Joe Pientka Warned Trump to Be Worried about People on His Periphery While Flynn Was Signing a Deal with Turkey

Donald Trump continues to use the Office of Director of National Intelligence role to declassify information to feed to frothy journalists so they can misrepresent the investigation into his campaign. Yesterday, John Ratcliffe released the FBI part of the classified briefing given to Trump, Chris Christie, and Mike Flynn on August 17, 2016. Among the things Ratcliffe disclosed is the FBI case files for both Crossfire Hurricane and the Flynn investigation, the paltry content of defensive briefings for a Presidential candidate, and that the FBI believed there were more Russian spies working under official cover in 2016 than Chinese spies.

They just don’t give a fuck anymore. They will compromise whatever they need to to try to spin the investigation into Trump, even if most of what they release doesn’t back their story.

The briefing also demonstrates that Trump had no concept of how spies work. He asked a childish question about whether — because they have more spies under official cover — whether they are bad.

Trump asked the following question,”Joe, are the Russians bad because they have more numbers are they worse than the Chinese?” Writer responded by saying both countries are bad. The numbers of IOs present in the U.S. is not an indicator of the severity of the threat. Writer reminded Trump the Chinese asymmetrical presence in the U.S. [redacted]. In addition, the OCONUS cyber threat posed by []PLA would have to be considered when making comparisons.

Having just been briefed that the Russians use official cover while the Chinese use non-official cover, Trump then collapsed that very basic concept to address just diplomatic cover.

The only interesting comment from Trump or Flynn, from an investigative standpoint, was that Trump seemed to suggest that Russia could match the US counterterrorism resources, an inaccurate belief the genesis of which is actually really interesting.

Meanwhile, Flynn asked Joe Pientka something totally off topic — how many FBI Agents they had as compared to counterterrorism cases. Flynn also, later, bragged about having done SIGINT (he seems to have wanted to prove his expertise).

Nothing in this briefing — not even the role of Kevin Clinesmith and Peter Strzok in approving an anodyne report — supports the frenzied response to it, and most commentators are totally misrepresenting what the briefing as a whole was (the first intelligence briefing, as reflected by redacted references to who gave those briefings), and what the nature of the defensive briefing that Pientka gave.

The far more interesting details is that Pientka warned Trump (accurately, as it turned out) about Russia and others trying to get to Trump through peripheral people and businessmen,

In the classical sense, an IO will attempt to recruit an individual to tell him or her the things he or she wants to know. This is known as HUMINT. It is highly unlikely a Foreign Intelligence Service will attempt to recruit you, however you need to be mindful of the people on your periphery: your staff , domestic help, business associates, friends, etc. Those individuals may present more vulnerabilities or be more susceptible to an approach. Those individuals will also be targeted for recruitment due to their access to you. That does not mean IOs will not make a run at you . They will send their IOs in diplomatic cover, businessperson NOCs, as well as sources they have developed around you to elicit information and gain assessment on you.

At the time Pientka gave this briefing, Flynn was finalizing the details of a deal with Turkey, using a businessman the government has credibly accused of being an agent of Turkey to cover up the Turkish government’s direct role in the deal. In his grand jury testimony, Flynn described knowing almost nothing of Ekim Alptekin when he pursued this deal.

So even as the FBI was trying to explain to Trump that people like his coffee boy and his rat-fucker would be used to assess his intentions, the guy sitting in the room was pursuing a big payday with a frenemy government seeking to do just that.

Pientka’s briefing lasted 13 minutes out of a total of at least 1 hour 55 minutes, though it looks like Trump left the briefing before they had presented everything, to catch a plane.

61 replies
  1. Rugger9 says:

    I’m curious about why Ratcliffe is playing with this dynamite, given how ham-handed so many other operations have been when run by the WH. They seem to think that releasing this info will inoculate against the interest in what Putin has on DJT when it really only whets the appetite.

    Now DJT can’t claim he didn’t know the Russians were trying to interfere. What did the WH gain from its release, really? I don’t see it.

