer because it was just a friendly chat and “they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport” – as a follow-up memo noted – the agents caught the ever-voluble Flynn fudging various details. Three weeks later, he found himself out of office and in disgrace.  Ten months after that, he was in federal court pleading guilty to making false and misleading statements.

Another Set-Up

Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general. (Wikimedia Commons)

Now we know from the OIG report that this was apparently the goal with regard to Trump.

Russiagate began nine months earlier with a smallarmy of intelligence agents buzzing around a naïve young Trump adviser named George Papadopoulos.  [See Spooks Spooking Themselves,” May 31, 2018.]  An Anglo-Maltese academic named Joseph Mifsud, an individual with strong Anglo-American intelligence connections, wined and dined him and told him that Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” 

An Australian diplomat, former Foreign Minister Alexander Downerwho was similarly connected, invited him out for drinks and then passed along the fruits of the conversation to Canberra, which related them to Washington.  A Belorussian-American businessman who worked for Steele offered Papadopoulos $30,000 a month under the table.  A U.S. intelligence asset named Charles Tawil presented him with $10,000 in cash.  A long-time CIA informant named Stefan Halper flew Papadopoulos to London and barraged him with questions:

“It’s great that Russia is helping you and the campaign, right, George? George, you and your campaign are involved in hacking and working with Russia, right? It seems like you are a middleman for Trump and Russia, right? I know you know about the emails.”

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” Papadopoulos replied according to his recent book, “Deep State Target.”  But what if he had instead chuckled or said something stupid in order to puff himself up?  Based on previous FBI entrapment cases, the answer seems clear: after threatening him with prosecution, the bureau would have outfitted him with a wire so that he could bring down other campaign officials.  It wouldn’t have stopped until it snared the ultimate prize –Trump himself.

James Comey during installation ceremony as director of FBI, Oct. 28, 2013. (White House/Pete Souza)

Trump told reporters in May he wanted Australia’s role to be investigated by the Justice Department.

Comey’s Trump Tower meeting was important because it led directly to the publication of the notorious dossier that would generate endless headlines and cripple the incoming Trump administration even though it was full of baloney. 

Most of what we know about that meeting in the early days of the Trump administration comes from a memo that Comeydashed off minutes later and then lightly revised the next morning. 

According to his memo, Comey met one-on-one with Trump to tell him about the Steele dossier because

“the content [was] known at IC [intelligence community] senior level and … I didn’t want him caught cold by some of the detail….  I said I wasn’t saying this was true, only that I wanted him to know both that it had been reported and that the reports were in many hands.  I said media like CNN had them and were looking for a news hook. I said it was important that we not give them the excuse to write that the FBI has the material … and that we were keeping it very close-hold.” 

But Comey’s memo was disingenuous, starting with his line about not wanting to give the media “the excuse to write that the FBI has the material.” Leaks are an integral part of Washington, as an insider and a leaker like Comey knows.

As Comey must have also known, his very decision to brief Trump on the dossier wound up triggering press attention to it.

Four days later, Buzzfeed posted the dossier on its website. The source remains anonymous but it’s easy to imagine that either Director of National Intelligence James Clapper or CIA Director John Brennan spilled the beans. They both accompanied Comey to the meeting and were appalled by Trump’s call for a rapprochement with Russia. 

Comey’s memo also rings false where it says he “wasn’t saying this was true, only that I wanted him to know both that it had been reported and that the reports were in many hands.” 

Glenn Simpson, the ex-Wall Street Journal reporter whose private Washington intelligence firm, Fusion GPS, commissioned the dossier on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC, told the House intelligence committee that Steele began sharing his findings with the FBI “in July or late June” of 2016.  (See p. 60 of testimony transcript). 

That means that the bureau had the Moscow Ritz-Carlton report in hand six months prior to the Trump Tower meeting.  Surely, this is enough time to reach some conclusion as to its veracity.

‘Might Make Statements’

Had Trump fallen into Comey’s trap, millions of Americans would no doubt have cheered – and given Trump’s dismal record in office, who can blame them?  But the implications are chilling, and not just for rightwing dissidents.  Instead of electing presidents, Americans would merely submit them to the FBI for review. 

With the Electoral College and the Supreme Court already overturning the popular vote in two of the last five presidential elections, voters would have a fourth branch to contend with – the intelligence community.

As Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer told MSNBC’S Rachel Maddow at the height of the Russiagate madness: “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community – they have six ways from Sunday of getting back at you.”  Had Comey succeeded in bringing down Trump, they may have had a seventh.

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique and blogs about the Constitution and related matters at

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15 comments for “The Plan to Trip Up Trump

  1. Rick Spratley
    September 27, 2019 at 04:54

    Good piece Dan.

    I, like many, am OBSESSED with all things Russiagate.

    I am curious about one passage in your piece. “A Belorussian-American businessman who worked for Steele offered Papadopoulos $30,000 a month under the table.” I am awarw from Papadopolous’s ‘Deep State Target’ that Sergei Millian offered Papadopolous $30,000 a month. What caught me unawares was your assertion that Millian worked for Steele. Can you share any more information about this aspect

    Millian in his Twitter posts before he was suspended did appear to have insight into Christopher Steele, his relationship with a Tatyana Duran and the State Department.

    This is from a May 11, 2019 post. Have you come across any further information about her you could share?

    “You will be surprised when you find out who Tatyana Duran is, her role in the #dossier. Who gave her State Department badge? I just received a message that claims TD/CS had an affair going on.

    To gain access to our sacred, heavily guarded, US State Department building in DC is a huge endeavor by Tatyana. How TATIANA managed to pull it off? WHO helped her on US side?

    Did TATIANA get an official access card(how did THAT happen!?) or somebody illegally walked her into State Department briefing room without proper screening as some of my readers allege? TATIANA holds many answers you all want to know.”

    Thanks in advance.

  2. September 25, 2019 at 09:31

    A sickening display of ongoing corruption that continues ad infinitum while the people continue to be fleeced, large cities are a mess with huge numbers of homeless, farmers are fleeing farming, opioids threaten those without work, military waste and destuction continues, and on it goes. But Obama has cleaned up nicely, hasn’t he? Good to get into politics to become a millionaire and do destructive things. Julian Assange is being wasted away, so is Chelsea Manning, that’s what truth gets you.

  3. Richard A.
    September 24, 2019 at 15:13

    I think Russiagate is more than just smearing Trump, it’s also about smearing Russia. The war lobby here in the US and the UK are trying to manipulate public opinion in to hating Russia.

  4. AnneR
    September 24, 2019 at 08:22

    Thank you Mr Lazare.

    Of course, I’ve not heard a dicky bird about any of this on NPR or the BBC World Service. But they would only “report” on it *if* and only *if* they could present it in such a light as to exculpate the Demrats and those (apparently heroic, Demrat worshiped secret services). This criminality (what else is it?) is completely ignored by the FB “friends” – those comfortable, bourgeois, highly educated, foaming at the mouth Russophobes and apparently pro-MIC, FBI, CIA et al Demrat supporters – of my late husband (of course, they also appear to be totally, I mean totally, unconcerned by our military’s terrorism abroad, its huge expenditures, enormous polluting footprints, occupation of hundreds of countries etc etc). No, they are hung up on: impeachment or why not; Warren or Sanders; identity politics; the GND (while ignoring its profoundly pro-capitalist bent and utter silence on the US military’s role in climate change)…


  5. R Zarate
    September 24, 2019 at 05:02

    And now there are calls to impeach Trump for asking for an investigation into Biden! It speaks volumes about the MSM that there was no uproar when H.B. took the job at Bursima, I remember the White House putting out a release at the time saying they could see no conflict of interest, I guess the lack of conflict was it was par for the course to enrich family members.

    By the bye. So Trump gets impeached, then what? Didn’t do Clinton any harm.

  6. CitizenOne
    September 23, 2019 at 23:26

    It is an interesting history filled with plots within plots to destroy Trump for the audacity to win the presidential election. True he won the election with a lot of help from Cambridge Analytica and his election team which included Roger Stone, George Papadopoulos (the nube) Paul Manafort (the former partner in the Black, Stone, Manafort and Kelly lobby firm) , Rick Gates and Michael Flynn.

    All these people were indicted under the Mueller probe but yet Trump escaped without a scratch on his record. To pull this off Trump abandoned all of them in turn claiming he hardly knew them and had no involvement. How Trump escaped from the Mueller investigation has nothing to do with his innocence and everything to do with the lack of evidence tying him to the crimes his associates admitted to under intense scrutiny by the Mueller Special Council Investigation into the alleged Russian Hacks which supposedly threw the election toward Trump. Michael Cohen, Trump’s long time lawyer was also convicted of paying off two women that alleged Trump arranged for sex with the women and later paid them off handsomely allegedly by orders from Trump.

