Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) initiated a fresh round of attacks Wednesday on two of the FBI officials involved in investigating Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, releasing hundreds of pages of texts between the pair and a report that raises questions about how the bureau has handled its most high-profile probes of political figures.
Though many of the messages already had been made public, President Trump quickly seized on their release, writing on Twitter, “NEW FBI TEXTS ARE BOMBSHELLS!”
Collectively, the texts show the two officials disliked Trump and feared what he might do as president, and they freely intermingled talk of politics with talk of work. But the pair also seemed to harbor animosity for many other politicians, including Democrats, and even co-workers.
In recent weeks, Republicans have launched increasingly aggressive attacks on the FBI and Justice Department, especially their collective handling of the investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election.
Last week, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) successfully pushed for the release of a memo alleging the department misled a court to be able to surveil a former Trump campaign adviser, and this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee added more detail to those claims.
The two officials now at issue — senior FBI lawyer Lisa Page and senior FBI agent Peter Strzok — have been targets of conservative ire for months. Many exchanges demonstrating the pair’s dislike for Trump became public in December, though they were also a part of the tranche released Wednesday by the Homeland Security Committee.
“This man can not be president,” Page wrote in March 2016.
“And F Trump,” Strzok wrote in August of that year.
The report by Johnson’s committee alleged that the pair “repeatedly demonstrated hostility to then-candidate Trump and Republicans in general.” It also raised concerns about the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state — a matter which the Justice Department inspector general also is exploring.
Page and Strzok both worked on that case, which was concluded in 2016 with no charges. They also had both been members of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team, though Strzok was reassigned in July after the inspector general uncovered the texts, and Page left before that for what officials have said were unrelated reasons.
Johnson’s committee took particular aim at one Sept. 2, 2016, exchange in which Page — on the day the FBI released documents about the then-closed Clinton email investigation — told Strzok that President Obama “wants to know everything we are doing.”
If Obama had been meddling in an ongoing investigation of a political ally, that would have been inappropriate. But it was impossible to discern from the texts alone what specifically the president was inquiring about.
The Clinton email investigation had been closed for two months, though it would be reopened in October, after the bureau came across potential new evidence in an unrelated case.
After referencing the Clinton case earlier in the day, Page noted an upcoming meeting, and Strzok responded, “TPs for D?” using abbreviations that likely refer to talking points for the FBI Director.
“Yes, bc potus wants to know everything we are doing,” Page wrote back.
A person familiar with the president’s request said Page and Strzok were discussing Obama’s interest in Russian meddling in the 2016 election — not the Clinton email case. He’d been briefed the previous month on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s involvement in a campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race and help Trump get elected.
An Obama spokesman did not return messages seeking comment. A lawyer for Strzok declined to comment, and a lawyer for Page could not be reached.
Page and Strzok did seem to contemplate the interplay of their work with politics and its broader impact.
On May 19, 2017, two days after Mueller’s appointment, Strzok gleefully talked with Page of being involved in “A case which will be in the history books” and “An investigation leading to impeachment?”
“For me, and this case, I personally have a sense of unfinished business,” Strzok wrote. “I unleashed it with MYE. Now I need to fix it and finish it.”
MYE is a reference to Midyear Exam, the FBI’s code name for the Clinton case.
But Strzok also said he was reluctant to get involved, “in part because of my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.” And his views, while decidedly anti-Trump, are also complicated. In August 2016, for example, Strzok texted, “I’m worried about what happens if HRC is elected.” HRC is a reference to Clinton.
Johnson’s report says the information in the texts “warrants further inquiry.”
“While some may discount the investigation for political reasons, we all have a great interest in ensuring the public has confidence in the integrity and independence of the FBI, the preeminent law enforcement agency in the world,” the report says.
Some Republicans have in the past called for the appointment of a second special counsel to investigate their concerns, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has indicated he would at least consider that idea. In November, he directed senior federal prosecutors to explore a host of matters — many of them Clinton-related — and report back to him.