Could it be that there’s an unpublished House Intelligence Committee report full of “bombshells” stuck at the CIA since 2018, one that challenges the conclusions of the Intelligence Community Assessment?
What is the significance of President Trump’s appointment of Richard Grenell as Acting Director of National Intelligence?
In this episode, we sit down with Fred Fleitz, President and CEO of the Center for Security Policy. He previously served as a Deputy Assistant to President Trump and Chief of Staff to National Security Adviser John Bolton.
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: It’s such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Fred Fleitz: Good to be here.
Mr. Jekielek: We’ve all been mesmerized by the unsealed documents that have come out of the Flynn court case. You come at this from a particularly interesting perspective as someone who was a chief of staff at the NSC. You can give us some insight into what might have been happening back when General Flynn was in the role. What are you seeing here?
Mr. Fleitz: Well, this is just extraordinary. Many of us thought that this was entrapment, that FBI agents were sent to meet with General Flynn at the beginning of the Trump administration—when there was a bit of chaos, which is not uncommon for new administrations—and tricked him into saying things that could be used to prosecute him on a bogus charge, to force him to be fired or to be prosecuted. And we now have notes from one of the FBI agents who explains that’s exactly what they tried to do. They went in there to try to trick him into lying so they could force him out.
Mr. Jekielek: That is indeed extraordinary. Do you feel the evidence that you’ve seen is conclusive somehow?
Mr. Fleitz: I think it’s absolutely conclusive. Let’s talk about what happened here. An FBI director sent FBI agents to a new administration, and he didn’t go through process, he didn’t go to the Council or the White House, he didn’t go to the Chief of Staff. He sent these agents in and encouraged Flynn not to have an attorney present, to question him to try to get him to commit perjury. Now, James Comey said he did this because he could get away with it, because there was chaos at the beginning of this administration, making it look as if that’s unusual. There’s always chaos in the beginning of every administration; there were attorneys in the National Security Council when these FBI agents went there; there was a White House Chief of Staff; Comey knew what the process was, but because of his hatred for this president, he decided not to follow this process.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s extraordinary. There’s this video which is an interview from a number of years back where ex-Director Comey basically talks about this exact issue on live camera in a very “matter of fact” way. It’s stunning how “matter of fact” it is.
Mr. Fleitz: That’s right. And looking at it in another way, we had an outgoing presidential administration using foreign intelligence assets to investigate incoming members of administration from a different political party. That is using our foreign intelligence assets, including the National Security Agency, to investigate members of an incoming presidential administration who were political rivals. In my view, that should never happen. That’s what goes on in tinpot dictatorships. If it had to happen, there was a very serious reason for it to happen. There should have been a court order. But beyond that, I think probably both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees should have been told. This was such an extraordinary development.
Mr. Jekielek: A number of people, including folks that have already been on this show, have been noting how bizarre it is that this evidence wasn’t available earlier. How do you think that this is even possible?
Mr. Fleitz: Well, I think it’s really appalling that these notes and other information have been sat on by the Justice Department and the FBI for years. And I’m glad that William Barr and other Trump officials are suddenly putting this information out there. And this has been out a long time ago. I wonder whether the “impeachment” effort by the democrats in the house would have went anywhere. Obviously there was a determined effort to manufacture crimes to destroy this president. This is just one example of that. And the exculpatory information—I think that’s what this is—was deliberately withheld.
Mr. Jekielek: What do you think this means for the Department of Justice prosecutors here?
Mr. Fleitz: This is an enormous black eye on the Justice Department and the FBI, and on the careerists in these organizations that obviously were working to undermine a democratically elected president. I think heads should roll, I think the investigators involved in this interview should be found, I think they should be prosecuted, and I think Comey should be prosecuted too. I hope there’s a way we can do that.
Mr. Jekielek: Fred, many are describing this as “bombshell evidence.” How compelling is this new information in your view?
Mr. Fleitz: Well, I think it’s extremely compelling. As I said earlier, we always thought that this was a perjury trap, but no one thought there’d be a smoking gun, that there actually would be notes from one of the FBI agents involved explaining that the purpose of the interview was to lead General Flynn to lie, or perjure himself, so they could prosecute him or force him to be fired. I’ve heard a number of lawyers talking about this recently. They’ve never seen evidence this clear of entrapment.
