A CIA book claiming to present the definitive history on the intelligence community’s briefings of former President Donald Trump fails to mention that the FBI used briefings as a pretext to glean information for the Trump-Russia investigation.
The fourth edition of the book Getting to Know the President, written by retired CIA officer John Helgerson, was released over the weekend with a new ninth chapter on Trump.
It claims that “historically, political imbroglios involving the Intelligence Community during transition periods had usually arisen because one or another of the agencies had done something controversial or ill-advised” but that “in 2016, by contrast, the intelligence agencies were drawn into political quagmires initiated by others that were, nevertheless, important for the Community because they badly strained its relationship with the new president and his party.”
In reality, many of the problems facing the intelligence community were self-inflicted as the FBI ran a flawed investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign while relying heavily upon the Clinton campaign-funded and discredited Steele dossier.
Unmentioned in the new chapter is the fact that the FBI’s first intelligence briefing of candidate Trump in August 2016 was used as a "pretext" to investigate him and his then-foreign policy adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn.
It also fails to mention that then-FBI Director James Comey’s briefing of Trump on the dossier in January 2017 was used as an opportunity to try to advance the Crossfire Hurricane inquiry.
The book claims that the Obama administration “was determined to arrange a smooth transition” and was very supportive of intelligence briefings for Trump and Hillary Clinton. Helgerson states that then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper proposed ground rules to White House chief of staff Denis McDonough that were “designed to emphasize the nonpartisan nature of the process."
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Clapper chose Assistant Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Intelligence Integration Ted Gistaro to run the briefing process.
Trump received his first intelligence briefing at the FBI field office in New York City on Aug. 17, 2016, where he was accompanied by Flynn and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz testified in December 2019 that the first intelligence briefing the FBI gave to Trump’s team was a pretext to gather evidence on Trump and Flynn.
“They sent a supervisory agent to the briefing from the Crossfire Hurricane team, and that agent prepared a report to the file of the briefing about what Mr. Trump and Mr. Flynn said,” Horowitz testified. "So the agent was actually doing the briefing but also using it for the purpose of investigation.”
Horowitz’s report found a "supervisory special agent 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.”
FBI agent Joseph Pientka, who would later accompany now-fired FBI special agent Peter Strzok to interview Flynn in January 2017, filed a seven-page electronic communication on Aug. 30, 2016, detailing the briefing he gave a week earlier. The electronic communication was approved by Strzok and Kevin Clinesmith, the ex-FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to editing a FISA filing fraudulently to state Page was "not a source" for the CIA. The book mentions Flynn’s resignation in February 2017 but does not mention Flynn being targeted and interviewed by the FBI.
Horowitz said the decision to take this action was made by fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and former FBI general counsel James Baker and that the bureau did not tell the Justice Department or the other intelligence community participants that they were using the briefing for investigative purposes.
The new CIA book states, “In this first session, Trump was primarily a listener. He did ask some ‘big picture’ questions, reflecting the fact that the material was new to him. Because several of the issues related to matters Flynn had dealt with in the military, he was the most active questioner. … Trump’s verdict on the session was a ‘thumbs-up’ to IC officers as he departed.”
The book notes that Clapper, Comey, Gistaro, NSA Director Mike Rogers, and CIA Director John Brennan met with Trump on Jan. 6, 2017, at Trump Tower to discuss the Intelligence Community Assessment on Russian meddling.
Helgerson writes, “At the conclusion of the meeting … Comey informed the president-elect about the existence and contents of a private ‘dossier’ containing negative information about the president-elect.”
The book states that “within days, the IC became embroiled in this second Russia issue as well, when the dossier and the fact that the IC had discussed it with Trump leaked to the press.”
Horowitz’s August 2019 report on Comey’s mishandling of his memos showed Comey’s one-on-one with Trump was treated as a chance to gather information in their Trump-Russia investigation. The first of seven “Comey Memos” was written that day.
Horowitz condemned Comey over leaking his memos to the press, saying he did so to advance his own interests and to spark the appointment of a special counsel. Trump fired Comey on May 9, 2017, and Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel a week later.
The Trump Tower meeting was meticulously planned by the FBI. Horowitz wrote they were focused on “Trump's potential responses to being told about the ‘salacious' information, including that Trump might make statements about, or provide information of value to, the pending Russian interference investigation.”
Comey wrote immediately after, telling Horowitz it should be treated like counterintelligence information, and Comey had his team on standby to be told what he’d learned. Comey repeatedly testified that “we were not investigating [Trump] personally.”
Before the meeting, Comey met with McCabe, Baker, FBI chief of staff James Rybicki, and leaders of Crossfire Hurricane. Some worried Comey’s meeting could be seen as a “Hoover-esque type of plot.”
Comey had a secure FBI laptop waiting in his FBI vehicle after the Trump Tower meeting and “began typing [Memo 1] as the vehicle moved.” He worked on it until he got to the FBI's New York field office, where McCabe, Baker, Rybicki, and the team were waiting on a video teleconference.
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Comey classified the memo as secret because the information “ought to be treated … [like] FISA-derived information or information in [a counterintelligence] investigation.” McCabe forwarded the memo to FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who said Comey sent it “to upload into the case file” because it was “central to investigative activity.”
During the meeting itself, Trump denied the allegations. Comey told Trump media outlets were looking to publish the dossier, and days later, on Jan. 10, 2017, CNN ran a story about the Trump-Comey meeting. That evening, BuzzFeed posted Steele’s dossier online.
The CIA book claims “the IC’s analysis and collection activities were caught up in partisan political disputes during the campaign, the transition, and after Trump took office.”