Congressional investigators have received a trove of new communications between embattled FBI agent Peter Strzok and his counterintelligence team which reveal "troubling" evidence that the FBI was rushing at breakneck speed to dig up any possible dirt on the Trump campaign, reports The Hill's John Solomon, after the communications were described to him.
Memos the FBI is now producing to the Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general and multiple Senate and House committees offer what sources involved in the production, review or investigation describe to me as “damning” or “troubling” evidence.
They show Strzok and his counterintelligence team rushing in the fall of 2016 to find “derogatory” information from informants, or a “pretext” to accelerate the probe and get a surveillance warrant on figures tied to the future president. -The Hill
One of the FBI's targets, of course, was Trump campaign aide Carter Page - an energy consultant from New York who briefly volunteered as a foreign policy adviser for the GOP nominee's campaign, and who visited Moscow the summer prior to the election.
The new batch of messages reveal Strzok, his reported lover, former FBI attorney Lisa Page, and others on the counterintelligence team monitoring news articles in September 2016 which revealed that the FBI was probing Page's Moscow trip.
Said news articles prompted Page to send a letter to then-FBI director James Comey to complain about the "completely false leak," which Strzok and Page then seized on as a "pretext" to sink their hooks into the Trump adviser.
“At a minimum, the letter provides us a pretext to interview,” Strzok wrote to Lisa Page on Sept. 26, 2016.
Within weeks, that “pretext” — often a synonym for an excuse — had been upsized to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court warrant, giving the FBI the ability to use some of its most awesome powers to monitor Carter Page and his activities.
To date, the former Trump adviser has been accused of no wrongdoing despite being subjected to nearly a year of surveillance. -The Hill
More internal FBI memos shed light on the frustrations Strzok shared with Page over the Department of Justice (DOJ)'s slow response time. In one email exchange with the subject line "Crossfire FISA," Strzok and Page strategized on the best way to get former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to convince a high-ranking DOJ official to sign off on the FISA warrant to spy on Page.
“At a minimum, that keeps the hurry the F up pressure on him,” Strzok emailed Lisa Page on Oct. 14, 2016, less than four weeks before Election Day.
Four days later the same team was emailing about rushing to get approval for another FISA warrant for another Russia-related investigation code-named “Dragon.”
“Still an expedite?” one of the emails beckoned, as the FBI tried to meet the requirements of a process known as a Woods review before a FISA warrant can be approved by the courts.
“Any idea what time he can have it woods-ed by?” Strzok asked Lisa Page. “I know it’s not going to matter because DOJ is going to take the time DOJ wants to take. I just don’t want this waiting on us at all.” -The Hill
As The Hill's Solomon points out, there are multiple ongoing reviews of whether FBI agents' political bias affected the Trump-Russia collusion case. Until all the reviews are complete, we won't know exactly why the counterintelligence team "who normally take a methodical approach to investigation" were in such a mad scramble to find dirt on Trump - though we have our suspicions.
Were they concerned about losing a chance to gather evidence at a critical moment? Or maybe, as some Republicans long have suspected, they wanted to impact the election? -John Solomon
Two weeks after the "hurry the F up pressure" was a success and the agents got their FISA warrant for Page in October, 2016 - Democrats in congress such as then-Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) along with many in the MSM were talking about the FBI "withholding word of a probe" that could hurt Trump. Solomon reports that the FBI agents monitored these reports as well.
After Trump won
In another batch of FBI emails between Strzok and Page the day after Trump's upset win on November 9, 2016 - the two discuss a new mission to dig into Trump's team.
“We need ALL of their names to scrub, and we should give them ours for the same purpose,” Strzok emailed Lisa Page on Nov. 10, 2016, citing a Daily Beast article about some of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s allegedly unsavory ties overseas.
“Andy didn’t get any others,” Lisa Page wrote back, apparently indicating then-Deputy Director McCabe didn’t have names to add to the “scrub.”
“That’s what Bill said,” Strzok wrote back, apparently referring to then-FBI chief of counterintelligence William Priestap. “I suggested we need to exchange our entire lists as we each have potential derogatory CI info the other doesn’t.” CI is short for confidential informants. -The Hill
And as John Solomon notes, "It’s an extraordinary exchange, if for no other reason than this: The very day after Trump wins the presidency, some top FBI officials are involved in the sort of gum-shoeing normally reserved for field agents, and their goal is to find derogatory information about someone who had worked for the president-elect."
As the Trump administration prepared for the post-election transition into the White House, the FBI made yet another odd move which has captured the attention of congressional investigators: "It named an executive with expertise in the FBI’s most sensitive surveillance equipment to be a liaison to the Trump transition."
This is odd - as agents skilled in technical surveillance and espionage typically aren't the first picks for "plum political assignments," as Solomon writes. Even more odd was that the FBI counterintelligence team in charge of the Trump-Russia collusion probe were involved in the liaison's appointment.
As Solomon notes:
Yet, now, irrefutable proof exists that agents sought to create pressure to get “derogatory” information and a “pretext” to interview people close to a future president they didn’t like.
Clear evidence also exists that an investigation into still-unproven collusion between a foreign power and a U.S. presidential candidate was driven less by secret information from Moscow and more by politically tainted media leaks.
And that means the dots between expressions of political bias and official actions just got a little more connected.
We're sure all that and more will be outlined in "damning" detail in the upcoming Inspector General's report on FISA abuse, which will then conclude that the Boy and Girl Scouts at the FBI were able to compartmentalize their bias.