Mr. Jekielek: A number of folks out there are saying, “Oh, this is actually routine.” You’re saying it’s not?
Mr. Fleitz: Well, I’m not an attorney, but from attorneys I’ve heard from and I’ve spoken to, it is not routine.
Mr. Jekielek: Tell me a little bit about why you think General Flynn was targeted in this way?
Mr. Fleitz: That’s an interesting question because Flynn was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency by the Obama administration, and just before the inauguration, Obama warned President-elect Trump of two men that he had to watch out for: Kim Jong Un and General Flynn. Well, one has to wonder, why did Obama do that? Why did Obama find Flynn so dangerous? He said that Flynn had crazy ideas.
Well, let’s talk about his ideas when he was with the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was pushing DIA to find that North Korea was enriching uranium. This was breaking with the rest of the intelligence community that wanted to contend there was no real reason to believe that—that there was no clear evidence. Well, there was evidence of this and DIA was the only agency that was right. Flynn also strongly opposed the nuclear deal with Iran and I believe is probably behind many of the president’s statements during the campaign that we had to significantly change the agreement, or get out of it. And I think that the issue that really got Flynn in trouble with the intelligence community was his desire to significantly reform the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It has become a huge bureaucratic layer that is making our intelligence less efficient and much more political. Flynn discussed this with the president, I discussed it with Flynn in late 2016, and I think he was one reason the president has long been interested in significantly streamlining the Office of Director of National Intelligence, if not getting rid of it altogether.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s also interesting because, of course, the Iran deal was really a centerpiece of the Obama administration foreign policy.
Mr. Fleitz: That’s right. With Flynn, pushing us to withdraw, that was such a big threat to the Obama administration. We know another reason that Flynn was a threat is because he was one of the few Obama insiders coming into the government with solid national security experience. He knew how the system operated. If Obama holdovers could get rid of him, they knew they could run rings around the president’s new team because they wouldn’t know how the system works.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. I understand that you were at one point considered for this DNI role. What actually goes into this position?
Mr. Fleitz: Well, in February of 2019, the president asked me if I would consider being Director of National Intelligence. He didn’t tell me he’d give me the job, but he said he was thinking about it. And for a number of months in 2019, it looked like I might be nominated. That ended up not happening because the Senate Intelligence Committee led by Senator Richard Burr wanted to have someone who would get bipartisan support. This is a demand of the Democrats. And my understanding is, unfortunately, Senator Burr gave into this. So they nominated Congressman John Ratcliffe who also couldn’t get bipartisan support, who Burr also opposed. And I just think this is very unfortunate.
This is interesting now because President Trump got tired of these political gains for the Senate Intelligence Committee. He wanted to get his people to head the intelligence community, to be the DNI, so he named Richard Grenell to be the acting DNI, and he renominated Ratcliffe because I think he just decided he was going to go around Burr, he was tired of Burr deferring to the vice chairman of the committee, Mark Warner, and the President said, “Look, I need my guy in this office to clean up our intelligence community.”
Mr. Jekielek: Right now we do have Richard Grenell in the acting role. How has that changed the game?
Mr. Fleitz: It’s changed it significantly because the intelligence community and the Senate, they don’t like Grenell. I think that’s a shame. He’s a good guy but he’s a very aggressive and a very strong supporter of the president. And by putting him in this position in an acting capacity, he’s forced the hand of the Senate Intelligence Committee which is going to be acting on the Ratcliffe nomination within a week or two. I think that’s great and I think Ratcliffe will be excellent. Grenell as an acting [director] can do things that maybe a confirmed official could not do. He’s let people go, he’s cut back budgets, he’s looking into the intelligence behind a very controversial intelligence assessment, and he’s standing out to Adam Schiff who was trying to bully him into not making changes to streamline the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. I think Grenell is doing a great job.