    • Peterr says:

      Ratcliffe doesn’t know any better, and wants to be seen as a Very Serious Person, if not an American Hero. Per wiki:

      Ratcliffe’s campaign website said that, as a federal prosecutor Ratcliffe “personally managed dozens of international and domestic terrorism investigations involving some of the nation’s most sensitive security matters”[27] and “put terrorists in prison.”[5] There is, however, no evidence Ratcliffe ever prosecuted a terrorism case.[5]

      Ratcliffe also misrepresented his involvement in the U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing case, claiming “there are individuals that currently sit in prison because I prosecuted them for funneling money to terrorist groups.”[28] ABC News reported that there was no evidence in public court records that Ratcliffe was involved in the case, and that former officials and attorneys involved in the case could not recall that Ratcliffe was involved.[29]

      Ratcliffe’s official House of Representatives biography[30] says that while working as prosecutor for the Eastern District, he “arrested 300 illegal aliens in a single day”.[31] The Washington Post noted in a story about how Ratcliffe embellished his record that Ratcliffe played a supporting role in an effort to bust illegal immigrants and that his office arrested only 45 individuals suspected of being illegal immigrants (including two who turned out to be American citizens).[32] Officials involved in the immigration enforcement dispute that Ratcliffe played a central role in the raid.[32]

      He sold his soul to Trump, with the DNI post as the reward. At this point, he’s simply listening to His Master’s Voice and doing what he’s told – either directly, or by knowing what the boss wants without having to be explicitly told.

      Like Barr’s “summary” of the Mueller report, what the WH gains from this release is meat for their base. The truth, whether in Barr’s case or Ratcliffe’s, matters not.

    • Spencer Dawkins says:

      I think you have to assume that no one is seriously thinking about much at the White House these days.

      Is it possible that these guys think what they’re releasing now makes Trump look good? Or is this a document dump that Barr can step in front of and lie about what it says/means, so none of the faithful need to bother their heads about reading it?

      • Brod says:

        I know nothings about Ratcliffe but I suspect there’s a strong possibility he’s freelancing, trying to ‘be somebody’ . It doesn’t strike me that anyone in the administration is paying coherent attention to much of anything.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Trump’s an addict. Even if the juice he’s shooting up is sugar water, he needs a constant supply of it. Outside of extraordinarily narrow limits, he has no ability to assess facts or their implications.

      JFC, the guy asked if the Russians were “bad,” as if there were only one infantile attribute to a relationship. In any case, Trump was already all-in with the Russians, and as unable as he was unwilling to disentangle himself. Trump’s question seems directed more at learning a little of what the Americans knew about the Russians than in protecting himself from them.

      • Stacey says:

        I think the way to interpret Trump’s question as to the Russians being “bad” is that he was taking the temperature of the guy giving him the briefing, as in, if he answers “yes” then Trump puts him in the ‘Deep State, can’t trust them’ camp and doesn’t bother with anything else that guy ever tells him. I think that’s a consistent pattern with him on the topic. Not that noticing his infantile attribution of “bad” as a characterization isn’t also spot on, because of course, it is.

        Remember when we all thought George W. Bush painted his world in black and white, boy, he ain’t got nothin’ on Trump in the over-simplification, anti-nuance department!

  2. Rugger9 says:

    OT, but it seems that Washington is temporarily renaming themselves as the Washington Football Team, or, as we would do in the military: Washington Team, Football. The jokes write themselves, not sorry.

  3. misteranderson says:

    Anyone know when this SSCI Vol 5 report is going to be released? Is it going to be a big deal or another misfire? There’s some Twitter-noise about it.

    • emptywheel says:

      It will be heavily redacted.
      It will also probably be damning to all involved.
      Burr and Warner had asked ODNI to finish it to release in August. It’ll be interesting to see whether Ratcliffe prioritized this over that.

      • Peterr says:


        Of course he did, Marcy. He also is prioritizing making his lunch order and a million and one other things. But he’ll get around to Burr & Warner’s request eventually.

  4. Falun Dong says:

    Why would anyone bother to warn Donald J. BigFatAss about anything? It says as much about their intellect as it does about Donald J. BigFatAss. You cannot and do not reason with a freak like Fat Donny. Instead, you use him as a foil as you rapaciously rob the country blind.


    • Peterr says:

      You do it, because it’s your obligation as the outgoing administration to see to it that your successor — whoever it may be — gets the kind of orientation to threats against the US that they will be able to take over without more interruption than necessary. Your opinion of the candidates seeking your job does not matter.

