FBI declassified documents in Trump-Russia probe reveal pattern of duplicity

FBI declassified documents in Trump-Russia probe reveal pattern of duplicity

The FBI has rung up a striking record of falsehoods and misleading testimony during the bureau’s Russia investigation of Donald Trump, according to a public records examination.

The stakes on FBI misconduct hit a new high last week when Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, denounced the agency. He said a bureau witness told senators a “bunch of lies” in 2018 by bucking up the credibility of the infamous Steele dossier.

That closed-door testimony was heard a year after the dossier’s main source secretly told agents that his anti-Trump claims were basically secondhand anecdotes from Moscow friends.

“Somebody needs to go to jail for this,” Mr. Graham told Fox News.

From the top down, FBI officials have misinformed judges, independent investigators and Congress. The pattern of duplicity is revealed in investigative reports, court files and a steady stream of declassified documents turned over to Republican lawmakers by the Trump administration’s Justice Department and the Director of National Intelligence.

One one occasion, an FBI agent showed up at the official intelligence briefing given to then-candidate Donald Trump, but the agent’s concealed purpose was to see whether Mr. Trump would make an “admission” in its Russia probe, a government report said.

As a backdrop: When disgraced former agent Peter Strzok in August 2016 picked four Trump campaign associates for investigation, he privately assured a colleague that Mr. Trump would not become president. “No. No. He won’t. We’ll stop it,” he messaged.

The first hint that something went sideways inside the FBI surfaced in 2018 when Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican, forced the bureau to turn over documents on how it spied on the Trump campaign. After digging more, he began referring to the FBI’s anti-Trump Crossfire Hurricane unit as “dirty cops.”

For the first time, Mr. Nunes showed that the bureau relied on former British spy Christopher Steele’s dossier — a Russian-sourced opposition research paper financed by the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign — as the prime piece of evidence used to obtain four wiretap warrants lasting a year. Subsequent investigations showed that the dossier was filled with baseless accusations against Mr. Trump and his allies.

In December, Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz released a scathing report on those FBI wiretaps. Meanwhile, House and Senate Republicans had ramped up their own probes.

Special counsel Robert Mueller concluded in March 2019 that he could not establish an election conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Attorney General William Barr in May 2019 appointed U.S. Attorney John Dunham to investigate FBI conduct under the Obama Justice Department.

The Washington Times has examined the public record history.

Horowitz report

⦁ Agents withheld from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act judges the fact that Carter Page, the wiretap target, worked for the CIA as an official informant from 2008 to 2013.

Kevin Clinesmith, then an FBI lawyer assigned to Crossfire Hurricane, altered a CIA email that affirmed his informant status by adding the words “not a source.”

Trying to convince a judge that Mr. Page was a Russian agent would have been complicated by disclosing that he was a trusted and official CIA source. The CIA email, if included in the last of four wiretap warrants, may also have prompted judges to ask why the FBI did not insert that fact in the previous three affidavits.

The Justice Department announced last week that Mr. Durham has opened his first case, filing a false statement charge against Mr. Clinesmith, who has agreed to plead guilty.

Mr. Clinesmith was not alone in FISA subterfuge. Before the FBI sought its first wiretap in October 2016, “Case Agent 1” in the New York Field office knew of Mr. Page’s CIA work. But the agent supplied the Justice Department, the Horowitz report said, “with inaccurate information that failed to disclose the extent and nature of Page’s relationship with that agency.”

⦁ Agents asserted to judges that dossier creator Mr. Steele’s previous information as an FBI informant had been corroborated and used in criminal trials. It had not.

Under FISA requirements, agents need judges to find “probable cause” to believe Mr. Page was a Russian agent. Bucking up Mr. Steele’s past inaccurately helped agents get their coveted wiretaps.

⦁ Mr. Steele quoted a “Source E” as saying there was a “well developed conspiracy of co-operation” between the Kremlin and Mr. Trump. The FBI presented no evidence for this other than Mr. Steele and the unknown “Source E.”

At the time, and subsequently, the FBI had no evidence of this supposed conspiracy. Mr. Steele told the FBI that Source E was a “boaster” and “embellisher,” but the FBI never included that caveat in its Page warrant applications.

⦁ The FBI repeated to judges the dossier assertion that Mr. Page and campaign manager Paul Manafort worked with the Russians.

Agents left out the fact that Mr. Page told the FBI’s own informant (later identified as Stefan Halper) that he had never met Mr. Manafort. Not only was this proved true, but Mr. Page also told the informant that he never met the two dossier-named Russians.

The agent described as “Case Agent 1” left these denials out of his report for wiretap affidavits even though they were contained in the tape recording’s transcript.

⦁ Although not noted in the Horowitz report, the FBI made another inaccurate statement to the FISA court judges.

The agency said Mr. Steele’s main source was “Russian-based” — a crucial fact in convincing a judge that the material was well-founded.

