The real story of the FBI and Trumpworld is very different than what many Americans have heard, an FBI special agent told Insider in an exclusive video interview.
Johnathan Buma says his FBI supervisors didn’t care about his leads tying Giuliani to Russian intelligence.
Buma’s disclosures to the Senate raise questions about Giuliani and the origins of the Hunter Biden-Burisma story.
The FBI is gradually emerging as the ultimate referee in US politics. FBI agents were the ones to carry out Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation. FBI agents are the ones who showed up with a search warrant at the gates of Mar-a-Lago. Today, FBI agents are doing the pick-and-shovel work of digging into Donald Trump’s allegedly criminal actions on January 6. They are also investigating Hunter Biden for the firearm-related charges that he was indicted for this week.
With the FBI holding so many cards, allegations of political bias within the bureau should concern everyone. Insider has now published a video interview with Johnathan Buma, a 14-year special agent working out of the bureau’s Los Angeles Field Office. Buma is a counter-intelligence specialist who speaks Russian and holds an active Top Secret security clearance. He first raised the alarm through legally sanctioned whistleblower channels inside the FBI, and he remains employed there to this day.
According to Buma, the real story of the FBI during the Trump and Biden years is very different from the one that’s being told in hearings held by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.
You can watch Insider’s interview with Buma here:
A congressional staff member told Insider that Buma’s allegations are being taken seriously on the Hill.
“Mr. Buma’s statements raise serious concerns that Republicans’ impeachment campaign is continuing to amplify a disinformation effort that has its sources in the Russian intelligence apparatus and could have been exposed and silenced years ago,” they said.
Trump, Giuliani and the FBI declined to comment.
Here are five ways in which Buma’s account could transform the emerging picture of the FBI and its interactions with Trump’s circle:
1. FBI didn’t care about Giuliani’s possible Kremlin ties, Buma says
“Rudy Giuliani may have been compromised by individuals suspected of being involved in Russian counterintelligence influence operations,” Buma told Insider. And within the FBI, he said, “I saw important intelligence information being suppressed.”
Buma’s concerns about Giuliani, a personal attorney for Trump during his presidency, center on the $300,000 his firm received from Pavel Fuks, a Ukrainian oligarch with close ties to Moscow. (A spokesperson for Fuks has denied that he has ties to the Russian security services.) Fuks traveled to Washington for Trump’s 2017 inaugural, and he had previously approached Trump about building a Trump Tower in Moscow. According to Buma’s disclosure, an FBI Intelligence Information Report asserted that Fuks was “a co-opted asset of the RIS” or the Russian intelligence services. Fuks’s $300,000 payment to Giuliani’s firm coincided with trips Giuliani made to Ukraine in order to gather information about Hunter Biden and the Ukrainian energy company Burisma and pressure Ukrainian officials to open an investigation.
Buma says that he raised concerns about Giuliani’s possible ties to Russian intelligence to his FBI superiors, and that they simply weren’t interested in following up. Not only that, he claims, they eventually prohibited Buma from doing any reporting related to Trump and his circle.
2. Efforts to focus US voters on Hunter Biden and Burisma in 2019 were a bigger and longer-term operation than previously known
Giuliani has always maintained that allegations about Hunter Biden and Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company that paid Biden as much as $83,333 a month to sit on its board, originated with Hunter’s abandoned laptop.
Buma’s disclosures suggest otherwise. Hunter Biden left his laptop at a computer repair store in April 2019. But months earlier, in January 2019, Buma says he brought three of his sources in to talk to Department of Justice prosecutors about Hunter Biden. They were pushing the same narrative that would, months later, turn into a Trump campaign talking point: Hunter’s work for Burisma didn’t just create the appearance of a conflict; it was somehow illegal. The sources also claimed that George Soros, the billionaire who is at the center of numerous far-right conspiracy theories, was “involved in massive money laundering,” according to Buma’s disclosure.
It remains unclear exactly how the Hunter-Burisma story got started. But the fact that Ukrainian sources were pushing Burisma allegations months before the laptop left Hunter Biden’s hands adds to the body of evidence suggesting that Trump’s favorite political storyline originated in Ukraine — not Delaware — and that Giuliani was just one arm of a broader effort to inject those allegations into the US political system in advance of the 2020 election. This happens to line up perfectly with a much-maligned letter signed by more than 50 intelligence community officials in advance of the 2020 election, warning of foreign interference.
As Buma recalled telling an FBI colleague at the time, “What if this is the leading edge of a disinformation campaign to create a theme of derogatory information about the Bidens in anticipation that Biden will be Trump’s main political rival?”
Buma’s disclosure also points to the question of whether all the information attributed to Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop actually came from the laptop. By the time the New York Post went public with the laptop story, less than a month before the 2020 election, Giuliani had been engaged in months-long effort “to secure from Ukrainian and likely also Russian sources information that Giuliani believed would affect the 2020 election,” according to Buma.
3. Bill Barr’s DOJ fired Geoffrey Berman at a very convenient time — for Rudy Giuliani
Among Buma’s stymied efforts to investigate Giuliani was an undercover operation that was suddenly shut down, Buma said, shortly before Geoffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York whose office would have authorized the operation, was fired by then-Attorney General Bill Barr. Barr and Berman have both declined to comment to Insider.
4. Alleged political bias within the FBI cuts both ways
A series of FBI agents have claimed that the bureau is out to get Trump. Some have received financial support from conservative donors; all have been given a platform by the GOP-controlled Congress.
But according to Buma, we’re not getting the full story. Working out of the Los Angeles Field Office, Buma gives a firsthand account of a dynamic that is exactly the opposite of what has been alleged: Information about Hunter Biden was eagerly received and handed off to the case agents while investigations into Giuliani were shut down.
The FBI, with thousands of employees scattered across dozens of field offices, is both ideologically diverse and unusually decentralized for a federal agency. A common FBI maxim is that there are four bureaus within the bureau — headquarters, the Washington Field Office, the New York Field Office, and the rest of the FBI. Buma’s disclosures are a reminder to be skeptical of those who seek to score political points by painting the bureau with too broad a brush.
Viewers of the GOP’s congressional hearings “aren’t getting the full story,” Buma said.
5. It isn’t easy being a whistleblower
Despite going through approved FBI channels to register his concerns, Buma alleges that the bureau retaliated against him, which is prohibited by the Whistleblower Protection Act. He says he was directly ordered to stop investigating Trump and his circle, that his best sources were closed down, and that he was transferred from his human intelligence squad to a less desirable assignment doing surveillance, one that had little to do with this skill-set or experience. In February, he says, the bureau offered him $14,000 to drop his whistleblower complaint as part of a larger proposed settlement for a separate Equal Employment Opportunity complaint that he had filed. Buma declined.
“I started to experience what I believe to be discrimination,” Buma told Insider, “character assassination, really.” His disclosure says that Buma doesn’t know why he was treated this way, “but my strong suspicion is that one or more of my sources provided truthful, accurate information that is harmful to a person or persons that higher ups in the Bureau are trying to shield.”
Mattathias Schwartz is chief national security correspondent at Insider. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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