The most recent trove of declassified documents shows the FBI used the pretense of a defensive briefing as an opportunity to spy on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The Federalist reported that the documents, which were declassified Wednesday by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and provided to senators on the Finance and Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committees, are just the latest to show how far the FBI was willing to go to make a case against the Trump campaign.
“In one of the documents declassified and released on Wednesday, FBI supervisory Special Agent Joe Pientka wrote that he deliberately used the briefing to ‘actively listen for topics or questions’ from Trump ‘regarding the Russian Federation.’ Rather than provide the Trump campaign a specific warning that certain campaign principals were being targeted by Russian intelligence, the FBI instead gave a general, non-specific warning that foreign intelligence services might eventually target the campaign,” the outlet reported. “Pientka’s written summary of the briefing noted that Trump, Michael Flynn, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were the only three Trump campaign members in attendance. Christie’s attendance had not previously been disclosed. The August 17, 2016 meeting came the day after the FBI opened a formal counterintelligence investigation against Flynn and just two days after FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok texted his former lover, FBI attorney Lisa Page, about an ‘insurance policy’ he had designed to keep Trump from becoming president.”
Pientka wrote in his notes that the meeting lasted roughly two hours, during which time he spent just 13 minutes providing the Trump campaign members a warning about foreign interference. He then complained about other intelligence officials not having enough time to provide the campaign with their own material suggesting foreign interference.
“Due to time constraints, not all ODNI briefers presented their material,” Pientka wrote, ignoring the fact that he used the meeting to spy on the Trump campaign. He didn’t address whether that may have kept other intelligence officials from providing their information to the campaign.
Pientka, according to a report from the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), “was selected to provide the FBI briefings, in part, because Flynn, who was a subject in the ongoing Crossfire Hurricane investigation, would be attending the Trump campaign briefing.” Pientka told the OIG that he was sent to the meeting to “record” or “overhear” from the attendees “any kind of admission” that they were colluding with Russia to steal the 2016 election from Hillary Clinton. Pientka also wanted to study Flynn’s “overall mannerisms” to potentially use as a base against him in the future.
Pientka was present during the FBI’s interview on January 24, 2017, where agents questioned Flynn about a phone call from months earlier with then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. Even though the FBI already had a transcript of the phone call, they questioned Flynn to try to trip him up so they could charge him with lying. The charges against Flynn were dropped earlier this year.