Peter Strzok’s “False Memory” about the origins of the Crossfire Hurricane
WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 12, 2018: FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok testifies prior to a Joint Justice, Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing at the Rayburn House office building on Capitol Hill. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
On this week’s news, we learned that Jordan Fuchs, the Georgia Deputy Secretary of State, was the one Washington PostThe source for his blockbuster story about Trump’s call to the Georgia election investigator contained incorrect information about one of the calls, as discussed by Arthur Bloom.
This seems an appropriate section from which to re-examine an invention as grotesque as it is practically undiscussed, by infamous FBI officer Peter Strzok, who did so in a CBS interview and in his recent memoir Compromised, fabricated the damned claim that the transmission of information to the US Embassy in London by Australian diplomat Alexander Downer was triggered by Trump’s “Russia, Are You Listening To” joke, and that Trump brought it “in his own words” accordingly would have [the Crossfire Hurricane] Inquiry into oneself. “
But it was completely wrong. Although the key documents to Downer’s interviews, first with Assistant Head of Mission Elizabeth Dibble and then with Strzok and SSA Joe Pientka, remain hidden, it was (purely by chance) possible to refute Strzok’s forgery using the very limited open source chronological information. Strzok quickly recognized his dilemma, promptly gave a new narrative that was not at least chronologically impossible, and everyone went on as if nothing had happened. Neither CBS nor its publisher have bothered to revoke or correct it.
However, the spectacle of Strzok’s “false memory” of one of the most critical incidents in Russia – an incident that marked the origin of the Crossfire Hurricane – deserves careful scrutiny and scrutiny.
Downers Junior Associate Erika Thompson, Political Advisor to the Australian Embassy in London, had a drink with George Papadopoulos on May 6th. (Christian Cantor of the Israeli embassy in London may also be present.) On May 10, Downer and Thompson had a follow-up meeting with Papadopoulos. It is very unclear whether the now canonical account of Papadopoulos’ story arose from the May 10th meeting that Downer attended or the May 6th meeting at which Downer’s second-hand information was obtained. The Müller report was uniquely evasive on this apparently simple point.
Downer sent a report of his meeting with Papadopoulos back to the Australian State Department on May 11 and did not consider the incident for several months. (The existence of Downer’s report has been confirmed, but it remains fully edited.)
On July 26th, Downer went – suddenly, urgently and outside of diplomatic protocol – personally to the US embassy in London and looked for the most senior official, Elizabeth Dibble, the deputy head of mission (since the ambassador was not in the country).
Dibble called immediately and informed the FBI Legate (Brian Boetig) and the highest CIA official in London (Gina Haspel). Boetig immediately wrote an “electronic communication” from the FBI, which quickly got to FBI headquarters. On Friday, July 29th, Assistant Director Andrew McCabe directed Assistant Director of Counterintelligence (Bill Priestap) to initiate the counterintelligence investigation that is now known to us as the Crossfire Hurricane. Priestap gave instructions to forward the case to his subordinate Peter Strzok (then Head of Department CD4) and also instructed him to go to London immediately to interview Downer.
Over the weekend, Strzok officially opened the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and filed the approving electronic communications memorandum on Sunday, July 31st. The form, one of the few documents available on the matter, shows that it was both prepared and approved by Strzok. not exactly the control and balance one would have expected. Strzok contacted the FBI assistant Legat in London (apparently Paul Woodbery) and asked him to arrange an interview with the Australian diplomats.
On Monday August 1st, Strzok was informed by the London office that the Australians had agreed to an interview. That evening, Strzok and Pientka traveled to London on the night flight and arrived in London early in the morning on August 2nd. It took some extra time to iron out the terms for the interview, but around 2pm. London time (10 a.m. east), the interview was a breeze. The interview seems to have lasted about 2-3 hours. Strzok and Pientka were back in Washington on August 3rd. Crossfire Hurricane was already in full flight.
Strzok’s story about downers
All documents relating to the Downer interview were immediately subjected to an extreme classification and remain hidden to this day. The available Strzok Page texts also do not contain any relevant information, either because Strzok (unusually) did not gossip with Page about the meeting or rather because such texts were withheld or deleted.
