FILE – In this July 10, 2018, file photo, former President Donald Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, right, arrives at federal courthouse in Washington, for status hearing. Prosecutors with the special counsel’s office say Flynn is not yet ready to be sentenced. The joint filing with defense lawyers Tuesday, Aug. 21, is a sign that Flynn’s cooperation with investigators is continuing.(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
Until now, little attention has been focused on FBI special agent Joseph Pientka, once the right-hand man of fired FBI agent Peter Strzok. The IG report refers to him only as SSA1, but it’s easy to identify Pientka from the situations described and the people who surround him.
In a lengthy piece about this man’s role in “Crossfire Hurricane,” Fox News’ Gregg Re writes that he was responsible for a “series of apparent oversights.” Pientka and Strzok interviewed an unsuspecting General Michael Flynn, then President Trump’s National Security Advisor, at the White House on January 24, 2017. Re writes that Pientka could soon play a prominent role in Flynn’s case.
Flynn’s lawyers are currently fighting to have the charge against him, making false statements to the FBI, thrown out due to government misconduct.
Given the misfeasance/malfeasance on Pientka’s part outlined in the IG report, Flynn’s lawyers may have an easier time accomplishing that than previously thought.
The IG report states that, “SSA 1 may have helped mislead the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) about material facts concerning former Trump adviser Carter Page and British ex-spy Christopher Steele.”
The FBI claims they opened the counter investigation into Trump’s campaign on July 31 after hearing that former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos had told an Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer, that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. (There are now indications the FBI actually received that news on May 10, 2016.)
Anyway, the day after the probe was opened, Pientka and Strzok flew to London to meet with Australian officials about the encounter with Papadopoulos.
Re reports that “SSA 1 was given a supervisory role on the Crossfire Hurricane team, overseeing agents and reporting directly to Strzok. The special agent created the electronic sub-file to which the Steele reports would be uploaded and, according to Horowitz, these reports were used to support the probable cause in the Page FISA applications.”
On September 23, journalist Michael Isikoff published an article about the Steele dossier in Yahoo News. Steele had been Isikoff’s source. In notes written after a September 30 meeting, Pientka had written, “Control issues — reports acknowledged in Yahoo News.” The IG report says, “When questioned by Horowitz’s office, the agent explained he was concerned — but not sure — that Steele was the Yahoo News source.” Here’s what Horowitz actually found:
The drafts of the Page FISA application, however, tell a different story. Horowitz found that until Oct. 14, 2016, drafts state that Steele was responsible for the leak that led to the Yahoo News article. One draft specifically states that Steele “was acting on his/her own volition and has since been admonished by the FBI.”
These assertions, which could have pointed to political motivations by their source soon before the 2016 presidential election, were changed to the following: Steele’s “business associate or the law firm that hired the business associate likely provided this information to the press.”
And, even after receiving “additional information about Steele’s media contacts, the Crossfire Hurricane team did not change the language in any of the three renewal applications regarding the FBI’s assessment of Steele’s role in the September 23 article.”
On Oct. 11, 2016, ten days before the FBI filed their application for a warrant to spy on junior adviser to the Trump campaign, Carter Page, Steele met with then-State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Kathleen Kavalec. Kavalec knew Steele was lying to her about a “Russian Consulate in Miami” because one did not exist in Miami. She also noticed his strong anti-Trump bias. She conveyed this information to the FBI. The FBI went ahead and applied for and received a FISA warrant to spy on Carter Page anyway on October 21st.
It is the responsibility of the FBI to notify the FISA Court of any new information after a warrant has been issued.
The IG report states that Pientka received this information on November 18, but failed to alert the FISA Court.
The dossier made the claim that Carter Page was a Russian agent and had secretly met with Russian officials Igor Sechin, the CEO of Rosneft, Russia’s state oil company, and Igor Divyekin in Moscow in July 2016. It said that Sechin offered Page a 19% stake in the company if he could get the Trump administration to lift U.S. sanctions against the company.
The dossier said, “In return, Page had expressed interest and confirmed that were Trump elected US president, then sanctions on Russia would be lifted.”
Page was in Moscow in July 2016 to deliver a speech at the Higher Economic School. Page had been conducting missions in Russia for the CIA from 2008 through 2013. Therefore, he’d had contact with many Russians. The CIA sent the FBI a memo to alert them that Page’s meetings with Russians had been on behalf of the U.S. government. An FBI lawyer altered the email to say Page had not been working for the CIA. Then, the FBI included Page’s contacts with Russians in the warrant application as evidence he was a foreign “agent.”
Page had denied to an FBI confidential human source (CHS) that he knew either Sechin or Divyekin. The IG report states that Pientka knew of Page’s exculpatory statements as early “as of October 17 ” Still, this was not included in the FISA application.
It is normal procedure for the FBI to “reverify” key information on the original FISA application when applying for a renewal. The IG report said,
This inconsistency was also not noted during the Woods Procedures on the subsequent FISA renewal applications, and none of the three later FISA renewal applications included Page’s denials to the CHS.
SSA 1 also had the responsibility for confirming that the Woods File was complete and for double-checking the factual accuracy review to confirm that the file contained appropriate documentation for each of the factual assertions in the FISA application.
Investigators found numerous instances “in which factual assertions relied upon in the first FISA application targeting Carter Page were inaccurate, incomplete or unsupported by appropriate documentation, based upon information the FBI had in its possession at the time the application was filed.
The FBI also misled the FISC by asserting that Steele’s prior reporting “has been corroborated and used in criminal proceedings.” When IG investigators failed to find evidence this was true, Pientka told them they had “speculated.”
DOJ official Bruce Ohr, who served as a back channel between Christopher Steele and the FBI after Steele had been terminated, told Horowitz that “Pientka became his initial point of contact when relaying Steele’s information to the FBI.”
Pientka was selected to provide an Aug. 17, 2016 FBI security briefing to the Trump campaign once the FBI was informed that Flynn would be in attendance. According to Pientka, the briefing gave him “the opportunity to gain assessment and possibly have some level of familiarity” with Flynn. He was there to “record” anything “specific to Russia or anything specific to our investigation.”
Pientka found the opportunity to interact with Flynn “useful” because he was able to compare Flynn’s “norms” from the briefing with Flynn’s conduct at his Jan. 24, 2017, interview. It was this assessment that purportedly helped lead Pientka to conclude that Flynn was not lying when questioned about his interactions with the Russians after the election and his calls with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
With Strzok’s termination from the FBI, Pientka is perhaps the only remaining FBI witness against Flynn.
The IG report discredits Pientka pretty thoroughly. This will certainly help General Flynn’s attorney, Sidney Powell, as she fights to get the case against this long suffering man thrown out of court.
This post has covered just one small piece of a long, comprehensive report which lists one offense after another, yet IG Horowitz declined to issue a single criminal referral. It boggles the mind. If we didn’t have William Barr and John Durham conducting their own investigation, I have to admit, this would really “trigger” me!