by Chuck Ross
The multiple investigations of the U.S. government’s intelligence-gathering activities against the Trump campaign have typically focused on the actions of the same small group of former officials: James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, John Brennan, James Clapper and a few others.
But just as significant to the efforts to get to the bottom of the government’s Trump-related surveillance are a handful of current and former FBI and Justice Department employees whose names are not as well known to the public.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to subpoena up to 53 current and former government employees as part of a sprawling investigating into the origins of Crossfire Hurricane. The Senate Homeland and Government Affairs Committee voted to subpoena another 35 individuals, some of whom are on the Judiciary panel’s list.
The investigations occur against the backdrop of a probe that U.S. Attorney John Durham is leading into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. Durham is reportedly investigated some of the information revealed in a Justice Department inspector general’s report that said the FBI made at least 17 “significant” errors and omissions in applications for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants against Carter Page.
Attorney General William Barr has said that Durham’s investigation is looking into potential criminal wrongdoing.
Some of the FBI and DOJ employees discussed in the IG report are identified as pseudonyms. But the subpoenas from Senate Republicans provides clues as to who some of those FBI and Justice Department employees are.
The Daily Caller News Foundation has identified eight individuals on those lists who were key figures in the Trump-Russia probe.
Steve Somma, FBI counterintelligence investigator in the New York Field Office.
Somma is reported to be an FBI counterintelligence agent referred to as “Case Agent 1” in the IG report.
The report said that “Case Agent 1” was “primarily responsible for some of the most significant errors and omissions” in the FBI’s applications for surveillance orders on Page.
Somma played a role in several key developments in the investigation. He opened the case file on Page, he first proposed surveillance on the Trump aide, and was the FBI handler for Stefan Halper, a longtime confidential human source who was tasked with meeting Page and George Papadopoulos.
Somma also took part in a January 2017 interview with the primary source for Christopher Steele, the former British spy whose dossier was a key aspect of the FISA applications.
The IG reported identified six areas where Somma withheld information from the investigation.
He failed to disclose exculpatory statements that Page and Papadopoulos made to Halper during secretly recorded conversations before the 2016 election. He also received information from the CIA in August 2016 that Page had a longstanding relationship with the spy agency. The IG report says that Somma did not divulge that information to others at the FBI.
Somma also withheld information that Steele’s source divulged in the January 2017 interview that undercut key allegations in the dossier. The FBI relied heavily on the document to obtain spy warrants against Page.
The Steele source said that Steele embellished or misinterpreted information that was in the dossier. He said that he provided Steele with information that was based on “rumor and speculation,” but that Steele passed it along as fact in the dossier.
David Laufman, former Justice Department chief of counterintelligence and export control.
Laufman was the DOJ official who arranged a January 2017 interview with Steele’s primary source.
Somehow, Laufman and other meeting participants failed to disclose in the FISA applications that Steele’s source disavowed aspects of the dossier.
Laufman, who retired in 2018 and has become an outspoken critic of Trump and Barr, also played a key role in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. He interviewed Clinton alongside Peter Strzok, who served as deputy chief of FBI counterintelligence.
Stuart Evans, deputy assistant attorney general for the National Security Division’s Office of Intelligence.
Evans is one of the few government officials discussed in the IG report who raised concerns about the effort to surveil Page and the decision to rely on Steele to obtain FISAs.
Emails cited in the report show that Evans asked FBI agents to provide additional evidence to back up claims in the report.
The IG report says that Evans’s “persistent inquiries” forced the Crossfire Hurricane team to disclose potential bias in Steele’s information.
Evans “placed a temporary hold” on the initial FISA application while his office evaluated information regarding Steele.
Evans’s reluctance was offset by eagerness by Peter Strzok and Lisa Page to obtain the FISA authorization.
“According to Evans, he raised on multiple occasions with the FBI, including with Strzok, Lisa Page, and later McCabe, whether seeking FISA authority targeting Carter Page was a good idea, even if the legal standard was met,” the IG report says.
Evans said that he did not believe there was a compelling benefit to obtaining the warrant because Page was unlikely to put any incriminating information on email or in a telephone call.
Evans was not informed of several other red flags related to the dossier.
According to the IG report, Steele told FBI agents on Oct. 3, 2016 that he believed that a key sub-source for his dossier was a “boaster” and “egotist.”
Brian Auten, FBI supervisory intelligence analyst.
The IG report says that a supervisory intelligence analyst played a key role in several aspects of Crossfire Hurricane. The analyst took part in the Oct. 3, 2016 interview with Steele, and the January 2017 interview with Steele’s primary source of information for the dossier.
Both of those interviews yielded information that called the dossier’s credibility into question, but none of the interview participants disclosed the information in FISA applications.
The IG report does not identify Auten by name as the FBI analyst, but the Senate Judiciary Committee included him on its list of potential witnesses. The DCNF reached out to Auten for comment, and the FBI responded to decline comment on his behalf.
Joseph Pientka, FBI supervisory special agent.
The IG report does not identify Pientka by name, but it says that a Supervisory Special Agent — “SSA 1” — took part in a Jan. 24, 2017 interview with Michael Flynn.
Pientka conducted the interview alongside his colleague, Peter Strzok.
Pientka is also the FBI agent who the bureau sent into an Aug. 17, 2016 briefing for the Trump campaign related to Russia’s election meddling. The IG report said that Pientka was sent into the briefing in order to gauge Flynn’s demeanor. Days earlier, the FBI added Flynn to the list of Trump associates who were targets of Crossfire Hurricane.
The IG report also said that SSA 1 supervised the Carter Page investigation and signed an authorization to submit the initial FISA warrant against the Trump aide.
Pientka was also responsible for confirming the completion of a document known as a Woods File, “and for double checking the factual accuracy review to confirm that the file contained appropriate documentation for each of the factual assertions in the FISA application.”
The IG said that the Woods File was “inaccurate, incomplete or unsupported by appropriate documentation,” raising questions about how thoroughly Pientka reviewed the evidence.
Jonathan Moffa, FBI Intel Section Chief.
Moffa managed the Crossfire Hurricane probe alongside Peter Strzok, the deputy chief of counterintelligence. The pair also worked closely on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
According to the IG report, the analysts on the Crossfire Hurricane team reported up to Moffa.
The report also says that Moffa described Steele as “reliable” in a December 2016 email even though the FBI had closed him out as a confidential source and the FBI had information that called his credibility into question.
That same month, Moffa said the CIA viewed Steele’s reporting as “Internet rumor”
Sean Newell, deputy chief of counterintelligence and export control at the Justice Department.
Newell may have been the assistant to Laufman who took part in the January 2017 interview with Steele’s source. The IG report said that a deputy to Laufman conducted the second half of the interview with the Steele source.
Kevin Clinesmith, former attorney in the FBI’s office of general counsel.
The IG report says that an FBI lawyer identified as Clinesmith altered an email in June 2017 to say that Carter Page was “not a source” for the CIA. Page had been an “operational contact” for the spy agency until at least 2013.
Clinesmith also played a key role in several aspects of Crossfire Hurricane. He was also an attorney on the special counsel’s investigation.
He took part in a February 2017 interview with George Papadopoulos.
A previous IG report about the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton cited anti-Trump text messages that Clinesmith sent after the 2016 election. Clinesmith wrote “Vive [sic] le Resistance!” in one message.
The New York Times has reported that Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, referred Clinesmith to prosecutors for potential criminal charges.
– – –
Chuck Ross is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.