Do FBI Text Messages Reveal a Conspiracy Against Trump?
The Devin Nunes memo was made public Friday. As expected, Washington is interpreting the information in different ways.
Many non-conservatives see the Nunes document as a means to undermine the Robert Mueller investigation of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and alleged collusion with Russia and to discredit the FBI. Rep. Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, called the memo and its public release “a tremendous disservice to the American people.”
The FBI said the memo is inaccurate and missing critical context.
You can read the whole Nunes memo, or a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court opinion dated April 26, 2017, that deals with Section 702 of FISA and cites the NSA’s mass warrantless spying program, and draw your own conclusions.
The last page of the Nunes memo names FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page:
The [Carter] Page FISA application also mentions information regarding fellow Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, but there is no evidence of any cooperation or conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos. The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent Pete Strzok. Strzok was assigned by the Special Counsel’s Office to FBI Human Resources for improper text messages with his mistress, FBI Attorney Lisa Page (no known relation to Carter Page), where they both demonstrated a clear bias against Trump and in favor of [Hillary] Clinton, whom Strzok had also investigated. The Strzok/Lisa Page texts also reflect extensive discussions about the investigation, orchestrating leaks to the media, and include a meeting Deputy Director [Andrew] McCabe to discuss an “insurance” policy against President Trump’s election.
In December, Strzok, age 47, and Page, 38, made headlines when text messages between them on their FBI phones were disclosed. In late January, news surfaced that the FBI was missing five months of text messages for Strzok and Page, December 2016 to May 2017, due to a technical glitch that prevented information from being saved on thousands of agency phones. A few days later, the Justice Department said it had recovered the missing FBI text messages. In all, Strzok and Page exchanged more than 50,000 correspondences, not including the missing emails that were recovered.
“Our effort to recover any additional text messages is ongoing,” said Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz. “We will provide copies of the text messages that we recover from these devices to the department so that the department’s leadership can take any management action it deems appropriate.”
United States lawmakers have been poring over Strzok-Page messages that the Justice Department shared with various congressional committees on Jan. 19 as part of an internal inquiry of the FBI’s Hillary Clinton investigation during the 2016 election. The Wall Street Journal got a glimpse of the Strzok-Page messages and shared their findings in an article (subscription required) titled “Inside the FBI Life of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, as Told in Their Text Messages” that was published on #MemoDay. The redacted texts cover August 2015 through December 2016, and May and June 2017, and show criticism of Trump, FBI colleagues, Russia and more. After its review of texts between Strzok and Page, the Wall Street Journal found “no evidence of a conspiracy” against the president:
Texts critical of Mr. Trump represent a fraction of the roughly 7,000 messages, which stretch across 384 pages and show no evidence of a conspiracy against Mr. Trump. Rather, a broader look shows an unvarnished and complex picture of the lives of an FBI agent and lawyer who found themselves at the center of highly charged probes.
They logged long hours and frequently worked on weekends. They seemed dedicated to their jobs but didn’t hesitate to chastise or criticize many others beyond Mr. Trump, including their colleagues and each other. In deeply personal office chatter, they come across as intense, ambitious and unsure of their standing in the bureau.
Strzok was the lead agent of the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email system as secretary of state and edited then-FBI Director James Comey’s statement that recommended against prosecution of anyone involved:
Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information. … Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.
The Journal reports that Strzok advised categorizing Clinton’s actions as “extremely careless” instead of “grossly negligent,” which appeared in a previous draft of Comey’s statement. The “grossly negligent” phrasing could have triggered legal trouble for Clinton, since “the phrase ‘gross negligence’ appears in a federal law governing the handling of classified information as the standard that makes the loss or removal of such information a federal crime.”
After the Clinton investigation, Strzok was promoted to deputy assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division.
Page, who served as general counsel for the FBI, worked with Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and was assigned to Mueller’s office for a short time. According to the Journal, “she sometimes helped transmit information on behalf of Mr. Strzok to executives.”
Below is a sampling of the Strzok-Page text messages that the Journal reported.
In May 2016, Page texted to Strzok with a reference to Comey, the FBI director at the time: “I’ll ask you, in front of the D. ‘Pete, I apologize for putting you on the spot, but I know you shared with andy some of the comments you’ve been hearing from folks, I think it would be valuable for the D to know them.’ “
In late June 2016, as an FBI interview with Clinton approached about her personal email matter, Strzok wrote: “spinning in my head about the case. … [Reports] need a fine edit, the summaries need to be written, I need to see what I did wrong or forgot or put off and not do that again and I need to do background for the job application, combination of I’m perfect for the job and not good enough and not going to get it and and and.”
According to the Journal, “[t]hat same month, he suggested the FBI had missed the fact that some Clinton emails were marked with a ‘c,’ meaning they contained classified information.” Strzok wrote to Page: “DOJ was very concerned about this.” He added: “they’re worried, holy cow, if the fbi missed this, what else was missed. Which I get, because I had the same worry.”
On July 2, 2016, the FBI interviewed Clinton for three hours, and Page sent Strzok “good wishes” before the interview. Strzok replied: “Just got Starbucks, already dealing with issues (all admin, as in, her five attorneys all wanting to drive into [FBI headquarters] separately because of fear of media.” After the Clinton interview, he texted, “Hey, it all went well.” (In September 2016, the FBI released notes from the interview that revealed “Clinton did not know that ‘c’ stood for confidential.”)
In July 2016, during the Republican National Convention, Strzok, who had experience investigating Russian spies, texted: “f*ck the cheating motherf*cking Russians. Bastards. I hate them. “I think they’re probably the worst. F*cking conniving cheating savages. At statecraft, athletics, you name it. I’m glad I’m on Team USA.”
After Trump beat Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, Strzok wrote, “OMG I am so depressed.” Page responded: “I don’t know if I can eat. I am very nauseous.”
In late May 2017, Strzok joined Mueller’s Trump-Russia probe team as the top agent but had some reservations about the job. “I don’t know what I want, Lisa,” Strzok wrote to Page on May 24. “I don’t want to be anything but the lead agent. And I think even that is going to be a far cry from the inner sanctum of what Bob decides.”
The next month, Page wrote “thinking I might leave [the special counsel’s office].” She soon went back to her general FBI counsel work. Not long after that, the Strzok-Page relationship ended. The last text between the two FBI officials was from Page, who wrote to Strzok: “Please don’t ever text me again.”
In July 2017, Mueller learned about the Strzok-Page texts, and Strzok was moved to the FBI’s human resources department.
How damning are the Strzok-Page correspondences?
Two veteran U.S. intelligence professionals, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and former NSA whistleblower Bill Binney, believe Russia-gate may end up being FBI-gate. Others agree with the Wall Street Journal’s assessment and dismiss the possibility of a conspiracy against Trump based on the Strzok-Page messages.
“This is the same Strzok who worked for Mueller for a few weeks, and who was one of the engineers of the October email surprise that some analysts believe tipped the balance of the election,” explains Truthdig columnist Bill Blum. “Page had a similarly brief tenure with Mueller. Both were shown the door quickly. The text messages exchanged by these two star-crossed lovebirds were inappropriate, to be sure. But if this is the ‘deep state’ at work, the deep state must be run by Bart Simpson.”
Stay tuned. The 2016 election story is still unfolding, and our interesting times show no signs of becoming uninteresting anytime soon.