      You do it because you have integrity, and it’s your duty to offer everything your successor needs to get off to a good start.

      The only place you question this is when you have reason to believe that one of the candidate’s close advisors is somehow implicated in a foreign intelligence mess. When the Intelligence Community came to Obama about Flynn, he said (paraphrasing here) “I don’t want to get involved in any decisions about prosecutions, but I absolutely need to know about the intelligence side of things. Do we need to exclude Flynn from any briefings?”

    • John Paul Jones says:

      I had a run in with a neurologist last year and had to take the test. If Trump is accurately reporting the five words, then the doctor who gave him the test (he said someplace it was Ronnie “Candyman” Jackson), either allowed him to cheat or helped him to cheat. The words are supposed to be random, that is, non-associative, or so I was informed; that’s what makes them hard to remember. In Trump’s case, three of the five words are arguably the same concept (man/woman/person, ie, human) and the other two speak directly to Trump’s known interests (TV/camera). So if those are the words, Dr Ron allowed Trump to cheat, or he didn’t administer the test properly. Trump has also said that he took the test the last time he went to hospital, which means the November 2019 motorcade to Walter Reed about which there was so much press speculation. So what exactly happened to Trump that day, that it freaked out staff and family enough that the make an unscheduled rush trip to Walter Reed and administer – a test for psychological acuity? My guess? Some kind of collapse that they feared might have been the result of a stroke. He’s not a well man.

  5. John Hand says:

    Thanks for this post. Other than here, the only comments on this story that I have been able to find locally are on Fox, Sinclair, and Newsmax, stories so biased that they could have been written long before the documents were released. I wonder if the big media boys and girls are going to take on this story before the right-wing media overwhelms public opinion with bullshit. The only “mainstream” publication to cover this story so far is Politico, and I found their reporting to be very sketchy (so not to offend?). Perhaps Joy, Chris, Rachel, or Nicole will bring on Marcy to throw some light on the story. Or is she too controversial for them to handle?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Journalists sometimes sacrifice sleep for their art. But the television powers that be tend to find Ms. Wheeler too knowledgeable and honest, and unwilling to use the euphemisms they live by. They prefer the laudanum-laced commentary served up by the likes of Shields and Brooks, or the predictable rants of campaign advisers, who endlessly repeat canned attacks and slogans.

      I hope EW finds the media in Ireland less constipated. Perhaps there’s room for a variation on Alistair Cook’s Letter from America.

      • Eastern Ash says:

        In Judy Woodruff’s weekly conversation today with B&S, Shields, “laudanum-laced,” opined that Trump’s deployment of paramilitary forces in Portland could have followed counsel from Roger Stone, on the 1968 Nixon law and order gambit.
        Disassociated from any messy moral, legal, or constitutional baggage, the deployment of paramilitary force on protesting citizens, in Shields’ sterile strategic commentary, is merely what some pols do when “playing with a pair of deuces.”

  6. BobCon says:

    Flynn comes across as such a toady in his mentions in that briefing — his “well actually” on the number and his try at showing up the IC on resource allocation. What a creep in this kind of meeting.

    I’m also struck by his seeming obliviousness that they would be making a record of the briefing. It looks like Chris Christie had the good sense to keep his mouth shut at least until they were no longer in the presence of the agents.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      You know how quants always want numbers. Flynn’s questions, like Trump’s, strike me as assessing his own exposure rather than national security. Plus, if you’re being pumped by your handler(s) to give up info about US resources, a few numbers are always helpful.

  7. laura says:

    I’m guessing that Chris Christie understood the import of the briefing – and maybe that’s why he’s part of the Sunday Roundtable at George and Martha’s and not in the indicted/convicted/pardoned club, but Flynn was either too wrapped up in his side gig with Turkey and figured the warning on Russia didn’t apply to him, or wouldn’t impact his involvement in the energy sector business plans or he left early with Trump and missed the gist of the briefing, or is so high on his supply of arrogance and ego that he already knew of the likely attempts to get to the candidate and was already all in because he had already sold out his country for personal gain and that this was just part of the deal and how things are done and to be expected.

