Peter Strzok, the former FBI head of counterintelligence operations known for his vitriolic anti-Trump texts messages, had torn apart a 2017 New York Times article that alleged the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump had contacts with Russian intelligence. Strzok criticized the article as inaccurate in multiple regards in a recently declassified internal document.
The Feb. 14, 2017, NY Times piece titled “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contact With Russian Intelligence” was said to rely on information from four unnamed “current and former American officials.”
The article’s opening paragraph reads, “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.”
“This statement is misleading and inaccurate as written,” Strzok said, annotating the article with comments on how it squared with reality as he was portraying it (pdf). “We have not seen evidence of any individuals affiliated with the Trump team in contact with [Russian] IOs [intelligence officers].”
At the time, Strzok was leading an FBI investigation into supposed Trump–Russia collusion that was said to have swayed the election. The investigation, taken over in May 2017 by special counsel Robert Mueller, ultimately didn’t establish any such collusion.
The document was released on July 17 by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“The statements by Mr. Strzok question the entire premise of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump Campaign and make it even more outrageous that the Mueller team continued this investigation for almost two and a half years,” Graham said in a release.
In an email to The Epoch Times, NY Times senior vice president for communications Eileen Murphy said, “We stand by our reporting.”
The FBI officially opened the investigation into the Trump campaign on July 31, 2016, shortly after being notified that then-Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos had allegedly “suggested” during a drink with an Australian ambassador that the campaign received “some kind of suggestion” that Russia could help it by anonymously releasing information damaging to Trump’s opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Four sub-cases were opened on Trump campaign aides Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Papadopoulos, and Carter Page in August 2016.
The FBI looked at the campaign’s contacts with Kremlin officials but found them “almost entirely” limited to then-Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak and the Russian Embassy’s congressional liaison, according to Strzok.
Page had some contacts with the Russian intelligence service, “but not during his association with the Trump campaign,” Strzok wrote.
The FBI obtained a spying warrant on Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in October 2016 and renewed it three times over the next nine months. But the warrants were deeply flawed, the Inspector General (IG) at the Justice Department (DOJ) found. The FBI later acknowledged that at least the last two renewals of the warrant resulted in illegal surveillance.
Page was in fact providing information about his contacts with Russian intelligence to the CIA and even helped to bust one Russian agent in the past. The FBI withheld this information from the secret FISA court that approved the warrant.
The key allegation in the warrant that Page was a part of a “well-developed conspiracy” between the Trump campaign and Russia was lifted verbatim from the Steele dossier, a collection of rumors spread to the media, the FBI, the State Department, the DOJ, and Congress in 2016 by operatives funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
The dossier’s compilation was contracted by Clinton and the DNC through a law firm to former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. The NY Times article stated that “senior F.B.I. officials believe … Steele … has a credible track record.”
Strzok wrote in an annotation, “Recent interviews and investigation, however, reveal Steele may not be in a position to judge the reliability of his subsource network.”
Steele told the FBI that information in the dossier came from a single source that had a network of other sub-sources.
The FBI interviewed the primary source over three days, from Jan. 24 to 26, 2017. A heavily redacted FBI report from the questioning—also released by Graham—says Steele had had the source on payroll through another entity for some time as a researcher. The report suggests the source wasn’t based in Russia and was neither a current nor former Russian government official.
The source “never expected” Steele to put his or her “statements in reports or present them as facts,” according to a Dec. 9, 2019, IG report (pdf) into some aspects of the FBI investigation.
The source “made it clear to Steele that he/she had no proof to support the statements from his/her sub-sources and that ‘it was just talk,’” the IG learned from the FBI agent who interviewed the source.
The information was “word of mouth and hearsay,” “conversation that [he/she] had with friends over beers,” and some was made in “jest,” the source said, according to the agent.
Some of the dossier’s most explosive allegations, according to the source, actually weren’t explosive at all and were conveyed to him/her in one 10-to-15 minute anonymous phone call. The source said they guessed who the caller was based on finding “a YouTube video” of a certain person speaking that “sounded like the person on the telephone call,” the IG said.
The interview revealed that the source “network” didn’t actually have the level of access Steele was attributing to it, and “it could have been multiple layers of hearsay upon hearsay,” the IG stated.
Strzok noted that Flynn had contacts with Kislyak. But that was Flynn’s job, as he was the point person for setting the ground for the new administration with foreign governments during the transition.
The NY Times article also claimed that during the intelligence community’s surveillance involving the Trump campaign, “one of the advisers [who] picked up on the [intercepted] calls was Paul Manafort.”
Strzok denied this.
“We are unaware of any calls with any Russian government official in which Manafort was a party,” he noted. At least one of Manafort’s associates had contact with Russian intelligence, but it isn’t clear whether this contact had anything to do with Manafort, Strzok said.
Furthermore, the NY Times article stated that the FBI had started its investigation of Manafort in the spring of 2016.
This was inaccurate, Strzok wrote. The bureau only opened a case on Manafort in August 2016. The FBI may have had a case against Manafort’s dealings in Ukraine earlier, he noted. That case, however, was unrelated to Trump.
The article also claimed that the FBI “closely examined” Roger Stone, a political strategist who was kicked out of the Trump campaign in 2015, but remained in contact with it.
Strzok denied that Stone was under investigation at the time.
The article also claimed that the FBI had obtained banking records as part of the probe.
Strzok pushed back.
“We do not yet have detailed banking records,” he wrote, though acknowledging that the bureau had issued national security letters to obtain credit reports.