A key player in the FBI's counterintelligence investigation of Donald Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign was Trisha Anderson, who, at the time, was the No. 2 lawyer at the agency's Office of General Counsel.
Despite having no specific experience in counterintelligence before coming to the FBI, Anderson was, in some manner, involved in virtually all of the significant events of the investigation.
Anderson told members of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees in August last year during closed-door testimony that she was one of only about 10 people who had known about the Trump–Russia investigation prior to its official opening.
A transcript of Anderson's testimony, which was reviewed for this article, reveals that she had read all of the FBI's FD302 forms detailing information that the author of the Steele dossier, former British spy Christopher Steele, had provided to high-ranking Department of Justice (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr.
Anderson also told lawmakers that she personally signed off on the original application for a warrant to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page without having read it. The FBI relied heavily on the unverified information in the Steele dossier—which was paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee—to obtain the FISA warrant.
Anderson also was part of a small group of FBI personnel who got to read then-FBI Director James Comey's memos about conversations he had with President Donald Trump.
Besides the investigation into Trump, Anderson also was involved in the FBI's investigation of Hillary Clinton for sending classified information using a private server.
Anderson's testimony reveals that she received the original referral from the inspectors general for both the State Department and Intelligence Community on Clinton after hundreds of classified emails had been found on her server.
Her testimony also raises questions as to whether then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had a conflict of interest.
Anderson Reviewed the Ohr 302sAnderson testified that she knew Ohr from her time in the deputy attorney general’s office, where she’d “had a couple of meetings with him,” but didn't have any interaction with Ohr while she was with the FBI.
Ohr was approached by Steele—whom he had known since 2007—in July 2016 with information about the Trump campaign. Ohr would pass the information to the FBI. After the FBI officially stopped working with Steele, Ohr would continue to meet with Steele and pass information to the FBI. These conversations between Ohr and his FBI handler, agent Joseph Pientka, were recorded by Pientka on FD302 forms.
In response to a question regarding any information she might have gotten from Ohr, Anderson—after a brief consult with counsel—told congressional investigators that she had personally reviewed all of the 302s relating to Ohr’s meetings with Steele:
Anderson told investigators she reviewed the Ohr 302s “after the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence produced its memo on the Carter Page FISAs” in January 2018.
Anderson didn't reveal why she chose to review the Ohr 302s, nor what it was that she was specifically looking for.
The Carter Page FISAAnderson signed off on the original application for a warrant to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page—before the application went to Comey—despite not having read it.
During her testimony, Anderson highlighted the unusual nature of the Page FISA application process and the curious roles of McCabe and then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who provided approvals of the Page FISA before normal FBI and DOJ approvals had been obtained:
These early high-level approvals were distinctly outside of the normal FISA process. Anderson and others were supposed to have provided approvals before the FISA was presented to senior FBI and DOJ officials. Anderson appeared to be fully aware of the uniqueness of this particular application process:
Anderson told congressional investigators that with regard to the Page FISA, by signing off she “was simply signaling, yes, this package is ready to go forward.”
Anderson attempted to provide an explanation for the unusual process, noting, “We understood, because of who Carter Page was, that people would second-guess the appropriateness of submitting the FISA application, and so we were taking extra care with the application itself.”
Anderson Defines 'Spy'Trump on several occasions has made reference to a spy placed within his campaign. We know the FBI used Stefan Halper as “a government informant” in relation to his contacts with Trump campaign advisers George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, but the FBI has denied the use of an actual spy.
Anderson also stated she had no knowledge of a spy, but was later asked to define her understanding of the word:
After more questioning, Anderson provided her reasoning in stating there had been no spy in the Trump campaign.
Anderson was referring back to the FBI’s use of Halper.
Anderson Briefed Early on Weiner LaptopAnderson was briefed by FBI attorney Sally Moyer regarding the existence of potential evidence on the laptop of former Rep. Weiner—who is married to longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin—on Sep. 29, 2016. Anderson downplayed the early notification, telling investigators that she only recalled being told that “there were materials associated with Huma Abedin that may have been identified on the laptop,” and said she had no interaction with the New York field office that was processing the Weiner laptop.
