The Justice Department will investigate the FBI’s failure to produce text messages traded between two senior investigators leading the Russia probe who harbored deep antipathy for President Donald Trump.
Previous texts had shown the two investigators, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, regularly expressed strong anti-Trump bias, prompting allegations that the probe was driven by political considerations. Several congressional committees requested a complete log of Strzok-Page communications during the period they participated in the Russia investigation. The FBI failed to comply with that order, however, claiming an internal archive system failed to retain text messages the pair traded between Dec. 14, 2016 and May 17, 2017.
“I have spoken to the inspector general and a review is already underway to ascertain what occurred and to determine if these records can be recovered in any other way,” the attorney general said in a statement. “If any wrongdoing were to be found to have caused this gap, appropriate legal disciplinary action measures will be taken.”
“We will leave no stone unturned to confirm with certainty why these text messages are not now available to be produced and will use every technology available to determine whether the missing messages are recoverable from another source,” he added. “If we are successful, we will update the congressional committees immediately.”
The missing texts drew an incredulous reaction from Republican lawmakers. GOP Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said a second special counsel was warranted to investigate political bias at the FBI.
GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York urged the relevant congressional committees to issue subpoenas for the records to Strzok and Page’s cell carriers.
“Congress must do everything it can to recover these critical text messages, including subpoenaing Strzok and Page’s cell carriers and requesting the FBI perform a full forensic exam of their employees’ phones in an attempt to recover the messages,” Zeldin said.
Senate Republicans took a more measured position than their colleagues in the House. GOP Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, chair on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN that he believes the missing texts are truly a function of a technical glitch, as the FBI has otherwise been forthcoming in producing documents for congressional review.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin revealed Tuesday that Strzok expressed reluctance to join special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in a May 19, 2017 text to Page, saying he did not believe Trump campaign officials collaborated with Russian actors to influence the 2016 presidential election.
“You and I both know the odds are nothing,” he said of the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with the Russian government. “If I thought it was likely, I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern that there’s no big there there.”
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