One of President Donald Trump’s closest allies in Congress is alleging misconduct by former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, an unproven and disputed assertion that the President amplified Tuesday morning, the 17th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
At issue are claims made by Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who said on Monday that newly-discovered text messages between Strzok and Page discussing a “media leak strategy with DOJ” suggest a “coordinated effort” by the FBI and the Justice Department to “release information in the public domain potentially harmful to President Donald Trump’s administration.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller removed Strzok from his team investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election last summer after an internal investigation uncovered a trove of private text messages with Page showing their contempt for Trump. In turn, the President and his allies on Capitol Hill have seized on these messages, at times pushing claims without providing any evidence to substantiate them, with the apparent aim of discrediting the special counsel’s investigation.
CNN has not obtained a full record of the latest batch of text messages Meadows references, but according to a letter from Meadows to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Strzok texted Page on April 10, 2017 to say, “I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ before you go.”
In his letter, Meadows also cites additional text exchanges and a contemporaneous news article about former Trump foreign policy aide Carter Page presented with little context.
Strzok’s attorney Aitan Goelman disputed Meadows’ characterization Tuesday in a statement to CNN and accused the President “and his enablers” of “peddling unfounded conspiracy theories to mislead the American People.”
“The term ‘media leak strategy’ in Mr. Strzok’s text refers to a Department-wide initiative to detect and stop leaks to the media,” Goelman said.
The President, however, was quick to tweet out his dismay Tuesday and blame the Justice Department for inaction. In a tweet citing Fox News, the President wrote, “New Strzok-Page texts reveal ‘Media Leak Strategy.'” Trump tweeted, “So terrible, and NOTHING is being done at DOJ or FBI – but the world is watching, and they get it completely.”
Strzok was fired from the FBI last month for his conduct and Page resigned in May.
The latest unearthed text messages, provided to lawmakers in early August, are part of a second tranche of a critical time spanning from December 2016 to May 2017, according to a Justice official.
Yet this isn’t the first time that the President and Republican lawmakers have latched onto the texts without context.
In January, conservatives speculated about a nefarious “secret society” at the FBI stemming from a text exchange, only to later learn it was a reference to a gag gift of Vladimir Putin-themed calendars that one of the employees purchased for those working on the early stage of the Russia investigation.
In February, a Republican senator pointed to a text from Page in September 2016 that said “potus wants to know everything we’re doing,” alleging — without any corroboration — it proved President Barack Obama had demanded information about the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information.
And finally in June, Trump tweeted “SPYGATE is in full force,” citing text messages between Strzok and Page and suggesting that an investigation into the Trump campaign started as early as December 2015.
A CNN review of texts between the former FBI officials found no evidence to back up Trump’s claims that the Trump-Russia investigation began in December 2015.
However, the Justice Department’s inspector general issued a scathing report this summer that made clear the texts did “cast a cloud” over the credibility of the Clinton email investigation, even if the two former officials’ views did not directly affect prosecutors’ specific investigative decisions.