In fact, the “primary sub-source,” later identified as Igor Danchenko, lived in the U.S. and worked at the liberal Brookings Institution. He made trips to Moscow to connect with friends who supplied the unverified anti-Trump claims.

Mr. Horowitz spread around the blame for FBI misconduct on FISA but saved his most biting criticism for “Case Agent 1,” a New York City field office agent who interrogated Mr. Page.

“As noted throughout this report, Case Agent 1 was primarily responsible for some of the most significant errors and omissions in the FISA applications,” said Mr. Horowitz, implying that the agent was not honest with his investigators.

“While we found no documentary or testimonial evidence that this pattern of errors by Case Agent 1 was intentional, we also did not find his explanations for so many significant and repeated failures to be satisfactory,” his report said.

Mr. Horowitz summed up the FBI’s transgression: “The Crossfire Hurricane team failed to inform [Justice] Department officials of significant information that was available to the team at the time the FISA applications were drafted and filed. Much of the information was inconsistent with, or undercut, the assertions contained in the FISA applications.”

Newly declassified files

In the past two years, a number of internal FBI papers have reached the public via two main sources: the U.S. District Court case file of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and three Senate Republicans who requested and won the release of the documents.

Attorney General William Barr named U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Jensen to review the Flynn prosecution, which resulted in a flow of new FBI documents filed in open court.

The Mueller prosecution team had asserted to the trial judge that no favorable information existed that had not been turned over to Flynn. Legal observers have drawn the conclusion that the FBI itself must have concealed its file before Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to agents, including Mr. Strzok, in December 2017.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans were at work on other issues.

⦁ Mr. Graham on Aug. 9 made an FBI disclosure: the talking points for secret FBI testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in early 2018. Mr. Graham said the testimony contains lies.

The FBI talking points vouched for Mr. Steele’s dominant dossier source, Mr. Danchenko, a foreign policy analyst described in news reports as both a Ukrainian and a Russian.

The bureau’s objective that day was to brief the committee on three interviews its agents had conducted with Mr. Danchenko in January 2017 at the Washington field office.

“He did not cite any significant concerns with the way his reporting was characterized in the dossier to the extent he could identify it,” the talking points said.

Mr. Graham on Fox News identified the presenter as agent Bill Priestap, who headed FBI counterintelligence.

The FBI also said, “At minimum our discussions with [Mr. Danchenko] confirm that the dossier was not fabricated by Steele … and that Steele and [Mr. Danchenko] utilized reasonably sound intelligence tradecraft.”

Mr. Graham ridiculed the presentation. He said the 2017 interviews showed the primary source relied on a group of friends, some of them drinking buddies, who had no firsthand knowledge and relied on second- and thirdhand gossip.

He also said the source, contrary to the talking points, said Mr. Steele embellished information he provided.

The FBI talking points, which are redacted, do not appear to touch on a follow-up interview Mr. Danchenko gave agents in March. He was much more critical of Mr. Steele, saying he told him his information was “just talk” and his sources were not worth a “grain of salt,” according to the Horowitz report.

⦁ Republican senators have accused the FBI of being dishonest about the dossier’s Russian disinformation. They did not know about this Russia angle until Richard Grenell, as acting director of national intelligence, declassified several footnotes in the Horowitz report.

Once opened to daylight, the notes showed that intelligence agencies warned the FBI in early 2017 that Russian intelligence knew of Mr. Steele’s anti-Trump project, had penetrated Mr. Danchenko’s sources and had fed them false reports about supposed criminal conduct by the campaign.

Yet this is not what the FBI told Mr. Horowitz’s team.

Mr. Priestap told the inspector general that “the FBI didn’t have any indication whatsoever” in early 2017 that Russia was running a disinformation campaign through Mr. Steele.

What’s more, Crossfire Hurricane’s supervisory intelligence analyst told the inspector general that he had “no information … that Steele’s election reporting source network had been penetrated or compromised.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and a former Judiciary Committee chairman, called these statements “grossly inaccurate.”

“We are deeply troubled by the Crossfire Hurricane team’s awareness of and apparent indifference to Russian disinformation, as well as by the grossly inaccurate statements by the FBI official in charge of the investigation and its supervisory intelligence analyst,” wrote Mr. Grassley and Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, in an April letter to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray.

⦁ Former FBI Director James B. Comey told Fox News anchor Bret Baier that the dossier didn’t play a pivotal role in persuading a judge to grant permission to spy on Mr. Page.

“My recollection was there was a significant amount of additional material about Page and why there was probable cause to believe he was an agent of a foreign power, and the dossier was part of that, but was not all of it or a critical part of it,” said Mr. Comey, whose signature attested to two of the four Page wiretap warrants.

The Horowitz investigation later contradicted Mr. Comey. The inspector general’s report said the dossier was the critical piece of evidence for a judge to base “probable cause.”

