A newly public text from now-fired FBI special agent Peter Strzok spurred debate about how the FBI began its Trump-Russia investigations in 2016 as special counsel John Durham looks into the launch of Crossfire Hurricane as part of his investigation of the investigators.
Strzok sent a message to then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page, with whom he was having an affair, on July 28, 2016, three days before Crossfire Hurricane was opened, saying that there were “three things I want to talk to you about,” including a yet-redacted matter and “our open CI [counterintelligence] investigations relating to Trump’s Russia connections.”
President Trump tweeted on Friday that “the Russia Hoax becomes an even bigger lie!” in response to the Federalist’s Sean Davis saying, “Surprise! The FBI has been lying for years about when it started investigating Trump in 2016.” Strzok tweeted that the claims were “untrue,” that “the investigation opened July 31,” and that “199 criminal charges followed.”
It was not immediately clear to whom Strzok may have been referring to in his July 2016 message, which was among dozens of FBI communications declassified by the DOJ and released this week by Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley in their investigation of the Trump-Russia investigators. Horowitz’s December 2019 report said that “two of the four Crossfire Hurricane subjects” wrapped into the Trump-Russia investigation by the FBI in August 2016 “were already the subjects of other existing federal investigations.”
The DOJ watchdog said that, beginning in January 2016, future Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort “was the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation” by the DOJ, although not a counterintelligence investigation, according to the report, “concerning millions of dollars Manafort allegedly received from the government of Ukraine.” Manafort was found guilty of and pleaded guilty to a host of financial crimes in 2018 and 2019.
Page, later targeted in October 2016 through FISA wiretaps that relied on allegations contained in Steele's dossier, “was the subject of an ongoing counterintelligence investigation opened by the FBI's New York Field Office on April 4, 2016, relating to his contacts with suspected Russian intelligence officers,” according to Horowitz. Strzok claimed in his new book, Compromised, that Page’s commencement address at the New Economic School in Moscow in early July 2016 “raised eyebrows at the FBI.” Page was not charged with any wrongdoing, and Horowitz criticized how the FBI investigated him.
Kevin Clinesmith, who worked on the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server and on the FBI’s Trump-Russia inquiry as well as Mueller’s team, admitted to Durham this summer that he falsified a document during the bureau’s efforts to renew its FISA authority to wiretap Page, editing a CIA email in 2017 to state that Page was “not a source” when the CIA had told the bureau on multiple occasions that Page had been an “operational contact” for them.
The FBI also opened Crossfire Hurricane subinvestigations into Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos in early August 2016 and into retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn soon after.
Horowitz found last year that the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation had “sufficient factual predication.” Attorney General William Barr and Durham disagreed.
Strzok played an integral role in opening the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign. The “opening electronic communication” for Crossfire Hurricane was authored by Strzok and authorized by FBI counterintelligence official Bill Priestap at the end of July 2016. The investigation looked into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia after Australian diplomat Alexander Downer informed the U.S. about the claims from Papadopoulos following a May 2016 conversation he had in a London wine bar during which the Trump campaign associate mentioned that Russia might have dirt on Clinton. The FBI didn’t interview Papadopoulos until January 2017, and it was then that Papadopoulos revealed his April 2016 conversations with Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud, who the Trump campaign adviser claimed told him the Russians had damaging information on Clinton. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in 2017 to making false statements about his communications with Mifsud.
Strzok incorrectly claimed in his new book that Downer was spurred to inform the U.S. government about the May 2016 conversation with Papadopoulos after hearing then-candidate Trump say at a Florida press conference in July 2016, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Clinton] emails.” But, as the Washington Examiner pointed out, Mueller and Horowitz both concluded that Australia informed the United States of this conversation on July 26, 2016, one day before Trump made the comments about Russia, which Trump has said were made in jest.
Strzok’s book claimed that “the communication … had been precipitated by a public statement by Donald Trump” and that “in Downer’s recounting, Trump’s words jarred his memory of a series of conversations months earlier.”
The former FBI deputy assistant director of counterintelligence admitted the error during a Zoom discussion with the Brookings Institution’s Benjamin Wittes when asked about the contradiction unearthed by the Washington Examiner.
“So, I got that wrong,” Strzok said. He then said that it was “a little error” and that “I know some people are scrubbing timelines for little details and scoping headlines around them, but that was an honest mistake based on a lack of a specific recollection, and then, after I had submitted my book to pre-pub review, all this information came out afterwards.” Strzok’s book came out in September, with Horowitz’s report released in December 2019 and Mueller’s report released in April 2019.
Strzok was removed from Mueller's team in 2017 and fired from the FBI in 2018 after a host of anti-Trump texts he'd sent while investigating Trump and Clinton came to light.
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