Months after some of their fervently anti-Trump texts became public, FBI officials are finally ordering counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page to preserve their personal records and communications, a nonprofit government watchdog announced Wednesday.
Special counsel Robert Mueller appointed Strzok in July 2017 as one of the top officials in the probe of allegations of collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russian interests in 2016. But Mueller removed Strzok from his post in August 2017 after his anti-Trump text messages with Page first surfaced. Page resigned from the FBI earlier this month amid intense scrutiny.
The Strzok-Page texts heightened many Republicans’ and Trump supporters’ concerns about the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) and the FBI’s impartiality during several closely watched investigations.
Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in January 2018 requesting access to the Strzok-Page texts. Strzok and Page exchanged approximately 50,000 text messages during the 2016 presidential campaign and Trump’s first year in office.
The watchdog organization said the DOJ revealed to it last week that the FBI “plans to send letters to Peter Strzok and Lisa Page asking them to preserve agency records on their personal accounts and personal devices and requesting confirmation that they are doing so.”
Strzok served as the FBI’s chief of the counterespionage section during its investigation of 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct official business as secretary of state. He also led the bureau’s 2016 investigation into Russia’s election interference and was appointed as the bureau’s deputy assistant director of the counterintelligence division.
“The FBI has been slippery when it comes to records about the Clinton and Russia scandal fiascos, so we’re pleased the bureau is taking steps to make sure government records don’t go missing,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement Wednesday.
“On the other hand, the FBI’s purposeful slow-walking of the Strzok-Page materials shows contempt for both transparency law and the public interest in figuring out how and why the FBI was politicized to target President Trump, while protecting Hillary Clinton,” Fitton added. “[FBI] Director [Christopher[ Wray and Attorney General [Jeff] Sessions should step up and speed up the release of these documents.”
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson rebuked FBI Director Christopher Wray in a letter he Washington Post obtained in January 2018, after the bureau “failed to preserve” during a key five-month period of Strzok-Page texts.
“The loss of records from this period is concerning,” Johnson wrote as he wondered why the FBI “did not preserve text messages between Ms. Page and Mr. Strzok between approximately December 14, 2016, and May 17, 2017.”
May 17 was the day Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as head of the Russia collusion probe.
The FBI also informed Senate Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in a May 2 letter that the bureau had “not requested from Ms. Page or Mr. Strzok any information from their personal email accounts” or “conducted searches of non-FBI-issued communications devices or non-FBI email accounts associated with Mr. Strzok or Ms. Page.”
Nevertheless, the bureau emphasized its “promise to try to preserve the Strzok-Page records from their personal devices.”
Grassley demanded in a letter sent to Rosenstein Wednesday that the DOJ and FBI “provide unredacted copies of all text messages” sent between Strzok and Page.
“Should the Department continue to refuse to provide fully unredacted copies to Congress, please provide a privilege log describing the legal basis for withholding that information from Congress,” Grassley wrote.
Judicial Watch also noted that U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton ordered the FBI on May 21 “to begin processing 13,000 pages of previously undisclosed emails exchanged exclusively between FBI officials Strzok and Page between February 1, 2015, and December 2017.”
Of those 13,000 pages, 500 are due by June 29.