FBI Counterintelligence Chief: ‘An Affair Is Not a Violation of FBI Policy’

By Susan Jones | April 4, 2019 | 9:32am EDT
(Photo: Screen capture)

(CNSNews.com) - "There is no FBI policy that prohibits somebody from having an affair," FBI Assistant Director E.W. "Bill" Priestap told House Judiciary and Oversight Committee investigators on June 5, 2018. "There's no FBI policy that says you can't have an affair, and if you do, you're going to be punished."

A transcript of Priestap's remarks was released this week.

Priestap at the time was responsible for all FBI counterintelligence investigations, including the Clinton email and Trump-Russia probes. His deputy, Peter Strzok, the lead investigator on the Clinton investigation, and later the Trump-Russia investigation, was carrying on an adulterous affair with FBI attorney Lisa Page.

The subject of extramarital affairs arose three times in the course of Priestap's June 5 interview, and those parts of the transcript -- including Priestap's statement that there is no FBI policy barring extramarital affairs -- are printed below. The questions answered by Priestap were asked by committee staff investigators:

Round 1:

Q: In your role of protecting national assets, I'm sure hostile intelligent services, as they do what they're doing and you're doing what they're doing to counter what they're doing, a real goal for them would be to infiltrate or penetrate the U.S. Government, especially two people with people that do the kind of work that you do.

How important, in your line of work and your role as an AD, is personnel security, making sure that your employees do not do things that make them vulnerable?

A: It's -- I'd argue it's very important for all FBI personnel, very important for all United States intelligence community personnel. And it's especially important for FBI counterintelligence personnel. We know, because of our work, our adversaries' capabilities, and they're not to be scoffed at.

Q: Could you give examples of what would potentially make someone vulnerable to a recruitment or whatever?

A: Sure. A whole variety of things: drug abuse; alcohol abuse; being in difficult financial straits; affairs, if you're married, extramarital affairs. I'm sure I can think of others, but the -- I guess I'd rather not go into too much more detail there just because of a classification level, but I don't know if -- I want to make sure I'm satisfying the question. But a variety of personal behaviors could make somebody more susceptible or vulnerable to foreign recruitment than other behaviors.

Q: And that is made known to FBI employees?

A: Absolutely.

Q: They're reminded, they're trained. So Mr. Strzok, as the number one agent of FBI, he would be aware of vulnerabilities and trade craft of adversaries?

A: Absolutely. Absolutely.

(They return to the topic after a diversion.)

Q: So, sir, you just -- we just have a couple of minutes left in this first hour. I mean, you had just, in response to my colleagues' questions, talked about a few of the things that would be considerations for whether or not a particular agent was vulnerable.

A: Yes.

Q: One of them was affairs. So you're -- absolutely, it's been publicly reported about Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page having -- engaging in an extramarital affair.

A: Yes.

Q: Did you have any knowledge of that while it was going on?

A: No. And I say no. Sometime -- I apologize. I don't remember the time frame. I don't even want to surmise on the time. I don't remember the time frame. But after Pete had been reporting to me for a considerable amount of time, somebody brought to my attention that that behavior might be going on. And so that's when it -- I became aware that that was a possibility.

Q: So someone who works at the FBI?

A: Yes. Yep.

Q: And can you say who that person was?

A: I -- , there's -- it's going to be -- it's going to be one of two, but I don't know which one.

[Priestap names names.]

Q: Did you take any action based on that?

A: I did.

Q: What action?

A: I spoke to Deputy Director McCabe about it. I also spoke to both Pete and Lisa about it. I felt I owed it to them. Lisa did not report to me, but I felt that they ought to be aware of what was being said. I didn't ask them if it was true, but they needed to know that that impression was out there. And I don't remember my exact words. But what I was trying to communicate is this better not interfere with things, if you know what I mean. Like, to me, the mission is everything. And so, we all haveour personal lives, what have you. I'm not the morality police.

