Guest Post By Margot Cleveland
Last Thursday, Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, released the committee’s transcript of its interview of disgraced former FBI agent Peter Strzok. During the day-long questioning, Strzok sought to explain away the more deleterious text messages he sent to his mistress and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
When one considers Strzok’s explanation of his reference to an “insurance policy” in light of Page’s testimony, which Collins also released last week, and other previously known facts, there seem to be only two possibilities: Strzok was lying or an unknown spy was targeting the Trump campaign.
Strzok sent the “insurance policy” text to Page on August 15, 2016, just two weeks after the FBI’s launch of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation of the Trump campaign: “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office—that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40,” the former deputy assistant director wrote to Page.
When questioned on the meaning of this text by members of the House Judiciary Committee, Strzok testified that “we had received information from a very sensitive source alleging collusion between the Government of Russia and members of the Trump campaign.”
“As is frequently the case in counterintelligence investigations and any national security investigations,” Strzok added, “there’s a tension between the protection of a sensitive source and method of pursuing the investigation related to that information.”
“So my use of the phrase ‘insurance policy’ was simply to say,” Strzok continued, that “while the polls or people might think it is less likely that then-candidate Trump would be elected, that should not influence—that should not get in the way of us doing our job responsibly to protect the national security.”
For backdrop, Strzok then stressed, there was a debate swirling internally concerning “how aggressively to pursue investigation, given that aggressive pursuit might put that intelligence source at risk.” But since polls overwhelmingly favored Hillary Clinton, some in the FBI (presumably Page) believed “we cannot risk this source by just not really investigating that aggressively.” Strzok noted that he disagreed with that perspective, believing that the FBI needed to investigate because, if Trump won, individuals colluding with Russia might be named to senior national security positions.
Page similarly testified that upon opening Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI staff had a number of discussions about how to balance the need to ensure the Russians had not co-opted an individual associated with the Trump presidential campaign and the desire not to approach the investigation at a breakneck speed and potentially burn sources. Page explained she took the view that, because Trump was unlikely to be elected, there was not the same threat to national security, thus a more cautious approach made more sense.
While Page and Strzok’s explanations lined up in the main, Strzok’s testimony added one significant detail. He spoke of having already “received information from a very sensitive source alleging collusion alleging collusion between the Government of Russia and members of the Trump campaign.”
But Strzok sent the “insurance policy” text on August 15, 2016, merely two weeks after the official launch of Crossfire Hurricane. And the FBI has claimed it initiated the Russia probe when it received information that the Trump campaign had foreknowledge of the WikiLeaks possession of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails. That information came, however, not from “a very sensitive source,” but from an Australian diplomat named Alexander Downer.
What ‘Sensitive Source’ Did He Mean?
Trump campaign volunteer advisor George Papadopoulos had told Downer in May 2016, over drinks in a London bar, that the Russians had damaging information on Hillary Clinton. After WikiLeaks released the DNC emails, Joe Hockey, Australia’s ambassador to the United States, relayed Downer’s information to the FBI (in late July 2016).
Former British spy and “dossier” author Christopher Steele also would not qualify as “a very sensitive source,” for many reasons. First, the FBI has maintained that Steele’s reporting had nothing to do with the launch of the investigation into the Trump campaign. Second, the FBI has long claimed that it did not receive Steele’s “intel” at FBI headquarters until mid-September.
Third, Steele’s identity as a former MI6 agent is well-known, already making it impossible for him to travel to Russia or otherwise act covertly. Finally, Steele had no problem outing himself to several media outlets when spreading the details of his dossier.
Page’s testimony further negates any possibility that Steele was the “very sensitive source” the FBI wanted to protect. Page claimed that, as of August 2016, she did not know who Steele was. “I don’t know that he’s an FBI source. I don’t know what he does. I have never heard of him in all my life,” Page testified. She continued: “When the FBI first receives the reports that are known as the dossier from an FBI agent who is Christopher Steele’s handler in September of 2016, at that time, we do not know who—we don’t know why these reports are generated. We don’t know for what purpose.”
So, if the FBI didn’t know who Steele was in August 2016, he couldn’t have been “a very sensitive source,” for that reason as well.
Page’s testimony creates yet a bigger problem: Her statement contradicts Department of Justice lawyer Bruce Ohr’s testimony to the House committee. Ohr testified that in early August, after meeting with Steele on July 30, 2016, he met with Andrew McCabe and Lisa Page and informed them of Steele’s intel.
Yet Page claims they did not learn of Steele’s reports until Steele’s handler provided them in September of 2016. Even then, Page claims she did not know why the reports were generated, again contradicting Ohr’s assertion that when he provided information from Steele to the FBI he made clear “These guys were hired by somebody relating to—who’s related to the Clinton campaign.”
Might there have been a “very sensitive source” involved, as Strzok maintained? Maybe. But surely it wasn’t Stefan Halper either, because the FBI would never, ever leak details so descriptive of a “very sensitive source” that the general public could identify him from the New York Times and Washington Post’s reporting — right? Or if Strzok did mean Halper, that in itself is troubling, because it means the FBI was willing to burn a “very sensitive source” to damage Trump.
Of course, we already know that Halper was in place and targeting Trump campaign-connected Carter Page before the official launch of Crossfire Hurricane—also disturbing to those concerned about the FBI’s targeting of a political opponent.
If it was not Halper, was there “a very sensitive source” in place on August 15, 2016? If so, that would bring to two the number of sources in place at a time that Page testified was “literally the very beginning” of the evidence when there was “a paucity of evidence.” Yet, with very little evidence, the FBI had sources spying on the Trump campaign. Who those sources were remains to be seen, as does the question of how Page and Ohr’s testimony can be reconciled.
Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and current adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.