Former FBI Director James Comey speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, June 8, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
On Tuesday, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) released the second part of the June 2018 closed-door testimony of Bill Priestap, the Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.
Real Clear Investigations’ Eric Felten wrote an excellent piece on Friday in which he covers Priestap’s entire testimony which can be read here and provides some interesting analysis. I will be focusing on Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-OH) questioning of Priestap’s trips to London and what role British intelligence may have played in the conspiracy. Felten believes Priestap’s testimony “paints a portrait of the Obama-era bureau as one that was unconcerned with political interference in investigations and was willing to enlist the help of close foreign allies to bring down its target.”
Last fall, ahead of the midterms, President Trump announced his plan to declassify the FISA Court applications for the Carter Page surveillance warrant and related documents so the American people would know how everything went down. Nothing ever came of it. There were rumors that MI6, as well as the Australian intelligence service, had objected strenuously to the release of those records because it would, naturally, expose sources and methods.
It was said at the time that the Brits were “desperate” for the information to remain classified. The reason for their desperation? Although there is insufficient evidence to prove it, it sure looks like British intelligence agents were involved in the FBI’s operation to destroy Trump’s candidacy.
Priestap was questioned by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) about his overseas travel in 2016. Felten said the redactions in the transcript make it obvious that the FBI and DOJ “really, really didn’t want anyone to know where Bill Priestap was a week into May 2016.”
Jordan: Do you ever travel oversees?
Jordan: How often?
Priestap: As little as possible.
Jordan: How many times during your 2½ years running the counter-intelligence shop have you traveled abroad?
Priestap: I want to say three times.
Jordan: And can you tell me where you went?
Priestap: The ones I’m remembering are the [REDACTED].
Jordan: All three times to [REDACTED]?
Priestap: Off the top of my head were all [REDACTED].”
Jordan: Do you remember when you went to this place?
Felten explains that Jordan later questioned Priestap about his overseas travel again, trying to determine where and when. Felten writes, “Over and again, censors from the FBI and DOJ have redacted the location and the time. What could this exotic destination be? How is the timing of Priestap’s trip there a matter of national security? What secrets were the redactors trying to protect?”
A transcript of text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and lawyer Lisa Page answers these questions:
It’s right there on the page detailing texts between Strzok and Page on May 4, 2016. At around 9:31 that Wednesday evening, Strzok writes to say he is worried about getting a memo into shape that is expected that night or the next morning. He feels pressured even though “I don’t know that Bill will read it before he gets back from London next week.” Go to a text from the next Monday morning, May 9, and Strzok is wondering who will be receiving the daily report on the Clinton investigation, what “with Bill out.”
So there we have it. Bill Priestap was in London on or around May 9. Which strongly suggests that all three of the international trips taken by him during his tenure as FBI counterintelligence chief were to London.
Jordan: Okay. So what were you doing in [REDACTED] in the [REDACTED] of 2016?
Priestap: So, I went to meet with a foreign partner, foreign government partner.”
Felten analyzes this. “In other words, almost certainly British intelligence. Not exposing our British partners has been the Justice Department’s justification for locking up secrets about the beginnings of the Trump investigation. The redactions try and fail to hide that Priestap met repeatedly with his British counterparts in 2016.” Felten adds:
Students of the Russia-collusion saga will recall that some of the earliest and most significant events cited as leading to the FBI’s investigation of Team Trump took place in a certain REDACTED country during a REDACTED season in 2016. It was over breakfast on April 26 in London that the mysterious Maltese professor, Joseph Mifsud, told young Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Five days later, on May 1, Papadopoulos had drinks with Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in a London bar where he shared this piece of gossip/intel. And, of course, London is home to the author of the anti-Trump “dossier,” Christopher Steele.
According to the official story laid out in the New York Times, Australian officials did not pass on this new information for two months. And while Steele was retained by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS in the spring to dig up dirt on Trump for the Clinton campaign, the official story is that he did not start working with U.S. officials until the summer.
And so it is more than passingly curious that Priestap kept going to London when these significant events were occurring.
Jordan: What did it have to do with?
Priestap: I’m not at liberty to discuss that today.
Jordan: Was your second trip then concerning the Trump-Russia investigation?
Priestap: Sir, again, I’m just not at liberty to go into the purpose of my second trip.
Felten deduces that “Priestap could have answered “no” without perjuring himself, he could have quickly put this matter to bed. His “I’m not at liberty” answers strongly suggest that the Trump-Russia investigation was exactly what his second trip to London was about.”
Although Priestap tries hard not to provide lawmakers with any concrete information, the head of the counterintelligence division would not make three trips to London during a critical period unless there was an important reason.
Unrelated to Priestap’s testimony, we know the FBI opened their counterintelligence investigation into Trump/Russia collusion, Crossfire Hurricane, on July 31, 2016. Strzok signed the authorization and immediately hopped on a plane to London. He was accompanied by another FBI official whose name was redacted. It was not Priestap, however, because upon his return, text messages show that Strzok planned to brief both Priestap and George Toscas, the Deputy Attorney General in charge of the DOJ’s National Security Division about the trip. Nor was it Lisa Page, with whom he was texting from the cab on his way home from the airport.
We know that Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos was lured to London on the pretense of delivering a foreign policy paper and paid $3,000 by FBI informant Stefan Halper. Also, Joseph Mifsud, “who mixed with Britain’s foreign secretary and ex-CIA people,” approached Papadopoulos in London to inform him that the Russian government had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, a well connected former ambassador to the U.K., invited Papadopoulos for drinks at a London bar shortly after Mifsud had spoken to him. And, of course, the author of the Trump dossier, Christopher Steele, was a former British spy.
It’s pretty clear that members of the British intelligence community and others connected to them were involved in the framing of Donald Trump. What we don’t know is the extent of it.
But every transcript and document fills in another blank. Most of us never believed any of this would see the light of day. Looks like the winds have changed.