Ex-FBI Agent Who Led Probe Calls Trump ‘Clear and Present Danger’
Peter Strzok, the former FBI agent who started the 2016 probe into Russian election interference, says President Donald Trump remains a “clear and present danger” to U.S. national security after being compromised by personal and financial dealings with Russia.
In a new book, “Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump,” Strzok says that senior FBI officials were reluctant to open an investigation into Trump. They ultimately determined in May 2017 that they had no choice due to Trump’s actions, which included firing FBI Director James Comey and lying in ways that made him vulnerable to foreign coercion.
Trump and his supporters have portrayed Strzok as a “deep state” player in a plot to spy on him and his campaign. The president has derided Strzok in tweets as “the FBI lover” because of anti-Trump text messages Strzok exchanged with an agency lawyer with whom he was having an extramarital affair. The texts led to his firing.
But Strzok offers a forceful defense of the investigation, which is now the subject of a criminal probe ordered by Attorney General William Barr. What happened to Trump and his campaign “must never happen again,” the attorney general wrote this week.
“Even before he became president, Trump said and did things that gave the Russian intelligence services the means by which to coerce him — either subtly or explicitly — into taking actions that would benefit their country rather than his,” Strzok writes in the book, which chronicles his 22-year career as a counterintelligence agent and will be released on Sept. 8.
“I also believed, based on all that we had already uncovered, that Trump was compromised — badly and in a myriad of ways,” Strzok says. “Today, moreover, I don’t feel that I have the option of keeping quiet about the clear and present danger that I know the Trump administration poses to our national security.”
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Strzok was fired in August 2018 after the Justice Department’s inspector general said his texts created the appearance that investigative decisions were affected by bias, and referred him for potential disciplinary action. Strzok maintains his firing and the release of his texts was illegal and politically motivated, and he’s suing the Justice Department.
Strzok disputes that the Russia investigation was influenced by anti-Trump bias, saying it was opened in July 2016 solely to probe four individuals associated with Trump’s presidential campaign. The four were Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, who was later convicted and sent to prison; Michael Flynn, who would become Trump’s first national security adviser and whose guilty plea for lying to Strzok and another FBI agent is still in dispute; and campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.
FBI officials took pains to keep the probe secret before the election, Strzok says.
“Contrary to cynical counternarratives, we weren’t a secret cabal of deep-state agents conspiring against Trump. Just the opposite,” Strzok writes. “The primary purpose of our efforts to keep the knowledge of our investigations limited was to prevent them from becoming public, which, if it had happened, would have done great damage to Trump, his campaign, his future administration, and many people surrounding him.”
An independent review by the Justice Department’s inspector general concluded in December that the FBI followed appropriate rules and that there was no political bias when the bureau opened the investigation, dubbed Crossfire Hurricane.
Strzok describes a cascading series of events that ultimately led the FBI to open a criminal and counterintelligence investigation into Trump in May 2017.
They included learning that Trump lied to the public in denying that his company was having secret negotiations during the campaign to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, which Russian President Vladimir Putin knew about.
Trump also told Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to the U.S. during a private meeting in May 2017 that he’d fired Comey to put a stop to the FBI’s investigation, and that he wasn’t concerned with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The meeting was “like a five-alarm fire,” Strzok says.
Trump’s attempts to conceal hush-money payments to women he allegedly had affairs with also raised concerns that could make him subject to compromise, or “kompromat” in Russian, Strzok writes.
“This is how kompromat works. There’s no formal agreement — no handshake or document,” Strzok writes. “Trump’s apparent lies — public, sustained, refutable, and damaging if exposed — are an intelligence officer’s dream. For that very reason, they are also a counterintelligence officer’s nightmare.”
Investigators also learned that Trump asked U.S. intelligence chiefs to publicly deny that there were any links between him and Russia.
“Trump’s behavior was so outlandish that the NSA’s deputy director, a career intelligence official, said it was the most unusual thing he had experienced in 40 years of government service,” Strzok writes, referring to the National Security Agency.
Strzok also seeks in his book to dispel other allegations.
He recounts an interview that he and another FBI agent did with Flynn in January 2017. Flynn eventually pleaded guilty to lying to them about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. at the time.
Barr is seeking to drop the prosecution against Flynn, saying there wasn’t a legitimate investigative purpose to interview Flynn.
But Strzok says the leadership of the Justice Department and FBI determined at the time that they needed to talk to Flynn because he’d lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the topics of the conversations with the ambassador. Trump later cited lying to Pence when he fired Flynn.
Strzok also says a dossier about suspected ties between Trump and Russia compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele — and funded by Democrats — played no role in the decision to open the FBI investigation. He and other top FBI officials questioned the veracity of the information, some of it salacious, from the time they first received it in September 2016, he says.
“Sources are rarely angels; in fact, the best information sometimes comes from devils, wrapped in lies and half-truths,” he says. “We work with it all the time and know how to separate the wheat from the chaff as a matter of course. Welcome to intelligence.”
The FBI investigation was taken over by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in May 2017. Mueller ultimately concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Trump or anyone associated with his campaign with conspiring with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. But Mueller documented extensive contacts between the campaign and Russians, and almost a dozen examples of potential obstruction of justice by Trump.
Strzok was assigned to Mueller’s team but was removed when Mueller learned about the anti-Trump texts. During the short time he was on the team, Strzok says he tried to embed FBI agents who would carry on with the counterintelligence investigation into Trump, including uncovering his financial links to Russia.
“Tracing money — even more than proving contacts with Russia — was likely to be the most critical investigative effort for Mueller’s team,” Strzok writes. “We knew about ample contacts between Trump’s team and Russia, after all; what we didn’t yet have was granular detail about those interactions, particularly the financial ones.”
It isn’t clear how far the counterintelligence investigation progressed, or if it’s continuing. Strzok says he knows some investigations that came from Mueller’s work remain classified.
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