Former FBI agent Peter Strzok admitted that he got a key element about the genesis of the Trump-Russia investigation wrong following a question from the Washington Examiner despite the fired bureau agent’s central role in opening Crossfire Hurricane.
Strzok incorrectly claimed in his new book, Compromised, that Australian diplomat Alexander Downer was spurred to inform the U.S. government about a May 2016 conversation he had in a London wine bar with George Papadopoulos, in which the Trump campaign associate mentioned that Russia might have dirt on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after hearing then-candidate Donald Trump say in July 2016, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails.” But, as the Washington Examiner pointed out, special counsel Robert Mueller and DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz both concluded that Australia informed the United States of this conversation on July 26, 2016, one day before Trump made the comment about Russia.
The former FBI deputy assistant director of counterintelligence made the admission during a Zoom discussion by Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies when the moderator, the Brookings Institution’s Benjamin Wittes, asked Strzok about the contradiction unearthed by the Washington Examiner.
“So, I got that wrong. So, I was writing my book without the benefit of the notes — the FBI had those — and the IG report had not been issued,” Strzok said. “What happened was there was a big dump through WikiLeaks that occurred prior to the Australians notifying us, and it’s absolutely as the IG report describes it. [The Australians] saw that, that prompted their memory of the conversation, and then they began the process of contacting us overseas and giving that information to us. My recollection is, and the reason why I mentioned that conversation about Trump’s speech and ‘Russia, are you listening?’ — when we finally in the counterintelligence division got that leave from the friendly foreign government, it was at the same time as Trump was making those comments, which were really concerning.”
Strzok sought to downplay the error by calling it “a little error” and saying, “I know some people are scrubbing timelines for little details and scoping headlines around them, but that was an honest mistake based on a lack of a specific recollection, and then, after I had submitted my book to pre-pub review, all this information came out afterwards.” Strzok’s book came out this week, with Horowitz’s report released in December 2019 and Mueller’s report released in April 2019.
Strzok’s book falsely claimed that “the communication ... had been precipitated by a public statement by Donald Trump” and that “in Downer’s recounting, Trump’s words jarred his memory of a series of conversations months earlier.”
The former FBI agent made the same false claim on CBS’s Sunday Morning. CBS News national security correspondent David Martin asked him: ”So, Donald Trump, with his own words, brought this investigation down on himself?" Strzok replied, “According to what the foreign government told us, yes.”
But Strzok’s claims are contradicted by the two men who led deep-dive investigations into the Trump-Russia inquiry.
“The foreign government conveyed this information to the U.S. government on July 26, 2016, a few days after WikiLeaks’s release of Clinton-related emails,” Mueller stated in his report. “The FBI opened its investigation of potential coordination between Russia and the Trump Campaign a few days later based on the information.”
The Justice Department's independent watchdog offered a similar assessment months later.
“On July 26, 2016, four days after Wikileaks publicly released hacked emails from the DNC, the [friendly foreign government] official spoke with a U.S. government official in the European city about an urgent matter,” Horowitz wrote, adding that the U.S. government official said that Downer claimed then that Papadopoulos “suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton."
A day later, during a Florida press conference on July 27, 2016, Trump delivered the message to Russia.
"I have nothing to do with Putin ... I will tell you this: Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press," he said.
Trump suggested to the Conservative Political Action Conference in March 2019 that his comments were a “joke” and “sarcastic." Trump told Mueller’s investigators he “made the statement … in jest and sarcastically, as was apparent to any objective observer.”
Strzok played an integral role in opening the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign.
The “opening electronic communication” for Crossfire Hurricane was authored by Strzok and authorized by FBI counterintelligence official Bill Priestap at the end of July 2016. The investigation looked into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia after Downer informed the U.S. about the claims from Papadopoulos, whom the FBI didn’t interview until January 2017. It was then that Papadopoulos revealed his April 2016 conversations with mysterious Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud, whom the Trump campaign adviser claimed told him the Russians had damaging information on Clinton. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in 2017 to making false statements about his communications with Mifsud.
Horowitz found that the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation had “sufficient factual predication.” Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham disagreed.
“Based on the evidence collected to date and, while our investigation is ongoing, last month, we advised the inspector general that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened," Durham said in December.
Barr agreed, saying, "The FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken."
Mueller concluded that Russia interfered in 2016 in a “sweeping and systematic fashion" but “did not establish” any criminal conspiracy between Russia and Trump's campaign. Horowitz criticized the Justice Department for 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Trump campaign associate Carter Page and for the bureau's reliance on British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s Democrat-funded dossier.