Q: But that behavior would make them vulnerable to an intelligence service.

A:  In my opinion, yes.

Q: Did you discuss that? Not just it better not have affected your work, but --

A: No. Because, again, I didn't know for certain it was goingon, and I didn't ask them whether it was going on. And I also felt, to a comment earlier, that they knew darn well that, if that was going on that potentially makes them vulnerable.

Q: Isn't that the type of thing your division would investigate, whether a top counterintelligence officer was compromised?

A: Oh, sure. If we had any indication that a --

Q: I don't mean actually compromised. I'm sorry. Let me take my question back. Was in a compromising situation.

A: Yeah. No. No. If we had information that any FBI person was cavorting with an adversary in any regard, we'd -- we'd want to know about that. But I had no information whatsoever that either of those individuals had any contact, let alone engagement, or regular engagement, with an adversary.

Unfortunately, as an adult, I've known other people who have affairs, of course. And, again, it's -- well, I'm not the morality police. I just -- to me, don't let whatever you're dealing with in a personal capacity interfere with the work we're doing.

Q: I think our hour is up, so I think we'll take a 5-minute break...

Round 2:

Q: So in the last round, there was some discussion about when you first became aware of a potential affair between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page and the actions you took afterwards.

And I believe that you said, when you were first made aware, that you went to Peter Strzok and Lisa Page directly. And you also said that you believe such an affair could constitute an intelligence vulnerability; is that correct?

A: Yeah. I guess one thing I'd want to clarify, though, is that, when it comes to intelligence vulnerabilities, they're often not taken alone, meaning, to me, the most vulnerable people are the people who exhibit more than one vulnerability.

It doesn't mean if you have only one vulnerability, for example, a drug abuser, that you might not be susceptible. And, again, the foreign adversary might try to take advantage of that fact. But I guess, what I'm getting at is, when it comes to the vulnerabilities, there's a variety of them. And a lot of the -- let's just say people that we come across and have concerns about exhibit more than one vulnerability.

Q: So when you raised the issue to the attention of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, was part of that reason perhaps to, you know, give them the opportunity, if it was true, to disclose it properly, disclose it to other people, resolve it with their spouses? Anything like that?

A: I don't recall that being one of my -- my motivations. What I recall is that I wanted them on notice that I had been advised of this potential activity. It was not said to me with certainty, and I didn't know it to be true.

But I wanted them on notice that somebody has advised me of this situation, and that I expected that they do whatever necessary to ensure it didn't interfere with our work. I also, just as a human being, because I want the best for them -- but I didn't give them any guidance on what they should do, whether that was talking to spouse or whatever.

But, again, it was a way to say, Please, don't let -- if it is, in fact, true, please, don't let that interfere in any way with your responsibilities. And I had to walk a very, very fine line with Lisa, because Lisa did not report to me. [She reported to McCabe.]

But I had had a lot of interaction with her on this matter. And I'm a big believer in, when employees are going to be given bad news, they ought to be given it by the boss, in effect. So I -- what I didn't want them is to hear it from others and that, you know -- I did -- I didn't tell them about it all and I didn't seek to address it.

I feel a responsibility for the men and women and the work in the counterintelligence division. And, again, while Lisa didn't report to me, she was assisting us on an important counterintelligence topic.

Q: But from your perspective of potential intelligence vulnerability -- did you consider it a significant enough potential vulnerability to report immediately as a potential vulnerability to other channels?

A: No. I had no information that indicated that there was anything, when it came to FBI responsibilities, improper. And so nobody told me that, Hey, they were seen talking to a, you know, foreign intelligence officer, one of them was, or, Hey, they're -- they're suspected of, you know, some financial things.

In other words, there was no -- as far as I understand, an affair is not a violation of FBI policy. There's no -- there's no FBI policy that says you can't have an affair, and if you do, you're going to be punished.

Q: So is it fair to say that, taken in a vacuum, an affair probably does not raise the level of a significant intelligence concern, but in combination with other factors, it could?

