The FBI under James Comey underhandedly sent a senior member of the team investigating alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to conduct a standard official FBI security briefing for presidential campaigns with then-candidate Donald Trump and his then-national security advisor, Michael T. Flynn.
Unbeknownst to both Trump and Flynn, that FBI investigator memorialized that briefing, which included exchanges with Flynn and Trump, in an official document that was added to the Crossfire Hurricane case file probing the Trump campaign over unsubstantiated and ultimately discredited charges of Russian collusion.
The FBI file documenting the August 2016 briefing describes two questions asked by candidate Trump as well as comments from Trump and Flynn and exchanges with the briefer from the FBI who was not identified to either Trump or Flynn during the briefing as working on the Crossfire Hurricane team probing Flynn and other members of the Trump campaign.
James A. Baker, the former FBI general counsel, conceded that the briefer “was there on the off chance that somebody said something that might be useful.”
This means the FBI’s controversial Crossfire Hurricane probe team investigating members of the Trump campaign not only directly interfaced with Trump and Flynn without telling them but also recorded their comments in the official case file. Flynn at the time was already a target of the FBI probe.
Moreover, the FBI investigator who conducted the briefing says that he used the occasion as an opportunity to study Flynn’s behavior and mannerisms just in case the FBI needed to eventually conduct a subject interview of Flynn. Indeed, the same investigator himself was the FBI agent who conducted an in-person FBI interview with Flynn on January 24, 2017 in connection with the FBI’s investigation of Flynn.
All those details and more were contained deep inside the Justice Department’s previously released 476-page Inspector General report on the FBI’s Russia collusion investigation.
The details may take on renewed significant amid the reported decision by Attorney General William P. Barr to assigned an outside prosecutor to scrutinize the case against Flynn.
The briefing in question was a standard FBI unclassified “counterintelligence awareness” briefing routinely given to the transition teams for presidential candidates during an election cycle. The briefings were provided to both the Trump and Clinton campaigns. The briefing for Trump and his selected advisors, including Flynn, took place on August 17, 2016.
The FBI investigator told the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that disgraced FBI agent Peter Strzok was mostly responsible for helping him prepare the briefing with Trump and Flynn.
The investigator said he prepared himself for facing Trump and Flynn in a series of mock briefings attended by both Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page, the infamous texting duo who were previously reportedly romantically involved.
The IG report says that Andrew McCabe, who served under Comey as the FBI’s deputy director, “acknowledged that it was possible he was part of a conversation about whether SSA 1 should handle the briefing because of his involvement with Crossfire Hurricane, but said he could not recall any such conversation.”
SSA 1 refers to the unnamed senior member of the Crossfire Hurricane team who conducted the sneaky briefing.
While McCabe claims he couldn’t recall participating in any discussions about using Crossfire Hurricane member SSA 1 to brief the unsuspecting Trump and Flynn, Baker, the former FBI general counsel, sung a different tune.
Baker recalled that discussions about using SSA 1 as the FBI briefer did occur at higher levels within the FBI and those discussions included himself, McCabe, Strzok and possibly Lisa Page. Also involved in those discussions was the FBI’s top counterintelligence agent, Bill Priestap, Baker recalled.
SSA 1 told the OIG that the briefing provided him “the opportunity to gain assessment and possibly have some level of familiarity with [Flynn]. So, should we get to the point where we need to do a subject interview…I would have that to fall back on.”
The SSA 1 agent was asked to explain what he meant by “assessment,” and he responded:
[Flynn’s] overall mannerisms. That overall mannerisms and then also if 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 in the room, if they, any kind of admission, or overhear, whatever it was, I was there to record that.
Baker, meanwhile, told the OIG that he didn’t raise any concerns about using SSA 1 as the briefer because “[h]e was not there to induce anybody to say anything…. He was not there to do an undercover operation or … elicit some type of statement or testimony …. He was there on the off chance that somebody said something that might be useful.”
Baker further conceded that the benefit of placing SSA 1 at the briefing was to see if anyone at the briefing said anything of relevance to the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane probe of alleged collusion.
[I]f somebody said something, you want someone in the room who knew enough about the investigation that they would be able to understand the significance of something, or some type of statement, whereas … a regular briefer who didn’t know anything about that might just let it go, and it might not even register with them. And so … that was the reason to have [SSA 1] there.
Baker’s reference to “somebody” clearly meant anyone at the briefing, perhaps even Trump himself.
The IG report documents how the conversation between SSA 1, Trump and Flynn was memorialized in an Electronic Communication (EC) and filed away inside the Crossfire Hurricane file.
The report states that “woven into the briefing summary are questions posed to SSA 1 by Trump and Flynn, and SSA l’s responses, as well as comments made by Trump and Flynn.” Earlier the report referenced two questions from Trump that was documented in the file.
The language in the IG report indicated that the office was taken aback by the use of SSA 1 to brief Trump and Flynn.
We asked Baker whether he recalled any discussion about the potential chilling effect on, and the FBI’s participation in, future presidential transition briefings if the FBI’s use of SSA 1 in this manner became known. Baker told us that he did not recall that issue being discussed, and added that the use of SSA 1 was focused on the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation and Russian activities, including any directed at the Trump campaign; it was not the intention to collect any “political intelligence about campaign strategy, about campaign personalities, or anything that could be used in any political way.”
A few paragraphs earlier, the report stated:
We asked SSA 1 whether he was aware of any discussions within the FBI about the appropriateness of the FBI using an ODNI strategic intelligence briefing for a presidential candidate, organized by the [Office of the Director of National Intelligence] as part of the presidential transition process, as an opportunity to gather potentially relevant investigative information about or from a staff member who is the subject of an FBI investigation.
SSA 1 responded that he did not recall if there were any such discussions, but that if there were, they would have occurred at levels above him. He also told us that he did not personally have any concerns with the plan.
This episode isn’t the only time an FBI member surreptitiously met with Trump without telling him that he was being investigated and then proceeded to memorialize the conversation in the case file investigating the Trump campaign.
As Breitbart News first reported, a different IG report provided new context to Comey’s infamous classified briefing to then President-elect Donald Trump about “salacious” material inside the anti-Trump dossier.
That IG report relates that prior to the briefing, FBI members on Comey’s team discussed the need to memorialize the exchanges between Comey and Trump during the private January 6, 2017 briefing in Trump Tower just in case Trump made statements relevant to the agency’s Russia probe. In other words, they plotted to stealthily use statements Trump said to Comey in a private briefing to inform their Russia collusion investigation.
The IG further relates that Comey went on to do just that. He had a laptop waiting for him in the car, where he immediately began memorializing the private talk. He also immediately provided a “quick download” of the Trump briefing to members of the FBI’s Russia collusion team via a secured video conference.