Mr. Jekielek: Fred, in the second group of unsealed documents that we saw relative to the Flynn case, there was this remarkable information where It looked like the investigation had found, I think it was no “derogatory information” relating to General Flynn. They were going to close the investigation but at the last moment, Mr. Strzok put a hold on it. Am I reading this right? What is it that you see there?
Mr. Fleitz: Well, according to these documents, FBI agents didn’t think they had anything on Flynn, that there was no derogatory information. They didn’t think he lied. But Peter Strzok saw this, and we know Strzok was campaigning against the Trump administration, incoming President Trump, and against Flynn, and he stopped that. He said, “No, you have to continue.”
Mr. Jekielek: Based on your knowledge and on how this system works, who do you think must have been involved in this?
Mr. Fleitz: Strzok was involved; I think there probably were senior Obama administration officials involved, but someone who I think was closely involved was Sally Yates, who was the acting Attorney General at the end of January 2017. She had the audacity to say that General Flynn could be blackmailed by the Russians for violating the antiquated Logan Act, which is such a ridiculous idea. It’s a law barring private individuals from interfering with U.S. foreign policy. Now, first of all, this is an incoming national security adviser—obviously, it didn’t apply to him. But the law’s been used twice in the history of our country, and it obviously didn’t apply here. But she actually made that charge against him. I think that she was absolutely involved in this, and I’m just wondering who else she was collaborating with—what other senior officials were involved.
Mr. Jekielek: A lot of people are calling attention to some serious violations of ethics when it comes to this whole scenario. What do you see?
Mr. Fleitz: I think that is an understatement. There were huge violations of ethics in investigating an American citizen, or trying to entrap an American citizen, or trying to manufacture a crime of tricking an incoming U.S. official to meet with FBI agents with no attorneys presence, with using foreign intelligence assets and intelligence reports. Remember, an NSA report on Flynn’s discussions with [Russian senior diplomat Sergey] Kislyak, a sensitive one, was leaked to the press to hurt Flynn. No one’s been prosecuted for that. That was a major violation of the law.
Our intelligence was weaponized by one political party against the other. Now, you may know that when the CIA was founded after World War II, there were some people who were worried about having a standing civilian intelligence service because it could be used to spy on the American people. And they were assured this would not happen, that this was a foreign intelligence service. It would be used to defend the United States against foreign actors; not to spy on people in the United States. We know this has happened from time to time, but nobody even contemplated in the late 1940s that this foreign intelligence community would be used to spy on an individual running for president from another political party, to undermine him during the transition, and to continue to try to destroy his presidency after he was inaugurated.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s actually quite interesting, this conversation that General Flynn had with the Russian Ambassador Kislyak. A lot of people have noted that it was actually his job to communicate with NATO foreign dignitaries at the highest level. Was this conversation really so damning?
Mr. Fleitz: I didn’t think it was damning. I expect incoming national security advisors to meet with foreign officials. I don’t want them to come in having done no preparation for this very important job that they’re going to be assuming, and I have no doubt that there were incoming Obama officials who did exactly the same thing.
Mr. Jekielek: For that matter, in any administration, right?
Mr. Fleitz: That’s right.
Mr. Jekielek: Given everything that’s happened now, I understand that there’s a bit of a halt on producing more of these sealed documents based on the judge’s request in the Flynn case. What do you expect will happen next based on your understanding of how this whole machine works?
Mr. Fleitz: Well, I’d like to see Flynn exonerated. He’s trying to take back his guilty plea which he was forced to make because they threatened to prosecute his son. I believe he’s gone bankrupt. He has millions of dollars in legal fees—I’d like to see the government pay those fees if possible. I believe the president is prepared to pardon Flynn, but it shouldn’t come to that. The Justice Department should withdraw the charges and clear him. And if there’s a way to compensate him for these legal bills, I think that has to happen.
Mr. Jekielek: What about the prosecution, and for that matter, the defense? There were just substantial irregularities on both sides from what we’ve seen in this case.
