In search of lost texts

Last night the Washington Examiner’s Byron York posted his column “Congress seeks answers after FBI claims texts missing in Trump-Russia probe.” Byron quotes from the letter sent on Saturday by Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson to FBI Director Christopher Wray. I thought some readers might be interested in seeing the full text of Senator Johnson’s letter. This is the text of Senator Johnson’s January 20 letter to Wray (footnotes omitted):

The Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is continuing its oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the FBI’s investigation of classified information on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server. I write to request information about the loss of FBI records connected to this investigation, and how the FBI oversees its employees’ use of private email accounts for official business.

On January 19, 2018, the Department of Justice produced 384 pages of text messages exchanged between FBI employees Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. According to a cover letter accompanying the documents, the FBI did not preserve text messages between Ms. Page and Mr. Strzok between approximately December 14, 2016 and May 17, 2017. The cover letter explained:

The Department wants to bring to your attention that the FBI’s technical system for retaining text messages sent and received on FBI mobile devices failed to preserve text messages for Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page from December 14, 2016 to approximately to May 17, 2017. The FBI has informed [the Department of Justice] that many FBI-provided Samsung 5 mobile devices did not capture or store text messages due to misconfiguration issues related to rollouts, provisioning, and software upgrades that conflicted with the FBI’s collection capabilities. The result was that data that should have been automatically collected and retained for long-term storage and retrieval was not collected.

The loss of records from this period is concerning because it is apparent from other records that Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page communicated frequently about the investigation. In February 2016, Ms. Page texted Mr. Strzok that then-candidate Trump “simply can not [sic] be president.” On May 4, 2016—after then-Director Comey began drafting his July 5 statement clearing Secretary Clinton—Ms. Page and Mr. Strzok communicated about “pressure” building to finish the FBI’s investigation following candidate Trump’s likely nomination:

Ms. Page: And holy shit Cruz just dropped out of the race. It’s going to be a Clinton Trump race. Unbelievable.

Mr. Strzok: What?!?!??

Ms. Page: You heard it right my friend.

Mr. Strzok: I saw trump [sic] won, figured it would be a bit

Mr. Strzok: Now the pressure really starts to finish MYE….

Ms. Page: It sure does. We need to talk about follow up call tomorrow. We still never have.

The reference to the “MYE” by Mr. Strzok refers to the “midyear exam,” the FBI’s case name for the Clinton investigation.

In addition, Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page discussed the drafting of Director Comey’s July 5 statement exonerating Secretary Clinton. On June 30, 2016, FBI personnel circulated a draft of Director Comey’s statement that noted that Secretary Clinton had emailed with President Obama from the private server while abroad in the “territory of sophisticated adversaries.” The passage read:

We also assess that Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal email domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent. She also used her personal email extensively while outside the United States, including from the territory of sophisticated adversaries. That use included an email exchange with the President while Secretary Clinton was on the territory of such an adversary. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.

The same afternoon, after FBI officials edited the draft to replace “the President” with “another senior government official,” Mr. Strzok sent a text message to Ms. Page notifying her of the change. The exchange read:

Mr. Strzok: K. Rybicki just sent another version.

Ms. Page: Bill just popped his head in, hopefully to talk to him.

Mr. Strzok: Hope so. Just left Bill. Talked about the speech, the [redacted] stuff relating to the case, and what I told you about earlier.

Mr. Strzok: He changed President to “another senior government official.”

Director Comey’s statement as ultimately delivered on July 5 omitted a reference to either President Obama or “another senior government official.”

The conversations between Ms. Page and Mr. Strzok also appear to suggest that then-Attorney General Lynch was aware that Director Comey would not recommend criminal charges in the Clinton investigation prior to Attorney General Lynch’s announcement that she would accept whatever recommendation the FBI made. On July 1, 2016—the same day as Attorney General Lynch’s announcement, but before the FBI had interviewed Secretary Clinton and before Director Comey had announced his recommendation—Ms. Page and Mr. Strzok exchanged the following messages:

Mr. Strzok: Holy cow….nyt breaking Apuzzo, Lync [sic] will accept whatever rec D and career prosecutors make. No political appointee input.

Mr. Strzok: Lynch. Timing not great, but whatever. Wonder if that’s why the no coordination language added.

Ms. Page: No way. This is a purposeful leak following the airplane snafu.

Mr. Strzok: Timing looks like hell. Will appear to be choreographed. All major news networks literally leading with “AG to accept FBI D’s recommendation.”

Ms. Page: Yeah, that is awful timing. Nothing we can do about it.

Mr. Strzok: What I meant was, did DOJ tell us yesterday they were doing this, so D added that language.

Mr. Strzok: Yep. I told Bill the same thing. Delaying just makes it worse.

Ms. Page: And yes. I think we had some warning of it. I know they sent some statement to rybicki, bc he called andy.

Ms. Page: And yeah, it’s a real profile in couragw [sic], since she knows no charges will be brought.

In addition, the text messages appear to suggest that Ms. Page and Mr. Strzok used non-FBI-issued devices to discuss FBI business. For example, in April 2016, Ms. Page texted Mr. Strzok, “so look, you say we text on that phone when we talk about hillary [sic.] because it can’t be traced, you were just venting [because] you feel bad that you’re gone so much but it can’t be helped right now.” Mr. Strzok replied, “Right. But did you say anything other than work? I did, [redacted].” In addition, Ms. Page and Mr. Strzok reference several times about emailing each other on Gmail.

Under federal law, the head of each federal agency is required to preserve all records documenting the decision-making process and essential transactions of the agency. In light of the Department of Justice’s notification that FBI records from the Clinton investigation are missing, and as the Senate committee with jurisdiction over federal records, I ask that you please produce the following information and material:

1. Please explain the scope and scale of all records lost, destroyed, or otherwise alienated during the midyear examination investigation.

2. Does the FBI have any records of communications between Ms. Page and Mr. Strzok between December 14, 2016 and May 17, 2017? If so, please provide those communications. 

3. Has the FBI conducted searches of Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page’s non-FBI-issued communication devices or accounts to determine whether federal records exist on those nonofficial accounts?

4. Please explain how the FBI is complying with federal records requirements with respect to these devices. 

5. Has the FBI produced text messages to the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (DOJ OIG) of any other FBI employees in furtherance of the DOJ OIG’s review of the Clinton email investigation? If so, please identify which FBI employees’ communications were produced. 

Has the FBI produced Microsoft Lync conversations between Ms. Page and Mr. Strzok to the DOJ OIG? Please explain. 

The Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is authorized by Rule XXV of the Standing Rules of the Senate to investigate “the efficiency, economy, and effectiveness of all agencies and departments of the Government,’’ Additionally, S. Res. 62 (115th Congress) authorizes the Committee to examine “the efficiency and economy of all branches of the Government including the possible existence of fraud, misfeasance, malfeasance, collusion, mismanagement, incompetence, corruption, or unethical practices . . . .”

Thank you for your attention to this matter….

Notice: All comments are subject to moderation. Our comments are intended to be a forum for civil discourse bearing on the subject under discussion. Commenters who stray beyond the bounds of civility or employ what we deem gratuitous vulgarity in a comment — including, but not limited to, “s***,” “f***,” “a*******,” or one of their many variants — will be banned without further notice in the sole discretion of the site moderator.