Peter Strzok’s Out of Scope Polygraph

I watch shit-show hearings so you don’t need to.

And yesterday’s HJC hearing with Rod Rosenstein and Chris Wray was one of the shitshowiest I’ve sat through. I hope to do a post mapping out the cynical theater the Republicans put on yesterday, and how they succeeded in manipulating the press. But first, I want to point to the one really good point Doug Collins sort of made at the hearing.

In January 2016, Peter Strzok had an out of scope polygraph. And yet, by all appearances, he remained working on a sensitive leak investigation, then moved onto an investigation into one of the most damaging spying operations targeting the United States since the Cold War.

Let’s go back to something I asked, you and I had a conversation about a few months ago. Mr. Strzok’s issue I asked at the time did he have a security clearance. You said you would check. Now it appears that security clearance has been revoked. The concern I have again is again, process, inside the Department of Justice on what happens when you have someone of his caliber, counterintelligence level, this is not a new recruit, this is somebody who’s been around has had sensitive information. And on January 13, 2016, an individual from FBI’s Washington Field Office emailed Mr. Strzok and other employees that their polygraphs were, I think it was, “out of scope.” I asked you about that. And asked you if he had been polygraphed. You didn’t know at the time. It said the polygraph raised flags. Now, my question about this would be you didn’t know about the polygraph at the time. We just assume now that it’s out there, you do. Would the topic of extramarital affair have come up in that polygraph or possibility of extramarital affair come up to to put it out of scope?


Do you think it’s interesting you would continue to have someone in an investigation of such magnitude and sensitivity who basically had a failed polygraph or an out of scope polygraph test in which they had to then go back and re-answer or complete sensitive [sic] compartmentalized information request on this. Would they stay in that investigation? And if so were they treated differently because of his position or who he was?


Does it not strike you as strange, Mr. Wray, and I was not going here but now you’ve led me here. Does it not strike you as strange  that someone who has had an issue with a polygraph, during the investigation in which you have, in which sensitive information were coming about, in which we’ve now seen the text and other things, what would be–could they just flunk a polygraph and you just keep them on, if they could flunk questions, you keep them on sensitive information simply because that — not speaking of Mr. Strzok here, I’m talking overall policy. Is your policy just to keep people around that lie?

I get that polygraphs come close to junk science and don’t measure what they claim to measure. I get that Collins is just trying to discredit the Mueller investigation.

But if you’re going to require that cleared employees — throughout the federal government — take and pass polygraphs, shouldn’t you act when someone has an adverse polygraph? Especially if you’re the FBI, the agency that investigates everyone else’s clearance?

It turns out, FBI already knows it had a problem on this front. In March of this year, DOJ’s Inspector General completed an investigation into how the FBI responded to adverse polygraphs. Based on a review of what happened with problematic polygraph results from 2014 to 2016 — so covering the period in which Strzok’s took place — DOJ IG found that the FBI was not following protocols. Two of its findings pertain directly to what appears to have happened with Strzok. First, the FBI wasn’t always pulling people off SCI information after someone had failed a poly.

Second, we found that the FBI did not always comply with its own policy governing employee access to Sensitive Compartmented Information, classified national intelligence information concerning or derived from sensitive intelligence sources, methods, or analytical processes, which is to be handled exclusively within formal access control systems established by the Director of National Intelligence. The FBI’s policy generally prohibits access to Sensitive Compartmented Information for FBI employees who have not passed a polygraph examination within a specified period. We identified instances in which employees unable to pass multiple polygraph examinations were allowed to retain access to sensitive information, systems, and spaces for extended periods of time without required risk assessments — potentially posing a security risk to the FBI.

While it appears Strzok had just one problematic polygraph, not multiple ones, this appears to be what Collins is talking about: someone not being pulled off sensitive cases when a polygraph triggers a warning, presumably because the FBI considered them too valuable to deal with according to protocol.

In addition, when the FBI investigated failed polygraph, the IG found, the FBI’s investigators weren’t always accessing all materials available to them.