Mr. Fleitz: The prosecution has been outrageously aggressive for a manufactured crime. And it was just outrageous that—Flynn apparently had bad legal representation at the beginning of his case and he changed his attorneys, and then tried to withdraw his plea, and after that happened, the government doubled down on their efforts to prosecute Flynn. It just seems like the government was out to get this guy. And I think based on these notes and other misconduct by the government is trying to face that and exonerate them.
Mr. Jekielek: You talked about the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is something that’s been very much on your mind. I think just over a week ago, you wrote an op-ed about this new Senate Intelligence Committee assessment of the intelligence community assessment from years ago, about how the Russians interfered in the election, the nature of that. … There’s this conflicting view. The House Intelligence Committee had a different perspective than the Senate Intelligence Committee. I’m wondering if you could actually give us a picture of what you saw.
Mr. Fleitz: Well, this is an interesting story. In January 2017, the intelligence community put out something called an intelligence community assessment. It’s supposed to be the work of all intelligence agencies, all relevant analysts, on Russian meddling in the election, and it found that Russia meddled—they did so to help Trump win. Now, I wrote and I appeared on Fox several times in 2017 to say, “This is a pretty strange assessment. Only 3 out of 17 intelligence agencies were allowed to participate. And of those agencies, a hand picked group of 24 analysts participated. We’ve since learned that 3 of those analysts did the drafting of the assessment, and they were all allies of the strongly anti-Trump former CIA Director John Brennan. The assessment didn’t follow the rules in other ways. There were no dissenting views. There should have been an appendix of outside reviewers—that didn’t happen either. And the conclusions were extremely clear. On something that’s complicated, it’s very hard to get a clear judgment, and there’s always dissenters, and they weren’t here. I wrote repeatedly: this stinks. This looks like it was rigged.
Mr. Jekielek: Speaking of this rigging, we were talking offline earlier about this unpublished report drafted by the House Intelligence committee that focused on the intelligence community assessment. This is big, big news. I hadn’t heard about it until very, very recently. You said the house committee members discussed it with you.
Mr. Fleitz: Well, the House Intelligence Committee came out with a report in 2018 that found exactly that: the rules weren’t followed and that the assessment appeared to be rigged to come up with a conclusion to hurt the president politically. But specifically, and this was just stunning, the House Intelligence Committee discovered from the CIA that there was evidence that the Russians actually wanted Hillary Clinton to win the election, and for Trump to lose, and this was strong intelligence. The reason was they thought Hillary was a known quantity, Trump was an unknown quantity, and they were worried he would bring anti-Russian hawks into the administration. That information, according to the House Intelligence Committee staff—they told me this—was excluded over the objections of CIA analysts, by Brennan. On the other hand, there was weak intelligence that the Russians wanted Trump to win. And according to the House Intelligence Committee staffers, they were told this was included over the objection of CIA officers by Brennan. So Brendan actually slanted this analysis, choosing anti-Trump intelligence and excluding anti-Clinton intelligence. This was just stunning.
Now, the Senate Intelligence Committee came out with a report a couple of weeks ago. They said all procedures were followed, that there was nothing wrong with any of the conclusions, and they stood behind it. And I was embarrassed that Senator Burr said this personally. So one might say, “Why did these two committees come up with different reports?” The reason, I believe that is, is because the [House] report was a Republican-only report and intelligence officers were more willing to level with these investigators because what they said would not get back to their managers. I know when I was in the CIA, there’s a real concern that intelligence staffers were reporting back to your manager if you spoke to an intelligence committee member or staff member. I spoke to the people who did the House Intelligence report. It’s solid. I thought that their research seemed very, very credible. The problem is the House report, which I think is full of all these bombshells, has been stuck at the CIA since the fall of 2018. And I’m hoping that Richard Grinnell, or maybe John Durham, who is doing an investigation of government misconduct surrounding the election, I’m hoping one of them is going to pry this loose because the American people have to know that.
Mr. Jekielek: Why do you think this unpublished report got stuck at the CIA? It seems highly pertinent.