Strzok’s interview with CBS on September 6, 2020 (and the accompanying short comments in Compromised) gave the very first information about Downer’s critical interview, including the very first official explanation of why Downer decided to report the Papadopoulos conversation to the U.S. Embassy when he did so – in Strzok’s words, which “sparked it off”.
Exact words are important, so here are the exact words from Strzok in the CBS interview (transcribed and emphasis mine):
Teller: Papadopoulos was in London having a drink with an Australian diplomat.
Strzok: Papadopoulos informed them that someone from the Trump campaign had received an offer that the Russians had material that would harm Hillary Clinton and Obama, and that they had offered to coordinate the publication of this information so that it would support the Trump campaign would help.
Teller: The Australians didn’t make much of it until Trump made this appeal to Hillary Clinton’s emails: “Russia, if you listen, I hope you can find the 30,000 missing emails.” These Australian diplomats heard this and contacted the FBI.
Strzok:When they saw this speech from Trump, it sparked their memory of talking to Papadopoulos.
The CBS interviewer observed the implication that Trump had been hoisted on his own petards as it was his own inflammatory statements that sparked the entire investigation of the Crossfire Hurricane, after all, not malicious or improper behavior on the part of others. Strzok agreed:
Interviewer: So, in his own words, Donald Trump brought up this investigation.
Strzok: After what theforeign government told us yes.
in the CompromisedStrzok also stated that Downer submitted his original information to the US Embassy “shortly after Trump’s press conference in Florida”:
When we received the report on Papadopoulos’ revelations to the Friendly Foreign Government staff – information they sent from their embassy to ours shortly after Trump’s press conference in Florida …
In Downer’s recountTrump’s words reminded him of a number of conversations months ago …
A living narrative from one of the main characters in the opening of Crossfire Hurricane.
Here is the problem.
Trump’s “Russia, are you listening?” – Joke was made in July 27, 2016, press conference while Downer’s tip was passed on to the US Embassy in July 26, One day earlier. (The July 26 date is given in both the Müller report, which was published in April 2019, and the Horowitz report, which was published in December 2019.)
It was chronologically impossible that Trump’s joke had actually triggered Downer’s tip.
Worse still, this implies that Strzok’s story about Downer telling him that it was triggered by Trump’s speech was also wrong – either a wrong memory or manufacture – each as ominous as the other.
Nobody in the major US media or their “fact-checkers” noticed Strzok’s false information.
However, Hans Mahncke, a knowledgeable Twitter commenter for Russiagate, was quick to notice and presented Strzok with the following challenge on Twitter at 5:58 p.m. on September 6, 2020:
.@petestrzok told CBS that Australians stood up because it was triggered by a Trump speech.
The problem is that the Australians delivered * before * Trump’s speech.
Strzok is lying or the Australians lied. Make your choice.
In any case, this destroys the predicate. pic.twitter.com/MBL2e1NJg1
– Hans Mahncke (@HansMahncke) September 6, 2020
Mahncke’s observation was picked up by Dan Bongino, who was colorful two days later (September 8, 2020) drew attention to it his large audience (with reference to Mahncke). When Mahncke formulated his comment as a choice between Strzok lies or Downer lies, he admitted the remote possibility that Australian ambassador Downer had lied to Strzok, which triggered him. Since Strzok’s interview with Downer took place after Trump’s joke, Downer would have been aware of the joke when he met Strzok, although he was not aware of the joke when he tipped. So it’s not chronologically impossible that Downer lied, just implausible. But it remains a distant possibility that Strzok himself never suggested, and that became moot when Strzok (as discussed below) went back to part of its false history.
Later on September 6th (9:11 pm), Jerry Dunleavy of the Washington Examiner published a short article (along with the related announcement on Twitter) pointing out the impossibility of Strzok’s chronology:
NEW: Strzok claims Downer was spurred on telling the US about Papadopoulos Convo (FBI cited to open a Trump-Russia investigation) after Trump said, “Russia, if you listen …” But Mueller / Horowitz say Australia told the US about it on July 26th, 2016. Trump only quipped the next day … https: //t.co/ipjKNbqZTM
– Jerry Dunleavy (@JerryDunleavy) September 7, 2020
While Dunleavy noted the chronological problem carefully, unlike Mahncke, he did not associate the impossible chronology with Strzok’s wrong story about what Downer had told him. As discussed in the next section, Strzok used this oversight to establish a “limited hangout” – to borrow a fitting phrase from Nixonian days.
