Friday, February 1, 2019

Bill Priestap's Partially Leaked Testimony

Jeff Carlson has the summary of the latest (partially) leaked testimony at the Epoch Times. This time it's the testimony of Bill Priestap, recently retired from the position of Assistant Director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division. There are only a few significant takeaways from his testimony.

First, Priestap flatly contradicts disgraced former FBI Director Comey's frankly non-credible claim that Priestap told him (Comey) not to brief Congress re the Crossfire Hurricane case. Non-credible, because Comey first states that the practice is to brief the Gang of Eight Intelligence group on "sensitive cases," but then claims Crossfire Hurricane was not briefed because it was "a matter of such sensitivity"--its sensitivity is precisely why it should have been briefed. Here's how the questioning of Comey went:

Rep. Stefanik: Broadly, when the FBI has any open counter-intelligence investigation, what are the typical protocols or procedures for notifying the DNI, the White House, and senior Congressional leadership? 
Mr. Comey: There is a practice of a quarterly briefing on sensitive cases to the chair and ranking of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. And the reason I hesitate is, thanks to feedback we’ve gotten, we’re trying to make it better. And that involves a briefing of the Department of Justice, I believe the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], and the — some portion of the National Security Council at the White House… 
Comey was asked when he notified the DNI, the White House, or senior congressional leadership: 
Mr. Comey: It’s a good question. Congressional leadership, some time recently. They were briefed on the nature of the investigation in some detail as I said. Obviously the Department of Justice has been aware of it all along. The DNI, I don’t know what the DNI’s knowledge of it was because we didn’t have a DNI until Mr. Coats took office and I briefed him his first morning in office. 
Stefanik then asked Comey why, if the FBI opened their investigation on July 31, 2016, did Comey wait until March 2017 to notify Congress. Comey stated that “it was a matter of such sensitivity that we wouldn’t include it in the quarterly briefings.” 
Comey was then asked whose decision it was. ...
Rep. Stefanik: So when you state our decision is that your decision? Is that usually your decision what gets briefed in those quarterly updates? 
Mr. Comey: No, it’s usually the decision of the head of our counter-intelligence division [i.e., Priestap]. 
... Priestap stated that “Mr. Comey was involved in those notifications, I was not.” Priestap continued, “I don’t instruct Mr. Comey, nor did I ever instruct him to do anything.” 
... Priestap was only responsible for recommending what would be covered—but the final decision came from Priestap’s boss who might be getting a final decision from his boss, Director Comey: 
Rep. Jordan: I guess what I’m asking, Mr. Priestap, is who made the decision not to brief Congress in this particular instance? 
Mr. Priestap: Mr. Comey.

Another notable feature of Priestap's testimony is his flat refusal to discuss any aspect of his second and third trips to London. Priestap took three trips to London, the first of which was routine liaison. The second and third trips took place took place in mid to late 2016--with the third "possibly occurring in early 2017." (Surely the exact dates are easily ascertained?)

Rep. Jordan: What was the second trip? Later in 2016 you go to your second trip. What is that? 
Mr. Priestap: I’m not at liberty to talk about that one. It had nothing to do, that trip, with the Midyear Exam investigation [i.e., Clinton email]. Actually, the first one didn’t either, but the second one had nothing to do with —
Rep. Jordan: What did it have to do with? 
Mr. Priestap: I’m not at liberty to discuss that today. 
Despite having the appearance throughout his testimony of a cooperative witness, Priestap adamantly refused to discuss the nature of his UK trips: 
Rep. Jordan: Was your second trip then concerning the Trump-Russia investigation, the other counter — a second counterintelligence investigation launched by the FBI? 
Mr. Priestap: Sir, again, I’m just not at liberty to go into the purpose of my second trip. 
Priestap did volunteer that “all three trips, to the best of my recollection, were for three different purposes. Completely, completely different purposes.” 
Notably, Priestap ruled out ever having met key players in the Spygate scandal, including Christopher Steele, Joseph Mifsud, Australian diplomat Alexander Downer and Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson.

In my opinion, we can take it pretty much for granted that the second and third trips did, in fact, have to do with aspects of the Trump investigation. This is clear from the fact that one of Priestap's FBI lawyers, Dana Boente, explained that Priestap's trips to London came under an active Mueller investigation, which, of course, is focused on the Trump campaign:

Mr. Boente: We would also need to talk to special counsel [Mueller] about that.
Rep. Meadows: And why would that be? 
Mr. Boente: Because he has an active investigation, an active criminal investigation. 
Rep. Meadows: So by you're suggesting that he needs to talk to counsel, we’re assuming that the matter that he met in London is the very fact that is under special counsel’s review? 
Mr. Boente: You can make your assumptions, but we can’t go into those things without talking to special counsel. I’m just trying to be helpful, sir.

For further information, here is Wikipedia's account of Boente's recent career. While it's not stated here, Boente did in fact sign one of the FISA applications on Carter Page.