According to Anderson, her next interaction in relation to the Weiner laptop came on Oct. 27, 2016, when she had a meeting with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on the matter—directly preceding the more formal meeting where the team working on the Clinton investigation, codenamed “Mid-Year Exam,” briefed Comey for the first time of the existence of Clinton emails on Weiner’s laptop.
During the Comey briefing, Anderson said the discussion included the possibility of obtaining a search warrant—and, if so, what public statements should be made about it. Anderson also noted that she was “concerned that the disclosure of what we had was—could be viewed as affecting the outcome of the election.”
‘You Might Be Helping' TrumpHowever, Comey attributed a different take to Anderson’s statement in his book, "A Higher Loyalty":
“As we were arriving at this decision, one of the lawyers on the team asked a searing question. She was a brilliant and quiet person whom I sometimes had to invite into the conversation. 'Should you consider that what you are about to do may help elect Donald Trump for president?' she asked.”
Comey provided a similar recollection to the IG, telling him that Anderson said, “How do you think about the fact that you might be helping elect Donald Trump?”
Anderson acknowledged during her testimony that this specific passage from Comey’s book referred to her comments, but she also denied that she ever mentioned a specific candidate, claiming she was only concerned the FBI could be perceived as having an impact on a presidential election.
However, Anderson’s then-boss, James Baker, during interviews with the IG, sided with Comey’s recollection of the actual concerns being voiced by Anderson:
“We’re going to interject ourselves into the election in a way that’s, that potentially or almost certainly will change the outcome. And I am, I, Trisha, am quite concerned about that. And I’m concerned about us being responsible for getting Donald Trump elected.”
The Comey MemosSeveral officials, including McCabe's special counsel Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok, were asked about Comey’s memos and admitted to having been part of a small group that had read them. Anderson also was a member of this group:
But there was one difference. When Anderson was asked additional questions that extended beyond her awareness of the memos, an FBI counsel immediately intervened:
House Oversight Committee minority staff immediately objected on the grounds that the same question had been put to other witnesses who had been allowed to answer. Also noted was the fact that Comey’s memos had not only been declassified by this time, but had been released to the public. However, the FBI counsel stayed firm:
Anderson Received First Call from IC OfficeThe Clinton email server investigation, known as the Mid-Year Exam, originated from a disclosure contained in a June 29, 2015, memo sent by the inspectors general for both the State Department and the Intelligence Community to Patrick F. Kennedy, then-undersecretary of state for management. The IGs’ memo included an assessment that Clinton’s email account contained hundreds of classified emails, despite Clinton’s claims that there was no classified information present on her server.
The FBI then formally opened an investigation into the Clinton emails on July 10, 2015.
Anderson, who was asked her opinion of Clinton’s actions in the use of her server, didn't hesitate to make her feelings known:
"So we all recognized from the outset that from a commonsense perspective from somebody who has worked—from the perspective of somebody who has worked in the government that it seemed like a pretty dumb thing to do."
Conflict of Interest DiscussionsDuring her testimony, Anderson was asked about an email chain that had been originated by her, specifically a response she sent to an unknown party:
"Could you please follow up with [redacted] to get more detail about what she found on the conflict of interest component? Anything about whether there is usually an actual conflict, or have special prosecutors been appointed due to an appearance of conflict (or out of an abundance of caution)?"
Anderson made the observation that the email in question originated “from around the time of the opening of the case, and I don't recall any of the circumstances or reasons why this research would've been done.” Her answer appeared to satisfy the congressional investigators, who changed topics and moved on to other questions.
However, her response seems at odds with the IG report, which specifically references the issue in question as occurring at the start of the Mid-Year Exam:
“FBI Attorney 1 told us that the FBI Mid-Year team discussed whether they needed a special counsel at the beginning of the investigation in 2015. She said that at that time they had a legal intern research the statute.”
Discussions Regarding Lynch ‘Classified Matter’The issue of a special counsel appointment would be revisited by the FBI team again in March 2016 and, as Strzok told the IG, the topic resurfaced, due to “the discovery of classified information relating to Lynch.” This information is contained in the fully classified appendix of the inspector general’s report.
The “classified matter” related to a Russian document the FBI had received in early 2016, which reportedly referenced an email from Debbie Wasserman Schultz, then-chair of the Democratic National Committee, to Leonard Benardo, an official with the George Soros-funded group Open Society Foundations.
