Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee hope to secure testimony from two FBI agents at the center of the FBI’s investigation into retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and other events in the sprawling Trump-Russia inquiry.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, the ranking member on the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, sent a letter on Monday to the lawyer for former assistant director of the FBI Counterintelligence Division Bill Priestap and a letter to FBI special agent Joseph Pientka — central figures in the Flynn saga.
The congressmen said they were reaching out directly to Priestap and Pientka “because Director [Christopher] Wray has declined to respond to our request, we are forced to write directly to you.”
Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to investigators about his 2016 conversations on Dec. 22 and Dec. 29 with a Russian envoy about a United Nations resolution on Israel and sanctions. The U.S. government intercepted Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak, after which former FBI agent Peter Strzok and another agent, believed to be Pientka, interviewed him on Jan. 24, 2017 about the contents of the first conversation.
Former FBI Director James Comey has made light of how he took advantage of the chaos of the early days of the Trump administration to make that interview happen, even as Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates opposed his actions.
Jordan and Johnson said they are “investigating the actions of the Justice Department and FBI surrounding the 2016 presidential election, including as they relate to LTG Flynn” and that testimony from Priestap and Pientka “is necessary to advance our oversight.” They asked for responses about scheduling depositions with the House Judiciary Committee by May 29.
The congressmen said “the FBI discouraged LTG Flynn from having a lawyer present for the interview and also ignored standard procedures for interviewing a White House employee” and “the Justice Department now acknowledge that the FBI had no legitimate investigators basis to interview LTG Flynn at all.”
Jordan and Johnson said “the FBI’s treatment of LTG Flynn appears to depart from how the Counter Intelligence Division … handled a similar high-profile investigation into classified information on Secretary Hillary Clinton’s private server.” They noted that in the Clinton investigation, even though an FBI special agent suspected that a Clinton aide “lied his ass off” during an interview, no criminal charges followed. But, the duo claimed, in Flynn’s case “it appears as if the FBI actively sought to entice him to lie for the purposes of criminal prosecution.”
Jordan and Johnson pointed to Priestap’s notes from the day of the Strzok-Pientka interview of Flynn.
“I agreed yesterday that we shouldn’t show Flynn [REDACTED] if he didn’t admit” but “I thought about it last night and I believe we should rethink this,” Priestap wrote. “What is our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”
During an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show on Monday night, Jordan spelled out out his concerns about Wray.
“Here’s what I want to know: Compare three years of Chris Wray with three months of Ric Grenell. I don’t see where the FBI director is taking this seriously.”
Jordan pointed to a series of FBI actions he saw as troublesome: An Oval Office meeting in January 2017 where President Obama, Yates, Vice President Joe Biden, and James Comey discussed FBI intercepts of Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador; Comey briefing Trump on some of the more salacious allegations in British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s flawed dossier; the Jan. 24, 2017 interview of Flynn by Pientka and Strzok; and the “eight days in May” between Comey’s firing and the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein allegedly discussed wearing a wire into the White House and where other officials allegedly discussed invoking the 25th Amendment against Trump or going after him for obstruction of justice.
“And Chris Wray doesn’t seem to care,” Jordan claimed. “So we’re gonna try to go around him and see if we can get these guys to come testify and answer some questions,” Jordan said.
Rosenstein denied reports about him discussing secretly trying to record Trump and invoking the 25th Amendment.
Earlier this month, Brian Hale, the FBI’s assistant director for the Office of Public Affairs, released a statement that said the bureau chief “has fully cooperated and been transparent with” U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Jensen, appointed by Attorney General William Barr earlier this year to review the Flynn case. The FBI spokesman said Wray has also worked closely with DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz in his Crossfire Hurricane investigation as well as with U.S. Attorney John Durham, who was handpicked by Barr to lead an investigation of the Trump-Russia investigators.
“The Flynn investigation was initiated and conducted during this time period, under prior FBI leadership,” Hale noted. “Since taking office, Director Wray has stressed the importance of strictly abiding by established processes, without exception. Director Wray remains firmly committed to addressing the failures under prior FBI leadership while maintaining the foundational principles of rigor, objectivity, accountability, and ownership in fulfilling the Bureau’s mission to protect the American people and defend the Constitution.”
Flynn’s lead attorney, Sidney Powell, has moved to dismiss the case, claiming her client was railroaded and never would’ve pleaded guilty if he’d known how much the government was concealing from him. The Justice Department moved to dismiss the case earlier this month, although the judge has thrown up roadblocks.
In a filing earlier this year, Powell highlighted a section of DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report which showed that the intelligence briefing the FBI gave to then-candidate Trump’s team in August 2016 during the presidential campaign was a “pretext” to gather evidence to help in the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s campaign.