(CNSNews.com) - The man once responsible for all FBI counterintelligence investigations, including the Clinton email and Trump-Russia probes, told Congress in a closed-door session last June that the FBI has no policy forbidding agents from having adulterous affairs.
"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.
The subject of extramarital affairs arose several times in Priestap's interview, in connection with Priestap’s deputy, Peter Strzok, who was having an extramarital affair with FBI attorney Lisa Page. Strzok and Page were part of the Clinton email investigation and immediately afterward, the Trump-Russia investigation, both of which Priestap was overseeing.
(According to the Justice Department Inspector General, Strzok was selected to lead the Clinton email investigation "because he was one of the most experienced and highly-regarded counterintelligence investigators within the FBI." He also led the FBI's Trump-Russia investigation before moving briefly to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team.)
Priestap told congressional investigators he heard from others that Strzok and Page might be having an affair, but he never asked them if it was true, nor did he report it to the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).
“[Y]ou make reports to OPR when you believe somebody has violated FBI policy. There is no FBI policy that prohibits somebody from having an affair,” Priestap said. “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.”
Priestap said he heard about the Strzok-Page affair from someone at the FBI, and although he talked to both Strzok and Page about what he’d heard, he did not ask them if it was true. He just warned them not to let their personal lives interfere with their work:
"[A]fter Pete had been reporting to me for a considerable amount of time, somebody brought to my attention that that behavior might be going on," Priestap said.
"Did you take any action based on that?" a Republican staff investigator asked him.
"I did," Priestap responded. "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 have our personal lives, what have you. I'm not the morality police," Priestap said.
One of the staff investigators told Priestap, "But that behavior would make them vulnerable to an intelligence service."
"In my opinion, yes," Priestap responded.
Asked if he discussed those vulnerabilities with Strzok and Page, Priestap said, "No. Because again, I didn't know for certain it was going on, and I didn't ask them whether it was going on. And I also felt, to a comment earlier, that they knew darn well, if that was going on, that potentially makes them vulnerable."
An investigator asked Priestap, "Isn't that the type of thing your division would investigate, whether a top intelligence officer was compromised?"
"Oh sure," said Priestap. "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," Priestap said, "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."
To read excerpts from Priestap's interview where he talks about the FBI not having a policy on adultery, click here.
FBI Director Wray: 'We’re going to hold employees accountable for any potential misconduct'
Nine days after Bill Priestap gave his closed-door testimony, the Justice Department Inspector General released his report on the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
On that same day, June 14, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the FBI must "hold ourselves accountable for the choices we make and the work we do."
Wray released a statement, saying that he accepted the IG report, which identified what Wray called "errors of judgment, violations of or disregard for policy, and decisions that, at the very least, in hindsight, were not the best choices."
"We've already started taking the necessary steps to address those issues," Wray said:
First: We’re going to hold employees accountable for any potential misconduct.
We’ve already referred conduct highlighted in the IG report to OPR, the FBI’s independent Office of Professional Responsibility. We need to hold ourselves accountable for the work we do and the choices we make. And we’re doing that, fairly but without delay, in the way people should expect. We’re going to adhere to the appropriate disciplinary process for those reviews, and once that process is complete, we won’t hesitate to hold people accountable for their actions.
Second: We’re going to make sure that every FBI employee understands the lessons of this report.
Because change starts at the top—including right here with me—we’re going to begin by requiring all our senior executives, from around the world, to convene for in-depth training on the lessons we should learn from today’s report. Then we’re going to train every single FBI employee—new hires and veterans alike—on what went wrong, so those mistakes will never be repeated.
Third: We’re going to make sure we have the policies, procedures, and training needed for everyone to understand and remember what’s expected of us.
-- Drilling home the importance of objectivity—and of avoiding even the appearance of personal conflicts or political bias in our work;
-- Ensuring that recusals are handled correctly and effectively -- and are clearly communicated to the appropriate people;
-- Making all employees fully aware of our new policy on contacts with the news media, which I issued last November—and making clear that we will not tolerate non-compliance;
-- Ensuring that we follow all DOJ policies about public statements on ongoing investigations and uncharged conduct; and
-- Ensuring that our employees adhere strictly to all policies and procedures on the use of FBI systems, networks, and devices.
I’ve also directed our associate deputy director to lead a review of how the FBI handles particularly sensitive investigations, and to make recommendations on how those should be staffed, structured, and supervised in the future—so that every sensitive investigation is conducted to the FBI’s highest standards.
Wray did not specifically mention extramarital affairs among agents and the vulnerabilities that could produce.
The DOJ Inspector General's report mentioned Strzok and Page's extramarital affair only in connection with the text messages they exchanged, as follows:
The text messages between Page and Strzok covered a wide range of topics. For example, we identified a large number of routine work-related communications. Many of the text messages were of a personal nature, including discussions about their families, medical issues, and daily events, and reflected that Strzok and Page were communicating on their FBI-issued phones as part of an extramarital affair. We found that this relationship was relevant to the frequency and candid nature of the text messages and their use of FBI-issued phones to communicate. Some of these text messages expressed political opinions about candidates and issues involved in the 2016 presidential election, including statements of hostility toward candidate Trump and statements of support for candidate Clinton.
Notably, the IG report issues nine recommendations for the FBI, none directly addressing adultery among agents. The report does say that the Justice Department should "consider taking steps to improve the retention and monitoring of text messages Department-wide."
It also recommends that the FBI add a warning banner to all of the FBI’s mobile phones and mobile devices to "notify users that they have no reasonable expectation of privacy."
And the IG urged the FBI to consider, (a) assessing whether it has provided adequate training to employees about the proper use of text messages and instant messages, including any related discovery obligations, and (b) providing additional guidance about the allowable uses of FBI devices for any non-governmental purpose, including guidance about the use of FBI devices for political conversations."