NEW YORK — There are numerous basic flaws in the central piece of “evidence” offered by FBI agent Peter Strzok as proof of his integrity and his lack of bias against Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election.
Strzok, stung by the release of his anti-Trump text messages, used the opening statement of his recent testimony to tout “one extraordinarily important piece of evidence supporting my integrity, the integrity of the FBI, and our lack of bias.”
He explained: “In the summer of 2016, I was one of a handful of people who knew the details of Russian election interference and its possible connections with members of the Trump campaign. This information had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump. But the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind.”
Strzok repeated that same argument at least four times during his hours-long testimony. Democratic lawmakers made the same point in their questioning of Strzok, with one even claiming the FBI agent had a “magic bullet” in his hands to “derail” Trump’s candidacy but never leaked the details.
The FBI’s probe of Russian meddling, focusing in part on Trump’s campaign, was initiated in July 2016, but was not revealed officially to the public until after the election took place.
Strzok’s claim that his alleged discretion on the Russia meddling probe served as “evidence” of his lack of bias was further brandished by news media outlets.
“Peter Strzok just gave a hard-to-rebut defense of the objectivity of the Russia investigation’s origins,” was the title of an analysis piece in the Washington Post.
“FBI agent destroys anti-Trump conspiracy theory with ‘one extraordinarily important piece of evidence’” was the title of a piece in the Mirror.
The Huffington Post ran an article on the topic with the sub-headline: “FBI veteran highlighted a gaping flaw in the GOP’s theory the ‘deep state’ worked against Trump.”
The liberal Think Progress went so far as to claim, “Republicans’ favorite FBI conspiracy theory goes up in smoke during Strzok hearing.”
Below, in no particular order, are four major problems with Strzok’s claim, each posited by former Obama administration officials.
1 – Hillary Clinton was favored to win so any leak about election meddling would have tainted an expected Clinton victory.
In his book Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper attributes the decision to withhold any public announcement of the Russia interference probe, in part for fear it would taint a future Clinton presidency.
He writes: “President Obama said he’d considered his options and felt that if he acted publicly, it could serve to amplify the Russians’ message and would give them more fodder to undermine Clinton’s authority as president later. I inferred that in the end, he trusted the electorate to see through the conspiracy theories and propaganda, and on Election Day, to do the right thing.”
In his book A Higher Loyalty, disgraced former FBI Director James Comey writes that he “suspected” that “a major factor” in the Obama administration’s “deliberations” about whether to reveal the Russia probe “was the universal view of pollsters that Donald Trump had no chance.”
An extensive Washington Post piece titled “Obama’s secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin’s election assault” cited unnamed Obama administration officials explaining that one of the reasons they kept the Russia probe quiet was because Clinton was expected to win. The newspaper reported, “the assumption that Clinton would win contributed to the lack of urgency.”
The 500-plus page report released last month by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General probing the FBI’s handling of its probe into Clinton’s email server gave a window into the agency’s thinking. It spotlighted the agency’s “expectation that Clinton would be elected president.” In fact, the report had a section titled, “Expectation that Clinton Would Be Elected President.”
Comey admitted in an interview with the IG that when it came to his decision-making process in the Clinton probe, “I am sure I was influenced by the tacit assumption that Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next President.”
The report cited FBI General Counsel Jim Baker revealing internal discussions in which the topic of Clinton’s expected presidential win “definitely came up” and “somebody said something along those lines.” While those conversations were in the context of the investigation into Clinton’s emails, they betray the FBI’s general thinking about how the election was going to turn out.
2 – Obama officials say they were reluctant to expose alleged Russian interference for fear the details would feed into Trump’s repeated proclamations that the election was being rigged.
The same extensive Washington Post piece referenced above cited unnamed Obama administration officials explaining that one of the reasons they kept the Russia probe quiet was because any such exposure would “fuel” Trump’s rigged claims.
Referring to Obama and his top advisers, the Post characterized unnamed officials explaining the argument for a lack of more action:
They also worried that any action they took would be perceived as political interference in an already volatile campaign. By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia’s efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph.
Speaking to ABC News, Comey also said the Obama administration didn’t want to feed into Trump’s “narrative” that the system is rigged.
Comey stated: “Donald Trump was already saying, ‘If I lose, that means the system is rigged.’ And so if the Obama administration comes out saying, ‘The Russians are trying to help elect Donald Trump,’ that walks right into his narrative that’s, ‘See, I told ya,’ that the whole system is fixed and you can’t trust the American democratic process. And the Russians would have accomplished their goal.”
Comey cited Obama himself making such an argument, telling ABC News:
What — you’re right though, with respect to the decision by President Obama, as to how to talk about the Russian interference with the American people.
I think it was — I mean, he (Obama) said it to me — in that meeting I described, “Putin backed the wrong horse.” He was clearly thinking, “I don’t want to, given that Trump’s going to lose, be — look like I’m putting my finger on the scale.”
3 – Comey claimed the FBI initially kept quiet about the Russia meddling probe because it was “far too early” and “we didn’t know what we had, and we didn’t want to tip them off that we were looking at them.”
Comey made those remarks during an interview this April with ABC News host George Stephanopoulos.
Here is a transcript of the relevant section of the exchange:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And — and all through August and September — there’s a great debate going on inside the Obama administration: What to reveal about Russia (sic) was doing, what to reveal about your investigation. Describe that.
JAMES COMEY: Yeah. Not the second part. Y — actually was not a hard question about whether to talk publicly about the fact that we’d opened in — counterintelligence investigations on a small number of Americans because it was far too early. We didn’t know what we had, and we didn’t want to tip them off that we were looking at them.
So consistent with our policy — again, very different than the Hillary Clinton case, which began with a public referral. Everybody knew we were looking at her emails. So when we confirmed it three months later, there’s no jeopardy at all to the investigation.
This was very different. We did not want these Americans to know that we had reason to believe they might be working with the Russians ’cause we gotta run this down and investigate it. So actually what was debated was a different and harder question which is what should we tell the American people about the fact that the Russians are messing with our election?
He further said that holding back on informing the American electorate during the election “was actually not a hard call, given the sensitivity of the matter and that it was ongoing. We didn’t want to tip anybody off.”
4 – Comey recalled Obama not wanting to reveal the Russia probe so as “not to help the Russians achieve their goal of undermining faith in our process.”
In his book, Comey writes:
I also acknowledged to the president that an inoculation effort might accidentally accomplish the Russians’ goal of undermining confidence in our election system. If you tell Americans that the Russians are tampering with the election, have you just sowed doubt about the outcome, or given one side an excuse for why they lost? This was very tricky.
President Obama saw the dilemma clearly and said he was determined not to help the Russians achieve their goal of undermining faith in our process.
Still, Comey speculates that “I suspected a major factor in their deliberations was the universal view of pollsters that Donald Trump had no chance.”
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
Joshua Klein contributed research to this article.