Tuesday, April 2, 2019

What Bill Priestap Had To Say

Today Doug Collins released Bill Priestap's testimony before the House Committee on the Judiciary, which took place on June 5, 2018. Priestap's testimony was a relative nothing burger compared to the testimony of others, but it does provide some useful insights into the top reaches of FBI management as well as important aspects of FBI internal procedures. The focus of the questioning was heavily on the Hillary email case, but the Russia Hoax was also addressed. What emerges is that Priestap was pretty much absent in place, and the incredulity of the questioners shows through at certain points, despite their efforts at civility. It seems clear that Strzok was more in charge than his nominal superior, Priestap.

In what follows, I'll work through Priestap's testimony in its original order, highlighting a few areas of interest. In doing so I'll quote Priestap at some length.

The first area has to do with the nature of FBI investigations. A lot of bad information has been spread, especially by Andy McCarthy (who has, however, corrected some of his earlier assertions in this regard), to the effect that FBI Counterintelligence investigations do not involve criminal violations. Nothing could further from the truth, and this is particularly relevant to Crossfire Hurricane which, as I have argued, had a criminal predicate at its origin. In one of his more lucid moments, Priestap corrects that whole misconception:

Q: Sir, it seems like the intent of a counterintelligence investigation may not be prosecution, and that's maybe something that distinguishes it from sort of a more traditional criminal investigation. Would that be correct?
A: Yeah. No, I appreciate you saying that. Our objective, again, is to protect vital assets. Sometimes the best way to protect is via prosecution. Often, it's through a whole variety of other things, from intelligence collection to disruption to you name it. The goal is to protect. The goal isn't -- the primary goal isn't just prosecution. Prosecution is one tool we use to protect.
Q: Are there ever situations where you have sort of a case which involves a hybrid, because --
A: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Q: Yeah. So, for example, if there's conduct that, you know, may be a violation of the criminal law of the United States, and at the same time, obviously, there's a strong counterintelligence interest in that.
A: Absolutely. We do a number of cases that are prosecuted, but it's just -- again, it's one way we can go with cases. It's not the only way. What I'm trying to say is we do have a lot of law enforcement experience, but that's not the extent of our toolkit. It's just a part of it. (pp. 35-37)

It had been rumored that Priestap "blew the whistle" on the Strzok/Page affair. This turns out to not have been the exact case. As so often in Priestap's testimony, the questioners were several steps ahead of Priestap. The interest of the questioners was clearly along these lines: Doesn't an extra-marital affair put a counterintelligence officer at risk with regard to possible recruitment or blackmail by hostile intelligence services? How then was it that the FBI seemed to turn a blind eye to Strzok and Page. Priestap acknowledges the truth of this, but then gives a remarkable clueless explanation--which perhaps speaks very much to the state of internal FBI "culture":

