Declassified Records Shed Light on FBI Efforts to Co-opt Intel Briefings to Spy on 2016 Trump Campaign

WASHINGTON — Newly declassified records illustrate how federal agents hijacked an August 2016 security briefing to surreptitiously gather information on Trump campaign officials. The covert use of security briefings by the agents leading the Russia probe was first uncovered by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) last year.

The material released today included a summary of an August 17, 2016, security briefing provided to then-candidate Trump, as well as former Governor Chris Christie and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who were members of the campaign team. The document was a part of the FBI’s flawed Russian collusion investigation, codenamed Crossfire Hurricane. It was approved by Former FBI special agent Peter Strzok, who was later removed from the Mueller investigation following revelations of his politically-laced anti-Trump texts, and Kevin Clinesmith, who doctored an email to misrepresent Carter Page’s prior work for the CIA in an FISA court application to secretly surveil him in the Russia probe. The document includes Special Agent Joe Pientka’s observations of the candidate and his staff when matters involving Russia were discussed.

The production also includes an outline used by agents to conduct the briefing and emails, including one by Strzok, indicating the agents planned to use future briefings with the Trump campaign to secretly gather intelligence.

Johnson and Grassley first raised concerns last April about text messages between Strzok and former FBI attorney Lisa Page in which they discuss using FBI briefings with the Trump transition team to develop relationships and gather information, including using a “CI guy” to assess “demeanor” of individuals during the briefing. The lawmakers later sought information about FBI policies regarding the use of security briefings as covert operations ahead of the 2020 presidential elections. A Justice Department inspector general report later validated the lawmakers’ concerns and called on the FBI to develop policies to safeguard against misuse of security briefings.