He was nominated by President Barack Obama on October 8, 2015, and confirmed by the United States Senate on December 15, 2015, as the 60th U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. ... Boente was one of the 46 United States Attorneys ordered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on March 10, 2017 to tender their resignation; Trump declined to accept his resignation. 
Boente was not in the line of succession of the Attorney General of the United States pursuant to Executive Order 13762 signed by President Barack Obama before leaving office. He was appointed by President Donald Trump as Acting Attorney General on January 30, 2017, after Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was dismissed by Trump earlier that evening. When Jeff Sessions was confirmed and sworn in as Attorney General on February 9, 2017, Boente became Acting Deputy Attorney General.  ...
Sessions recused himself from all matters pertaining to American presidential campaigns because of revelations that he had communications with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 United States presidential election, Boente was designated to perform the functions of the Attorney General with respect to campaign issues until the permanent deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, was confirmed by the United States Senate and sworn into office which took place on April 25, 2017.
On October 27, 2017 Boente announced his intention to resign as U.S. Attorney and as acting assistant attorney general for the National Security Division; he said he would remain in the positions until a replacement is confirmed.
On January 23, 2018, Boente was named general counsel to the FBI by the director Christopher Wray, filling the vacancy after James Baker's reassignment to another part of the bureau.

A question that arises is, What is the significance of the fact that

"Priestap ruled out ever having met key players in the Spygate scandal, including Christopher Steele, Joseph Mifsud, Australian diplomat Alexander Downer and Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson"?

I would previously have assumed that Priestap's second and third trips to London would have been concerned precisely with matters regarding those individuals. It remains possible, of course, that he did deal with matters regarding one or more of those individuals on those trips, but that he never actually met them. There is another possible explanation.

All of those individuals were connected to MI6, the UK version of the CIA, rather than MI5, which corresponds to our FBI (in general terms). In this case, I can think of no immediately plausible reason for Priestap to be meeting with MI5, which focuses on internal UK matters. FBI liaison with MI6 is common enough, but if that is excluded what remains possible is that he met with GCHQ. We know that the head of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, flew to Washington, DC, to meet "Director to Director" with John Brennan at CIA--rather than meeting with Adm. Mike Rogers at GCHQ's counterpart agency, NSA. We also know that Brennan used this meeting to instigate the FBI investigation of Trump. It remains speculative, but it's possible that Priestap was meeting with GCHQ in London. Interestingly, Hannigan resigned suddenly, totally unexpectedly by the outside world, three days after Trump's inauguration in January, 2017. (Cf. also What Are Our 'Allies' Afraid Of?)

Beyond the above, Priestap was instructed by the FBI to say nothing further about Crossfire Hurricane.

One final item of interest from Priestap's testimony is that he flatly denied any interaction whatsoever with Bruce Ohr, who seems to have been on close terms with many other FBI officials:

The FBI relied in large part on allegations contained in the so-called Steele dossier in obtaining a FISA warrant on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The author of the dossier, former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, as well as the company he was hired by, Fusion GPS, were both feeding information to the FBI through different channels. 
A key conduit for Steele to the FBI was high-ranking DOJ official Bruce Ohr. 
Asked if he was familiar with Ohr, Priestap told lawmakers, “I think I’ve seen Bruce Ohr, but I don’t think I’ve ever been in a meeting with Bruce Ohr.” Priestap also said he never worked with Ohr on a counterintelligence investigation, which would include the FBI’s investigation into Trump-Russia collusion: 
Ms. Shen: So you have never worked with Bruce Ohr on a counterintelligence — 
Mr. Priestap: I have not, no. 
Priestap appeared to be completely unaware of the role that Ohr played in the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation into the Trump campaign—or of Ohr’s meetings with the FBI.


  1. At your previous article titled Nellie Ohr Partial Transcript Leak, a commenter suggested that Nellie Ohr obtained a ham-radio license in order to communicate with the British Embassy in Washington DC.

    I like that explanation.

    As another consideration, I suggest that GCHQ was extremely careful to minimize personal meetings in the USA between GCHQ and any Americans involved in the investigation of Trump. GCHQ wanted to avoid any future accusations that it had done anything on US soil.

    That's the reason why Priestap had to travel to London.

    That's why Nellie Ohr was ordered to communicate only by ham radio with any GCHQ personnel located on US soil.

  2. Yeah, here's the thing. Of course it seems a bit fantastic to imagine this slightly less than senior academic oriented woman suddenly turning into a super spy, but the facts make it difficult to come up with any other explanation, in the circumstances. A new hobby when she's fully employed doing oppo research really isn't plausible.

    I listened to Dan Bongino's latest podcast this morning and he was claiming there are two big shoes that will drop soon: 1) That the TT meeting was totally a Clinton op (which actually demonstrates Clinton/Russia collusion), and 2) that the involvement of the Brits was way bigger than most people have imagined up to this point.

    We've been all over both of those angles here.

  3. So Priestap and Strzok traveled to London in 2016. I wonder where else they might have gone. I am thinking of the allegation by the young Russian hacker Yevgeniy Nikulin that two FBI agents had visited him in a Prague jail, and had wanted him to (falsely) admit hacking the DNC server on Putin's orders in order to help Trump. The Nikulin story is a strange one. The US and Russia engaged in a tug of war to have him extradited, but the US finally won out. It gets stranger from there but I can't remember the details. In any event, given all the FBI shenanigans concerning Trump, I don't dismiss Nikulin's allegation.

  4. Thanks for that reminder, Steve! I'd entirely forgotten about that. I wouldn't put that past them, either, and just because they went to London doesn't mean they couldn't have traveled on a bit. Trial on the LinkedIn charges is set for February 12, last I heard.