Memory Lapses at the FBI
The report on the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal that the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Justice released last week makes one thing clear: Top FBI officials involved in both that investigation and the Russian collusion investigation have bad memories.
Former FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, for example, told the inspector general, as the IG put it, that “he did not specifically recall” the Aug. 8, 2016, text message he sent to Lisa Page, who was then-special counsel to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
“[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Page said in a text to Strzok that day.
“No. No he’s not,” Strzok responded. “We’ll stop it.”
To put this in context, the IG report states: “Strzok and Page were communicating on their FBI-issued phones as part of an extramarital affair. We found that this relationship was relevant to the frequency and candid nature of the text messages and their use of FBI-issued phones to communicate.”
These two shared a remarkable prestige inside the nation’s most vaunted federal law-enforcement agency.
Both were involved in the investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server (the so-called “Midyear” investigation), and then — after FBI Director James Comey announced that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring charges against Clinton — both moved on to the FBI’s preelection investigation of whether there were ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Then, after Trump fired Comey, both became involved in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of that same issue.
The IG summarized the 2016-2017 phase of this couple’s FBI career as follows: “In addition to their roles in the Midyear investigation, both Page and Strzok were involved in the FBI investigation into the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Strzok was assigned to lead the Russia investigation in late July 2016. Page also worked on the Russia investigation, and told us that she served the same liaison function as she did in the Midyear investigation. Both Page and Strzok accepted invitations to work on the Special Counsel staff in 2017.”
Clearly, some high-level decision-maker at the FBI must have believed Strzok and Page were among the agency’s superstars for investigating would-be presidents — and sitting presidents.
During the 2016 campaign, according to the IG, these FBI powerhouses sent each other text messages “including statements of hostility toward candidate Trump and statements of support for candidate Clinton.”
The IG goes on to say, “Several of their text messages also appeared to mix political opinions with discussions about the Midyear and Russia investigations, raising a question as to whether Strzok’s and Page’s political opinions may have affected investigative decisions.”
But the most telling of these text messages was not provided to the IG by the FBI.
On page 404 of the IG report, which discusses the August 8, 2016, Page-Strzok text exchange, footnote number 203 explains that the FBI did not provide the IG with Strzok’s “we’ll stop” Trump half of this exchange in its “production of text messages.”
The footnote says: “Although we received Page’s August 8 text message to Strzok from the FBI as part of its production of text messages in 2017, Strzok’s response to Page was not among those preserved by the FBI’s text message preservation software, and therefore was not produced to us. The OIG’s Cyber Investigations Office recovered this text message, along with others, in May 2018 through forensic analysis of a folder found on Page’s and Strzok’s Samsung S5 devices.”
The report summarized how Strzok responded to questioning about this belatedly discovered election-season text in which he — the leader of the FBI’s Russia investigation — vowed to “stop” Trump.
“When asked about this text message, Strzok stated that he did not specifically recall sending it, but that he believed that it was intended to reassure Page that Trump would not be elected, not to suggest that he would do something to impact the investigation,” the report said.
“Strzok told the OIG that he did not take any steps to try to affect the outcome of the presidential election, in either the Midyear investigation or the Russia investigation,” the report said.
Another apparent superstar of the Obama-era FBI who did not recall an incident described in the IG’s report was then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
On Aug. 15, 2016, one week after Strzok sent Page his “stop” Trump text message, he sent her another text message.
The IG report says: “Strzok told Page, ‘I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40….’”
“The ‘Andy’ referred to in the text message appears to be FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe,” says the IG report.
But then the report says: “In an interview with the OIG, McCabe was shown the text message and he told us that he did not know what Strzok was referring to in the message and recalled no such conversation.”
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