As politicians and others went on Twitter on Tuesday morning to mark the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Trump used the platform to launch a fresh round of assaults on the FBI and Justice Department.
Trump — apparently seizing on allegations leveled the night before by one of his conservative allies in Congress — referred to two former FBI officials who have become infamous for trading anti-Trump texts: Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
The president repeated a claim from Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) that the pair employed a “media leak strategy” to undermine his administration, then blamed the bureau and Justice Department for inaction on the matter.
The claim from Meadows is debatable; Strzok’s attorney said his client’s reference to a “media leak strategy” was an effort to stem unauthorized disclosures of information. Both Strzok and Page have left the FBI; Strzok was fired over his anti-Trump texts.
“New Strzok-Page texts reveal ‘Media Leak Strategy.’ @FoxNews So terrible, and NOTHING is being done at DOJ or FBI - but the world is watching, and they get it completely,” Trump wrote.
The tweet was one of several Tuesday in which Trump interspersed messages about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks with his thoughts on the Justice Department. Apparently quoting from a segment on Fox News, he tweeted at 7:08 a.m., “We have found nothing to show collusion between President Trump & Russia, absolutely zero, but every day we get more documentation showing collusion between the FBI & DOJ, the Hillary campaign, foreign spies & Russians, incredible.”
A minute later, he retweeted a message about his 9/11 proclamation, adding the hashtags, “#NeverForget #September11th.” Next he tweeted about the “media leak strategy.” After that, he suggested — apparently derisively and again quoting Fox News — that his Justice Department “would be behaving no differently than it is” if it were run by Eric Holder, President Barack Obama’s attorney general.
Holder fired back: “This is not a day for the usual unhinged Trump politics. This is a day to remember the innocent Americans we lost and the brave first responders who gave their lives.”
Trump’s tweet about the “Media Leak Strategy” refers to a letter Meadows sent to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein on Monday alleging a “systemic culture of media leaking” among high-ranking Justice Department and FBI officials. The letter reveals previously undisclosed messages between Strzok and Page, who were involved in both the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and the probe of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Trump has frequently derided both officials as he has attempted to discredit the Russia probe.
Meadows alleged in the letter, first reported by journalist and Fox News contributor Sara Carter, that Strzok texted Page in April 2017: “I had literally just gone to find this phone to tell you I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ before you go.” Meadows’s staff has sparred with the Justice Department for access to materials on Strzok and the Russia investigation, and has in recent weeks reviewed messages that were not among the thousands already made public.
By itself, the text is difficult to interpret. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then-FBI Director James B. Comey had vowed to crack down on leaks, and investigating such disclosures if they contained classified information would have been a part of Strzok’s job as a counterintelligence agent. Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s attorney, says that is what Strzok was referring to.
“The term ‘media leak strategy’ in Mr. Strzok’s text refers to a Department-wide initiative to detect and stop leaks to the media,” Goelman said in a statement. “The President and his enablers are once again peddling unfounded conspiracy theories to mislead the American People.”
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, released other text messages from the same day, which seem to show Page and Strzok having a broad discussion about the Justice Department’s regulations on media leaks. The lawmakers accused Republicans in Congress of selectively publicizing messages “to fabricate conspiracy theories to protect President Trump.”
“We don’t know how many times Republicans will try this same trick — or how many times President Trump will take advantage of them — but they need to start fulfilling their constitutional duty to conduct credible oversight of the Executive Branch rather than acting as the President’s personal defense counsel,” the lawmakers wrote.
Meadows seemed to interpret the text, combined with other disparate data points, as Strzok suggesting a strategy to release information “potentially harmful to Donald Trump’s administration.”
On April 12, two days after the “media leak strategy” text, Meadows wrote that Strzok warned Page about two articles that were soon to be published about former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and wrote, “Well done, Page.” It was unclear to which “Page” he was referring. Meadows did not release the specific texts. The Washington Post on April 11 reported that Carter Page had been the subject of a secret court order that allowed the FBI to monitor his communications.
Meadows would later concede that he incorrectly listed the date of the “Well done, Page” text – which was actually sent on April 22. Democrats suggested the message referred not to a story about Carter Page, but a New York Times examination of how Comey handled the Clinton and Russia investigations.
Meadows also noted that Andrew Weissmann, who now works on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team, had met with reporters from the Associated Press in that same month for a discussion about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. An FBI agent has previously testified that investigators got more information from the reporters than the other way around at that meeting, although law enforcement officials did advise the reporters that they were generally on the right track.