As then-President-elect Donald Trump was preparing to assume office in January 2017, the FBI was "scrambling" to put together evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election, new texts from an FBI employee involved in the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn show.
The texts were made public Thursday as part of a court filing from Sidney Powell, the attorney leading Flynn's legal defense team, Sean Davis and Mollie Hemingway first reported for the Federalist. Newsweek also reported that the text messages from two unnamed FBI staffers discussed President Barack Obama's intelligence briefing on Jan. 5, 2017, noting that Trump "was right" about the FBI delaying the briefing with Obama to have more time to build their case.
"What's the word on how [Obama's] briefing went?" one text from an FBI staffer stated.
"Don't know but people here are scrambling for info to support certain things and it's a mad house," the reply from his colleague said. "Trump was right. Still not put together... Why do we do this to ourselves. What is wrong with these people."
On Jan 3, 2017, Trump speculated that the reason for the briefing's delay until Friday, Jan. 5, was because the FBI did not have its case on Russian interference in the election completely put together for President Obama.
The "Intelligence" briefing on so-called "Russian hacking" was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1483492492.0
The president has variously referred to allegations of Russian collusion against members of his 2016 campaign team and interference in the election to help him defeat 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as a "hoax" and suggested that President Obama and members of his administration committed "treason."
After the intelligence briefing, Obama asked Vice President Joe Biden, FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, and national security adviser Susan Rice to stay behind to discuss Flynn, who was under investigation for alleged ties with Russia.
Hemingway previously reported for the Federalist that memos written by Comey during the meeting indicated the contents of the infamous Steele dossier were discussed at the intelligence briefing. Comey's memos mentioned that CNN had obtained the dossier, which is now known to contain false allegations against Trump and disinformation from Russian intelligence. The memos said CNN was looking for a "news hook" to report the salacious allegations used to obtain a FISA court warrant to investigate Carter Page. CNN reported claims from "classified documents" that "Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump" on Jan. 10, 2017, five days later.
Hemingway, Davis, and other critics of the Obama administration claim this intelligence briefing was used as a pretext to give CNN and others a reason to report the allegations of Russian collusion from the Steele dossier, damaging the credibility of the Trump administration, throwing into question the legitimacy of Trump's election, and providing Democrats ammunition to use in an impeachment effort against Trump.
Members of the Obama administration have denied the allegations. As Newsweek recounted, Rice and Yates said Obama was concerned about sharing classified information with Flynn given the FBI probe looking into him and wanted to know if the information being shared as part of the presidential administration transition should be restricted.
On Aug. 5, 2017, Yates testified under oath that neither Obama nor Biden attempted to influence the FBI's investigation of Flynn or the Russia probe. "During the meeting, the president, the vice president, the national security adviser did not attempt to in any way to direct or influence any investigation," she said.
Additional FBI text messages indicate agents involved in the Russia probe purchased "liability insurance" for their protection.
From The Federalist:
"[W]e all went and purchased professional liability insurance," one agent texted on Jan. 10, 2017, the same day CNN leaked details that then-President-elect Trump had been briefed by Comey about the bogus Christopher Steele dossier. That briefing of Trump was used as a pretext to legitimize the debunked dossier, which was funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign and compiled by a foreign intelligence officer who was working for a sanctioned Russian oligarch.
"Holy crap," an agent responded. "All the analysts too?"
"Yep," the first agent said. "All the folks at the Agency as well."
"[C]an I ask who are the most likely litigators?" an agent responded. "[A]s far as potentially suing y'all[?]"
"[H]aha, who knows….I think [t]he concern when we got it was that there was a big leak at DOJ and the NYT among others was going to do a piece," the first agent said.
The agents were apparently concerned how the newly installed Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions might view the actions taken to investigate the Trump campaign.
"If that piece comes out, and Jan 20th comes around... the new AG might have some questions... then yada yada yada... we all get screwed," one agent wrote.
The text messages also show skepticism over the direction of the Flynn investigation and speculation of political motivations behind the investigations.
"[D]oing all this election research - [I] think some of these guys want a [C]linton presidency," a text message from August 11, 2016 reads.
In May 2020, the U.S. Justice Department dropped its criminal case against Michael Flynn, following the public release of documents that were unsealed in the case raising questions about the motivations behind the investigation.