    It is like Trump won his freedom because there was no evidence to convict him despite the many people who were closely associated with himwho fell as victims to the special prosecutors zeal for indictments of Trump’s inner guard.

    In the end the Mueller report all but exonerated Trump with Mueller claiming Trump had committed impeachable evidence but that Mueller could do nothing about that leaving his conclusions up to the court of popular appeal as to whether or not Trump was guilty of obstruction of justice in the entire Russia Gate story.

    Trump accurately called out the testimony of Comey before Congress into what he knew about the Russian attempt to hack the election as fake news. Trump banked on what the intelligence community would share about the election result and he won big time when the Mueller investigation into Russian hacking of the election produced no tangible connection between Trump and the alleged hackers. The Steel dossier was also l shown to be just more fake news paid for by the democrats.

    The longer Trump remains in charge the less likely that he will be implicated in a scandal although the new allegations that he attempted to get the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden has the potential to raise a new round of fake news decrying that the president has engaged in yet more impeachable offenses.

  7. robert e williamson jr
    September 23, 2019 at 21:23

    Beware of the Department of Justice, mad dogs and dogs of war.

    Appears to be FBI disruption of the domestic governmental tranquility for the unique purpose of disrupting a duly elected president.

    I mean the FBI bill themselves as the domestic counter intelligence apparatus and CIA apparently agrees. Maybe CIA is actually running another of their counter intelligence covert mission that involves the undoing of Ole Donny J. .

    No I didn’t say it, no mention of the dreaded “executive action” my me.

    My assumption is that this may be simply collateral damage from the investigation into the Russia meddling in the 2016 elec . . . . .

    . . . and the beat goes on, la da da dee . . . !

    That far away look in the eyes of the old democratic leaders is the look of “the fear” (H.S.T.). They watch as the repugs, their partners in crime get skewered , by the same DOJ that will skewer them in a New York second given a chance.

    DOJ and the USAG leading the shock troops of the National Socialists take over.

  8. Sandra Thompson
    September 23, 2019 at 20:58

    One of your best lines: “Instead of electing presidents, Americans would merely submit them to the FBI for review.” Liked last couple of paragraphs too. Thank you

    • John Wright
      September 24, 2019 at 20:59

      Is that before or after the CIA review?

      When Jesse Ventura was governor of Minnesota he found out that the CIA has people working in every state’s government.

      What a country!

      Be well.

  9. Abby
    September 23, 2019 at 19:43

    So Comey knowingly and blatantly lied to the incoming president and it was that incoming president that got investigated? How the hell does that make sense to the Russia Gaters? And then they elevated Comey after he got fired? This makes as much sense as people thinking that Robert Mueller was going to save the country.

    After reading Parry’s essay on Joe ByeDone from 2014 after the Obama coup in Ukraine that showed how corrupt the powerful people in our government are I don’t even know why people bother to vote anymore. The country is run by people behind the scenes who use congress critters to do their dirty work and give them cover. And with our corrupt military industrial complex setting the world on fire I think it’s time for the empire to burn.

    • John Wright
      September 24, 2019 at 20:55

      I think you should look into “Continuity of Government”.

      You’ll find it very interesting and it helps explain this very strange moment in U.S. history.

      Peter Dale Scott has done the best job of unraveling it to date.

      Be well.

  10. September 23, 2019 at 18:46


  11. Martin
    September 23, 2019 at 15:27

    I read somewhere early on that someone was peddling the steele-dossier to many different outlets weeks or even months before trump’s briefing, but they wouldn’t bite (too fantastic) … until the feds legitimized it. The people should be informed about these mechanics.

  12. Dan Anderson
    September 23, 2019 at 15:09

    Here’s the warning before being sworn in:
    January 3, 2017 – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer: “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday to get back at you. So, even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he is being really dumb to do this.”
    Rachel Maddow: “What do you think the intelligence community would do if they were motivated to?”
    Schumer: “I don’t know, but from what I am told, they are very upset with how he has treated them and talked about them,”  — The Rachel Maddow Show Jan 3, 2017

  13. Jeff Harrison
    September 23, 2019 at 13:35

    Fortunately, we are so much better than Russia. Our secret police would never try to entrap some….oh, wait…..

Comments are closed.