FBI recorded Trump questions on Russia during first counterintelligence briefing
Agent's notes confirm IG report that August 2016 briefing with Trump and Flynn used to gather evidence for Russia probe
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An FBI agent who was secretly inserted into Donald Trump's first counterintelligence briefing in August 2016 to gather evidence of Russia collusion recorded the specific questions the future president was asking intelligence officials as well as sizing up national security adviser Michael Flynn's behavior, according to a memo declassified and made public Thursday.
"Trump asked the following question, 'Joe, are the Russians bad? Because they have more numbers are they worse than the Chinese?'" Agent Joseph Pientka wrote in his summary memo of the briefing with then-candidate Trump. "Writer responded by saying both countries are bad. The numbers of IOs present in the U.S. is not an indicator of the severity of the threat. Writer reminded Trump the Chinese asymmetrical presence in the U.S."
The extraordinary notes confirm information first divulged last December by the Justice Department inspector general that the Comey FBI used the August 2016 briefing as a way of sizing up then-candidate Trump and Flynn in the Russia case and gathering evidence against them.
Memos associated with the meeting show since-fired Agent Peter Strzok and departed FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith were involved in approving the effort by Pientka to use the briefing as an investigative tool instead of just an educational baseline intelligence meeting. Clinesmith was accused in the IG report of altering a key document in the Russia case and has left the bureau, though he has not been charged with wrongdoing.
Pientka's summary memo of the briefing shows the extent to which the FBI was gathering or seeking evidence against Trump and Flynn and likely will bolster claims by Republicans that the bureau was "spying" on Trump when it should have been giving the future president a defensive briefing about Russians seeking influence in the United States.
Some of the observations recorded in the memo seemed to be of little or no investigative value. For instance, after Pientka discussed a matter involving signal intelligence, he recorded verbatim Flynn's response and Trump's mention of his youngest son.
"At this time, Flynn interjected, 'I did SIGINT.' Writer responded that he could then appreciate what our country can do technically to exploit a Tier 1 target and we must extrapolate a Foreign Intelligence Service could do the same to us. Trump then stated, 'Yes I understand it's a dark time. Nothing is safe on computers anymore,'" the memo stated.
"'My son is ten years old. He has a computer and we put a codeword on it. Within ten minutes he broke the codeword and we needed to put another one on the computer. Kids are genius,'" the memo quoted Trump as saying.