A senior FBI agent asked to be removed from the Crossfire Hurricane team that probed the Trump campaign’s alleged links to Russia after his request for a more stringent validation of ex-British spy Christopher Steele’s subsources was rejected, the agent told a Senate panel last year, according to a newly released transcript.
The FBI supervisory special agent, identified in the transcript as “Supervisory Special Agent 1,” (SSA) told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Aug. 27 that his request for an “enhanced validation review” was denied over concerns of leaks.
“Just to be clear exactly what I’m talking about,” the agent said, “there was a constant validation review ongoing by the Counterintelligence Division and the intelligence analysts at the time. My request was to the FBI director of intelligence for them to do what is considered an enhanced validation review, something outside and independent of the Counterintelligence Division,” he explained.
That request was denied by Bill Priestap, who headed up the FBI’s counterintelligence division, although the enhanced validation review was initiated about a year later, the SSA noted. He added that he had a “professional disagreement” with Priestap over the matter, prompting him to request a transfer off the Crossfire Hurricane team and back to the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
The agent said he was aware that Steele was not the originating source of any of the factual information contained in what was to become the infamous Steele dossier, which played a key role in the FBI’s application for a wiretap of former Trump campaign associate Carter Page. The SSA said Steele instead “had a subsource network that provided him the reporting” for the dossier, and that the agent felt it was “important” to identify Steele’s source network in validating the accuracy of the dossier.
The SSA said he sought a review of Steele because of the dossier’s significance to the FBI’s application to a FISA court for a surveillance warrant against Page.
“I recognized the significance of his reporting, the use in a FISA application,” he said. “I had questions about our intel validation was ongoing in the Counterintelligence Division, and all of that contributed to my professional disagreement,” he added.
Steele’s primary subsource was later identified as a Washington-based Russian national who himself had been investigated by the FBI on suspicions of being a spy for the Kremlin, according to documents released by Attorney General William Barr.
The FBI would later cut Steele off as a confidential human source because of his contacts with journalists.
Priestap, who retired from the FBI in 2018, could not be reached for comment.
In a report released in December 2019 (pdf), Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that Steele’s dossier played a “central and essential role in the decision to seek a FISA application for Carter Page,” although he also noted his investigative team found the dossier “played no role” in launching the Crossfire Hurricane probe.
At the same time, Horowitz found “at least 17 significant errors and omissions” in the FBI’s case for surveilling Page. Although Horowitz said in the report that his team didn’t find evidence of intentional misconduct on the part of case agents who applied for the surveillance warrants, “we also did not receive satisfactory explanations for the errors or problems we identified.”
The record of the testimony of the SSA was part of a trove of transcripts released last week by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, released hundreds of pages of transcripts from the committee’s inquiry into the origins of the Crossfire Hurricane probe, saying in a statement that he believes the effort “was one of the most incompetent and corrupt investigations in the history of the FBI and DOJ.”
The South Carolina Republican criticized the leadership of the FBI under former Director James Comey and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, arguing it was “either grossly incompetent” or said “they knowingly allowed tremendous misdeeds.”
“There was a blind eye turned toward any explanation other than the Trump campaign was colluding with foreign powers,” Graham said. “At every turn the FBI and DOJ ran stop signs that were in abundance regarding exculpatory information.”
Graham contended the Crossfire Hurricane “investigation was pushed when it should have been stopped and the only logical explanation is that the investigators wanted an outcome because of their bias.”
Comey and McCabe have repeatedly rejected the allegations that the Crossfire Hurricane probe was improperly predicated, although McCabe acknowledged “unacceptable” failures in surveillance warrant applications and Comey admitted to “real sloppiness” in the conduct of the probe.
Graham said he would continue to push for reforms of counterintelligence investigations and warrant applications, and said he hopes for bipartisan backing on these matters. He also urged FBI Director Christopher Wray to “continue the reforms he has started.”
“It is hard to believe that something like Crossfire Hurricane could have happened in America,” Graham said. “The bottom line is that going forward we must have more checks and balances when it comes to political investigations. We must have more meaningful sign-offs on warrant applications, and we need to restore the trust to the American people in this system.”
The Crossfire Hurricane probe, which morphed into former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, found no evidence of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the results of the 2016 election.