Agents fretted sharing Flynn intel with departing Obama White House would become fodder for ‘partisan axes to grind.’
Just 17 days before President Trump took office in January 2017, then-FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok texted bureau lawyer Lisa Page, his mistress, to express concern about sharing sensitive Russia probe evidence with the departing Obama White House.
Strzok had just engaged in a conversation with his boss, then-FBI Assistant Director William Priestap, about evidence from the investigation of incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, codenamed Crossfire Razor, or “CR” for short.
The evidence in question were so-called "tech cuts" from intercepted conversations between Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, according to the texts and interviews with officials familiar with the conversations.
Strzok related Priestap’s concerns about the potential the evidence would be politically weaponized if outgoing Director of National Intelligence James Clapper shared the intercept cuts with the White House and President Obama, a well-known Flynn critic.
“He, like us, is concerned with over sharing,” Strzok texted Page on Jan. 3, 2017, relating his conversation with Priestap.
“Doesn’t want Clapper giving CR cuts to WH. All political, just shows our hand and potentially makes enemies.”
Page seemed less concerned, knowing that the FBI was set in three days to release its initial assessment of Russian interference in the U.S. election.
“Yeah, but keep in mind we were going to put that in the doc on Friday, with potentially larger distribution than just the DNI,” Page texted back.
Strzok responded, “The question is should we, particularly to the entirety of the lame duck usic [U.S Intelligence Community] with partisan axes to grind.”
That same day Strzok and Page also discussed in text messages a drama involving one of the Presidential Daily Briefings for Obama.
“Did you follow the drama of the PDB last week?” Strzok asked.
"Yup. Don’t know how it ended though,” Page responded.
“They didn’t include any of it, and Bill [Priestap] didn’t want to dissent,” Strzok added.
“Wow, Bill should make sure [Deputy Director] Andy [McCabe] knows about that since he was consulted numerous times about whether to include the reporting,” Page suggested.
You can see the text messages recovered from Strzok's phone here.
The text messages, which were never released to the public by the FBI but were provided to this reporter in September 2018, have taken on much more significance to both federal and congressional investigators in recent weeks as the Justice Department has requested that Flynn’s conviction be thrown out and his charges of lying to the FBI about Kislyak dismissed.
U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen of Missouri (special prosecutor for DOJ), the FBI inspection division, three Senate committees and House Republicans are all investigating the handling of Flynn's case and whether any crimes were committed or political influence exerted.
The investigators are trying to determine whether Obama’s well-known disdain for Flynn, a career military intelligence officer, influenced the decision by the FBI leadership to reject its own agent’s recommendation to shut down a probe of Flynn in January 2017 and instead pursue an interview where agents might catch him in a lie.
They also want to know whether the conversation about the PDB involved Flynn and "reporting" the FBI had gathered by early January 2017 showing the incoming national security adviser was neither a counterintelligence nor a criminal threat.
“The evidence connecting President Obama to the Flynn operation is getting stronger,” one investigator with direct knowledge told me.
“The bureau knew it did not have evidence to justify that Flynn was either a criminal or counterintelligence threat and should have shut the case down. But the perception that Obama and his team would not be happy with that outcome may have driven the FBI to keep the probe open without justification and to pivot to an interview that left some agents worried involved entrapment or a perjury trap.”
The investigator said more interviews will need to be done to determine exactly what role Obama’s perception of Flynn played in the FBI’s decision making.
Recently declassified evidence show a total of 39 outgoing Obama administration officials sought to unmask Flynn's name in intelligence interviews between Election Day 2016 and Inauguration Day 2017, signaling a keen interest in Flynn's overseas calls.
Former Whitewater Independent Counsel Robert Ray said Friday that the Flynn matter was at the very least a "political scandal of the highest order" and could involve criminal charges if evidence emerges that officials lied or withheld documents to cover up what happened.
"I imagine there are people who are in the know who may well have knowingly withheld information from the court and from defense counsel in connection with the Michael Flynn prosecution," Ray told Fox News.
"If it turns out that that can be proved, then there are going to be referrals and potential false statements, and/or perjury prosecutions to hold those, particularly those in positions of authority, accountable," he added.
Investigators have created the following timeline of key events through documents produced piecemeal by the FBI over two years:
April 2014: Flynn is forced out as the chief of DIA by Obama after clashing with the administration over the Syrian civil war, the rise of ISIS, and other policies. The Obama administration blames his management style for the departure.
July 31, 2016: FBI opens Crossfire Hurricane probe into possible ties between Trump campaign and Russia, focused on Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Flynn is not an initial target of that probe.
Aug. 15, 2016: Strzok and Page engage in their infamous text exchange about having an insurance policy just in case Trump should be elected. “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy's office — that there's no way he gets elected — but I'm afraid we can't take that risk. It's like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you're 40,” one text reads.
Aug. 16, 2016: FBI opens a sub-case under the Crossfire Hurricane umbrella codenamed Crossfire Razor focused on whether Flynn was wittingly or unwittingly engaged in inappropriate Russian contact.
Aug. 17, 2016: FBI and DNI provide Trump and Flynn first briefing after winning the nomination, including on Russia. FBI slips in an agent posing as an assistant for the briefing to secretly get a read on Flynn for the new investigation, according to the Justice Department inspector general report on Russia case. “SSA 1 told us that the briefing provided him ‘the opportunity to gain assessment and possibly some level of familiarity with [Flynn]. So, should we get to the point where we need to do a subject interview ... would have that to fall back on,’” the IG report said.
Sept, 2, 2016: While preparing a talking points memo for Obama ahead of a conversation with Russian leader Vladimir Putin involving Russian election interference, Page texts Strzok that Obama wants to be read-in on everything the FBI is doing on the Russia collusion case. “POTUS wants to know everything we’re doing,” Page texted.
Sept. 5, 2016: During an international summit in China, Obama meets face-to-face with Putin and tells him to “cut it out” with election meddling.
Nov. 10, 2016: Two days after Trump won the election, the president-elect meets with Obama at the White House and the outgoing president encourages the incoming president not to hire Flynn as an adviser.
Jan. 3, 2017: Strzok and Page engage in the text messages about Obama’s daily briefing and the concerns about giving the Flynn intercept cuts to the White House.
Jan. 4, 2017: Lead agent in Flynn Crossfire Razor probe prepares closing memo recommending the case be shut down for lack of derogatory evidence. Strzok texts agent asking him to stop the closing memo because the “7th floor” leadership of the FBI is now involved.
Jan. 5, 2017: Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates attends Russia briefing with Obama at the White House and is stunned to learn Obama already knows about the Flynn-Kislyak intercept. Then-FBI Director James Comey claims Clapper told the president, but Clapper has denied telling Obama.
Jan. 5–23, 2017: FBI prepares to conduct an interview of Flynn. The discussions lead Priestap, the assistant director, to openly question in his handwritten notes whether the bureau was “playing games” and trying to get Flynn to lie so “we can prosecute him or get him fired.”
Jan. 24, 2017: FBI conducts interview with Flynn.
Investigators are trying to determine whether Obama asked for the Flynn intercept or it was offered to him and by whom. They also want to know how many times Comey and Obama talked about Flynn in December 2016 and January 2017.
“We need to determine what motivated the FBI on Jan. 4, 2017 to overrule its own agent who believed Flynn was innocent and the probe should be closed,” one investigator said.