Newly released internal text messages sent by FBI analysts working on the case against retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in 2016 and 2017 reveal doubt and chaos inside the investigation against President Trump’s first national security adviser, including one missive that said “Trump was right” about a pivotal moment.
“These documents provide information long known to the agents and others at the highest levels of the Department of Justice and the FBI; information long concealed by the Special Counsel and FBI,” Flynn’s legal team said in a Thursday court filing. “This evidence shows outrageous, deliberate misconduct by FBI and DOJ — playing games with the life of a national hero.”
Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to FBI investigators about his December 2016 conversations with a Russian envoy, details of which were leaked to the press and generated the controversy that ended his tenure as Trump’s national security adviser in the first several weeks of his presidency. But after changing legal teams, Flynn claimed he was innocent and had been set up by the FBI. Attorney General William Barr appointed U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Jensen to review the Flynn case, after which a host of new documents deemed exculpatory by Flynn’s lawyers were discovered and Jensen said he “concluded the proper and just course was to dismiss the case” and recommended this to Barr. The Justice Department has moved to dismiss the case but has met resistance from the presiding judge.
The FBI messages, exchanged on the bureau’s Lync messaging system, were turned over to Flynn’s team by the Justice Department. The records show that the FBI considered closing its investigation into Flynn, dubbed Crossfire Razor to distinguish it from the Crossfire Hurricane umbrella investigation, at least twice, once around the November 2016 and another in early 2017, but in both instances, FBI leadership decided to keep it open.
Texts between FBI special agent William Barnett and “SSA 1” (Supervisory Special Agent 1) from Election Day (Nov. 8, 2016) beginning around 5:38 p.m., before Trump pulled off his victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, show that the Flynn case was getting ready to be shut down. It is not clear which particular FBI agent said what quote. “I went an joined the ops pow wow…..looks like next Friday is the end,” one of the FBI agents said. “We have some loose ends to tie up, and we all need to meet to discuss what to do with each case (he said shut down Razor).” The FBI agent continued: “[Redacted] was silent though, so who knows what he will want.” Seemingly, the other FBI agent responded: “So glad they’re closing Razor.” Flynn’s legal team wondered whether the redacted name was FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
Messages between SSA 1 and SSA 2 on Nov. 21, 2016, show discussions about national security letters of NSLs, a type of administrative subpoena, saying that “the decision to NSL finances for Razor bought him time” and “speaking of — are these NSLs immediate? If not, let’s do that.” Flynn’s team claimed that “this shows their recognition that the issuance or request for national security letters for General Flynn’s financial information was a ruse to get more time to keep the ‘investigation’ against him open” and said that “these Stalinist tactics mandate immediate dismissal of this case.”
Texts from Dec. 5, 2016, show an FBI employee wonder, “What do we expect to get from an NSL,” and the messages appear to indicate the bureau investigators didn’t believe they would find anything incriminating on Flynn. One FBI analyst said, “I did think at the time and I do now it was the right call to do them.” Another replied, “Agreed. We didn’t find anything else from the investigation about him.” The messages continue: “It’s a logical investigative step … but now it is not … We put out traces, tripwires to community and nothing … So whats an nsl going to do — no content.” One FBI employee said: “Hahah this is a nightmare.”
Flynn’s legal team said that “on that same day, analysts discussed NSLs as a pretext to buy time that also increased the risk of leaks.” FBI messages show them discussing national security letters, saying, “Ugh that’s f—— stupid” and “what do we really expect to get. An FBI analyst said that “if we’re concerned about sensitivity/leaks, might not want to send NSLs that we don’t really intend on using.”
Trump tweeted on Jan. 3, 2017: “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”
A draft communication closing the Flynn case dated Jan. 4, 2017, was released earlier this year, showing the bureau turned up “no derogatory information” on Flynn since the inquiry began in the summer of 2016. But the same day that the FBI was closing the Flynn case, texts from now-fired FBI special agent Peter Strzok reveal he intervened to keep it open at the insistence of the FBI’s “7th floor” leadership after the bureau obtained intercepts of Flynn’s conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016. Emails showed Strzok, along with FBI lawyer Lisa Page and several others, sought out ways to continue investigating Flynn, including by deploying the Logan Act.
Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told Robert Mueller’s special counsel team she first learned the U.S. government had intercepted Flynn-Kislyak calls from Barack Obama himself, following a White House meeting about the intelligence community assessment attended by Yates, former FBI Director James Comey, national security adviser Susan Rice, then-Vice President Joe Biden, then-CIA Director John Brennan, and then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Obama asked Yates and Comey to stay behind with Rice and Biden when that meeting concluded.
Handwritten notes by Strzok released this summer seem to quote Biden, who is now the Democratic presidential nominee, directly raising the “Logan Act” related to Flynn. Strzok wrote that Comey said the Flynn-Kislyak calls “appear legit.” Obama emphasized that “the right people” should look into Flynn.
The newly released text messages from that day show two FBI employees discussed the briefing of Obama. One FBI employee asked, “What’s the word on how O’s [Obama’s] briefing went?” The other FBI employee responded, “Don’t know but people here are scrambling for info to support certain things and its a mad house.” “Jesus,” was the reply. “Trump was right. Still not put together….why do we do this to ourselves. What his wrong with these people,” one of the FBI employees said. One of the FBI employees also asked: “So razor is going to stay open???” “Yep,” another FBI employee said. “Crimes report being drafted.” An FBI employee responded simply: “F.”
The next day, the heads of the FBI, CIA, NSA, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence briefed Trump on their intelligence assessment on Russian interference at Trump Tower. DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz laid out details showing Comey’s one-on-one meeting with Trump after everyone else left wasn’t just about informing Trump of allegations from British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s discredited dossier but was treated by Comey and the FBI as a chance to gather information in their Trump-Russia investigation.
During that meeting, Trump denied the allegations. Comey told Trump media outlets were looking for a news hook to publish the dossier, and days later, on Jan. 10, 2017, CNN ran a story about the Trump-Comey meeting. That evening, BuzzFeed posted Steele’s dossier online.
That same day, FBI messages show an FBI employee saying that “we all went and purchased professional liability insurance” — including FBI analysts and CIA “folks” too. One FBI employee asks who are “the most likely litigators … as far as potentially suing y’all,” and the other replies that he doesn’t know, but “the concern when we got it was that there was a big leaks at DOJ and the New York Times among others was going to do a piece,” and “the thought was if that piece comes out, and January 20th comes around … the new AG might have some questions….then yada yada yada … We all get screwed…. don’t think it will happen now, but just in case….this could be a very very unpredictable 4 years.” Barnett told investigators earlier this month that he didn’t think this exchange was linked to the Flynn investigation specifically.
On Jan. 13, 2017, an FBI employee messaged that “someone leaked the Flynn calls with Kislyak to the WSJ” and another sarcastically replied, “I’m so sorry to hear that. I’ll resume my duties as Chief Morale Officer and rectify that.” The FBI employees speculated that leaks came from the presidential daily briefing staff or “WH seniors.”
Flynn’s legal team said new texts between Strzok and Page show that “Strzok played games with the FBI Sentinel serialization system and entry of” FBI interview notes and that Strzok and Page “were pulling talking points” from a Lawfare article, and “reinforce how zealously Strzok and Page were working to oppose Trump’s election and subvert the peaceful transfer of power.”
The Flynn team’s lawyers also claimed that “this remarkable new production shows that in August of 2016, the FBI analysts discussed the preference of some agents for a Clinton Presidency.” But the texts actually appear to show that at least one FBI analyst believed the Russians preferred Clinton over Trump. After a heavily redacted exchange, with the following messages being exchanged: “Doing all this election research … I think some of these guys want a Clinton presidency … they seem to respect that they know what they are gonna get … instead of a wild card like Trump … However, I think they would have a better chance at influence Trump,” the other analyst replied: “I don’t know man, the hooks Russia has into big T are pretty deep … all this financial stuff that’s been coming out in the press.”
Mueller’s 2019 report said that Russians interfered in the 2016 election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion,” but the special counsel’s team “did not establish” criminal conspiracy between Russians and anyone in Trump’s orbit.
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