An FBI official who served on Robert Mueller’s team said he believed the special counsel’s prosecution of former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn was part of an attitude to “get Trump,” and that he did not wish to pursue a Trump-Russia collusion investigation as it was “not there" and considered it to be a "dead end."
FBI agent William J. Barnett made the comments during an interview on Sept. 17 at the Justice Department, before Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri Jeffrey Jensen, who was tapped by Attorney General Bill Barr to review the case against Flynn. Jensen has joined U.S. Attorney John Durham’s team in his review of the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. Those comments have surfaced in new government documents.
Fox News reviewed Barnett’s FBI 302, which was filed by the U.S. government early Friday as part of the Flynn case.
Barnett, during his interview, detailed his work at the FBI, and his assignment to the bureau’s original cases against Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Barnett said the Flynn investigation was assigned the code name “Crossfire Razor,” which was part of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation — the bureau’s code name for the original Trump-Russia probe.
Barnett told investigators that he thought the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe was “opaque” and “with little detail concerning specific evidence of criminal events.”
“Barnett thought the case theory was ‘supposition on supposition,’” the 302 stated, and added that the “predication” of the Flynn investigation was “not great,” and that it “was not clear” what the “persons opening the case wanted to ‘look for or at.’”
After six weeks of investigating, Barnett said he was “still unsure of the basis of the investigation concerning Russia and the Trump campaign working together, without a specific criminal allegation.”
Barnett began asking agents what they thought “the end game” was in the Flynn investigation, and suggested that they interview Flynn “and the case be closed unless derogatory information was obtained," but said he was “cautioned against” an interview of Flynn, due to concerns that it would “alert Flynn as to the investigation.”
Barnett, though, told investigators that he believed that Flynn’s position as White House national security adviser in the incoming Trump administration “offered an opportunity for the FBI to conduct the interview without alerting any suspicion and Flynn would see such an interview as being standard procedure.”
The 302 stated that Barnett ran the request to interview Flynn “up the chain,” but said the request was denied, and described the FBI’s investigation into Flynn as “top down”--meaning that “direction concerning the investigation was coming from senior officials," specifically then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who Barnett believed was “directing” the Flynn investigation.
Barnett, at the time, said that he believed the investigation was “problematic and could result in an inspector general investigation.”
“Barnett still did not see any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government,” the 302 stated. “Barnett was willing to follow any instructions being given by the deputy director as long as it was not a violation of the law.”
Barnett told investigators he believed the investigation into Flynn was a “check the box exercise, making sure all bases were covered, before the case was closed,” and said he “did not” think the case “was leading or headed toward prosecution.”
Nevertheless, Barnett said that he believed there were grounds to investigate “the other three subjects in Crossfire Hurricane, however, he thought Flynn was the ‘outlier.’” But Barnett, in the spring of 2017, gave a briefing on the Flynn investigation to a group of attorneys from the Special Counsel’s Office, including Jeanne Rhee.
“Barnett said he briefly went over the investigation, including the assessment that there was no evidence of a crime, and then discussed [REDACTED], which he thought was the more significant investigation,” the 302 stated.
Barnett told investigators that he thought “Rhee was obsessed with Flynn and Russia and she had an agenda.”
A day following the briefing, Barnett said he was contacted by former FBI agent Peter Strzok, who said “he really wanted Barnett to work with the special counsel’s office.”
According to the 302, Barnett told Strzok that he “did not wish to pursue the collusion investigation as it was ‘not there,'" Ultimately, though, Barnett decided to work with Mueller’s team, “hoping his perspective would keep them from ‘group think.’”
Barnett added that he believed the appointment of Mueller in May 2017 “changed everything," and described the situation pertaining to the special counsel's office as "‘upside down’ with attorneys drafting search warrants and getting agents to simply act as affiants,” the 302 stated.
“Barnett thought there was a ‘get Trump’ attitude by some at the SCO,” the 302 continued.
One example Barnett shared was comments made by the president, saying investigators “needed to ‘get to the bottom’ of a matter. One of the SCO attorneys said Trump wanted to ‘cover it up.’”
Barnett “corrected it saying, ‘no, he said get to the bottom of it.’”
Barnett also said that “another example,” was when the president fired FBI Director James Comey, which he said was interpreted as “obstruction when it could just as easily have been done because Trump did not like Comey and wanted him replaced.”
But Barnett went on to tell investigators that it seemed that the attorneys on Mueller’s team “wanted to be part of something ‘big,’ a successful prosecution.”
“There was a lack of letting the evidence lead the investigation and more the attitude of ‘the evidence is there we just have to find it,’” Barnett’s 302 stated.
Meanwhile, Barnett said that in May 2017, former Trump campaign aides Carter Page and George Papadopoulos were interviewed several times. Barnett said “both investigations seemed to be nearing an end with nothing left to pursue.”
Papadopoulos was ultimately charged with making false statements to investigators as part of Mueller’s investigation.
Barnett also described the special counsel’s interview of former deputy White House national security adviser KT McFarland, who Mueller, according to Barnett, described as “the key to everything.”
“Barnett said it seems there was always someone at SCO who claimed to have a lead on information that would prove collusion, only to have the information be a dead end,” the 302 stated.
Flynn pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador. Barnett said "some individuals" in Mueller's office "assumed Flynn was lying to cover up collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia."
"Barnett believed Flynn lied in his interview to save his job, as that was the most plausible explanation and there was no evidence to contradict it," the 302 stated. "Barnett believed the prosecution of Flynn by Mueller's office was used as a means to ‘get Trump.'"
The government’s filing of Barnett’s 302 in the Flynn docket comes just days before Flynn’s team and Justice Department attorneys will present arguments before Judge Emmet Sullivan with the hopes that he will dismiss the case.
Federal prosecutors, earlier this year, moved to dismiss Flynn's case — in which he had previously pleaded guilty to providing false statements to the FBI — after FBI records called into question the circumstances surrounding Flynn's interview with investigators. The Justice Department maintained that the FBI’s interview of Flynn was “conducted without any legitimate investigative basis.”
Flynn is set to be in federal court in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, Sept. 29.
Mueller’s investigation yielded no evidence of criminal conspiracy or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the election, although it did find that the Russian government "interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systemic fashion." The question of whether Trump obstructed justice was not answered, but it did state that the final report "does not exonerate [Trump]" on this matter.
Meanwhile, Barnett’s interview with Jensen appears to be part of Durham’s investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.
Durham was appointed by Attorney General Barr last year to investigate the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe shortly after Mueller completed his yearslong investigation into whether the campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Durham’s timeline has been focused on July 2016, when the FBI’s original Russia probe began, through the appointment of Mueller in May 2017.
Durham’s investigation has been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, but that has not blunted the level of anticipation from President Trump, his Republican allies on Capitol Hill and his supporters, some of whom have called for findings to be released before November's presidential election.