In a court filing yesterday [pdf here] the DOJ provided -initially under seal- the Flynn defense team with more exculpatory evidence. The filing includes hand-written notes taken by FBI agent Peter Strzok in/around key dates in early January 2017.
The filing was unsealed today, and the Peter Strzok notes are released.
One of the reasons CTH has been slow on discussing this release is specifically because I am trying to accurately determine the provenance of the notes (as below). USAO Jeff Jensen is unsure of the exact date of the notes. Either January 3rd, 4th, or 5th… and there’s a good reason for that confusing ambiguity; which I am attempting to filter.
The notes are written by Peter Strzok during a conversation with former FBI Director James Comey; that context is important. What the notes contain are Peter Strzok writing down what Comey relays to him from conversations with White House officials.
Repeat: The notes are Strzok writing down what Comey relays to him from conversations with the White House. Comey is communicating to Strzok the status of opinion from various officials; those officials may include President Obama and Vice-President Biden.
However,… it also seems likely from CTH research files that some of the instructions (as written by Strzok) are passing through former ODNI James Clapper; who was in frequent contact with Comey on the key dates within the discussion.
So let me try to make sense of this.
James Comey was not in the room with Obama and/or Biden until January 5, 2017, the date of the Susan Rice memo. The best guess on the date these notes were written is January 4, 2017, specifically because that’s the date when Strzok is telling his FBI counterpart not to close the Flynn case; and he says “The 7th Floor is involved”, which means James Comey.
We know Comey and Clapper were in conversation on January 3rd and 4th; and Comey provided the “CR cuts” (Flynn is Crossfire Razor “CR”) to Clapper on one of those dates.
The cuts are the rough draft transcript from Flynn’s intercepted phone calls with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. Clapper used copies of the CR cuts to brief President Obama.
Comey would have received the CR cuts from Peter Strzok; and then passed them along to Clapper for use in the White House briefing. Clapper would then be relaying information back to Comey about the White House position on their Flynn concerns.
The most likely scenario is that Clapper informed Comey about the White House position; and then Comey shared that information with Peter Strzok who is taking notes:
Agent Strzoks handwriting is terrible, and there are big blocks of redacted information.
A plausible rough transcript? [Via Stephen McIntyre]
Again, the background of these notes appears to be Comey relaying information to Peter Strzok about what the White House position is following their reception of the CR cuts. I do not believe Obama and Biden have talked to Comey. Instead the most likely scenario is DNI James Clapper relaying to Comey… who then relays to Strzok.
If my researched position is accurate, the day after these notes, January 5, 2017, Comey then meets with Obama and Biden as scheduled to discuss the Intelligence Community Assessment report that was previously requested by the White House.
It is from that January 5th meeting when the pull-aside took place with Obama, Biden, Rice, Yates, Clapper and Comey.
Jeff Jensen’s cover filing leaves open the slight possibility that Strzok’s notes were taken after the January 5th meeting. However, I do not see that as likely at all. The Strzok notes are connected to his LYNC instant messaging on January 4th:
Those instant messages were most likely relayed *AFTER* the conversation with James Comey. ie after “7th floor involved”. So I would put the date of those notes as early to mid-morning January 4th.
It would look like this:
♦ January 3rd – Comey asks Strzok to give him the “tech cuts” or “CR cuts” from the intercepted communication between Flynn and Kislyak. Comey then gives copies (plural) to Clapper upon his request. Clapper then goes to brief the White House.
♦ January 4th – After briefing the White House Clapper calls back to James Comey (or meets in person) to relay the position of the White House. This is the substantive information that James Comey then relays to Peter Strzok as Comey tells Strzok: (a) what the White House response was to the CR Cuts; and (b) where to go from that moment.
Strzok then quickly responds by stopping the FBI Washington Field Office from closing the Flynn case as noted in the instant messages above.
♦ January 5th – Comey goes to the White House.
However, I’m also comfortable going to go out on a limb here… ready?
My hunch is these notes are FBI Agent Peter Strzok’s CYA memo for the targeting of Lt. General Michael Flynn.
- Comey’s memos were Comey’s CYA.
- Susan Rice’s memo was the White House CYA.
- I now believe Strzok’s notes are Peter Strzoks’ CYA.
Everyone involved knew the targeting of incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was sketchy at best, seriously political, and potentially unlawful at worst.
The issue was so tenuous, the entire basis for the pull-aside meeting on January 5th was President Obama creating plausible deniability after James Clapper infected the White House with a document trail in the form of the CR Cuts.
Once DNI James Clapper briefed Obama and Biden on the Flynn intercepts, the White House now lost plausible deniability for their knowledge of Flynn being investigated. The January 5th instructions to James Comey was purposefully the Obama/Biden White House cleaning up that potentially explosive issue. Everyone was covering their ass.
The outcome of DNI Clapper briefing President Obama, with what Deputy Director Andrew McCabe described as “a summary document” that wasn’t an official “intelligence product”, was the White House now being officially informed of an open FBI investigation against incoming NSA Michael Flynn. The White House was now infected with knowledge of the investigation…. and that could be a potential problem later on.
The knowledge of an investigation into the incoming administration; and the document trail created by Clapper/Comey; created a need for President Obama to have the pull-aside meeting with FBI Director James Comey the next day, January 5, 2017.
The purpose of the meeting was to create distance from an explosive & political issue. The outgoing administration needed distance from James Comey. Everything written in Susan Rice’s memo about the meeting is specifically worded to create that distance.
Susan Rice writes: “The President stressed that he is not asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective”, adding three times that President Obama instructed Comey to handle everything “by the book.” In essence the way Susan Rice framed the conversation was to place James Comey as specifically responsible for anything that happens.
Now, FBI Director James Comey isn’t stupid, and he would have immediately picked up on how he was being positioned outside the protective wire and completely on his own. Being a very political FBI Director, Comey would know exactly what the purpose of these specific words and instructions from the President implied.
Rice’s memo, written with the advice of White House counsel, is specifically worded to create distance. You might say the White House was leaving Comey holding the proverbial bag; and setting him up to be the ‘fall guy‘ if things went sideways.
This is the point where we need to put ourselves in Comey’s very political shoes. Comey knows the purpose of that meeting. Comey also knows essentially Obama is saying he didn’t authorize an investigation of Flynn and Obama is not going to protect Comey.
So what exactly was Comey tasked to do on behalf of the White House?
The only thing (provable) the FBI was specifically tasked to do was find out the reason for Russia’s behavior or lack thereof. That’s it. Comey carried authority to produce the intercepted “tech cuts”; and as an outcome of the task share them with DNI Clapper. But that’s the end of the White House/DNI tasking authority to the FBI against Flynn.
Director Comey was not tasked, authorized or requested to produce a transcript of the intercepted phone call; and he was not tasked to do anything else with it. From the perspective of Obama, Comey’s task was complete January 5th, anything more is on him.
The lack of investigative authority toward Flynn is a key point to consider as we look at the internal FBI debate. Remember, the day before the Obama/Comey conversation the FBI investigators had already determined there was “no derogatory information” and they were going to close the investigation. Additionally, there was nothing of issue within the Flynn-Kislyak call content itself.
Anything, including legal risk from an abuse of power, after that January 5th meeting was now completely on Director Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s shoulders.
With that in mind, the debate with FBI Director of Counterintelligence Bill Priestap, and the January 23/24, 2017, meetings where Priestap is taking notes of conversations with Comey and McCabe, take on a new and narrow focus.
As Priestap took notes about his original concerns: “what is our goal?”