In the email, Wasserman Schultz reportedly claimed that former Attorney General Lynch had assured Clinton campaign staffer Amanda Renteria that she wouldn't allow the FBI investigation of Clinton to “go too far.” Comey later testified that he believed the document to be genuine but was unable to corroborate the information it contained.
The ongoing discussions of Lynch’s potential conflict of interest also were referenced in an email, sent by Moyer, that mentioned “secret meetings” between Anderson and her former boss, then-FBI General Counsel Baker. Part of the email was quoted by congressional investigators during testimony by Moyer:
"All these 'secret meetings' that Trish and Jim are having regarding, MYE and [redacted] include George Toscas. I get that TBA might want to brainstorm with Stu on these issues (although I don't really see how it's in his lane). But why is George included and not our own people, especially when, if the reporting is true, there is a real conflict of interest?"
Anderson told investigators that she believed the email related to “a classified matter that's discussed in the appendix to the IG report.” A bit later in her testimony, Anderson said she believed the email in question was referring to the classified Lynch “matter.”
Anderson's previous tenure in the deputy attorney general’s office, where she held the positions of attorney-adviser in the Office of Legal Counsel and associate deputy attorney general, may have proved useful during the sequence of investigations. She noted that at one point, she “was more involved in meetings with DOJ when there were specific issues that came up that required high-level supervisory or executive engagement.”
Anderson described two meetings that took place at the DOJ. The first meeting, which occurred prior to the drafting of Comey’s exoneration letter of Clinton, included DOJ officials George Toscas and Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis. Attending from the FBI were McCabe; the assistant director for the cyber division, Jim Trainor; Comey’s chief of staff, James Rybicki; and Anderson.
The second meeting included Toscas, Yates, Assistant Attorney General John Carlin, and DOJ official Matt Axelrod, along with Anderson, McCabe, and Rybicki. Anderson testified that Trainor, who left the FBI in late October 2016, was gone from the FBI at the time of the second meeting, placing this subsequent meeting sometime after October 2016.
‘Slightly More Than 10’In addition to being included in the opening of the Clinton email investigation, Anderson also was part of a very small group that was aware of the Trump–Russia investigation prior to its official opening:
Anderson said that she, Strzok, Lisa Page, McCabe, Comey, and Baker were all aware of the investigation prior to the 2016 election. Add to that list Bill Priestap, Jonathan Moffa, Moyer, Pientka, Ohr, and Rybicki and you have a list of 12 individuals, which fits fairly well with Anderson’s testimony:
The Role of Lisa PageLisa Page’s unusual position as special counsel has been highlighted during several testimonies, including those of Baker and Priestap. Anderson disclosed that, technically, Page reported directly to her, but “the supervision was less clear. She reported directly to Andy McCabe as a result of the detail arrangement that we had entered into.”
Page wasn't supposed to actually provide legal advice to McCabe, but rather bring legal issues raised by McCabe to the appropriate parties within the FBI’s Office of General Counsel. But as Anderson noted, “We didn't have any written rules on it and it was a position that was of relatively recent creation.”
This wasn’t the first time that Page had served in a support capacity to McCabe:
There had been some debate within the FBI as to whether Page would hold the title of special assistant or the more coveted title of special counsel. Anderson was shown an email that appeared to be between two attorneys who reported to her. The emails appeared to be in regard to Page’s pending title discussions.
The first attorney noted, “I think his special assistant is the best option ... special is the best option, he's number 2.” The responding attorney agreed, stating: “Yeah, pretty demoralized by the whole thing. Not sure if Trisha will be there or not. Kind of hoping not, I can be more frank if she's not.”
Anderson claimed to have no knowledge regarding this email despite repeated questioning. Page would be given the title of special counsel.
Anderson also corroborated reports that Page often circumvented the established chain of command, not only with McCabe, for whom she reportedly served as a conduit for Strzok, but also with Baker:
Anderson was also aware of concerns that Page bypassed both the executive assistant director for the National Security Branch—first Giacalone and then Steinbach—and Priestap, the head of counterintelligence:
In the summer of 2018, Anderson rejoined former Attorney General Eric Holder, when she returned to her old law firm, Covington, as a partner.