In a stunning and detailed interview conducted September 17 by U.S. attorney Jeff Jensen, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) case agent for the original investigation of former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and who later worked on Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel blew the whistle on myriad problems that plagued those investigations from the very beginning.
FBI Special Agent William Barnett told Department of Justice (DOJ) investigators that the handling of the probes troubled him so much that he threatened to quit working on it in one case, and threatened to go to the Inspector General in another. According to the summary of Barnett’s interview, he said there was never any basis for the bizarre “collusion” theory the agency and the special counsel relentlessly pursued, to the point that agents made jokes about how they could take any piece of information and claim it was evidence of collusion. He said the Special Counsel Office (SCO) pursued Flynn simply as a means to “get Trump” and viewed FBI investigators as a “speed bump” slowing down the work of the attorneys leading the inquisition.
The broader Trump investigation was “opaque,” the case theory was “supposition on supposition,” the Flynn probe in particular was “unclear and disorganized,” and its predicate was “not great,” Barnett told investigators. According to the interview notes, he felt there was “little detail concerning specific evidence of criminal events.”
When Barnett was first placed on the case in 2016, he said he assumed he’d have a better understanding of why the investigation into the Trump campaign was launched as he read through the evidence. But “after being involved in the investigation for six weeks, Barnett was still unsure of the basis of the investigation concerning Russia and the Trump Campaign working together, without a specific criminal allegation.” Much was made over the Republican National Convention platform amending a proposed change in support of “lethal assistance” to Ukraine to “appropriate assistance.” While some at the FBI attempted to claim this was a sign of collusion with Russia, he characterized the theory as “groping.”
After moving in 2016 to close the Flynn investigation for complete lack of any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, Barnett was instructed in early 2017 to keep it open and investigate Flynn for a Logan Act violation. The FBI didn’t even have a code for the Logan Act, a never-used, centuries-old law prohibiting private citizens from corresponding with foreign governments. Flynn was not a private citizen, but the incoming National Security Advisor for President Trump when he made phone calls with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, so even if the law were deemed constitutional, it would not have applied to Flynn. Barnett had to research the Logan Act, as he was unfamiliar with it, but “did not see the Logan Act as a serious stand-alone charge.”
When Barnett pushed for a closing interview with Flynn in 2016, as part of the normal procedure for closing cases that were going nowhere, he was rebuffed. But when the FBI later interviewed Flynn, falsely conveying to Flynn that he was not a target of an investigation and not in danger of walking into a perjury trap, Barnett was “cut out” of the January 24, 2017, ambush interview of Flynn, and was not informed of its existence until it had already been conducted. “Typically a line agent/case agent would do the interview with a senior FBI official present in cases concerning high ranking political officials,” the summary of Barnett’s interview noted. While Barnett at first thought the unusual move was part of an effort to close the investigation, he later realized otherwise.
It was not the only time the case agent was cut out of the unusual activity going on in the probe to target Flynn. “[N]either Barnett nor any other line agents were invited to attend” meetings about the Flynn investigation, which was changed to being conducted from the “‘top down,’ meaning direction concerning the investigation was coming from senior officials,” Barnett said. He noted that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was personally directing the Flynn investigation. McCabe was later fired for repeatedly lying under oath about his leaks to the media. McCabe was referred for criminal investigation by the department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz.