NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Former FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok agreed to avoid treating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton harshly in a 2016 interrogation about her private email system, over concerns Mrs. Clinton might retaliate after becoming president.
Mr. Strzok was fired by the FBI for unprofessional conduct, including text messages criticizing then-candidate Donald Trump and supporting Mrs. Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. He is suing the Justice Department claiming he was improperly fired. As part of the suit, the department released an August 2018 letter from the FBI to Mr. Strzok outlining the reasons for his dismissal.
Mr. Strzok was the leader of both the Clinton email investigation and the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.
Both the FBI inspector general and U.S. Attorney John Durham are investigating whether the FBI acted improperly in conducting the Trump campaign probe.
One text message revealed an exchange between Mr. Strzok and his mistress, Lisa Page, on how to approach interview of Mrs. Clinton.
“One more thing, [Clinton] may be our next president,” Ms. Page stated. “The last thing you need [is] going in there loaded for bear. You think she’s going to remember or care that it is more [Department of Justice] than FBI” conducting the interrogation?
“Agreed,” Mr. Strzok replied.
The letter said in a footnote that the discussion was related to the number of people who would take part in the Clinton interview that was conducted on July 2, 2016.
Mr. Strzok later told the FBI that the text did not mean that “we should treat [Clinton] differently because she’s our next president” and claimed he made no decision based on anything Clinton “might be or [might] become.”
Despite finding 81 emails containing classified information ranging from confidential to top-secret, then-FBI Director James B. Comey announced in October 2016 that the Justice Department would not prosecute Mrs. Clinton for mishandling classified information.
The FBI reviewed more than 40,000 text messages between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page, an FBI lawyer at the time, messages that were sent on their FBI cell phones.
Mr. Strzok also speculated that the Clinton email probe helped Trump get elected and that the special counsel investigation headed by former FBI Director Robert Mueller would lead to impeachment.
“For me and this case, I personally have a sense of unfinished business,” Mr. Strzok said. “I unleashed it with [the Clinton email investigation]. Now I need to fix it and finish it. Who gives a [expletive], one more A[ssistant] D[irector] [vs.] an investigation leading to impeachment?”
DNI restricts open source intel
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has imposed new restrictions on an open source intelligence agency and a congressional China commission wants the limits removed.
The CIA-based Open Source Enterprise (OSE), which translates and disseminates news and documents from around the world, recently imposed a ban on accessing the online service from outside the government.
Access to OSE was limited earlier this year to people in government agencies who must log in to the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System. JWICS is a Defense Intelligence Agency network used by the military, Pentagon civilians, and employees of the State, Justices and Homeland Security departments to access classified information.
Before the restrictions were imposed, OSE was accessible to a wider range of government officials and government contractors.
Information supplied by the OSE is unclassified and is used by members of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
The commission is opposing the restrictions because it limits access to the OSE’s repository of translated Chinese-language material.
One recommendation in the latest annual commission report urged Congress to “direct the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to restore the unclassified Open Source Enterprise website to all of its original functions for U.S. government employees.”
“Access to the Open Source Enterprise should also be expanded by making appropriate materials available to U.S. academic and research institutions,” the report said.
OSE was once known as the CIA’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service and made most its reports available to the public.
A DNI spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
Larry Wortzel, a member of the China commission, said the OSE’s restrictions are hampering work on China.
“To work on China using Chinese open source documents, if you are not on JWICS, you need to read Chinese,” Mr. Wortzel said.
Steven Aftergood, an open-government advocate with the Project on Government Secrecy, said he supports the push for wider access.
“The commission’s recommendation is exactly on target,” he said.
“The great virtue of open source intelligence is that, in most cases, it can be widely shared without the classification restrictions that limit the distribution of other forms of intelligence,” he added. “So recent moves to curtail access to the products of the Open Source Enterprise make no sense. In fact, they are counterproductive.”
Mr. Aftergood said OSE should go beyond the commission recommendation and allow the public to access some open source intelligence.
“At a time in our country when even some of the most basic facts seem to be in dispute, the [U.S. intelligence community] has a responsibility to help inform the public whenever it can do so without compromising its primary mission,” Mr. Aftergood said. “Sharing open source products is one of the most promising ways of doing that.”
China watcher on Hong Kong violence
Willy Wo Lop Lam, the Hong Kong journalist known for breaking major stories on Chinese affairs, is warning that Beijing likely will impose stricter controls on the restive region.
“Beijing has seized upon the growing unrest in Hong Kong as evidence that the Special Administrative Region (SAR) should introduce more draconian laws on national security, which would enable the SAR administration to rule with an iron hand,” Mr. Lam told Inside the Ring. “‘One country, two systems’ is being undermined as never before.”
The Chinese government allowed Hong Kong to keep its capitalist economic system and relative democratic political system as part of the 1997 handover from British rule to Beijing’s control.
“It is possible Beijing has also deployed more police from nearby Guangdong Province into Hong Kong,” Mr. Lam noted. “The Hong Kong police have apparently been given authority by Beijing to treat protesters with what many consider to be an unnecessarily high degree of violence, so as to provoke more anger on the streets.”
Police have stepped up the use of violence to counter protesters who confronted police with bricks and Molotov cocktails.
A key battle between police and protesters in recent days was centered on Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Thousands of protesters were holed up there for several days, surrounded by police who fired tear gas at protesters who three gasoline bombs. More than 1,000 protesters who left the campus were arrested and small group remained as of Wednesday, according to press reports from the region.
“So far we see no endgame to the confrontation between protesters and police — with Beijing refusing to grant any concessions in the way of genuine political and electoral reform for Hong Kong,” Mr. Lam said.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.