Yet again, President Trump and his supporters have found a Peter Strzok text message of which they're quite fond. They previously highlighted Strzok's “insurance policy” and “secret society” text messages, and now they've uncovered a new alleged smoking gun: A Sept. 2, 2016, text in which FBI agent Strzok says then-President Barack Obama “wants to know everything we’re doing.”
The text was all over conservative media Wednesday and appeared to be the impetus for the above tweet from Trump. The argument is that it may constitute Obama meddling in the Clinton email investigation.
But as with its predecessors — both of which had very reasonable, non-nefarious explanations — there are real reasons to be skeptical that this new text is truly a “BOMBSHELL,” as Trump alleges.
The main reason to be skeptical is that we're not even sure what kind of briefing Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page were texting about. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), whose new report first highlighted the text Wednesday, strongly hints that it might refer to the Clinton email investigation:
This text raises additional questions about the type and extent of President Obama’s personal involvement in the Clinton email scandal and the FBI investigation of it.
Johnson insists he's simply raising questions, but his juxtaposition of the text and “questions about” Obama's “personal involvement in the Clinton email scandal” is very suggestive. That framing has even led some media outlets to flatly report that the text was about the Clinton probe. But it's not at all clear that the briefing was about the Clinton probe, much less that Obama was seeking to become “personally involved” in whatever he was being briefed on.
Johnson's report argues in its footnotes that the text could well be about the Clinton probe because Justice Department official Stephen E. Boyd had told the committee that the DOJ would redact personal text messages and text messages relating to other investigations. “Presumably, because this message was not redacted, the Department believes it may relate to the FBI’s investigation of classified information on Secretary Clinton’s private server,” the report says.
But this is also highly suggestive, and it fails to account for the fact that there is one other major investigation that comes up regularly in the texts and wasn't redacted: The Russia investigation.
Judd Legum makes the case that the briefing was indeed going to be about the Russia probe rather than the Clinton one, and former Obama Justice Department official Matthew Miller (who served earlier in the Obama administration) went so far as to say it “has to be about the Russia probe.” Legum points out that the text is from Sept. 2, which appears to be during a months-long lull in any activity in the Clinton investigation. It's long after July, when then-FBI Director James B. Comey announced he wouldn't recommend criminal charges for Clinton. And it's also before Sept. 28, which is when the same text messages show Strzok and Page suggested they had just become aware of the new Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner's laptop. (These were the ones Comey would later disclose on the eve of the election, which was cast as a reopening of the Clinton investigation.)
A Sept. 28 text from Strzok strongly suggests that the matter had been dormant until they discovered the new emails:
Got called up to [then-FBI Deputy Director] Andy [McCabe]'s earlier . . . hundreds of thousands of emails turned over by Weiner’s atty to sdny, includes a ton of material from spouse. Sending team up tomorrow to review... this will never end...
It's also worth noting that three days after the text message, on Sept. 5, Obama confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin about Russian meddling in the 2016 election. In other words, there was much more reason for Obama to be briefed on that at the time than on the Clinton probe.
Update: Citing anonymous "associates of the FBI employees involved," the Wall Street Journal is reporting the briefing was indeed about Russia, not Clinton.
There is one plausible argument for believing the briefing may have been about the Clinton investigation, and that's because Sept. 2 was the day the FBI released a summary of that investigation. But again, this speaks to the fact that the investigation was dormant at the time — so much so that a conclusive summary was being produced.
And any briefing on the subject at the time, it stands to reason, would have been about something that already happened rather than something in which Obama could suddenly make himself “personally involved.”