Q: So, sir, you just -- we just have a couple of minutes left in this first hour. I mean, you had just, in response to my colleagues' questions, talked about a few of the things that would be considerations for whether or not a particular agent was vulnerable.
A: Yes. 
Q: One of them was affairs. So you're -- absolutely, it's been publicly reported about Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page having -- engaging in an extramarital affair.
A: Yes. 
Q: Did you have any knowledge of that while it was going on?
A: No. And I say no. Sometime -- I apologize. I don't remember the time frame. I don't even want to surmise on the time. I don't remember the time frame. But after Pete had been reporting to me for a considerable amount of time, somebody brought to my attention that that behavior might be going on. And so that's when it -- I became aware that that was a possibility.  
Q: So someone who works at the FBI? 
A: Yes. Yep. 
Q: And can you say who that person was?  
Mr. Priestap: Okay. If I recall correctly, it was either Sally Moyer and Jonathan Moffa. [Moffa was an analyst and Moyer was a lawyer, at the same level as Strzok.] 
Q: Did you take any action based on that?
A: I did. 
Q: What action? 
A: I spoke to Deputy Director McCabe about it. I also spoke to both Pete and Lisa about it. I felt I owed it to them. Lisa did not report to me, but I felt that they ought to be aware of what was being said. I didn't ask them if it was true, but they needed to know that that impression was out there. And I don't remember my exact words. But what I was trying to communicate is this better not interfere with things, if you know what I mean. Like, to me, the mission is everything. And so, we all have our personal lives, what have you. I'm not the morality police. 
Mr. Baker: But that behavior would make them vulnerable to an intelligence service.
Mr. Priestap: In my opinion, yes.
Q: Did you discuss that? [The fact that this represented a CI vulnerability.] Not just it better not have affected your work, but --  
A: No. Because, again, I didn't know for certain it was going on, and I didn't ask them whether it was going on. And I also felt, to a comment earlier, that they knew darn well that, if that was going on that potentially makes them vulnerable.
Q: Isn't that the type of thing your division would investigate, whether a top  counterintelligence officer was compromised?
A: Oh, sure. If we had any indication that a -- 
Q: I don't mean actually compromised. I'm sorry. Let me take my question back. Was in a compromising situation.
A: Yeah. No. No. If we had information that any FBI person was cavorting with an adversary in any regard, we'd -- we'd want to know about that. But I had no information whatsoever that either of those individuals had any contact, let alone engagement, or regular engagement, with an adversary. Unfortunately, as an adult, I've known other people who have affairs, of course. And, again, it's -- well, I'm not the morality police. I just -- to me, don't let whatever you're dealing with in a personal capacity interfere with the work we're doing. (pp. 43-46)

So, in other words, Priestap, in effect the top CI officer in the country, thought that the best way of dealing with subordinates who had made themselves vulnerable to recruitment or blackmail by hostile intelligence services was to ... wait until he had evidence that they were "cavorting with an adversary." You can practically sense the incredulity of the questioners as you read the transcript. How is it good Counter-Intelligence practice to wait until the damage is done and we find out about it? If we ever do. Has the FBI learned nothing from the Kristina Leung case, to name just one CI misadventure? Apparently not.

Here's a quick hit: On p. 81 Priestap denies having ever met Mifsud, Downer, Steele, Simpson, or Ohr.

The Committee questioned Priestap extensively about his three overseas trips. Priestap stated that he was not at liberty to discuss the second trip or to even confirm that it had to do with "Trump/Russia." However, his FBI lawyer, Dana Boente--who, by the way, when he was still Acting AG, approved a renewal of the Carter Page FISA--helpfully explained that, before Priestap could answer that question they'd have to discuss it with Special Counsel Mueller, who had an active criminal investigation that related to Priestap's second overseas trip.

Questioned on this score a bit later, with regard to the Strzok/Page texts, Priestap did allow that "I was surprised by the texts. It wasn't the Pete Strzok that I know." Which, I guess, means that he didn't know Pete Strzok.

I've generally steered clear of the Hillary email case--a case for which Priestap was responsible--but one exchange in the testimony is very revealing both of Priestap's clueless position within the FBI hierarchy as well as the Committees view of him. Priestap was asked directly whether he knew of any evidence that Hillary's home-brew server had been compromised by foreign intelligence services. He stated flatly that he knew of no such evidence, which led to this exchange after Priestap was apprised of the fact that such evidence did, in fact, exist:

Mr. Meadows: Is this the first time that you've ever heard that there might have been metadata on the Hillary Rodham Clinton server that showed anomalies? 
Mr. Priestap: Yes. I do not recall being told that there were -- and I say anomalies -- 
Mr. Meadows: So you're the head of counterintelligence -- 
Mr. Priestap: Yes. 
Mr. Meadows: -- and I'm a Member from North Carolina, and you'resaying that I have better intel than you do? I mean, is this the firsttime truly that you're hearing that? I want to give you time to reflecton your conversations. (pp. 106-107)

At 117ff the minority members engaged in a lengthy colloquy with Priestap, simply attempting to get him to elucidate the different levels of FBI investigations: Threat Assessments, Preliminary Investigations, Full Investigations. This is a subject that we've discussed at great length in the past. Appallingly, Priestap was utterly unable to provide a coherent explanation to these friendly questioners.