Mr. Fleitz: I wish I had an answer to that. I know that when Congressman Devin Nunes left the chairmanship of the committee at the end of 2018, the requests for this report to be cleared by the CIA—I think the CIA Inspector General—was still pending. And here we are, we’re obviously in mid-2020, nothing has happened. Now, I don’t know why the CIA hasn’t cleared it. I know they haven’t cleared it. I’ve talked to members of the committee recently. To their understanding, it is still with the CIA. Now, I know Grenell has asked for the underlying intelligence that this intelligence community assessment was based on. But I think Grenell needs to get his hands on this assessment and ask the CIA, “Why haven’t you cleared it?”
Mr. Jekielek: One of the big arguments for the validity of the Senate Intelligence Committee report is that it’s bipartisan. And of course, the House Intelligence Committee report, the one that did come out, was not, and you actually dispute that analysis. Maybe you can speak to that?
Mr. Fleitz: Well, the media was just deliriously happy when a bipartisan committee said that the ICA finding that the “Russians meddled to help Trump win” came out, and “bipartisanship”—it sounds legitimate. The problem is that if you put together a bipartisan report on Russian meddling in the election, there’s no chance the Democrats are going to allow anything in their report that’s going to help the president. They have been rock solid in their opposition to tolerating or even looking at that type of information. I think that Burr was obsessed with getting a consensus report, and that meant that they had to exclude any information suggesting that maybe the Russians wanted Hillary to win, or maybe there was misconduct by the intelligence community. It was a whitewash, and Burr is responsible for this whitewash. We know that Burr has been deferring to Warner for most of his tenure on this committee as chairman, and I have to say, I’m looking forward to Burr leaving this committee because we need to have somebody who’s going to be objective. I don’t want to see intelligence politicized simply to publish things that are pro-Trump. But when a report comes out, to get a bipartisan report, the Republicans can see it on every point so it will be bipartisan, I don’t think that’s responsible.
Mr. Jekielek: … The work that Attorney Durham is doing under the auspices of the Attorney General, do you feel like this is the work that’s driving this unearthing of information? What are your thoughts about this?
Mr. Fleitz: I don’t know. I know Attorney General Barr wanted this type of information to come out, the White House has been pushing for it, but I don’t know whether Durham drove it, but at a minimum, Durham now knows about this, and it’s going to have to influence his investigation of government misconduct before and after the election. And I think that’s a good thing.
Mr. Jekielek: What do you think is going to happen next? We’re right at the beginning of May here in 2020; the election is a few months away; we are in the midst of coronavirus at the same time. How do you think this is all going to play out now? What are you seeing from your analyst’s keen eye here?
Mr. Fleitz: I just don’t know what kind of report John Durham is going to come up with, but I like that he put out something soon. I hope it is definitive on the misconduct of the FBI, and the Justice Department, and intelligence agencies, Obama officials in the NSC and the State Department, and John Brennan. There should be a whole chapter on John Brennan, how he abused his authority, how FISA requests were abused to spy on members of the Trump campaign. There’s a lot of material here and it goes to the heart of our rights as American citizens not to be spied on illegally by our government. If the government can get away with this, I think we’re going down a very slippery slope.
Mr. Jekielek: We’re going to finish up in a moment. Any final words before we do?
Mr. Fleitz: Well, I’m just so pleased to see this material that came out that I think proves once and for all, that General Michael Flynn was framed. I don’t think there’s any question about that. And what’s great about this is that it is so easily understandable by the average American. There’s no debate about this when an FBI agent has notes saying, “Let’s get the guy to lie.” That’s open and shut, and my hope is that the charges against him would be withdrawn. And if that can’t happen quickly, I want to see the president pardon.
Mr. Jekielek: Fred, this just came to my mind. A lot of people are surprised to learn, given the IG report that came out and this litany of information since then, including the footnotes of the IG report, that 53% of Americans in a poll basically believe that the Steele dossier has legitimate intelligence in there. What do you make of this?
Mr. Fleitz: I think the case against the president, and all this misuse of intelligence and intelligence assets by Brennan, and others, it’s so confusing. The American people, they don’t know what to believe. And the media has been complicit in this and spinning everything against the president. I don’t know whether Durham is going to put an end to this but he may make a significant difference.
Mr. Jekielek: Fred Fleitz, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Mr. Fleitz: Good to be here.