The Justice Department’s office of the inspector general revealed new details Wednesday about how it discovered the anti-Trump text messages that led to FBI agent Peter Strzok’s removal from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department watchdog, said that his office obtained the text messages from the FBI on July 20. A week later, he met with Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to inform them of the politically-charged texts. (RELATED: ‘We Can’t Take That Risk’ — FBI Officials Discussed ‘Insurance Policy’ To Prevent Trump Win)
Strzok was “immediately” removed from the investigation after Mueller was told of the texts.
The Strzok texts, which he exchanged with Lisa Page, his mistress and an FBI lawyer, were discovered as part of the inspector general’s investigation into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation.
Ironically, Democrats pushed for the investigation. Many Clinton supporters blamed then-FBI Director James Comey’s actions during that investigation for Clinton’s election loss.
“This is highly encouraging and to be expected given Director Comey’s drastic deviation from Justice Department protocol,” Clinton campaign communications director Brian Fallon said back in January. “A probe of this sort, however long it takes to conduct, is utterly necessary in order to take the first step to restore the FBI’s reputation as a non-partisan institution.
Horowitz, writing to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, said that his office obtained the Strzok texts after asking the FBI to produce communications from bureau-issued phones for a select group of employees who worked on the Clinton email probe. (RELATED: FBI Agent Praised Hillary Clinton While Investigating Her Emails)
Strzok, who then served as the FBI’s No. 2 counterintelligence official, conducted many of the biggest interviews in the investigation, including with Clinton and her top aides, Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills.
“After finding a number of politically-oriented text messages between Page and Strzok, the OIG sought from the FBI all text messages between Strzok and Page from their FBI-issued phones through November 30, 2016, which covered the entire period of the Clinton e-mail server investigation,” Horowitz wrote to Grassley and Johnson on Wednesday.
The FBI handed over those messages on July 20, 2017. After reviewing those exchanges, Horowitz expanded the investigation to include all of the text messages exchanged between Strzok and Page from Nov. 30, 2016 to July 28, 2017.
Horowitz’s office received those messages on Aug. 10.
Strzok’s departure from Mueller’s team was reported by ABC News on Aug. 16. The network reported that Strzok had been placed in a job in the FBI’s HR department.
The reason for Strzok’s demotion remained a secret for nearly four months as the Justice Department and Mueller’s office declined media and congressional requests for an explanation. The levy finally broke on Dec. 2, when The Washington Post and New York Times simultaneously reported the existence of the text messages.
A sample of the texts were released Tuesday night ahead of Rosenstein’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe, was grilled about the Strzok texts. He repeatedly referred to the inspector general’s investigation, which is expected to end in the spring. A report will be released to the public after the investigation ends.
The Strzok/Page texts show a clear anti-Trump and pro-Clinton bias. Their comments ranged from snide remarks about comments Trump made during the campaign to exchanges that could be interpreted as being more nefarious.
In one Oct. 20, 2016 exchange, Strzok called Trump a “f*cking idiot.” In early March of 2016, he said that he was likely to vote for Clinton.
But an Aug. 15, 2016 message has come under more serious scrutiny.
“I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way [Trump] gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk,” Strzok wrote to Page.
Andy is believed to be Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
“It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40,” Strzok added.
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee pressed Rosenstein on that text message, suggesting that Strzok was indicating that he planned to prevent Trump from being elected.
Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Rosenstein on Wednesday inquiring about the text message.
Rosenstein said Wednesday that the Justice Department and FBI plan to soon make Strzok available for an interview with the House Intelligence Committee.
Strzok’s cryptic August 2016 text was sent just after he was handpicked to supervise the FBI’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Horowitz’s letter leaves a few questions unanswered. For one, it is not clear whether Strzok sent politically-charged texts with anyone else. It is also not clear whether the messages contained in the second requested batch of Strzok texts contain any controversial remarks.