Allies of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, up to and including President Trump, have pointed to a handwritten February 2017 note by Bill Priestap, then the FBI's counterterrorism director, to argue that FBI agents set out to trick Flynn into lying about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump's inauguration. Attorney General William Barr said FBI agents intended to "lay a perjury trap." Acting U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea, Barr's long time adviser, cited Priestap's memo when petitioning U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to drop Flynn's case, despite a guilty plea Flynn affirmed before seeking to withdraw.
Justice Department officials involved in the Flynn case interviewed Priestap last week, two days before Shea signed the extraordinary motion to dismiss the case, The New York Times reports. Priestap said their interpretation of his memo — and the one pushed by Flynn's lawyers and Fox News personalities — was wrong. "He said that FBI officials were trying to do the right thing in questioning Mr. Flynn and that he knew of no effort to set him up," the Times reports.
Priestap's memo reflected his own thoughts on the FBI'S internal debate about inteviewing Flynn. "What's our goal? Truth/admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?" Priestap wrote, adding: "Protect our institution by not playing games." His notes also show the FBI "softened its interview strategy" with Flynn, giving him hints to refresh his memory of his conversations, the Times reports. Nevertheless, Flynn "lied repeatedly, and prosecutors have said that agents gave him 'multiple opportunities to correct his false statements by revisiting key questions.'"
Justice Department officials "did not tell Judge Sullivan about Mr. Priestap's interview," though an official said they will submit a report on the interview soon, the Times reports. That may not sit well with Sullivan, who has already expressed skepticism over the DOJ's motion to dismiss the case. Barr's push to drop the case has also drawn strong rebukes from hundreds of former Justice Department officials, and another former top official cited in Shea's motion, Mary McCord, wrote in a New York Times op-ed it's "disingenuous for the department to twist my words" to support Barr's "contorted argument." Read more about Priestap's memo at The New York Times.