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Circa: FBI's Investigation of Michael Flynn Sure Looks Like a Case of Political Retaliation

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe scowls during Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

Is the FBI's criminal probe against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn a case of political retaliation?

A new report from Circa News by Sara Carter and John Solomon sure makes a strong case for it.

According to the report, the intel leaks that led to Flynn's firing may well have been part of a political hit job launched in retaliation for the retired Army general's involvement in a sex discrimination case against associates of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe.

In 2014, Flynn, then director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, personally intervened on behalf of Supervisory Special Agent Robyn Gritz by writing a letter vouching for her on his official Pentagon stationary and offering to testify on her behalf. He also supported her case in a radio interview in 2015.

Gritz had worked with the intelligence community for over a decade, helping them successfully track down global terrorists and rescue Western hostages.  According to Circa, "she was even occasionally called upon to personally brief then-Director Robert Mueller on sensitive cases like the disappearance of a retired agent Robert Levinson inside Iran."

But her stellar career suddenly hit the skids after she started working for McCabe and his leadership team. In 2012, she received her first negative rating after years of outstanding performance reviews and was eventually drummed out of her job. She initially filed an EEOC complaint against a handful of bureau executives. Later in 2014, she added McCabe to the complaint, alleging that she suffered “a hostile environment, defamation of character through continued targeting by Andrew McCabe."

In official documents, Gritz alleged that she was a victim of "continuous patterns and instances of severe and excessive hostile behavior/attitude"  and that the actions had "a negative impact on the complainant, professionally, financially, and personally.”

The FBI, for its part, claimed that Gritz had become "underperforming, tardy to work, insurbordinate, possibly mentally ill or emotional and deserving of a poor performance review."

Flynn argued just the opposite in his May 9, 2014 letter: “SSA Gritz was well-known, liked and respected in the military counter-terrorism community for her energy, commitment and professional capacity, and over the years worked in several interagency groups on counter-terrorism targeting initiatives.”

He continued in his letter: “Her work consistently made a positive difference. ... Her tenacity and personal commitment consistently produced outstanding results in the most challenging environments.”

As soon as Gritz revealed to the FBI that Flynn and other top federal figures had written letters to support her case and likely would be called as witnesses, the bureau dispatched a lawyer to try to block the evidence from being included in the EEO case, documents show.

According to Circa, at the time Flynn was offering to be a hostile witness in the case, McCabe was reportedly "soaring through the bureau’s leadership ranks."

The FBI sought to block Flynn’s support for the agent, asking a federal administrative law judge in May 2014 to keep Flynn and others from becoming a witness in her Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) case, memos obtained by Circa show. Two years later, the FBI opened its inquiry of Flynn.

The EEOC case, which is still pending, was serious enough to require McCabe to submit to a sworn statement to investigators, the documents show.

The deputy director’s testimony provided some of the strongest evidence in the case of possible retaliation, because he admitted the FBI opened an internal investigation into Gritz’s personal conduct after learning the agent “had filed or intended to file” a sex discrimination complaint against her supervisors.

McCabe eventually became the bureau’s No. 2 executive and emerged as a central player in the FBI’s Russia election tampering investigation, putting him in a position to impact the criminal inquiry against Flynn.

Three FBI employees told Circa they personally witnessed McCabe make disparaging remarks about Flynn before and during the time the retired Army general emerged as a figure in the Russia case.

The bureau employees, who spoke only on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said they did not know the reason for McCabe’s displeasure with Flynn, but that it made them uncomfortable as the Russia probe began to unfold and pressure built to investigate Flynn. One employee even consulted a private lawyer.

“As far as the troops in the field, the vast-majority were disgusted with the Russia decision, but that was McCabe driving the result that eventually led [former FBI Director James] Comey to make the decision,” said a senior federal law enforcement official, with direct knowledge of the investigation.

FBI agents’ concerns became more pronounced when a highly-classified piece of evidence -- an intercepted conversation between Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak -- suddenly leaked to the news media and prompted Flynn’s resignation as Trump’s top security adviser.

“The Flynn leaks were nothing short of political,” one FBI employee said, noting the specific contents of the conversation were known by only a handful of government officials when they leaked. “The leaks appeared to be targeted to take Flynn out.”

Eventually the probe on Flynn moved beyond Russia to questions about whether he properly disclosed foreign payments affecting his security clearance.

FBI officials declined to answer any questions from Circa, including whether McCabe ever considered recusing himself or has recused himself from the Flynn aspects of the Russia probe. McCabe declined comment via the FBI press office.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General is reportedly reviewing the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation, including allegations that McCabe "should have been recused from participating in certain investigative matters.”

Those concerns came after revelations by media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, that a political action committee affiliated with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who has ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, contributed almost $500,000 to the 2015 Virginia state Senate campaign of McCabe’s wife, Jill McCabe. (She lost the election.) She also received $207,788 from the Virginia Democratic Party, which is connected to McAuliffe, a Democrat.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, wrote a letter to Comey on March 28 expressing concerns about McCabe’s involvement in the Clinton emails matter, given the donations that his wife received. “These circumstances undermine public confidence in the FBI’s impartiality,” Grassley wrote.

Gritz's problems at the FBI under McCabe stemmed from allegations of fraud on her timecard, which she denies. The FBI referred her case to the Office of Professional Responsibility and also "blamed her for not attending a 7:15 a.m. meeting and sending an unprofessional email to an ex-boyfriend."

In an 2015 interview with National Public Radio for a story on the FBI’s hostile environment for women agents, Flynn said it was a shame the FBI let Gritz go after so many years of top national security experience.

"She was one of the really, to me, bright lights and shining stars early on that just kinda got it when it came to the kind of enemy that we were facing and the relationship that was necessary between law enforcement and the military ... and I just thought she was really a real pro," Flynn said.

Flynn wasn’t the only top official who came to Gritz’s defense in her battle against the FBI, according to Circa:

“SSA Gritz was without question, the most energetic, most consistently engaged and prepared and single most effective member of this interagency group,” wrote Navy Rear Admiral B. L. Losey, who served both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama as the White House’s National Security Council Director for Combatting Terrorism.

Losey offered a most poignant endorsement of the female agent. “If I were taken hostage, I would hope that above all others SSA Robyn Gritz were assigned the task to track and recover me,” he wrote.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley also afforded Gritz support, asking federal authorities to investigate whether her case was emblematic of a hostile workplace for women inside the FBI.

According to Circa, which interviewed Gritz briefly over the weekend, she was "mortified to think that her request to Flynn to help with her EEOC case in any way affected his relationship with the FBI or his current status as someone under investigation in the Russia case."

“Flynn was the first leader to defend me,” said Gritz. “He forwarded a letter to the FBI and I personally think that Comey did not receive it. McCabe knew Flynn and I were friends. I felt that from the beginning it was an issue.”

Gritz ended up resigning from the FBI in 2013 and a year later she was selling cosmetics at Macy's.

"Watching everything that's going on in the world, how I had battled al-Qaida in Iraq, the Taliban ... all my experience, all the time I had put in there, I'm selling lipstick and blush," she told NPR.