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. You were asked on 4/10/2020 to please use a more differentiated username when you comment next as there are more than one community members named “Laura” or a variant. You have left 18 comments since then disregarding this request. Your comments will remain in auto-moderation until you’ve selected a more differentiated name. Thanks. /~Rayne]

    • laura says:

      I’ve always only posted as lowercase laura. If it’s a problem I’ll just read and refrain from comment as I was unaware of the request 18 posts ago. Apologies for the inconvenience.

      [We don’t have any problem with your comments. Simply add another letter or number to your username so that you appear distinctly different from other “Laura” community members — ex. laura_001, ABC-laura. We ask the same from every Bob/Tom/Dick/Harry/Jim/Fred so on. /~Rayne]

  8. mospeck says:

    boy oh boy, don’t under rate these guys. trump + the russians = v formidable opponent. And they are going to bring everything they got i.e. the kitchen sink, against the 2020.
    ( This is because it’s of course their best opportunity to destroy the western world order. But theirs won’t be straightforward… trump rambling on about his cognitive dementia test, mixing up things like man, person, camera.. his being intentionally obtuse and thick-headed about the corona, and in a hundred other ways.
    It’s good Donald, but won’t fool the spooks, man. imo we need to credit you for being a wicked skillful front man to a gigantically bold russian intel op (play bridge against the russians all the time, and they are nothing if not clever).
    And Gerisamov and his GRU boys paying to kill our guys in Afghanistan..
    They only understand one thing: Valery, you’re in the game, right? knock it off or else there will be “trouble”

    • P J Evans says:

      I don’t think Trmp is smart about most things. Cunning, yes. Vindictive and cruel, very much yes. Bur smart – not much. He doesn’t seem to understand the purpose of the cognitive testing.

      • AndTheSlithyToves says:

        He doesn’t understand the cognitive testing because he has frontotemporal dementia.
        The folks who are enabling him are the bigger problem.

        [Was there a specific tweet you were trying to post related to FTD? /~Rayne]

        • AndTheSlithyToves says:

          Thanks, Rayne. The link included should go directly to Tom Joseph’s twitter feed.
          He pinned this tweet at the top of his feed on July 21st:
          Nicolle Wallace saying “Frontotemporal dementia” is a win. The first 4 tweets I ever did in Feb 2017 said it. Trump’s neurological deterioration guaranteed eventual high public awareness. Wallace has fearlessly led MSM on it. The public is ready for his removal. Now, not Jan 20.

          Joseph also has a new Patreon podcast up–it’s also in his feed–that is well worth a listen. He discusses the conflict-of-interest between the White House doctor(s) and the public’s right to know, and how that is usurped by Trump’s being C-I-C. He has been posting/warning about Trump’s FTD since Trump became a serious candidate for the presidency, and that it would eventually take him out.
          P.S. On Stephen Colbert’s Show the other night, Colbert and Mary Trump agreed that dementia could be an additional problem for Trump.

          [When grabbing the URL from a specific link in a person’s Twitter timeline, try right-click-copy on the date+time of the desired tweet. Here’s the URL you wanted: /~Rayne]

      • Geoguy says:

        My favorite part was when Trump described the test as having been given by Ronnie Jackson. How long has Ronnie been out of the White House?

  9. Thetruth says:

    Where’s the original 302 from the August meeting? Where’s is Pientka? Two important questions.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Masha Gessen on MSNBC: “Trump is performing fascism….Fascism takes hold over time….It’s up to us to show which side we’re on.”

    • graham firchlis says:

      So thankful Masha’s back in the MSM where she can be heard by many. Her shunning was wholly unjustified, the PurityLeft again shooting us all in the foot.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    When a CEO repeatedly tells his customers that he has a great brain, that he’s a stable genius, who aced his screening test for dementia – he even remembers how hard it was – he doesn’t believe it and no one else does either.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Roger Stone and Stephen Miller along with him, but neither would have stepped foot outside of HQ or the OC. The only point they would have had experience with would have been the tip of their argument. The field is where they sent guys from the South sides of Boston and Chicago.