A: Sure. Yeah. I'd say that's accurate. Yep.

(Another investigator chimes in.)

Q: Sorry. I just want to understand. So I think, previously, we were talking about personnel security concerns. And as I understand it, an affair can become a blackmail concern, right?

That's -- it's the concern that someone could hold information of that type over another individual to coerce them. Is that your understanding?

A: That's exactly right. So you're trying to keep an affair from your loved ones. And a foreign adversary learns about it and says, if you don't do things on my behalf, I'm going to go to your family and divulge this. And, oh, no, you can't do that. It'll ruin my life, and so what do you want me to do?

Q: Right. And in this situation, you did not see any evidence of blackmail?

A: No. No indication, let alone evidence of anything like that.

Round 3: ‘My attitude was, this cannot be a distraction to work’

Congressional staffers returned to the Strzok-Page affair for a third time later in the interview, as follows:

Q: In the previous hour, sir, you told our colleagues that you didn't know that it was true whether Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page were having an affair. But they ultimately were, correct?

A: Yes. I actually never asked them and they have never told me, but, of course, based on everything I've read, seen, I'm assuming they did.

Q: Have you read the text messages between them that have been produced?

A: No. I've seen certain excerpts in the media. I've not gone through their -- so some are unavoidable. But, no, I've not read their text messages. It's not like I have a stack and I've read all their text messages.

Q: When did you learn that it was a fact that they had been carrying this on?

A: I don't know. Probably through media reports. I mean, I don't remember somebody -- well, I don't remember anybody saying that they were, in fact, having an affair.

Q; Even though you didn't know whether it was true or not at the time, it was credible enough, isn't it fair to say, that you brought it up with both of them?

A: Yes.

Q: Including Ms. Page, who you said you weren't even the supervisor of?

A: Yeah. Although, when -- I did bring it up with both of them. But I want to hesitate a bit on the "credible enough." What was credible enough is that it was being told to me that this was happening and that other people believed it. So whether in fact it was happening or not, my attitude was, this cannot be a distraction to work going on, whether it's true or not.

And so I felt it was an issue that needed to be addressed in that context, not in the context of, hey, this is definitely true or definitely not. I didn't know if it was true or not. I just don't want any distractions.

Q: Right. So let me -- that word, distractions. I guess, you know, from what we've been discussing and what we discussed during the first hour right at the end, and what you discussed a little bit with our colleagues in the previous hour -- in the counterintelligence world, I believe you had said earlier that something like an affair is more than a distraction, it's a potential vulnerability

A: Yes.

Q: -- to compromise, right? So I guess I'm wondering, having learned that, or even just learned that there was talk about that going on, did you feel compelled to take any further action?

Not to just say, "Don't let this be a distraction," but to make sure it wouldn't cause a problem. That is to say, did you feel compelled to report it to OPR or anything like that?

A: No. I felt compelled to report it to Lisa Page or the person she was reporting to, which was Deputy Director McCabe.

I thought, if I know that, and I'm the -- meaning in my position -- and the deputy director doesn't know that, he needs to be aware that there's talk that this might be going on. I felt I owed it to him, he's a superior, to advise him. And I wanted his take on what, if anything, otherwise to do.

I don't remember our specific conversation, but I would have relayed to him that I had no other information that indicated that they were a security or intelligence risk.

Q: You had said also how much you respected Mr. Strzok and that he was one of the, I believe -- and this is not a quote, a paraphrase at most -- one of the foremost counterintelligence experts at the FBI.

A: Sure. Yep.

Q: That would -- did that affect any sort of decision you made about whether or not to make a report to OPR at all, the fact that--

A: No. No. Again, you make reports to OPR when you believe somebody has violated FBI policy. There is no FBI policy that prohibits somebody from having an affair.

So I had no information that Mr. Strzok, if he was engaging in an affair, that that was against FBI policy. So, no, I didn't have any information that I thought was reportable to OPR.

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