And the FBI agent planted in the intelligence briefing with Trump’s handler was… Peter Strzok. The same Strzok that was fired from the Mueller team over his politically charged text messages with Lisa Page talking about an “insurance policy” if Trump gets elected.
In the first week of August 2016, the FBI’s Presidential Transition Team requested that CD begin preparations for providing unclassified “counterintelligence awareness” briefings to the transition teams for the Trump and Clinton campaigns. The FBI participated in strategic intelligence briefings conducted by ODNI on August 17, 2016, for Trump and his selected advisors, including Flynn; and on August 27, 2016, for Clinton and her selected advisors. The FBI also participated in ODNI strategic intelligence briefings for members of each campaign: on August 31, 2016, to Trump campaign staff; on August 31, 2016, to Clinton campaign staff; on September 8, 2016, to Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine; and on September 9, 2016, to Vice Presidential candidate Michael Pence.
The FBI selected SSA 1, the supervisor for the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, to provide the FBI security briefings for Trump and Clinton. 478 SSA 1 told us that one of the reasons for his selection was that ODNI had informed the FBI that one of the two Trump campaign advisors attending the August 17 briefing would be Flynn. He further stated that the briefing provided him “the 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 .. .! would have that to fall back on.” Asked to explain what he meant by “assessment,” the SSA 1 continued,
[Flynn’s] overall mannerisms. That overall mannerisms and then also if there was anything specific to Russia, or anything specific to our investigation that was mentioned by him, or quite frankly we had an .. .investigation, right. And any of the other two individuals in the room, if they, any kind of admission, or overhear, whatever it was, I was there to record that.
SSA 1 told us that he did not recall specific internal FBI discussions about having him provide the FBI security briefings for Trump and Clinton, but believes that the group who likely would have been part of any such discussions-Strzok, the Intel Section Chief, and possibly Lisa Page-shared a general understanding of the reasons for doing so. SSA 1 also told us that using an opportunity to interact with the subject of an investigation is not unusual for the FBI, and that in this instance, it actually proved useful because SSA 1 was able to compare Flynn’s “norms” from the briefing with Flynn’s conduct at the interview that SSA 1 conducted on January 24, 2017, in connection with the FBI’s investigation of Flynn.
We asked SSA 1 whether he was aware of any discussions within the FBI about the appropriateness of the FBI using an ODNI strategic intelligence briefing for a presidential candidate, organized by ODNI as part of the presidential transition process, as an opportunity to gather potentially relevant investigative information about or from a staff member who is the subject of an FBI investigation. SSA 1 responded that he did not recall if there were any such discussions, but that if there were, they would have occurred at levels above him. He also told us that he did not personally have any concerns with the plan.
According to Baker, discussions about using SSA 1 as the FBI briefer did occur at higher levels. Baker told us that he recalled these discussions included himself, McCabe, Priestap, Strzok, possibly Lisa Page, and the FBI’s then Executive Assistant Director of the National Security Branch. Baker said the decision to use SSA 1 for the briefing was reached by consensus within this group. Baker told us that he did not raise any concerns about using SSA 1 as the briefer because “[h]e was not there to induce anybody to say anything…. He was not there to do an undercover operation or … elicit some type of statement or testimony …. He was there on the off chance that somebody said something that might be useful.” From Baker’s perspective, the benefit of having SSA 1 at the briefing was to pick up on any statements by the attendees that might have relevance to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation:
[I]f somebody said something, you want someone in the room who knew enough about the investigation that they would be able to understand the significance of something, or some type of statement, whereas … a regular briefer who didn’t know anything about that might just let it go, and it might not even register with them. And so … that was the reason to have [SSA 1] there.
We asked Baker whether he recalled any discussion about the potential chilling effect on, and the FBI’s participation in, future presidential transition briefings if the FBI’s use of SSA 1 in this manner became known. Baker told us that he did not recall that issue being discussed, and added that the use of SSA 1 was focused on the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation and Russian activities, including any directed at the Trump campaign; it was not the intention to collect any “political intelligence about campaign strategy, about campaign personalities, or anything that could be used in any political way.”
