Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Mike Johnson, R-La., on Monday night said FBI Director Christopher Wray “has declined to respond” to their May 4 letter seeking information and interviews with key FBI officials after the bombshell revelations in the Michael Flynn case — prompting the lawmakers to take matters into their own hands.
“Because Director Wray has declined to respond to our request, we are forced to write to you directly,” Jordan and Johnson wrote in an extraordinary letter to FBI agent Joe Pientka, who participated in the unusual January 24, 2017 White House interview that led to Flynn’s prosecution for one count of making false statements to the FBI. The lawmakers requested Pientka sit for a transcribed interview with the Judiciary Committee.
Fox News previously determined that Pientka also was intimately involved in the probe of former Trump aide Carter Page, which the DOJ has since acknowledged was riddled with fundamental errors and premised on a discredited dossier that the bureau was told could be part of a Russian disinformation campaign.
Pientka was removed from the FBI’s website after Fox News contacted the FBI about his extensive role in Crossfire Hurricane Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) matters — a change first noticed by Twitter user Techno Fog — but sources said Pientka remained in a senior role at the agency’s San Francisco field office. The FBI told Fox News shortly before Pientka’s removal from the website that reporting on his identity could endanger his life, even though he serves in a prominent senior role at the bureau.
Jordan and Johnson sent a similar letter on Monday to an attorney for Bill Priestap, the former assistant director of the FBI Counterintelligence Division.
Explosive handwritten notes that surfaced earlier this month — written by Priestap after a meeting with then-FBI Director James Comey and then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Fox News is told — suggested that agents planned to interview Flynn at the White House on January 24, 2017 “to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired.”
In the alternative, Priestap’s note suggested a possible goal was to get Flynn “to admit to breaking the Logan Act” when he spoke to Russia’s then-Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition period.
The Logan Act has never been successfully used in a criminal prosecution and has a questionable constitutional status; it was enacted in 1799 in an era before telephones, and was intended to prevent individuals from falsely claiming to represent the United States government abroad.
Priestap’s memo conspicuously surfaced only this month, even though the Justice Department and FBI had been under an obligation to turn over all relevant, potentially exculpatory materials to Flynn’s legal team since February 2018. (Attorney General Bill Barr had appointed U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen to review the DOJ’s handling of the Flynn case, and Jensen apparently unearthed the documents.)
Flynn ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of lying to Pientka and anti-Trump FBI agent Peter Strzok in that White House interview, as his mounting legal bills forced him to sell his home — and prosecutors floated bringing Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) charges for his unrelated work in Turkey.
Flynn is now seeking to withdraw his guilty plea, and the DOJ has agreed that the case should be dismissed, citing the new exculpatory evidence. D.C. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, however, has indicated he may not dismiss the case without hearing more argument from third parties.
Sullivan previously suggested Flynn may have committed treason, in a bizarre 2018 courtroom outburst, and seemingly confused key details about Flynn’s overseas lobbying work. More recently, Sullivan has suggested he isn’t bothered by the FBI’s missing FD-302 witness report of agents’ January 24, 2017 White House interview with Flynn that Comey has previously said was prepared within days of the interview, as required by policy.
“[T]hings happen and documents are lost,” Sullivan stated. “I mean, it just happens.”
Former FBI SWAT agent James Gagliano called that a “shockingly cavalier” reaction by Sullivan. Gagliano, who initially defended the FBI’s Flynn probe, has more recently said Flynn was “railroaded,” after this month’s bombshell revelations.
During the White House interview, Flynn told the agents “not really” when asked if he had sought to convince Kislyak not to escalate a brewing fight with the U.S. over sanctions imposed by the Obama administration, according to a later, contested FD-302 witness report prepared by the FBI weeks after the interview. Flynn also reportedly demurred when asked if he had asked Russia to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.
Flynn issued other apparently equivocal responses to FBI agents’ questions, and at various points suggested that such conversations might have happened or that he could not recall them if they did, according to the 302. But questions remained as to the strength of the FBI’s case.
Then-FBI Director James Comey admitted in 2018 that the Flynn interview at the White House didn’t follow protocol, and came at his direction. He said it was “something I probably wouldn’t have done or maybe gotten away with in a more… organized administration.”
And, then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe later said the interview was “very odd” because “it seemed like [Flynn] was telling the truth” to the two agents who interviewed him. Flynn, the interviewing agents told McCabe, “had a very good recollection of events, which he related chronologically and lucidly,” did not appear to be “nervous or sweating,” and did not look “side to side” — all of which would have been “behavioral signs of deception.”
Further, the FBI 302 indicated that Flynn apparently was aware his communications had been monitored, and at several points he thanks the FBI agents for reminding him of some of his conversations with Russian officials. A Washington Post article published one day before Flynn’s White House interview with the agents, citing FBI sources, publicly revealed that the FBI had wiretapped Flynn’s calls with Kislyak and cleared him of any criminal conduct. It was unclear who leaked that information to the Post — or why the FBI would need to question Flynn about his contacts given that the bureau had already recorded them.
Wray, earlier this year, suggested in testimony that several agents could be under internal investigation by the FBI.
“As for current employees, there are what I would call more line-level employees who were involved in some of the events in the report, all of those employees … were referred to our Office of Professional Responsibility, which is our disciplinary arm,” Wray said. He did not elaborate.
There was also action on the Senate side on Monday. After weeks of bombshell revelations highlighting apparent FBI misconduct in the cases of Page and Flynn, the Republican-controlled Senate on Monday took two major steps toward launching its own comprehensive probe into the matter — even as the Justice Department’s separate criminal investigation, led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, continues.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., specifically announced Monday that his panel will soon vote on a subpoena authorization related to the FBI’s apparent surveillance abuses. In a contentious interview, Graham recently told Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo that Republicans would conduct a proper investigation, but he was wary of interfering with the DOJ’s “ongoing criminal matter,” referring to Durham’s review.
Graham’s office announced in a statement that his subpoena authorization “covers a number of documents, communications and testimony from witnesses, including [former FBI Director] James Comey, [former FBI Deputy Director] Andrew McCabe, [former Director of National Intelligence] James Clapper, [former CIA Director] John Brennan, [former Deputy Attorney General] Sally Yates and others.”
A total of 53 other names were on the list of potential subpoena recipients, including: “Trisha Anderson, Brian Auten, James Baker, William Barr, Dana Boente, Jennifer Boone, Kevin Clinesmith [the FBI lawyer who allegedly falsified a CIA email to secure the Carter Page FISA warrant], Patrick Conlon, Michael Dempsey, Stuart Evans, Tashina Gauhar [a top DOJ deputy when classified details of Flynn’s calls with the Russian ambassador were illegally leaked to The Washington Post], Carl Ghattas, Curtis Heide, Kathleen Kavalec, David Laufman [who arranged a key meeting with a Steele dossier source], Stephen Laycock, Jacob Lew, Loretta Lynch, Mary McCord, Denis McDonough, Arthur McGlynn, Jonathan Moffa, Sally Moyer, Mike Neufield, Sean Newell, Victoria Nuland, Bruce Ohr, Nellie Ohr, Stephanie L. O’Sullivan, Lisa Page [the ex-FBI lawyer who is suing the government for her therapy costs after Trump mocked her affair with Strzok; Page, now an Internet partisan, apparently edited the FBI’s Flynn FD-302], Joseph Pientka [who interviewed Flynn at the White House while also playing a key role in the Carter Page probe, and whom the FBI has hidden from scrutiny], John Podesta, Samantha Power, E.W. “Bill” Priestap [who authored the memo debating whether the bureau simply wanted Flynn “fired”], Sarah Raskin, Steve Ricchetti, Susan Rice, Rod Rosenstein, Gabriel Sanz-Rexach, Nathan Sheets, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Glenn Simpson, Steve Somma [an FBI case agent who apparently was involved in several key FISA omissions], Strzok, Michael Sussman, Adam Szubin, Jonathan Winer, and Christopher Wray.”
Also Monday, Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., requested that the Justice Department turn over an unredacted copy of the email that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice sent to herself on Inauguration Day — a document that could shed light on the secretive January 5, 2017 White House meeting in which then-President Obama shocked a top DOJ official with his knowledge of the FBI’s Flynn probe.
“I understand your office is currently reviewing a January 20, 2017, email from former National Security Adviser Susan Rice,” Johnson wrote to Attorney General Bill Barr. “In that email, Ambassador Rice summarized an Oval Office meeting with President Obama and other administration officials that occurred on January 5, 2017.”
Johnson continued: “A majority of Ambassador Rice’s email was declassified but a portion of the email remains classified. The significance of that meeting is becoming increasingly apparent as more and more information is declassified. For these reasons, it is essential that Congress and the American people understand what occurred during that January 5, 2017, meeting and how it was later characterized by administration officials. The declassification of Ambassador Rice’s email, in whole, will assist these efforts.”
Obama was aware of the details of Flynn’s intercepted December 2016 phone calls with Russia’s then-Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, apparently surprising Sally Yates in the Oval Office meeting, according to documents released this month as exhibits to the government’s motion to dismiss the Flynn case.
Obama personally had warned the Trump administration against hiring Flynn, and made clear he was “not a fan,” according to multiple officials. Obama had fired Flynn as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014; Obama cited insubordination, while Flynn asserted he was pushed out for his aggressive stance on combating Islamic extremism.
On January 5, 2017, Yates attended an Oval Office meeting with Comey, then-Vice President Joe Biden, Brennan and Clapper, according to the newly declassified documents, including an FD-302 FBI witness report. They were discussing Russian election interference, along with Rice and other members of the national security council.
After the briefing, Obama asked Yates and Comey to “stay behind,” and said he had “learned of the information about Flynn” and his conversation with Russia’s ambassador about sanctions. Obama “specified that he did not want any additional information on the matter, but was seeking information on whether the White House should be treating Flynn any differently, given the information.”
A previous memo from Rice stated that Biden also stayed behind after the main briefing had ended.
At that point, the documents showed, “Yates had no idea what the president was talking about, but figured it out based on the conversation. Yates recalled Comey mentioning the Logan Act, but can’t recall if he specified there was an ‘investigation.’ Comey did not talk about prosecution in the meeting.”
The exhibit continued: “It was not clear to Yates from where the President first received the information. Yates did not recall Comey’s response to the President’s question about how to treat Flynn. She was so surprised by the information she was hearing that she was having a hard time processing it and listening to the conversation at the same time.”
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