Closing out the testimony, the GOP questioners queried Priestap at great length regarding the decision making process by which the FBI came to the conclusion that Hillary Clinton had committed no crime. It would be tedious to reproduce the testimony here in its entirety. Suffice it to say that on this topic, as on many others, Priestap revealed himself to be, basically, an ignoramus. The importance of this line of questioning is that by all accounts Priestap was the person who suggested changing the wording of Comey's characterization of Hillary's actions from "gross negligence" to "extremely careless." I offer this excerpt as typical:

Q: I just want to interject real quick. Mr. Priestap, you just said that you do not believe that former Secretary Clinton committed a crime?
A: I do not, no. 
Q: All right. I just want to direct you to -- I know we have other copies of this, but I can give this to you. Let me just read. This is an email from you to Mr. McCabe and Mr. Rybicki, dated May 18th, 2016. 
A: All right. 
Q: One of your points that you make here, you say, "Deputy Director and Jim: Below are my thoughts on the Director's draft and on whether the Director might provide an investigative update. Thank you for asking to weigh-in. Bill." 
A: Uh-huh. 
Q: In one of the bullets, you say, "I believe it's equally important for the Director to more fully explain why the FBI can, in good faith, recommend to DOJ that they not charge someone who has committed a crime (as defined by the letter of the law)." 
A: Okay. 
Q: Could you explain what you mean by that? 
A: Sure. This -- 
Q: It appeared -- and I'm sorry to interrupt you -- but it appears, just on reading -- 
A: Yep. 
Q: -- that you are stating that you do believe that she committed a crime, yet you believe it's necessary for the FBI, in whatever statement that eventually comes out, to explain why that crime was not prosecuted? 
A: Correct me if I'm wrong, but this was in response to the Director's initial draft statement, was it not? 
Q: No, I don't believe it was. This is dated May 16th, I believe, and the Director's original statement was May 2nd. So it may have been in terms of a future draft, but the original draft, no, this is a later period. 
A: From what I can recall, the Director took it upon himself to draft this statement that, again, in my opinion, captured to essence of what we had been doing, trying to do, what have you. The Director used the term, I believe, in that draft, grossly negligent. I was understanding from the Director -- former Federal prosecutor, former head, meaning U.S. attorney, of a prosecutive office, former number two at Department of Justice -- I was understanding by him using that language that he had come to the conclusion that Mrs. Clinton's actions had satisfied the requirements related to the grossly negligent standard and the Federal criminal standard. In other words, I was deferring to his prosecutive
experience in making that call. Once he had that language and we began to parse it out and talk amongst ourselves, lawyers pointed out to me the intent requirement, at least in their minds, to be able to satisfy that requirement. I then drew the conclusion, based on what my team had been telling me, that I hadn't seen evidence that we could satisfy the intent requirement of the grossly negligent standard. And so that's when whomever pointed it out to Director Comey, and I don't know who that was, I believe they accurately pointed out that
without evidence that we satisfied the intent requirement, there was no crime here. There was no crime that could be prosecuted. 
Q: But you're still stating in this email that you believed -- I mean, it appears that you believed that she had committed a crime, based on your review of the Director's statement? 
A: But, again, I'm deferring to the Director reaching the conclusion that she was grossly negligent. I'm in effect deferring to his experience and authority that if he believed he had met it, then he must know something that -- 
Q: Do you know who changed the final from grossly negligent to extreme careless? 
A: I do not. But I agree -- I agree with the fact that I do not believe we met the grossly negligent standard, which is why I responded to which one of you asked, do I believe she met -- she committed a crime? No, I believe she lacked the intent to do so in this instance. 
Q: So that's based on your presumption -- based on your attorney's guidance that intent was a standard within the statutory definition of gross negligence? 
A: Exactly. (190-193)

And that's from the nation's top Counterintelligence official. Yikes.


  1. After a lifetime of working with government types, Trump certainly knew how incompetent the majority of them are.

    Being President is probably the easiest job of his life, and the most frustrating.