Third, we found that investigations of unresolved polygraph results did not always draw on all sources of FBI information. We identified communication issues between the FBI’s Analysis and Investigations Unit (AIU), which investigates and makes adjudicative recommendations on employee polygraph results, and other FBI personnel security stakeholders. We also had concerns about the AIU’s thoroughness in leveraging all relevant FBI information during its investigations. These issues prevent the AIU from consistently producing thorough and efficient investigations.

I’m not sure whether this would include reviewing an employee’s FBI communications or not, but it might (and probably should). If FBI had reviewed Strzok’s FBI texts in January 2016, they would have discovered he was conducting an undisclosed extramarital affair, the probable explanation of any finding of deception on his polygraph. They’d also have discovered that Strzok agreed with most of the country about what a buffoon Donald Trump was — which in his case would be problematic given that he was carrying out an investigation into Hillary Clinton.

In September, Michael Horowitz informed Christopher Wray of the problem, as he had immediately informed Wray of Strzok’s problematic texts.

Now, that Strzok had a bad polygraph may create problems for any affidavits that Strzok was an affiant for. If he was specifically asked about extramarital affairs in his interview, and lied about it, that lie will be used to challenge any investigative steps that he swore to. While Strzok’s not known to have been the affiant for key steps (such as the Paul Manafort warrants or the Carter Page FISA order), this could create problems for Mueller elsewhere (a point that Wray and Rosenstein admitted elsewhere).

But there’s the counterpart of this. Pulling Strzok off the Hillary investigation in January 2016 would have identified the source of his apparent deception, and led to minor disciplinary action, after which he would have been back on the beat hunting out foreign spies. Instead, his involvement in these two cases has unnecessarily discredited both of them, even though his investigative actions appear to have been defensible in both cases.

21 replies
  1. Avattoir says:

    I have strongly-held views on this. Polygraphs are not “close to junk science”; they’re freaking alchemy.

    The CLOSEST any of the cases I was on ever got to a full consideration of the full-on goofball procedure the polygraph carries in with it “MAY HAVE involved” (the furthest I’m prepared to go to avoid straying into unsafe legal waters) multiple under-oath testimonial confirmation that the entire purpose of the whizbang claptrapistry aims to render subsequent – the subsequent NECESSARY – “confrontation”, the more credible to credulous. And even that basis turns out to rely critically on a writhing mass of anecdotal reportage, faux-clinical “studies” and distressingly unhinged sciency b.s. analysis to the bottom line, that its use can result in material that might prove useful to a Jordonairish (that’s Freedumber inquisitor Jim Jordan, not the music group) approach to extracting confession.

    I’ve been involved, mostly peripherally tho several times closely – with cases where this crap somehow seeped in like something you’d feel justified in report to the CDC in Atlanta. It does so with the greatest frequency, indeed with horrifyingly bureaucratic near-regularity, from the taxpayer-supported investigator side, yet not with notably less fervor nor greater stupidity from career criminals, psychos, twisted dicks and bent bar’sters.

    Its capacity for screwing up what otherwise appear to be rational exercises in forensic inquiry is, to me anyway, unparalleled.

    I’m sure this was not intended, and indeed since I accept the possibility that, since my own reaction here may be OTT due to past intense exposure to the polygraph horribles, it may not be anywhere near a fair characterization, I assume it’s not that either, HOWEVER:

    the way I read emptywheel’s post here is that it comes frootloopsilly close to accepting its premise, the deeply irregular religiotic unrigor which helped earn its status as a regularly-applied standard FBI backhoe plus all-purpose cleanser, when in actual use it’s practically indistinguishable from the category that includes blood-letting, water-boarding and homeopathic Drāno.

    • cat herder says:

      Electronical dowsing rod.

      (The thing about dowsing is, you dig where they say and you find water! So, there’s no reason to dig 10 feet over this way, and 30 feet over that way, and if you did, you’d find water in those places too.)

      More O/T: Avattoir, you have experience with sniffer dogs where the dog doesn’t alert but the handler says it did, just to get PC for a search?

