FBI received tip deemed ‘not plausible’ days before opening Flynn probe
Chuck Ross, DCNF
- A declassified FBI document reveals that the FBI opened its investigation against Michael Flynn days after receiving a tip from an informant that was later deemed to be “not plausible.”
- Stefan Halper, a longtime Republican political operative, provided the FBI with information about Flynn on Aug. 11, 2016, according to an FBI memo released last week.
- The FBI opened a counterintelligence cast file on Flynn five days later. The bureau had already opened investigations on three other Trump campaign advisers.
The FBI opened its investigation of Michael Flynn days after receiving information from a paid confidential source in August 2016 that an agent later determined to be “not plausible,” according to a newly declassified document.
The FBI document, known as an Electronic Communication, could help answer why the FBI opened its investigation of Flynn nearly a week after beginning a probe of three other Trump associates.
The FBI has never explained the delay.
According to the FBI document, which President Donald Trump declassified before leaving office, Stefan Halper, a former University of Cambridge professor who served as a confidential human source for the FBI, passed along a salacious allegation about Flynn during a meeting with his FBI handler, Stephen Somma, on Aug. 11, 2016.
Halper told Somma, an FBI counterintelligence agent working on Crossfire Hurricane, that he had suspicions about an encounter at the University of Cambridge in 2014 between Flynn and Svetlana Lokhova, a Russian-British graduate student. According to the FBI summary, Halper said that he saw Lokhova leave the Cambridge event with Flynn, who was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the time.
The FBI had opened Crossfire Hurricane on July 31, 2016, after receiving information from an Australian diplomat regarding an encounter he had two months earlier with George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign adviser.
On Aug. 10, 2016, the Crossfire Hurricane team opened counterintelligence case files on Papadopoulos and two other Trump campaign advisers: Carter Page and Paul Manafort.
Flynn was the fourth aide targeted in the probe, though the FBI did not open a file on him until Aug. 16, 2016.
The FBI would use Halper, who had served in four Republican presidential administrations, to meet with and secretly record both Page and Papadopoulos. He was paid an undisclosed sum of money for his work, according to a Justice Department inspector general’s report released in 2019.
Both Page and Papadopoulos have identified Halper as the person who has been described in FBI documents as the bureau’s confidential human source (CHS) for Crossfire Hurricane.
The FBI has not released any documents showing that the bureau received evidence about Flynn between Aug. 10, 2016 and Aug. 16, 2016, other than the information provided by Halper.
The FBI declined to comment on the declassified memo, and refused to answer The Daily Caller News Foundation’s questions about whether investigators have looked into whether Halper provided false information to his FBI handlers.
Both Lokhova and Flynn have long denied allegations that they had any improper encounter at Cambridge. Stories suggesting that they had a nefarious relationship first appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian in March 2017.
The stories came amid a torrent of news reports speculating that the Trump team had colluded with Russian to influence the 2016 election.
On Sunday, California Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, asserted that Halper lied to the FBI about Flynn.
“Imagine being spied upon by your own government, and then that spy makes up a bunch of lies about everybody,” Nunes said in an interview on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”
The FBI special agent who led the Flynn investigation also doubted Halper’s allegation.
William Barnett, an agent in the FBI’s Washington field office, told prosecutors in September 2020 that he deemed the allegation about Flynn and Lokhova to be “not plausible” and likely “not accurate.”
Barnett had written a memo on Jan. 4, 2017, suggesting that the FBI close its counterintelligence investigation of Flynn due to lack of evidence that he was working with Russia. That decision was overruled by FBI officials because the bureau had received transcripts of a phone call Flynn had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
That new track in the Flynn investigation ultimately led to the retired Army general pleading guilty in the special counsel’s probe to making false statements to the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak. Flynn eventually petitioned to withdraw his guilty plea, asserting that he never should have been under investigation in the first place.
President Trump pardoned Flynn on Nov. 25.
Nunes said on Sunday that the information about Halper should have been turned over to Congress back in 2017, when Republicans began investigating Crossfire Hurricane.
Lokhova, who has since left Cambridge, said it was “disturbing” that the Halper memo is just now coming to light.
“Senior figures at the FBI, the DOJ, the Congress and the media knew the truth: that Halper lied about me and ruined my life and career,” Lokhova told the DCNF.
The Wall Street Journal and Guardian, which reported that U.S. and British intelligence raised concerns about Flynn’s interactions with Lokhova at Cambridge, have not reported follow up stories about the declassified memo.
Spokespersons for both papers declined requests for comment about why they have not done so.
An attorney for Halper has not responded to requests for comment.
A Justice Department inspector general’s report on the Crossfire Hurricane investigation provided few details about the FBI’s predicate for opening an investigation on Flynn.
The report said that an FBI memo documenting the investigation said there was a basis to believe that Flynn “may wittingly or unwittingly be involved in activity on behalf of the Russian Federation which may constitute a federal crime or threat to the national security.”
The IG report does not say whether the information about Flynn and Lokhova was referenced in the memo. It did cite Flynn’s visit to Moscow in December 2015. Flynn attended an event hosted by RT, the state-controlled news outlet. The event, which Russian President Vladimir Putin also attended, was publicly known at the time Flynn made the trip.
While the IG report blasted the FBI for withholding exculpatory evidence regarding the Trump campaign, it said that the FBI had “sufficient predication” to open counterintelligence investigations against the Trump advisers, including Flynn.
The IG report makes only one reference to Halper’s remarks about Flynn. But the report only says that Halper, who is referred to as “Source 2,” said that he had been previously acquainted with Flynn.
The IG report says that Halper became a CHS for the FBI in 2008. He was temporarily cut off as a source in 2011 after investigators said he was too aggressive with his handler, and had showed “questionable allegiance” to an intelligence target.
STEFAN HALPER TIMELINE
July 29, 2016: The FBI received information from Australian diplomat Alexander Downer who claimed that George Papadopoulos, a Trump adviser, had told him in a private conversation in London on May 10, 2016, the Russian government might release information about Hillary Clinton to help the Trump campaign.
July 31: Peter Strzok, the deputy chief of FBI counterintelligence, opened an investigation of the Trump campaign’s possible links to Russia based on Downer’s claim.
Aug. 10: FBI opens individual counterintelligence investigations under the Crossfire Hurricane umbrella on three Trump aides: Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort.
Aug. 11: Stephen Somma, an FBI counterintelligence agent based in New York, meets with his longtime source, Stefan Halper.
During their meeting, Halper discusses an encounter he had a month earlier with Carter Page at an event held at the University of Cambridge.
He also reveals the information about Flynn and Lokhova.
Aug. 12: FBI meets again with Halper, where he is asked to recall his statements about Flynn.
Aug. 15: Following a meeting in the office of then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok send his now-infamous “insurance policy” text message to then-FBI attorney Lisa Page.
Aug. 16: The FBI opens a counterintelligence investigation against Flynn.
Aug. 17: FBI Supervisory Special Agent Joseph Pientka attends a briefing with Donald Trump and Flynn. FBI officials planned to use Pientka to collect evidence for Crossfire Hurricane.
Pientka approved the writing of the FBI memo of Somma’s meeting with Halper several days before.
Jan. 4, 2017: FBI Special Agent William Barnett writes a memo suggesting that the bureau close its counterintelligence investigation against Flynn.
In it, Barnett details a tip received from an FBI source regarding Flynn and Lokhova.
Sept. 17, 2020: Barnett tells U.S. attorney Jeffrey Jensen that he found the CHS’s allegation about Flynn to be “not plausible” and likely “not accurate.”