On Saturday, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Ray in response to the FBI’s failure to preserve five months of text messages between Special Agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page.
According to the letter, the Department of Justice produced 384 pages of text messages between Strzok and Page on Friday. However, a cover letter attached to the documents informed the committee that the DOJ did not preserve text messages between Ms. Page and Mr. Strzok between December 14, 2016 and May 17, 2017.
The explanation provided by the cover letter stated: “The Department wants to bring to your attention that the FBI’s technical system for retaining text messages sent and received on FBI mobile devices failed to preserve text messages for Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page from December 14, 2016 to approximately to May 17, 2017. The FBI has informed [the Department of Justice] that many FBI-provided Samsung 5 mobile devices did not capture or store text messages due to misconfiguration issues related to rollouts, provisioning, and software upgrades that conflicted with the FBI’s collection capabilities. The result was that data that should have been automatically collected and retained for long-term storage and retrieval was not collected.”
This is troubling, because under federal law, the head of each federal agency is required to preserve all records documenting the decision-making process and essential transactions of the agency. As noted in Sen. Johnson’s letter, “The loss of records from this period is concerning because it is apparent from other records that Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page communicated frequently about the investigation.”
As noted by the Washington Examiner: “Given the amount of texting that went on between Strzok and Page, who were having an extramarital affair, that probably meant thousands of missing documents.”
- Conversations between Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
- The completion and publication of the intelligence community assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
- The briefing in which FBI director James Comey told President-elect Donald Trump about the Trump dossier.
- The president’s inauguration.
- The nomination and confirmation of new Justice Department leadership.
- Flynn’s interview with the FBI (conducted by Strzok).
- Comey’s assurances to Trump that he, Trump, was not under investigation.
- A variety of revelations, mostly in the Washington Post and New York Times, about various Trump figures under investigation.
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia probe.
- The firing of top Obama Justice Department holdover Sally Yates.
- Trump’s tweet alleging he was wiretapped.
- Trump’s firing of Comey.
- And, finally, on May 17, 2017 — the final day of the missing texts — the appointment of Trump-Russia special prosecutor Robert Mueller.
Sen. Johnson’s letter also provides new text messages exchanged by Strzok and Page. For example, in February 2016, Page texted Strzok that then-candidate Trump “simply can not [sic] be president.”
In another exchange dated May 4, 2016, after former FBI Director Comey began drafting his July 5 statement clearing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Page and Strzok discussed the “pressure” building to finish the Clinton investigation after Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) dropped out of the race:
As noted in his letter, the reference “MYE” (midyear exam), was the FBI’s case name for the Clinton investigation.
The letter further provides that on June 30, 2016, the FBI circulated a draft of Comey’s statement that noted that Secretary Clinton had emailed with President Obama from the private server while abroad in the “territory of sophisticated adversaries.”
In response to this, Strzok notified Page via text message that FBI officials successfully edited the draft to replace the phrase “the President”, with the phrase “another senior government official.”
As noted by The Hill, another text exchange included in the letter seems to show that Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch knew that, “…Clinton would never face charges even before the FBI conducted its three-hour interview with Clinton, which was supposedly meant to gather more information into her mishandling of classified information.”
A final text exchange between Strzok and Page shows that the two, “…used non-FBI-issued devices to discuss FBI business.”
According to the messages, in April 2016, Page texted Strzok, “so look, you say we text on that phone when we talk about Hillary [sic.] because it can’t be traced, you were just venting [because] you feel bad that you’re gone so much but it can’t be helped right now.”
Sen. Johnson also asked the FBI whether they have “conducted searches of Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page’s non-FBI-issued communications devices or accounts to determine whether federal records exist on those nonofficial accounts.”
As Byron York of the Washington Examiner noted, this request is an apparent, “…reference to instances in the texts in which Strzok and Page told each other that they were switching to iMessage for further conversation, suggesting they might have moved their discussion of sensitive topics from their government-issued Samsung devices to private Apple devices.”
The news of the FBI’s failure to preserve these key text messages has resulted in a flurry of criticism from many elected officials and pundits.
In a Tweet by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the congressman called for a second special counsel while comparing the FBI’s failure to preserve five months of text messages to the destruction of records by the IRS:
First the IRS destroyed emails pivotal to our investigation of their political targeting.
Now the FBI "failed to preserve" texts between Peter Strzok & Lisa Page following the '16 election.
The time for a second special counsel is now.https://t.co/BonrBlsJsB
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) January 21, 2018
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) also called for a second special counsel, Tweeting:
Unreal. We've been asking for the remaining text messages between anti-Trump FBI agents (and former Mueller team members), Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The FBI now says the texts are "missing."
If it wasn't already clear we need a second special counsel, it's abundantly clear now https://t.co/nvpNY4s4QV
— Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) January 22, 2018
Former CIA intelligence officer Buck Sexton took to Twitter to point out the gross double-standard in the application of the rule of law, tweeting: “One thing I can promise: if you were under FBI investigation, you wouldn’t be able to rely on “sorry, deleted 6 months of text messages by accident” to save your butt.”
One thing I can promise:
if you were under FBI investigation, you wouldn’t be able to rely on “sorry, deleted 6 months of text messages by accident” to save your butt
— Buck Sexton (@BuckSexton) January 22, 2018
The news of the FBI failing to preserve months of text messages is just one of a series of recent controversies that continue to tarnish the public’s perception as well as the reputation of the FBI and the equal application of the rule of law. As one parody account on Twitter put it: “Welcome to the FBI, a place where you can delete [five] months of incriminating text messages, and then lead an ‘obstruction of justice’ investigation into the President of the United States!”