  2. Fester Addams says:

    Are we sure we know what “out of scope” even means? I’m familiar with “full scope”, but that refers to what they’ll ask about (everything).

  3. Avattoir says:

    emptywheel’s link features a performance by Collins that IMO is shared among the character depicted in the Talking Heads performance of the Burns-Franz-Weymouth song “Psycho Killer”, Sean Hannity, Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, Steve King, Devin Nunes, as far as I can tell the entire membership of the Congressional Freedom Caucus, AFAIK most FoxNews hosts, and, in my experience, most populist reactionary demagogues:
    they only APPEAR to form sentences, assert rational lines of reasoning, formulate logical positions and pose comprehensible questions.
    Instead, if one were to reduce what they say out loud in public to transcript form, what’s evident is only rarely (to the point of being possibly just accidentally) more than a rapid fire if not automated spew of an unleavened concoction of memes, biases, dog whistles, rumors, slanders, paranoia, aggression and otherwise bent, twisted & mutilated factoids.

    Collins’ Wiki page shows him as a former mid-rank Air Force religion officer, an evangelical armed up with a law school degree. He’s an entirely mainstream American establishment fascist.

    Besides the implication that fascism is mainstream Republican (I resist using “now” because it’s been like this my entire life – tho it’s possibly not been quite so bad as this in a half century), how can critical thinking or even merely rational humans propose to deal with, let alone convince, humans who speak and apparently think like this?

    It doesn’t work well in court – UNLESS the judge ALSO thinks the same way. And that explains the Leonard Leo project: to make American courtrooms mainstream religiotic psycho again.

    • Bob Conyers says:

      I’m reading Bad Blood right now, about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. It’s a wildly entertaining and disturbing book.

      Holmes is also a fantastically self-asssured gibberish speaker with only the barest intersection with reality, and relevant to your point about the conservative world, she wae able to gain backers from conservative men like Henry Kissinger, Jim Mattis, Bill Frist, Sam Nunn and George Schultz.

      There was some kind of mind meld between this deeply creepy semi-robot CEO and these heavy hitters – you can see how their deep disconnect with the real world was a perfect match for her and her completely unrealistic venture. If only everyone involved had suffered even more embarrassment from the implosion of Theranos.

  4. earlofhuntingfdon says:

    My reaction to rumors about John Kelly’s imminent departure:  Fine. One less politically inept racist in the White House.  But Whipple and Velshi on MSNBC seem to think that for a replacement, Trump wants an adult in the room.  Has no one been paying attention?

    Trump will have what he wants when Kelly leaves.  Why would he hire someone to be the only adult in the room?  He does not want anyone around him who would tell him, “No.”  Not for the last fifty years.  If Trump did hire someone willing to tell him no, Trump would just have to fire them sooner.

    And why is the press, especially the NYT, worried about Rod Rosenstein’s emotional state, but not Donald J. Trump’s?  No one seems to think that an adult needs to be in the room when Rod is at work to keep him from starting World War III.

  5. Peacerme says:

    I am really struggling to see a way out of this. tRump is gaining more power, not less.

    Dems have no leverage but do you think they could rally a strong message on tv and some opinion polls?

    Where are they? What is the strategy!!

    ‘They have to rouse some public opinion on the ethical dilemma if he picks a judge while under investigation. What is to stop him from asking for loyalty like he did from Comey. Do we assume he’ll stop looking if he can’t find one to agree to his pledge?? Trump should not be allowed to appoint a judge. Dems need to hit that message HARD to the American public! To the 70%.

    ‘Our democracy is in deep trouble if tRump/Putin have control over scotus, senate and House. He’s fired anyone who thinks for the greater good. It’s all crony, all day. At some point Mueller won’t matter. He will have amassed enough power to ignore him.

