Broken Trust? FBI wanted to use White House briefings to spy on Trump, aides, memos show
Former intel, FBI officials decry tactics as breach of intelligence briefing process.
The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook
Donald Trump was president for only 24 hours when then-FBI supervisor Peter Strzok sent an angry missive to his boss. A colleague had given the new White House a counterintelligence briefing and hadn't consulted on how to use the meeting to further the Russia collusion investigation.
"I heard from [redacted] about the WH CI briefing routed from [redacted]," Strzok wrote on Jan. 21, 2017, a day into the new Trump presidency after learning fellow agent Jennifer Boone had given the White House a briefing without his knowledge.
"I am angry that Jen did not at least cc: me, as my branch has pending investigative matters there," Strzok added in his email to Assistant Director for Counterintelligence William Priestap. "This brief may play into our investigative strategy, and I would like the ability to have visibility and provide thoughts/counsel to you in advance of the briefing.
"This is one of the reasons why I raised the issue of lanes/responsibilities that I did when you asked her to handle WH detailee interaction."
You can read the email here:
A day before Trump took office, Strzok, Priestap and other senior FBI managers were scrambling to figure out their strategy as Trump assumed the presidency and the bureau continued to pursue its deeply flawed Russia collusion probe, according to emails turned over under the Freedom of Information Act to the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch and made public Friday.
By that time, the bureau knew that the Christopher Steele dossier — the crucial evidence used to support a FISA warrant against Trump associates — had been partly debunked by one of the former MI-6 agent's intelligence sources, who denied information attributed to him in the dossier.
The FBI also knew from an agent who had investigated Trump national security adviser Micheal Flynn that there was no "derogatory information" against the retired general after a 5-month investigation and the agent wanted to shut down the probe.
But FBI leadership had a different plan, to keep the investigation codenamed Crossfire Hurricane open in the absence of any credible evidence and try to trip up Flynn in an interview during the chaotic first days of a new presidency.
"Please relay above to WFO [Washington Field Office] and [redacted] tonight, and keep me updated with plan for meet and results of same," Strzok wrote in an email chain late on the night of Jan. 19, 2017, hours before Trump's inauguration.
The email exchanges — and others like it made public on Friday — have shocked veteran intelligence experts, who told Just the News that any effort to use official briefings of the president and his White House to spy, investigate or gather information violated the necessary trust for keeping a president apprised of intelligence in a dangerous world.
"It's unbelievable this kind of stuff was going on," said Fred Fleitz, a longtime intelligence analyst who served as chief of staff to Trump’s third national security adviser John Bolton. "How is the president to do his job with this going on?
"He has to be able to ask difficult questions. You want him and his aides to ask hypotheticals during the briefings as they get up to speed. But if those questions are going to be leaked back to investigators, the president is not going to talk to the experts."
Fleitz said the new memos show that Obama-era holdovers in the FBI and Justice Department have "used every element of the domestic intelligence services to destroy this president."
Kevin Brock, the FBI's first-ever assistant director for intelligence who set up many of the processes and procedures the bureau still uses today, said he too was troubled by Strzok's emails and other recent revelations.
"It appears that Strzok was going to leverage a normal FBI counterintelligence briefing for a new presidential administration to insert Crossfire Hurricane investigative efforts, specifically in hopes of getting into the White House to interview Gen. Flynn," Brock said.
"When Strzok found out those briefings were already conducted without his knowledge, he got upset. Since the CI briefings apparently were no longer available as a subterfuge, soon thereafter Deputy Director McCabe reached out to Flynn directly to set up an interview appointment," he added. "Director Comey admitted later they took advantage of the disorganization of a new administration to avoid the protocols that would normally be in place to control access to senior WH personnel like Flynn."
The release of the new Strzok emails comes a few months after DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued a scathing report on the FBI's conduct during Crossfire Hurricane, and revealed the bureau had tried to misuse an earlier briefing before Trump was president to size up Flynn as they started their investigation back in August 2016.
"Because Flynn was expected to attend the first such briefing for members of the Trump campaign on August 17, 2016, the FBI viewed that briefing as a possible opportunity to collect information potentially relevant to the Crossfire Hurricane and Flynn investigations," Horowitz wrote. "We found no evidence that the FBI consulted with Department leadership or ODNI officials about this plan."
Tom Fitton, the head of Judicial Watch, said the FBI's conduct during the investigation reeked of politics.
"These documents suggest that President Trump was targeted by the Comey FBI as soon as he stepped foot in the Oval Office," Fitton said.
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