A Justice Department official had rejected the bureau’s bid to wiretap Mr. Page. That changed when the dossier and its salacious and sensational claims reached Crossfire Hurricane in September 2016.

⦁ Republicans say Mr. Comey gave different testimony on the crucial issue of whether agents who interviewed Flynn on Jan. 24, 2017, thought he was lying.

In secret testimony in March 2017, he told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that “the agents … discerned no physical indications of deception. They didn’t see any change in posture, in tone, in inflection, in eye contact. They saw nothing that indicated to them that he knew he was lying to them. … I think there is an argument to be made that he lied. It is a close one.”

In December 2018, the former FBI director testified to a House task force, “There’s no doubt he was lying.”

The Justice Department cited his March testimony in its motion to Judge Emmet G. Sullivan to dismiss the case.

Mr. Comey, fired by Mr. Trump in May 2017, has written a memoir defending his conduct. He will publish a second book, “Saving Justice: Truth, Transparency and Trust,” in January.

On Twitter, he has criticized Mr. Barr and Senate Republicans.

“First Mueller Report, then the IG, and now Senate Republicans,” he said. “There really was a Russian attack in 2016 and those who investigated it were professionals. Facts remain stubborn things.”

And he said, “The DOJ has lost its way. But, career people: please stay because America needs you. The country is hungry for honest, competent leadership.”

⦁ A new document shows the FBI disguised a meeting with Mr. Trump in New York during the campaign as a foreign-threat intelligence briefing when in fact it was a spying mission to evaluate Flynn, who also attended.

The FBI’s post-session memo, obtained by Mr. Grassley and Mr. Johnson, was labeled “Crossfire Hurricane.” The FBI agent who attended was Joe Pientka, a team member.

Mr. Pientka later told Mr. Horowitz’s investigators that he attended to assess Flynn’s “overall mannerisms. That overall mannerisms and then also there was anything specific to Russia, or anything specific to our investigation that was mentioned by him, or quite frankly we had an investigation, right. And any of the other two individuals … if they [made] any kind of admission, or overhear, whatever it was, I there to record that.”

Those “other two individuals” included the future president.

The mission to spy on the Trump team was approved by Mr. Clinesmith, the FBI memo shows.

In his report, Mr. Horowitz disapproved — he used the word “chilling” — of mixing a candidate intelligence defensive briefing with an investigation into the same candidate.

He said, “The transfer of information, the exchanges questions and answers that can occur, and the effectiveness of this process rely an expectation of trust and good faith among the participants. The FBI’s use of briefings for investigative purposes potentially interferes with this expectation could frustrate the purpose of future counterintelligence briefings.”

More Flynn disclosures

Sidney Powell, Flynn’s attorney, makes several arguments to why his guilty plea and the case should be dismissed.

One is that the Mueller team squeezed him into admitting guilt. Prosecutors “made baseless threats to indict” his son, she said. There was a side deal not to prosecute and to keep the arrangement secret, she said in a court filing this April.

In addition, she argues, Flynn was innocent but never knew the FBI had the evidence for this.

⦁ Unknown to Flynn, agents met the day after interviewing him with a Justice Department official whose notes say: Flynn was “telling truth and believed it”; “no false statement”; “being forthright.”

Another note says, “yes false and inaccurate but believes that [Flynn] believes that what he said was true.”

This, Ms. Powell argues, proves he is not guilty.

The Justice Department motion to dismiss the case says, “The evidentiary problems that have emerged create reasonable doubt as to whether Mr. Flynn knowingly and willingly lied to investigators during the interview.”

⦁ The FBI created another document that exonerated Flynn but was unknown to him until a month ago. On Jan. 4, 2017, the Crossfire Hurricane team wrote a memo saying its five-month counterintelligence probe found no wrongdoing. In other words, in the FBI’s overriding assignment to find out whether Flynn colluded with Russia in the election, he came out clean.

⦁ Yet another newly disclosed document, notes from a strategy session before the Jan. 24 interview, show that FBI agents talk about how they could get Flynn to lie or be fired. In other words, up to that point he had not committed a crime and the FBI seemed to be trying to create one, his supporters say.

The government says in its motion to dismiss that when Flynn pleaded guilty “he did so without full awareness of the circumstances of the newly discovered, disclosed, or declassified information as to the FBI’s investigation of him.”

The FBI declined to comment to The Washington Times on Mr. Graham’s allegations or on other criticisms brought by Republicans.

The FBI did comment on a subpoena issued by Mr. Johnson:

“The FBI has received Chairman Johnson’s August 6th subpoena. The FBI has already been producing documents and information to the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which are directly responsive to this subpoena. As always, the FBI will continue to cooperate with the Committee’s requests, consistent with our law enforcement and national security obligations,” the bureau said.

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