Former FBI Director James Comey and his former deputy, Andrew McCabe, contradicted each other in their accounts to Congress on why they wanted to question Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, then-national security adviser to President Donald Trump, in January 2017.
Their stories also diverged on whether the investigation was about to be closed at the end of December 2016.
The reason for the Flynn interview is key because he was accused of lying to the FBI agents during the interview, pleaded guilty, then disavowed the plea. The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently dropped the prosecution, saying the FBI interview wasnt based on a properly predicated investigation to begin with and “seems to have been undertaken only to elicit those very false statements and thereby criminalize Mr. Flynn.”
Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was investigated by the FBI starting in August 2016 as part of a broader probe into unsubstantiated allegations that the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia to sway the 2016 election.
After four months, the counterintelligence inquiry into Flynn produced nothing.
“I think I had authorized it to be closed at the … end of December, beginning of January,” Comey told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 2, 2017 (pdf).
On Jan. 4, William Barnett, one of the agents managing the Flynn case, drafted a document to close the case, saying no “derogatory” information on Flynn was established, there were no more investigative leads to follow, and Flynn was no longer a “viable candidate” for the Russia probe, dubbed Crossfire Hurricane (pdf).
That afternoon, then-head of FBI counterintelligence operations Peter Strzok reached out to the Flynn case manager, urging him to keep the case open.
Comey said the case was kept open after the FBI obtained transcripts of calls Flynn had in December with then-Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. According to the DOJ, Flynn asked during one of the calls for Russia to not further escalate the situation after outgoing President Barack Obama imposed new sanctions on Russia.
“We kept it open once we became aware of these communications,” Comey said. “There were additional steps the investigators wanted to consider.”
McCabe offered a different version of events, when asked about it by then-Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) during an interview with the House intelligence committee on Dec. 19, 2017.
“Director Comey said the Bureau was on the verge of closing the matter at the end of December 2016. Do you agree or disagree with,” Gowdy asked, before McCabe jumped in:
“I think that, to the best of my recollection, our assessment by the kind of middle of December was that we really had not substantiated anything particularly significant against General Flynn.”
“So would it be fair to say the Bureau was contemplating closing the investigation?” Gowdy asked.
“I dont think a closure would have been soon. But we were keeping a close eye on what kind of progress were we making and I think our assessment at that time was we werent making a lot of progress,” McCabe answered.
“Did you have plans to interview him before you closed the matter?” said Gowdy.
“I wouldnt characterize it as plans. That would be kind of the normal way to do that, but we werent in the planning—the closing planning phase,” McCabe said.
Comey said that the reason why the bureau decided to interview Flynn was because he told then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence something that wasnt true—that sanctions werent discussed during the Kislyak calls. Pence then said so in a televised interview on Jan. 15.
“For some reason [Flynn] hasnt been candid with the Vice President about this,” Comey said. “My judgment was we could not close the investigation of Mr. Flynn without asking him what is the deal here. That was the purpose.”
Again, McCabe told a different story.
“Why did the Bureau interview General Flynn when they did? What was the reasoning for the interview?” Gowdy asked.
“Because the—Im trying to reassemble this chronology in my mind, but to the best of my recollection, we interviewed General Flynn at that time because of the existence of the—of his conversation, the record of his conversation with Ambassador Kislyak had become widely known through press reporting,” McCabe said.
“And at that point, there was really—there was no—that part of the investigation had become so widely known there was no—there was no reason to continue, kind of, in a covert investigative posture and so we wanted to sit down with General and understand, kind of, what his thoughts on that conversation were.”
Gowdy continued, “Was he interviewed because the Vice President relied upon information from him in a national interview?”
“No. I dont remember that being a motivating factor behind the interview,” McCabe said.
“So he would have been interviewed even separate and apart from the fact that former Acting Attorney General [Sally] Yates believe that he had mislead the Vice President, and that needed to be addressed?” Gowdy asked.
“He would have been interviewed either way,” McCabe replied.
There are problems with both McCabes and Comeys versions of events.
The McCabe Version
McCabe was wrong about the closing of the investigation. Strzoks texts clearly indicate that the case was about to close on Jan. 4, 2017.
It was “serendipitously good” the case wasnt closed yet when Strzok reached out that day to the Flynn case manager, Strzok said in a text exchange with Lisa Page, his mistress and McCabes then-special counsel.
“Thats amazing that he [Flynn] is still open. Good, I guess,” Page said in her reply.
“Yeah, our utter incompetence actually helps us. 20% of the time, Im guessing,” Strzok said.
But if McCabe was right that the reason for the Flynn interview was the Kislyak calls alone, that would raise the question of what exactly about the calls it was the bureau wanted to investigate.
The Flynn-Kislyak calls “were entirely appropriate on their face” and “did not warrant either continuing that existing counterintelligence investigation or opening a new criminal investigation,” the DOJ stated in its recent motion to dismiss the charge against Flynn.
“Such calls are not uncommon when incumbent public officials preparing for their oncoming duties seek to begin and build relationships with soon-to-be counterparts.”
The FBI brought up the Logan Act, a 1799 law that prohibits private citizens from conducting diplomacy with countries the United States is in a dispute with. But nobody has ever been convicted for breaking the law and it hasnt been used for more than 150 years.
Mary McCord, then-head of the DOJs National Security Division (NSD), said she was not thinking about a criminal investigation into Flynn at the time, according to a report from her July 17, 2017, interview with the FBI and the Special Counsel office.
“It seemed logical to her that there may be some communications between an incoming administration and their foreign partners, so the Logan Act seemed like a stretch to her,” the report said.
The Comey Version
Comeys take that the Flynn interview was to elucidate his alleged lack of candor with Pence rests on the assumption that the FBI deemed it relevant to its investigation of Flynn. But its own statements and behavior cut against that assumption.
Yates voiced the idea that Flynn was “compromised” because the Russians would know that what Pence said wasnt true.
But the evidence indicates the bureau wasnt onboard with the idea.
Comey said it was “possible” that Pences denial made Flynn blackmailable, but acknowledged that it “struck” him “as a bit of a reach.”
Indeed, the term “compromised” wouldnt quite apply in this instance, according to Marc Ruskin, a 27-year FBI veteran and Epoch Times contributor.
“For someone to be compromised the individuals who would be utilizing information to manipulate him would have to have some kind of information which could bring shame upon a person or destroy his reputation, something along the lines of accepting bribes or a sexual relationship,” he said.
The issue of Pences public denial could have been straightened out in a single conversation between Flynn and Pence and was “hardly an earthshaking issue that would compromise somebody,” Ruskin said.
As the DOJ pointed out, the FBI didnt seek to talk to anybody else in the Trump team, such as Pence, thus undermining the notion that the bureau was genuinely “deeply concerned about the disparities between what they knew had been said on the calls and the representations” by the Trump team.
Yates said she and others at the DOJ and in the intelligence community wanted to inform the Trump team of what was actually said in the Kislyak calls, according to an FBI report from an Aug.15, 2017, interview with her.
Ruskin said this would have been the standard way to resolve such an issue, if the bureau was genuinely concerned about a compromise situation.
But Comey, who had control over the Kislyak transcripts, blocked it.
“There were additional steps the investigators wanted to consider, and if we were to give a heads-up to anybody at the White House, it might step on our ability to take those steps,Read More From Source