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Senators: The FBI May Have Used Meetings With Trump Transition Team to Gather Intelligence for Leaks to Media

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson are raising serious concerns with the Justice Department about FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page using meetings with the Trump transition team as an intelligence gathering operation. 


"During your April 10, 2019, testimony before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, you stated that you are looking into the 'genesis and conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016.' You further stated that 'spying did occur,' and that you believe it is your obligation to look into the question of whether surveillance activities by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or other intelligence agencies were adequately predicated," a letter from Grassley and Johnson to Attorney General Bill Bar states. "We share your concerns about these activities, and are troubled by the apparent unauthorized disclosures of surveillance efforts and other classified information during the same time period."

"First, in the course of our oversight work we have reviewed certain text messages that may show potential attempts by the FBI to conduct surveillance of President-elect Trump’s transition team.  In text messages exchanged between former FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok and former FBI Attorney Lisa Page, the two discussed the possibility of developing “potential relationships” at a November 2016 FBI briefing for presidential transition team staff.  Specifically, it appears they discussed sending 'the CI guy' to assess an unnamed person(s) 'demeanor' but were concerned because it might be unusual for him to attend.  A few weeks after the presidential election, Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page discussed the logistics for the briefing," the letter continues. 


"The nature of these communications, and the precise purpose of any attempts to 'develop relationships' with Trump or Pence transition team staff are not immediately clear.  Were these efforts done to gain better communication between the respective parties, or were the briefings used as intelligence gathering operations?  Further, did any such surveillance activities continue beyond the inauguration, and in the event they did, were those activities subject to proper predication?  Any improper FBI surveillance activities that were conducted before or after the 2016 election must be brought to light and properly addressed."

Johnson and Grassley have asked for a staff briefing before May 9 on the following questions: 

1. Please describe the nature and extent of your review of FBI surveillance of the Trump Campaign, President-elect Trump’s transition staff, Vice President-elect Pence’s transition staff, President Trump’s staff, and Vice President Pence’s staff, including your efforts to determine whether that surveillance was adequately predicated.          

2. How many counter-intelligence briefings were provided to the Trump and Pence transition staffs prior to Inauguration Day?  Please list the dates, all agencies involved, and each official that represented those agencies at the briefings.      

3. Many of the FBI employees involved in these activities are no longer employed by the federal government. How will your review obtain information needed from these individuals?

4. Will you commit to providing the results of your review once completed?

5. What steps have you taken to investigate whether DOJ or FBI officials had unauthorized contacts with the media during the Russia investigation?


Further, Grassley and Johnson want Barr to look into leaks of sensitive information from the FBI to the media. More specifically, whether meetings between the FBI and the transition team were used to gather information for leaks to news outlets.

"The Justice Department Inspector General’s review of the Clinton investigation found 'profound concerns about the volume and extent of unauthorized media contacts by FBI personnel.' It appears the same happened during the Russia investigation. Leaks to the media about ongoing investigations undermine the ability of investigators to properly investigate. Moreover, sensitive leaks to the media while members of congress performing constitutionally mandated oversight are kept in the dark is unacceptable," the letter states. 

"We note that a number of news outlets have reported sensitive information related to the investigation into alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign," it continues. "Those reports have revealed sensitive information focusing on the FBI sending informants to meet with Trump advisors; a warrant to surveil Carter Page; and the United Kingdom signal intelligence agency briefing former CIA Director John Brennan on alleged communications between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, among other things."


Meanwhile, Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz is also investigating spying on the Trump campaign and is expected to release a lengthy report on the matter in June.

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