One of the FBI agents who led the investigation into debunked Alfa-Bank claims in 2016 remains under review for allegedly concealing exculpatory information from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court during the Trump-Russia investigation.
Curtis Heide, who worked at the Chicago field office in 2016 when it handled the Alfa-Bank investigation, was also doing work at that time on the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, specifically related to Trump campaign associate George Papadopoulos. He admitted while giving testimony Tuesday at the Michael Sussmann trial that the FBI is reviewing whether he intentionally withheld potentially exculpatory information related to the investigation.
Heide, an FBI veteran of 16 years, testified that he began temporary duty assignments in the nation’s capital in January 2016, working on a number of election-related matters.
Specifically, Heide said he did work to support the Midyear Exam investigation — what he described as “the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email matters."
Heide said he was asked to come back later in 2016 to help with the initial efforts of Crossfire Hurricane, which he called “the Trump campaign and the Russian matter." Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation did not establish any such criminal coordination or conspiracy.
He testified there was still an administrative investigation at the FBI related to Crossfire Hurricane — specifically into actions taken by himself and others. He said the allegation against him was “not identifying exculpatory information related to one of the Crossfire Hurricane investigations.”
When Durham prosecutor Jonathan Algor asked if he had intentionally withheld exculpatory information from the case team, Heide said under oath he had not done so.
SUSSMANN CASE WITNESS SAID TRUMP-RUSSIA RESEARCH MADE HIM UNCOMFORTABLE
Heide said the allegation was related to what the FBI calls “consensual recordings” and statements used in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act application, with exculpatory information not being properly divulged to the FISA court.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz determined that in the first Page FISA application, the FBI omitted recorded statements from September 2016 by Papadopoulos “denying that anyone associated with the Trump campaign was collaborating with Russia or with outside groups like WikiLeaks in the release of emails.” The DOJ watchdog concluded that in the three renewal applications, investigators omitted Papadopoulos “denying that the Trump campaign was involved in the circumstances of the DNC email hack” during an October 2016 conversation.
Defense attorney Sean Berkowitz brought up the pending investigation into Heide’s actions and asked him if he thought it was a serious allegation. Heide replied, “That’s an allegation that is still pending.” Berkowitz said the allegation was that he intentionally withheld exculpatory information from the FISA court and got him to agree that the allegation was serious. Heide again denied the allegation.
Berkowitz also pressed him on why he didn’t fight harder to uncover the source of the Alfa-Bank allegations to the bureau, with Heide testifying that FBI headquarters withheld the identity of the source from him.
The defense attorney asked Heide if he was pretty good at his job, and he said, “I don’t know about that.” Berkowitz asked him if he was a good investigator, and he replied, “I’m an investigator.”
Heide said he had a “hazy” memory of the Alfa-Bank investigation. When asked if he had focused more on the Papadopoulos investigation and less on the Alfa-Bank investigation, Heide said, “I had multiple cases and not just the Papadopoulos case and not just the Alfa-Bank case.”
Algor had argued Monday that the matter had not been adjudicated yet and there was a yet-open investigation with no final findings, saying that questioning on the topic didn’t get to the witness’s truthfulness and that it wouldn’t be appropriate to interrogate him on it.
Berkowitz had countered that the upcoming witness’s testimony could be “an effort to curry favor with the government,” and so it would be fair to press him on it.
Algor said the investigation was not being done by the special counsel’s office but rather was being handled by the FBI.
The judge seemed to rule against the prosecution.
Allison Sands was an FBI agent until August 2019, and Heide was her training agent during her probationary period in 2016. She was the lead case agent investigating the Alfa-Bank matter, though Heide described them as co-leads on the case. She testified Monday, “There was no evidence from all of the U.S. companies we had spoken to, all of the logs we had looked at … there was no evidence that this covert communications channel existed.”
Notes of an FBI briefing in March 2017 indicate since-fired bureau agent Peter Strzok spread incorrect details about the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation.
Strzok incorrectly claimed in his 2020 book, Compromised, that Australian diplomat Alexander Downer was spurred to inform the U.S. government about a May 2016 conversation he had in London with Papadopoulos (in which the Trump campaign associate allegedly mentioned Russia might have damaging information on Hillary Clinton) only 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.”
It now appears he also made that false claim in March 2017 when briefing Justice Department and FBI officials about the Trump-Russia investigation.
The FBI didn’t interview Papadopoulos until January 2017, and it was then that Papadopoulos revealed his April 2016 conversations with Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud, who the Trump campaign adviser claimed told him the Russians had damaging information on the Democratic presidential candidate.
The FBI interviewed Mifsud on Feb. 11, 2017, in the lobby of the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., and let him leave the country.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in 2017 to making false statements about his communications with Mifsud. He received a pardon from Trump in December 2020.
Ex-FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty in a Durham investigation, admitting he had falsified a document during the bureau’s efforts to renew FISA surveillance authority against Trump campaign associate Carter Page. The judge sentenced Clinesmith to probation in 2021. Clinesmith was also involved in the Papadopoulos investigation.
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Heide wasn’t the only FBI agent who took the stand in the Sussmann trial who had at least previously been in potential legal or disciplinary jeopardy.