The FBI’s former head of the Counterintelligence Division, Bill Priestap, whose unsealed notes discussed the FBI’s possible motivations for setting up then-National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, is also allegedly responsible for stopping FBI Special Agents from doing an ‘enhanced asset validation review’ of the former British spy, whose now debunked dossier launched the investigation into President Donald Trump’s campaign, sources with knowledge told this reporter.
On Wednesday, Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered four pages of emails and handwritten notes to be unsealed in the case of Flynn. Then, on Thursday, another 11 pages of internal text messages and emails between FBI Special Agents were unsealed by the court, after they were discovered by U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea, as well as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri Jeffrey Jensen, who was appointed by Attorney General William Barr to oversee the Flynn case.
The January 2017 handwritten notes by Priestap suggested that the FBI was targeting Flynn and, in the notes, Priestap writes, “what is our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”
Priestap could not be immediately reached for comment.
In Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s December report on the origins of the Russia investigation, he revealed that it was Priestap who made the final decision to launch the Russia probe. The FBI probe against the Trump campaign was called “Crossfire Hurricane,” and in the case of Flynn it was “Crossfire Razor.” After years of congressional and Department of Justice investigations, evidence revealed that former British spy Christopher Steele, who was paid by the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign to investigate Trump, had purveyed Russian disinformation and made up sources in his now debunked dossier. Horowitz’s investigation also revealed that Steele had been manipulated by Russian intelligence, who had fed him lies about the Trump administration with the specific intent to sow chaos in the 2016 U.S. election.
Normally an enhanced validation review in the FBI is triggered “if a source is paid more than $100,000 per year for information, or the source’s information is so critical that it can shape national policy or trigger some sort of diplomatic or military action. In this case, an enhanced validation of Steele would have been the appropriate course of action given the fact that this had the potential to impact our Presidential election. In this context, it becomes very questionable as to why Priestap would shut it down,” said the former senior FBI official.
The biggest question raised by Horowitz and members of Congress was how did Steele’s dossier become the main piece of evidence used to gather a secret warrant on Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, and why did the FBI believe the information? Horowitz’s investigation revealed that the FBI never bothered to conduct an asset validation on Steele and according to the former FBI official, who spoke to this reporter, it was Priestap who ensured that they didn’t do it.
Former FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok, who has since been fired, and FBI Special Agent Joe Pientka, who is still with the Bureau, were not only involved in the now controversial findings in the Flynn case, but it was Pientka who was tasked with getting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance warrant on Page. Both Pientka and Strzok at the time believed Flynn did not lie to them, however, it was Strzok who pushed to keep a target on Flynn.
As for Pientka, he had allegedly been shut down by senior FBI officials from seeking clarity from sources and exercising caution in the investigative steps being undertaken. In particular, Priestap had stopped Pientka from following through with normal FBI protocol to conduct a validation review of Steele directly and of his salacious dossier, something that would normally be a part of the Woods File. Priestap not only blocked Pientka, but he would’ve more than likely informed former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and former FBI Director James Comey of the transpiring events, because he normally had multiple daily briefings a day with the senior officials on the case, so “it would not be surprising if Priestap’s notes, which were unsealed, were in his mind a sort of insurance policy from the malfeasance – to protect himself if this ever came to light,” the former senior FBI official said.
After Pientka was shut down the first time by Priestap, he went to another senior official within the bureau. He attempted to skirt around Priestap’s authority by approaching a Senior Executive in the Directorate of Intelligence “and asked them to perform an enhanced validation review. Pientka, as the investigating Agent, went to that Senior Executive directly because he believed his chain of command, which included Priestap, would deny that request. “That Senior Executive at the Directorate of Intelligence was ultimately asked not to do the enhanced validation by Priestap,” said the former FBI official, who noted that the official no longer works for the bureau.
The enhanced validation review was denied and blocked by Priestap on several occasions, the former senior FBI official told this reporter. Had the enhanced validation review been conducted, it would have ensured that assertions made by Steele in his dossier were independently verified, and any information contradicting those assertions would have been presented to the court.
Horowitz’s investigation found numerous instances in which those procedures were not followed by the agents.
“Enhanced validation reviews are essentially conducting the same kind of ‘due diligence’ that you would do when making any critical decision in life,” said the former senior FBI official. “In this instance, choosing not to do this kind of review seems as though someone in the chain of command above Pientka didn’t want the facts to get in the way of the decision they had already made.”
In fact, Pientka is also referred to in Horowitz’s report as an unnamed SSA. In the report, however, it was Pientka who was accused of not following FBI protocol on Page’s FISA warrant application. Despite Horowitz’s findings, it appears Pientka attempted on several occasions to complete the asset validation but was allegedly blocked both times by Priestap, the source said.
The inspector general also noted than an unnamed “Case Agent 1,” was “primarily responsible” for some of the “most significant” errors and omissions in the FISA warrant applications and renewals submitted to the FISC to extend the monitoring of Page.
“No FBI Agent who has been on the job longer than a few years would ever keep notes that question the motives of the investigation to which they are assigned,” said the former senior FBI official. “For Priestap to have kept notes that talk about entrapping the subject of the investigation indicate that he was either woefully incompetent at his job or that he was keeping an insurance policy. It appears that he was looking to shift blame onto those working underneath him (Pientka) and shirk responsibility for not standing up to McCabe and Comey who were likely ordering him to do things that he knew he should not be doing.”