- A government memo released Thursday shows that the FBI special agent who oversaw the investigation of Michael Flynn harbored doubts about the basis for the probe.
- William Barnett also criticized the special counsel’s investigation, which he said was set up to “get Trump.”
- Barnett was interviewed last week by a U.S. attorney who is reviewing the FBI’s investigation of Flynn.
- Barnett told the prosecutor that he “did not understand the point” of the investigation of Flynn. He also said that he did not believe that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
An FBI special agent who worked on Crossfire Hurricane told prosecutors last week that he saw little reason to investigate Michael Flynn and that he believed that members of the special counsel’s team prosecuted the former national security adviser in order to “get Trump,” according to a memo released late Thursday.
William Barnett, an FBI special agent, was interviewed on Sept. 17 by Jeffrey Jensen, a U.S. attorney in Missouri who is leading a Justice Department review of the case against Flynn.
Barnett, who worked out of the FBI’s Washington field office, was the lead investigator on the Flynn component of Crossfire Hurricane.
The FBI opened Crossfire Hurricane on July 31, 2016, and began investigating four Trump campaign aides, including Flynn, as possible agents of the Russian government. The Flynn investigation was dubbed Crossfire Razor.
According to the memo, which offers a rare glimpse of an FBI’s assessment of his own investigation, Barnett saw little evidence to support an investigation of Flynn. Barnett also doubted that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government to influence the election.
“BARNETT thought the TRUMP Campaign may have been aware the Russians were attempting to impact the election, but that was far different from the TRUMP Campaign and the Russians having a deal and/or working together ‘quid pro quo,’” says the memo.
Barnett told Jensen and his team that he believed the collusion theory was “opaque,” with little to no evidence of criminal activity.
He also said that the predication for the investigation of Flynn was “not great,” the memo says.
He said that one basis for the investigation was a speech that Flynn gave in Moscow hosted by the Russia propaganda outlet, RT, in December 2015. Flynn sat next to Vladimir Putin at the gala. Barnett said he thought the RT trip was “ill-advised” on Flynn’s part, but that he did not see any evidence of criminal activity.
“BARNETT did not understand the point of the investigation,” the memo says.
Barnett said that little was being done at the FBI on the Flynn aspect of the probe from September 2016 through November 2016. As the election rolled around, Barnett was eager for Crossfire Razor to be closed, according to internal FBI messages that were also released on Thursday.
Barnett wrote in a message at 5:42 p.m. on Nov. 8, 2016, that FBI officials had ordered Crossfire Razor to be shut down. The agent wrote to a colleague that he was “glad” the probe was ending given that there was nothing more to investigate. Hours later, Donald Trump pulled a surprise win over Hillary Clinton for the presidency, and the Flynn investigation remained open.
The next decision in the probe came after Christmas 2016, when Barnett said that Peter Strzok, the deputy chief of FBI counterintelligence, directed agents to close Crossfire Razor.
Barnett drafted a memo from the FBI’s Washington Field Office on Jan. 4, 2017 that recommended closing the counterintelligence investigation on Flynn due to a lack of evidence that he was working with Russia.
Strzok intervened at the last minute to keep the investigation open after the FBI obtained a transcript of Flynn’s phone calls on Dec. 29, 2016, with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Barnett told investigators that the transcript did not change his view that Flynn “was not compromised by the Russians.”
Strzok and another FBI agent, Joseph Pientka, interviewed Flynn at the White House about the Kislyak calls on Jan. 24, 2017. Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying during the interview about his discussions with Kislyak about the U.S. decision to expel Russian diplomats because of the Kremlin’s meddling in the U.S. election.
Flynn has retracted his guilty plea. Attorney General William Barr tapped Jensen, the prosecutor, in January to review the FBI’s investigation of Flynn. The Justice Department has filed a motion to withdraw charges against Flynn, though the outcome is still pending a judicial review.
Barnett told Jensen that he was “cut out” of the interview with Flynn, and that top FBI officials, including then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, were leading Crossfire Razor. Barnett said that he believed Flynn did lie during the White House interview, but that he did so in order to save his job rather than to cover up his links to Kislyak.
Flynn had denied to Vice President Mike Pence in mid-January 2017 that he discussed U.S. sanctions with Kislyak.
According to the memo, Barnett asked an FBI unit chief on Feb. 7, 2017, to be removed from the Flynn investigation, saying he believed Crossfire Razor was “problematic” and could result in an inspector general’s investigation.
Barnett remained on the case, and would eventually join the special counsel’s team, which was formed on May 17, 2017 in the wake of James Comey’s firing as FBI director.
Barnett offered a jaundiced assessment of the special counsel’s team, which was led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller.
He described butting heads with Jeannie Rhee, who led the cases into possible conspiracy with Russia.
Barnett described a briefing he gave the Mueller team about the Flynn investigation in which he said he had not seen evidence of a crime committed by the retired general.
“RHEE seemed to dismiss BARNETT’s assessment,” the memo says.
Barnett told Jensen that he thought Rhee “was obsessed with Flynn and Russia and she had an agenda.”
The agent also said he believed that some on Mueller’s team harbored a “get TRUMP attitude,” both because of anti-Trump feelings and because the structure of the special counsel’s probe meant they were brought in to find crimes specifically linked to the president.
“BARNETT said it was not necessarily ‘get TRUMP’ but more the conviction there was ‘something criminal there’ and a competition as to which attorney was going to find it,” the memo says.
“There was a lack of letting the evidence lead the investigation and more the attitude of ‘the evidence is there we just have to find it.’”
“BARNETT believed the prosecution of FLYNN by SCO was used as a means to ‘get TRUMP,’” the memo says.
Barnett also criticized Andrew Weissmann, a Mueller prosecutor who led the case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
He recalled one incident in which Weissmann said that someone had met on a yacht near Greece and “that was going to be the proof of collusion.”
“BARNETT said within a day or two the information was not substantiated.”
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