The revelation that the FBI “failed to preserve” five months worth of anti-Trump agents’ text messages is evoking memories of Lois Lerner, the IRS official whose emails mysteriously disappeared during congressional investigations into her targeting of conservative non-profit groups.
“The [Lois] Lerner thing was huge,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan told The Daily Caller. “My gut tells me this is probably bigger.”
On Sunday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) revealed that the FBI recently told the Justice Department that it was unable to find text messages exchanged between FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
The failure stemmed from “misconfiguration issues” on FBI-issued Samsung 5 devices used by “many” FBI agents and officials, Stephen Boyd, the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, told HSGAC. (RELATED: FBI ‘Failed To Preserve’ Five Months Of Anti-Trump Agents’ Text Messages)
“The result was that data that should have been automatically collected and retained for long-term storage and retrieval was not collected,” Boyd wrote.
The text message gap spans the period between Dec. 14, 2016 and May 17, 2017, according to Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, the chairman of HSGAC.
That’s a crucial timespan in the FBI’s Russia investigation, which Strzok was picked to oversee in July 2016.
During that period, the infamous Steele dossier was published, Strzok interviewed then-national security adviser Michael Flynn about contacts he had with Russia’s ambassador (he pleaded guilty in December to lying during that interview), and James Comey was fired as FBI director. On the final day of the five-month gap, Robert Mueller was appointed to serve as special counsel on the Russia investigation.
Strzok was a member of that team until July, when the Justice Department’s inspector general found his anti-Trump exchanges with Page, his mistress.
In a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Johnson called the gap “concerning.”
Jordan, who serves on the House Judiciary and House Oversight Committees, sees parallels to the Lerner investigation, which he helped steer as a member of the Oversight panel. That committee battled tooth and nail with the IRS and the Obama White House over records related to Lerner’s targeting of conservative non-profit groups who had applied for tax exempt status.
After months of investigation, IRS officials claimed that thousands of Lerner emails from before April 2011 had been lost due to a crash of her email system. The snafu occurred in June 2011, just days after the House Ways and Means Committee requested IRS documents, including emails from Lerner’s division.
In a fiery exchange in Sept. 2016, Jordan forced then-IRS Commissioner John Koskinen to acknowledge that he made inaccurate statements about the destruction of Lerner’s emails.
Jordan said Sunday that he was not surprised by the IRS’s Lerner mess. But he has different thoughts about the new FBI revelations.
“Everybody knows the IRS is incompetent,” Jordan told TheDC on Sunday. “But we’re talking about the FBI here.”
“If this is true, they lost the text messages from the guy who was deputy head of counterintelligence? I mean, come on. If this actually happened this is unbelievable, and it’s why we would need to investigate it.”
Asked whether the House Judiciary Committee plans to look into the missing texts, Jordan responded, “of course.”
He also re-upped his call for a second special counsel in addition to Mueller to look into the handling of the Russia probe as well as the infamous Steele dossier.
“The time for a special counsel is now,” he said on Twitter after talking to TheDC, joining other Republicans who have pushed for oversight of the Russia probe.
“If it wasn’t already clear we need a second special counsel, it’s abundantly clear now,” North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows said on Twitter.
Is seems likely that Strzok and Page expressed their political views during those five months of text messages. Last month, the Justice Department released a sample of 375 texts (out of a total of 10,000) that showed Strzok and Page speaking candidly about Trump and Clinton.
Strzok referred to Trump as an “idiot” in one text. In another sent shortly before the election, he wrote “F Trump.” In one cryptic message sent on Aug. 15, 2016, just at the beginning of the Russia investigation, Strzok referred to an “insurance policy” that investigators needed to take out in case of a Trump election win.
And in his letter to Wray, Johnson cited other questionable text exchanges.
In a May 4, 2016 text, Strzok and Page were discussing the decision by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to drop out of the Republican primaries, a move which cemented Donald Trump’s position as GOP presidential nominee.
Strzok responded to that development with a text suggesting that the FBI would have to speed up its Clinton investigation.
“Now the pressure really starts to finish MYE….,” Strzok wrote, referring to “Mid-Year Exam,” the FBI’s code name for its Clinton investigation. (RELATED: FBI Agent Spoke Of ‘Pressure’ To End Clinton Probe After Trump’s Surge)
A slew of questions about the FBI’s record-keeping remain unanswered.
It is unclear whether Strzok and Page deleted any text messages or whether the FBI maintains possession of their work cell phones. It is also unclear how extensive the misconfiguration issue was at the FBI and how many other FBI officials’ text messages were lost.
The FBI declined in a response to a list of questions, including about whether messages were deleted and how many officials had problems with their FBI-issued phones.
Another mystery swirling around the text message gap is why Congress and the public are only now being told about the missing messages.
Details of other Strzok-Page exchanges were revealed in news reports last month. And Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz recently laid out a timeline of its investigation in a letter to Johnson and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. But Horowitz did not mention the FBI’s “failure to preserve” five months’ worth of text messages.
Horowitz’s office obtained some of the text messages as part of his office’s investigation into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation. Started last January, the investigation is expected to wrap up in the next couple of months.
In a Dec. 13 letter to Johnson and Grassley, Horowitz said that he initially requested text messages from various FBI officials up through Nov. 30, 2016. (RELATED: New Details Of Discovery Of FBI Agents’ Anti-Trump Text Messages)
The FBI provided the records to the IG on July 20. Horowitz’s investigators seemingly discovered the biased Strzok-Page exchanges and shared them with Mueller a week later.
Strzok, who was detailed from the FBI to Mueller’s Russia investigation, was “immediately” removed from the team and sent to FBI’s human resources office.
After the review of the texts, the IG expanded its request to the FBI for text messages exchanged between Strzok and Page for the period Nov. 30, 2016 and July 28, 2017. The FBI handed over those records on Aug. 10.
Strzok’s dismissal was reported several days later, but the FBI, DOJ and Mueller’s office refused to say what happened. The existence of the text messages wasn’t reported until four months later, at the beginning of last month.
A spokesman for Horowitz declined comment for this article.
This article has been updated with responses from the FBI and Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General.