Days after opening a full FBI investigation into connections between Donald Trump and Russia, lead FBI investigator Peter Strzok told a subordinate that “there’s nothing to this, but we have to run it to the ground,” the subordinate — a top official in the Bureau’s London outpost—told Special Counsel John Durham.
Strzok opened a full investigation — skipping preliminary steps — based on nothing but a brief and “vague” account by an Australian diplomat of a conversation in a London bar, and within hours had traveled to London. But when he explained why he had opened the investigation, neither the FBI employees there nor their British counterparts could believe it, according to a report released by Durham on Monday.
The FBI’s specialists on Russia had heard nothing about ties between Trump and Russia, making them skeptical. Instead of using Russia experts, the FBI then assigned brand-new intelligence analysts to work the most prominent and politically explosive case in the country.
The FBI’s Assistant Legal Attache in London (UK ALAT) told the Special Counsel that British intelligence agents “did not assess the information about the Russians and Trump, attributed to Papadopoulos, to be particularly valuable intelligence. Indeed, he told the FBI’s Inspection Division investigators that ‘the British could not believe the Papadopoulos bar conversation was all there was,’ and they were convinced the FBI must have had more information that it was holding back.”
“Dude, are we telling them everything we know, or is there more to this?” the ALAT wrote to a supervisory special agent.
“That’s all we have. Not holding anything back,” the supervisor replied.
“Damn that’s thin,” the ALAT said.
“I know. It sucks,” the supervisor said.
British agents felt the same way, raising concerns that Papadopolous was a low-level volunteer who seemed “insecure” and trying to impress. The ALAT said that in discussing the matter with a “senior British Intelligence Service-I official, the official was openly skeptical, said the FBI’s plan for an operation made no sense, and asked UK ALAT-1 why the FBI did not just go to Papadopoulos and ask him what they wanted to know.”
The FBI’s specialists on Russia had also heard nothing about ties between Trump and Russia. FBI officials in London assumed there was much more evidence given Strzok’s urgency, but after it quickly became clear that there was not, they had to “grease the skids” for it anyway because of pressure from top leadership, the ALAT said.
“From his vantage point, UK ALAT-1 saw that FBI executive management was pushing the matter so hard that ‘there was no stopping the train,’ and he told the OIG that, ‘I mean it was, this thing was corning. So my job was to grease the skids for it, and that’s what I did,'” the report said.
FBI lawyer and Strzok mistress Lisa Page testified that the FBI used “line level analysts who [were] super experts on Russia,” but the FBI’s Inspection Division found that the intelligence analysts “selected for Crossfire Hurricane were uniformly inexperienced” and that “[n]one of them were subject matter expert analysts.” Aside from Brian Auten, an FBI agent who has been criticized for allegedly working to shut down an investigation into Hunter Biden, “the most experienced analyst had less than nine months of experience working in that capacity, two had less than four months experience, and two came straight from analyst training,” the report said.
At the time, Strzok was Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. After his hyper-anti Trump text messages with his mistress were exposed, he has since become an open partisan with regular TV appearances. His comment, as recalled by the ALAT, could suggest that Strzok knowingly conducted a baseless operation from Day 1. The Russia probe went on to overshadow much of the Trump presidency, despite Special Counsel Robert Mueller previously concluding that there was no evidence of a conspiracy.
Related: Read the Durham report