- The director of national intelligence declassified an August 2016 FBI memo which detailed the bureau’s use of an agent to provide a counterintelligence briefing to Donald Trump and Michael Flynn in order to collect evidence for the Russia probe.
- Joseph Pientka, an FBI supervisory special agent, conducted the briefing.
- The Justice Department’s inspector general criticized the FBI for sending an agent into the briefing, saying that it could erode trust that presidential candidates have in future dealings with the FBI.
John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, on Thursday sent Congress a newly declassified memo related to an FBI briefing given to Donald Trump and Michael Flynn in August 2016 that was used as cover to collect evidence for the Russia probe.
Joseph Pientka, a supervisory special agent, wrote the memo following his Aug. 17, 2016 briefing to Trump, Flynn and Chris Christie, a Trump campaign adviser.
Pientka, who was one of the top agents on Crossfire Hurricane, developed the briefing materials in coordination with Peter Strzok, the lead investigator on the Trump-Russia probe. Kevin Clinesmith, an FBI lawyer found to have altered an email related to Carter Page, also worked on the plan to use Pientka in the briefing, according to the memo.
Ratcliffe sent the memo and Pientka’s notes to Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson, who have for months pressed for the declassification of documents related to the Trump campaign briefing.
The FBI’s covert use of the briefing was revealed in a Justice Department inspector general’s (IG) report released on Dec. 9, 2019. Investigators provided a briefing to Hillary Clinton on Aug. 27, 2016, but did not use it for purposes of collecting evidence on the candidate.
The FBI opened an investigation of the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia on July 31, 2016. Investigators opened a counterintelligence probe of Flynn on Aug. 16, 2016, a day before the campaign briefing. (RELATED: IG Report Blasts FBI For ‘Significant’ Inaccuracies In FISA Applications)
The IG report said that FBI “viewed that briefing as a possible opportunity to collect information potentially relevant to the Crossfire Hurricane and Flynn investigations.”
Pientka told the IG that he saw the briefing as an 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.”
Pientka’s memo does not indicate that Trump or Flynn made any incriminating statements. According to Pientka, Trump asked about Russia’s spy activities in the United States compared to other hostile nations, such as China.
“This brief will advise you that if you are not already a target of a Foreign Intelligence Service, due to the fact you are receiving this classified briefing, you will be,” Pientka said in the briefing, according to his memo.
Pientka then detailed differences in how Russia and China use intelligence officers to collect information inside the United States. He also told Trump and Flynn the number of suspected Russian and Chinese intelligence officers working inside the U.S.
According to Pientka, Trump asked him to assess whether Russia or China poses a greater counterintelligence threat.
“Joe, are the Russians bad? Because they have more numbers are they worse than the Chinese?” Trump said, according to Pientka.
Flynn asked Pientka for statistics on the number of FBI special agents and the number of ongoing investigations into homegrown violent extremists, or HVEs.
“See, they don’t have enough resources to work the HVE threat and the IOs,” Flynn told Trump after Pientka shared the data.
Pientka said in response to a question from Flynn that the foreign intelligence threat was be equal to or greater than during the Cold War.
Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director, told the IG that officials picked Pientka to sit in on the briefing because of his position on the Crossfire Hurricane team.
The inspector general’s office criticized the FBI for using the briefing for Crossfire Hurricane.
“We concluded that the FBI’s use of this briefing for investigative reasons could potentially interfere with the expectation of trust and good faith among participants in strategic intelligence briefings, thereby frustrating their purpose,” the report said.
Pientka and Strzok were the two FBI agents who interviewed Flynn on Jan. 24, 2017. Flynn would later plead guilty to making false statements in that interview regarding his contacts with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador. The Justice Department has moved to dismiss the case because the FBI and prosecutors withheld documents related to the probe.
One document was a Jan. 4, 2017 memo authorizing investigators to close the counterintelligence investigation against Flynn. The memo said that investigators did not have evidence that Flynn was acting as a Russian agent.
Strzok intervened to keep the investigation open, according to text messages released in Flynn’s case.
Pientka drafted a three-page memo of the briefing on Aug. 30, 2016, according to the IG report. Strzok and Clinesmith approved the document.
Clinesmith was identified as the FBI lawyer mentioned in an inspector general’s report sending an anti-Trump text message after the 2016 election, “Vive le resistance!”
He is also said to be the FBI lawyer who altered an email from the CIA to say that Carter Page was not a source for the spy agency, when he had actually been an operational contact for years.
Clinesmith was removed from the special counsel’s investigation over the anti-Trump text message. Strzok was also removed from the special counsel’s probe in July 2017 over his own anti-Trump messages.
Both Strzok and Clinesmith have been fired from the FBI. The New York Times has reported that Clinesmith is a target of an investigation led by U.S. Attorney John Durham.
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