A former senior FBI official told Yahoo News that the Justice Department’s highly unusual and controversial motion to dismiss the criminal case against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn was filled with “half truths” and “distortions.”
But at the same time, Frank Figliuzzi, the assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division from 2010 to 2012 and an NBC News law enforcement analyst, sharply criticized former FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the case, especially his decision to authorize the FBI interview of Flynn without first getting Justice Department approval.
“There’s a number of behaviors in Comey that in retrospect have really cast the FBI in the worst possible light, which is to cast them in a political light,” Figliuzzi said in a Tuesday interview with Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast.
“I wish Comey had gotten the approval to [interview Flynn]. I’m not sure politically that he would have been allowed to do so. So ironically, in an attempt to cut through the politics of DOJ [the Department of Justice] and the bureaucracy there, he ended up politicizing the bureau more than ever.”
Comey’s stature as a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York — arguably the most powerful U.S. attorney’s office in the nation — and as a former deputy attorney general made him an unusually experienced FBI director, which Figliuzzi said may have led him to overreach.
“He seems to fail to understand that he’s accountable to bosses at DOJ,” Figliuzzi said. “He’s worn those powerful hats before, and he seems unable to take those hats off, so he pulls triggers that most FBI directors wouldn’t think of pulling.”
But Figliuzzi defended the need to probe Flynn and to do so aggressively. And Comey, he added, was dealing with an unprecedented situation. “There’s nothing in the FBI manual that says, ‘If you think the president is compromised and the team around him, please do the following’ — it’s not there,” Figliuzzi said.
A frequent critic of the Trump administration, Figliuzzi dismissed suggestions by Flynn’s lawyers that a handwritten note from Bill Priestap, then the counterintelligence director at the FBI, was inappropriate. Priestap had taken notes ahead of a critical January 2017 interview with Flynn that included questions about goals for the interrogation.
“What’s our goal? Truth, admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” Priestap wrote. “If we get him to admit to breaking the Logan Act, give facts to DOJ and have them decide. Or, if he initially lies, then we present him [redacted] & he admits it, document for DOJ, and let them decide how to address it.”
Flynn’s supporters and many on the right have seized on Priestap’s note as evidence of misconduct. But Figliuzzi defended the note-taking as routine and said the decision to interview Flynn about his conversations with the Russian ambassador was more than justified in light of the bureau’s ongoing Russia investigation.
“There was a valid counterintelligence case on Flynn,” Figliuzzi said. “Those interview strategies and notes look like virtually every interview I’ve ever been a part of.”
Given his position, Flynn’s apparent lies about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak made him a legitimate counterintelligence target, Figliuzzi said: “He was sitting in the chair of the national security adviser. It doesn’t get much worse than that.”
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