  6. Mitch Neher says:

    What Trump and Congressional Republicans really want going forward is to encroach as far as they possibly can upon prosecutorial discretion at the Department of Justice in just such a way as politically to determine who gets charged with a crime and who doesn’t as well as what crimes are charged or not charged. They have not backed off one jot nor tittle from Trump’s campaign themes: “The system is rigged; she never should’ve been allowed to run; crooked H, lock her up.”

    It is not enough for Trump and Congressional Republicans to politicize law enforcement. They seek to criminalize political opposition, to boot. The gist of Trump’s complaint against the supposed witch hunt is that the supposed witch hunters have not yet done Trump’s bidding the way that Trump demands they should. Trump wants his own deep state. And Congressional Republicans appear to be willing to give that to Trump. Why they would trust Trump with Putin-like powers is beyond my ken.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Some goppers know how to spell blackmail.

      They are only worried about their ass, not the country.

  7. Palli says:

    Topic: Judge Kennedy
    Questions: What would have happened if Kennedy had waited until after the publication of his son being Don Jr.’s $1B banker story before announcing his retirement? The number of SCOTUS decisions where he should have honestly recused himself? Allusions to trump’s use of blackmail against GOP legislatures abound; but how much is it investigated, defined & exposed? What the hell…

    Niave Questions: Is there no on-going [vetting] investigation of people serving in government other than civilian investigators? Why wasn’t Justin Kennedy’s Deutsche Bank job common knowledge? Were trump forces “sweet-talking” Kennedy with this as blackmail?
    How can blackmail information work when it can be so easily exposed?

  8. orionATL says:

    one could guess from the highly anxious way they are behaving that the closer mueller gets to roger stone (and maybe the brexit guys) the more nervous nunes and his white house allies get. after all, in terms of “dirt” it was wikileaks, not gucifer, that did the real damage to clinton.

    i’d guess that, that no matter how compliant he is with the hpsci requirements, rosenstein is on his way out followed by mueller in a short time, dismissed by rosenstein’s replacement. this avoids the direct firing of mueller by the prez.

    i infer from this that nunes, at least, among house republicans, knows what transpired between the trump campaign and the russian government in 2016.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Believe Roger Stone will be subpoenaed soon. Soon may be a few months]

      A former aide to Roger Stone, an adviser to President Donald Trump, was subpoenaed to appear in front of a grand jury in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and “hand over documents,” The New York Times reports. Andrew Miller reportedly helped Stone “arrange media interviews” and do other tasks during the 2016 presidential campaign. Miller’s lawyer said he planned to file a motion Thursday arguing Mueller’s appointment “was unconstitutional” as a means of firing back against the subpoena.

      [I would not assume the Grand Jury you may be thinking of is actually the correct GJ]

      • SpaceLifeForm says:

        During the 2016 election cycle, the super PAC founded by Stone shelled out $9,000 to A Miller Research — a business run by Miller — for consulting, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He helped Stone coordinate appearances and media interviews during that time and was paid through the super PAC, Dearn said.

        Stone insisted Miller did only minimal work for him for the 2016 campaign.


        Kamenar is representing Miller at the request of a conservative nonprofit, the National Legal and Policy Center, which is paying his legal fees.

        [This would be same path for Manafort to get legal rep]

        [note ‘at request of’. Someone is very worried when a front org tied to trump is ‘intervening’]

        • SpaceLifeForm says:

          The Conspiracy goes deep and for a long time.

          National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) is a front group and industry funded right-wing political and policy lobbying organization. NLPC was founded in 1991 by Peter Flaherty and Ken Boehm, who previously worked for “Citizens for Reagan”.

          SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 49 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of June 2018, SPN’s membership totals 156. It is an $83 million right-wing empire as of the 2011 funding documents from SPN itself and each of its state “think tank” members. Although SPN’s member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, the Center for Media and Democracy’s in-depth investigation, “EXPOSED: The State Policy Network — The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government,” reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.

          [$83 million in 2011? Bullshit. That is the petty cash. Probably blew that much on Greitens in Missouri in 2016]

          [And why Canada and UK? Oh, AIQ and SCL may tie in]

          [and why Puerto Rico? We know they fucked them over]

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