We asked McCabe about his knowledge of the ODNI strategic intelligence briefings of the presidential campaigns and the decision to use SSA 1 as the FBI briefer because of SSA l’s role in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. McCabe told us that ODNI was primarily responsible for providing national security threat briefings, and that the FBI was given a limited period of time in this instance to cover what it needed to address. He told us that he could not recall if he was aware in advance of the briefing that SSA 1 would attend for the FBI, or why SSA 1 was selected. McCabe acknowledged that it was possible he was part of a conversation about whether SSA 1 should handle the briefing because of his involvement with Crossfire Hurricane, but said he could not recall any such conversation. Asked whether he was aware there was an investigative purpose for SSA 1 handling the briefing, McCabe told us that he did not recall such a conversation and was not aware there was an investigative purpose for SSA 1 attending.
SSA 1 told us that he recalled Strzok being primarily responsible for providing SSA 1 with instruction on how to handle the FBI’s portion of the ODNI strategic intelligence briefings, but that others also assisted, including the Intel Section Chief and possibly Lisa Page. SSA 1 did not recall Priestap having any role. SSA 1 told us that he believed he and Strzok created the briefing outline together, and that he prepared himself through mock briefings attended by Strzok, Lisa Page, the Intel Section Chief, and possibly the OGC Unit Chief. According to SSA 1, the briefing outline was not tailored to serve the investigative interests of Crossfire Hurricane and there was nothing he did differently for the Trump briefing as compared to the Clinton briefing: “that was one of the things that was very key. [The briefings] needed to be consistent.”
The OIG reviewed the briefing outline prepared by SSA 1 and Strzok. According to the outline, the purpose of the briefing was to “give [the recipients] a baseline on the presence and threat posed by Foreign Intelligence Services to the National Security of the U.S.” The outline described the type of information that Foreign Intelligence Services (FIS) seek to obtain, the presence of FIS intelligence officers in the United States, and the primary methodologies FIS intelligence officers use to collect information. The outline also identified the Russian FIS and the Chinese as posing the greatest threat to the United States and described generally the difference in how the two countries conduct intelligence operations.
SSA 1 told us that he was the only FBI representative at the ODNI briefing on August 17, 2016, which was attended by Trump, Flynn, and another Trump campaign advisor. According to SSA 1, he understood the ODNI briefing would take about 2 hours to complete and that SSA 1 would have about 10 minutes to conduct the FBI’s security briefing. After completing his briefing, SSA 1 said he remained for the duration of the ODNI briefing. About a week after the briefing, SSA 1 communicated separately with the OGC Attorney and Strzok about whether to formally document the briefing. There was agreement that he should. SSA 1 told us that given the “[b]ig stakes” involved, it was important to document the interaction with the subject of an FBI investigation so that there was a clear record of what was said. There was also agreement that an Electronic Communication (EC) instead of an FD-302 was the better document form to use because the briefing was not an interview and there was nothing testimonial to memorialize.
The August 30, 2016 EC was drafted by SSA 1 and approved by Strzok and the OGC Attorney. The 3-page document describes the purpose, location, and attendees of the briefing. It states that the FBI security briefing lasted approximately 13 minutes, and describes how one of the ODNI briefers initiated the briefing, explained the ground rules, and introduced SSA 1. The EC then recounts in summary fashion the briefing SSA 1 provided. In this regard, the EC is consistent with the outline of the briefing described above. Woven into the briefing summary are questions posed to SSA 1 by Trump and Flynn, and SSA l’s responses, as well as comments made by Trump and Flynn.
Other than identifying the ODNI briefers and the length of the ODNI strategic intelligence briefing, the EC does not contain any details about the information that was provided by ODNI. With regard to comments made by Trump or Flynn during the ODNI briefing, the EC describes two questions asked by Trump. SSA 1 told us that Flynn made comments during exchanges with the ODNI briefers on many subjects unrelated to Russia that SSA 1 did not document because the information was not pertinent to any FBI interests. SSA 1 told us that he documented those instances where he was engaged by the attendees, as well as anything related to the FBI or pertinent to the FBI Crossfire Hurricane investigation, such as comments about the Russian Federation. SSA 1 said that he also documented information that may not have been relevant at the time he recorded it, but might prove relevant in the future.
The agents are not violating FBI protocol here because FBI protocol for planting agents in mandated intelligence briefings with presidential nominees does not exist.