Bill Priestap, the FBI’s former chief of counterintelligence, told Justice Department investigators he agreed not to disclose information he learned about Christopher Steele as a precondition for a meeting with British government officials regarding the former MI6 officer, according to recently declassified information.
Priestap and his deputy, Peter Strzok, traveled to the United Kingdom in November and December 2016 to assess the reliability of Steele, a former MI6 officer whose dossier the FBI used for its investigation into the Trump campaign.
Priestap and Strzok received mixed reviews about Steele from his former colleagues, according to a Justice Department inspector general’s report on the FBI’s probe.
Some vouched for Steele’s honesty and integrity, but several others questioned his judgement and “lack of self-awareness.” Some colleagues described Steele as “smart,” and a “person of integrity,” their notes said.
“[I]f he reported it, he believed it,” one contact said.
But their notes also reflected negative reviews on Steele. He “[d]emonstrates lack of self-awareness, poor judgment,” was “underpinned by poor judgment,” and “[r]eporting in good faith, but not clear what he would have done to validate,” one source said.
Priestap and Strzok embarked on the fact-finding mission weeks after the FBI had already used Steele’s anti-Trump dossier to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) order against Carter Page.
They shared those assessments with the FBI team conducting the Trump probe, but did not include the information in Steele’s so-called Delta file, which the FBI maintains for its confidential sources.
Because the information was not in Steele’s file, it was not used to assess Steele’s validity as an FBI source for the Trump investigation. The FBI also did not share the information in three additional applications for FISA orders against Page.
Priestap was asked during an interview with the IG why the negative Steele information was not included in his file, or disclosed to the FISA Court.
He said that he “may have made a commitment” to Steele’s former employer, “not to document the former employer’s views on Steele as a condition for obtaining the information” on the retired spy.
The IG report provides a damning assessment of Steele’s dossier.
Released on Dec. 9, 2019, the report said Steele’s primary source for the dossier disputed many of the characterizations in the salacious document.
According to footnotes from the report released April 10, the FBI received evidence in early 2017 that Russian intelligence operatives might have fed disinformation to Steele that ended up in the dossier.
Footnotes declassified this week said the U.S. intelligence community produced a report in June 2017 that said two Russian intelligence operatives knew in early July 2016 that Steele was investigating Trump. The Kremlin’s awareness of Steele’s activities might have made him a vulnerable target for a possible disinformation campaign.
Priestap, who retired from the FBI in 2018, did not respond to an email seeking comment.