    • bmaz says:

      Certainly not Galway, but my favorite pub and restaurant in Santa Monica was always Ye Olde King’s Headd. Most awesome fish and chips ever. Bangers and mash and Steak, Guinness and Mushroom Pie really great too. And this was no faky joint either, it was real had the real stuff for pints on tap, not just bottles.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Condolences about the arson at the AZ Democratic Party HQ. Reports say the whole building went up.

        Trump may have nothing to do with it, beyond modeling relentless violent rule-breaking. Ditto for Republican operatives in AZ. But it’s a reminder, along with Portland, that he will not go gently out of the Oval Office and into that obscurity and legal vulnerability he so deserves.

        • bmaz says:

          Yeah I dunno the who done it part, and apparently the cops don’t either yet. But it is pretty much a total loss in most regards as to records, servers and whatnot. It is pretty screwed up. At least no one was killed; other than that, not so good.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I’ve had hand-drawn Guinness less then 24 hours old in Dublin, but not Galway. Pacific Beach was not known for its Irish pubs – unlike, say, DC, which had a nice one on K Street – but Taco Surf on Mission Blvd made up for it. Their carne asada with guac burrito is to die for. Great assortment of classic boards to oggle while eating it.

      As for my question, above, what’s a “targeted arrest,” because it sounds redundant or illegal.

  12. Pablo in the Gazebo says:

    Three points after reading the comments:

    I am retired from a career at a (formerly) large corporation’s research lab. There were a lot of smart people there, one won a Noble Prize, another should have. A lot of stuff got invented, but I never heard one person brag about how smart they were.

    Fragging is nothing to joke about.

    Galway is beautiful and my second choice to land after removing myself from this dystopian mess, when they will have me, and the King’s Head is all you could expect it to be. The music is in the street in front of it and to the right and to the left. (First choice is Killarney.)

  13. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Congenital liar Donald Trump was a millionaire in grade school. He’s never worked a day in his life, certainly not when it meant the difference between feeding his family or giving them a roof to sleep under. But he insists that during a pandemic-driven recession – when there are no jobs to be found – the government should not pay the unemployed $600/week, and he won’t stop landlords from evicting the unemployed. Once a slum lord, always a slum lord.

  14. morganism says:

    marcy, whats the fed law against impersonating a federal official?

    Steve Vladeck
    It seems to me that @Twitter
    shouldn’t allow government officers to publicly identify themselves by titles that they don’t legally have.

    Here, there is no question that @HomelandKen
    *isn’t* the “Acting Deputy Secretary of @DHSgov
    ”; even DHS says as much:

  15. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The UK Guardian prides itself on its history as a progressive newspaper. But these days, it can often be found virtually ensconced in its chair by the fire, next to Colonel Blimp, at the Normalisers Club. For example,

    Republicans did not send their Senate members home in order to “mull” over whether to provide continuing aid to tens of millions of unemployable Americans. Senate Republicans left town so they could not be shamed into doing something about it.

    Nothing Donald Trump does could be called a “kerfluffle.” But he is a career thief. Recently, he stole the likeness of Ronald Reagan, to use on a commemorative coin version of a failing singer’s duet with the dead. The Reagan Foundation caught him, and said cease and desist. Just as popular musicians have had to do when he steals their songs for commercial events. Trump has a campaign chest bigger than his waistline, but never pays a dime, even when caught.

    There may be 100 days to go before November 3rd, but the election is not in its “final stretch.” Think of all the drinkin’, cheatin’, and card playin’ that goes on between Saturday night and Sunday morning. There’s a lot of time yet for Trump to steal an election.

  16. DigDeeper says:

    Trump had to look no further about Pientka’s “warning” than Pientka himself. This wasn’t a briefing as much as a probe on what Trump would say about Russia. The day before this they opened a case on Flynn. Pientka supervised the Crossfire Hurricane Team and created the sub-file in which the content from the Steele reports were uploaded and used to support FISA applications. Pientka was also in charge of verifying the content of the Woods File double checking the accuracy for each of the factual assertions on the FISA applications. The info in the Woods File was never verified. It was all false. He also was present with Peter Strzok and took notes when Flynn was interviewed in Jan. 2017. The 302 used in the Flynn case was rewritten at least twice by Strzok. Where are Joe Pientka’s notes? They disappeared. Where is Joe Pientka? He disappeared too.

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