Less than a month after the FBI opened its investigation into suspected links between the Trump campaign and Russia’s government, the bureau’s agents attended Donald Trump’s briefing while searching for more info.
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe on Thursday declassified a summary of a counter-intelligence briefing, which took place on 17 August 2016. Donald Trump at the time had recently won the Republican presidential nomination.
The memo details how FBI agent Joe Pientka, who coordinated the meeting, “actively listened for topics or questions regarding the Russian Federation.”
According to the newly-unsealed notes, which were type-written by Pientka two weeks after the meeting, Trump was told that Russia had more intelligence agents in the US than China.
“Are the Russians bad?” he inquired, “Because they have more numbers are they worse than the Chinese?”
Pientka responded by saying that “both countries are bad” because the number of operatives does not correlate directly with the severity of the threat.
Trump and his advisors were warned that they should be mindful of foreign intelligence agents, who might try to approach people in their orbit, such as staff, friends, business partners, and domestic workers. Also present were Trump’s advisor Michael Flynn and the leader of his transition team, then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Pientka claimed that Russia and China were cheating on the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, with Trump asking again, “Who’s worse?” to which Pientka replied, “They are both bad, but Russia is worse.” Christie commented, “I’m shocked.”
The memo does not indicate whether the agents had obtained anything of significance from Trump’s scant remarks on Russia.
The memo was filed as part of Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI’s probe into suspected ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, opened on 31 July 2016, less than three weeks before the briefing.
The document was notably approved by Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who was fired in August 2018 over anti-Trump text messages he exchanged with his loved during the 2016 presidential election.
Donald Trump used the scandal with Strzok’s messages to deligitimise the investigation as a “witch hunt” and a “hoax”.
The investigation laid the groundwork for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which concluded there was no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion.
The August 2016 memo was declassified as part of Republicans’ own investigation into the genesis of the FBI probe. Donald Trump, as well as his fellow party members, have long claimed that the Russia probe was launched on false pretences for the purpose of damaging him politically. Republicans have in recent months unsealed a series of documents relating to the probe.