Strzok’s 9/11 Lawfare interview
Three days later (September 11), Strzok conducted a lengthy interview on Benjamin Wittes’ Lawfare podcast to further promote his memoir.
In an open online question and answer session after the interview, Wittes asked the following question from Dunleavy to Strzok:
Wittes: Jerry Dunleavy from Washington Examiner writes: “Can Mr. Strzok clarify what appears to be in contradiction in his timeline with the beginning of the investigation into the Crossfire Hurricane? He writes that Australians were asked to contact the US in July 2016 about a conversation with George Papadopoulos in May 2016 after Trump’s comment “Russia, are you listening?” However, Müller and Horowitz say the US was contacted by the friendly foreign government in July 26.Trump’s comments weren’t made until the next day, July 27, 2016. “Help for Mr. Dunleavy?
Strzok seems already aware of the chronological contradiction of his earlier narrative, having finished with a smooth answer that supposedly cleared up his earlier false story, one that was given with no prompting for clarification or the slightest stumbling block. Strzok sharply acknowledged the mistake, which he naturally blamed others for:
Strzok: Absolutely. I got that wrong. I wrote my book without taking advantage of my notes. The FBI had them. And the IG report hadn’t been published.
In his new version, Strzok said it was the Wikileaks dump of DNC emails on July 22 that “sparked her memory of the conversation” (not the Trump joke):
What happened is that there was absolutely a huge dump through Wikileaks as the IG report describes. They saw that. That reminded her of the conversation. And then they started contacting us overseas and giving us this information.
Watch the pea here. Strzok didn’t say that Downer told him the Wikileaks dump had prompted his visit to the US embassy. If Downer had done this, Strzok’s story to CBS and in his book would be even worse than we thought, as not only did he tell a false story about the prompt, but he also hid the real story in the process. Taken literally, Strzok’s claim that led Downer to borrow nothing more than his assessment – or “analytical inference”, a sentence from Igor Danchenko, EC – or, more precisely, speculation. It goes against logic that Strzok and Pientka Downer would not have asked what made him visit the embassy, but we don’t knows whether they did.
Strzok’s new narrative was still trying to blame Trump for triggering the Crossfire Hurricane investigation:
My recollection is, and the reason I mention this conversation about Trump’s speech on Russia, listen, when we finally got this tip from the FFG in the counterintelligence department, it was at the same time that Trump was making these comments. Which was really worrying. Because they exactly agreed with Trump asking for Russian help, Trump asked the Russians to intervene and find their emails, regardless of their technique, and that came at the same time.
This aspect of chronology is realistic. DCM Dibble informed FBI Legat Boetig and CIA station manager (Haspel) on July 27th. On July 28, FBI Legate Boetig sent his electronic communications to a contact in the Philadelphia Field Office, who on the same day forwarded them to Charles McGonigal, department head of the Cyber Counterintelligence Coordination Section at FBI Headquarters. Strzok appears to have learned of the Australian information on the evening of July 28th – the day after Trump’s joke.
In this new version, it was the FBI counterintelligence department itself that was “triggered” by Trump’s joke (not the Australian ambassador). Strzok did not even explain or confirm his false memory of Downer tell Strzok on the Trump joke. Needless to say, it wasn’t challenged by Trump-troubled Wittes in its previous manufacture.
This could also point to an explanation for the apparent failure of the allegedly ace counterintelligence officers Strzok and Pientka to even ask Downer what “sparked” his report (if the suspicion of such neglect is confirmed). Because the FBI officials were “triggered” by Trump’s “Russia, are you listening” speech, they may assume that Downer was too – rather than addressing the chronological impossibility until they were confronted by Twitter critics.
To get back to Strzok’s tale, Strzok pretended to minimize his false memory as a “small mistake” and to overshadow critics of his story:
So there was a little mistake. I know some people scour the timelines for small details and make headlines. But that was an honest mistake based on a lack of specific memory that occurred after I reviewed my book in the pub before it was published. All of this information came out later.
Wittes accepted Strzok’s selfish and implausible answer without comment or question and moved on.
Regarding Strzok’s alleged “minor mistake” and / or “honest mistake” it seems easy enough for someone (with no access to notes) in the relative order of two events that occurred four years ago one day apart to be wrong. Strzok himself, however, like other Mueller investigators, forgave apparently similar or even minor missteps by Trump orbit witnesses. (Or in the case of Mueller investigators, such as those alleged by K. T. McFarland and Rick Gates, who appear to be trying to lock in witnesses and sometimes even deny them access to refreshing documents.)
Strzok also tried to attribute his alleged “minor mistake” to the fact that “the IG report had not been published” when he wrote the book and submitted the manuscript for approval. However, Strzok’s real problem was not that these reports were not available in real time, but that he failed to understand that his great story about Downer was by the date of July 26th published in the Horowitz Report published in December 2019 , was contradicted long before publication (Worse, the July 26 date was publicly disclosed in the April 2019 Mueller report, eight months before the Horowitz report.)
It seems to Strzok (or a participant in the Mueller investigation) extraordinarily hypocritical to exonerate their own false statements as merely “small mistakes” or “honest mistakes”, since they have no access to notes and documents, having previously made Mueller victims on the rack for false statements or memories of previous events without showing them the emails they wanted to comment (as they did with the Hillary Clinton investigation, for example). Richard Gates, Alex van der Zwaan, Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos have all been charged and convicted of false statements about past events that were not in themselves criminal or even harmful. Strzok’s expectation that Lawfare audiences should accept his false memories as “minor flaws” and “honest flaws” seems bold in the face of his joy Compromised.
Strzok’s “False Memory” and Its Implications
Of all the questions that emerged from Strzok’s CBS and Lawfare interviews, the most important one was not examined by Wittes: Strzoks wrong memory von Downer, who allegedly told him about the triggering event – a story that is not only central to Crossfire Hurricane but was also prominently used in the CBS interview to discredit Trump.
Note that it was completely by accident that there was enough open source information to contradict Strzok’s false story. If the Müller and Horowitz reports had only said “end of July” instead of “July 26” (as it could have been), there would be no way to contradict Strzok’s false information. Or if Downer had postponed his visit to the embassy for a day or two (also quite possible), it would also have been impossible to face Strzok’s disinformation.
Strzok’s erroneous recollection of such a major incident obviously questions his recollection and characterization of other Russian incidents. in the CompromisedStrzok also commented on the subject of “sanctions” in an interview with Michael Flynn on January 24, 2017 (also by Strzok and Pientka). I intend to discuss this in a separate article, as reiterated in Strzok’s narrative in Compromised appears to be another case of “wrong memory”.
Second, there is no reason to uncritically accept Strzok’s second version of what allegedly sparked Downer’s information on July 26th. In fact, the opposite is true. Strzok’s changing history makes it all the more important to re-examine what happened immediately prior to Downer’s visit to the U.S. embassy. These prove to be much more structured and interesting than Strzok’s limited hangout. I intend to discuss these events in another follow-up article.
The consequence of discovering Strzok’s lie is that we are currently unaware of two of the most fundamental questions about the opening of the Crossfire Hurricane: (1) What prompted Downer to report the Papadopoulos conversation to the US Embassy? and (2) what Downer Strzok actually told on August 1, 2016, which led him to go to the U.S. embassy.
Finally, Strzok’s illustrated lack of credibility raises a fundamental question about the Crossfire Hurricane itself. Strzok’s opening memorandum was based on information from the fourth (perhaps fifth) hand. With so many handovers in some type of Pass The Telephone game by multiple officers, there is an obvious, serious risk of bias or misunderstanding along the way. In particular, Downer’s earliest public interview about Crossfire Hurricane does not mention the words “Russian offer” or any related concept.
Stephen McIntyre is the founder and publisher of Climate Audit.