Judge Rudolph Contreras has served as a judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia since 2012. In 2016 Chief Justice Roberts appointed him to serve on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Judge Contreras was randomly assigned the case brought against former Trump administration National Security Adviser Michael Flynn by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Four Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges authorized the original FISA warrant on Carter Page or authorized its renewal. We do not know if Judge Contreras was one of them.
Late last year Judge Contreras presided over the hearing in which Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI. In his plea Flynn admitted that he lied to FBI agents about his interactions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition and lied to the Justice Department about his lobbying dealings related to Turkey. The plea documents are posted online here. Flynn agreed to cooperate with Mueller and has yet to be sentenced.
Following the plea hearing Judge Contreras recused himself from Flynn’s case. The case has now been reassigned to Judge Emmet Sullivan Judge Sullivan has ordered Mueller’s team to produce exculpatory evidence to Flynn. The production of such evidence is required before a defendant goes to trial, not after he pleads guilty.
The reason for Judge Sullivan’s order is a mystery, but it’s not the only one. Judge Contreras has not revealed the basis of his recusal from Flynn’s case. I have wondered how Judge Contreras could have undertaken it and presided over the plea hearing if he determined within a matter of days following the plea hearing that he shouldn’t or couldn’t continue to sit on it. What is going on? We don’t yet know.
We have just learned, however, courtesy of previously undisclosed text messages between the FBI’s infamous lovers that Judge Contreras is a friend of former senior FBI counterintelligence officer Peter Strzok. Strzok handled both the fake Clinton email investigation and the investigation of the Trump team. Indeed, Strzok was one of the FBI officers who conducted the interview with Flynn leading to the charge brought against him.
The newly disclosed text messages show Strzok and Page arranging to meet socially with Judge Contreras for unspecified purposes related to Strzok’s work. Mollie Hemingway has the story here, Chuck Ross here, Sara Carter here.
The circumstances surrounding the disclosure of the text messages have a guilty appearance. The text messages were withheld from Congress by production in a form that concealed them. Mollie Hemingway puts it this way: “The text messages that show Page and Strzok conspiring to meet with Contreras were originally hidden from Congress. In records provided by DOJ to Congress, the exchanges referencing Contreras, and plans to meet with him under the guise of a cocktail party, were completely redacted by federal law enforcement officials. The exchanges obtained by The Federalist include information that was never turned over to Congress.”
I take it that the messages were turned over to Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who discovered the existence of the Strzok-Page text messages in the first place. Sara Carter attributes yesterday’s disclosure of the texts bearing on Judge Contreras to House Oversight Committee staff: “Investigators working with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Rep. Mark Meadows, both with the House Oversight Committee, discovered the text messages during their ongoing investigation into the FBI’s handling of the alleged Trump-Russia collusion investigation, the Congressional members told this reporter.”
Carter explains: “Under rules established by DOJ officials, congressional investigators could only review the less-redacted version of the pairs’ text messages at DOJ headquarters and only the highly redacted version of the texts was allowed to be removed during the ongoing process, they said.” All the reports state that Horowitz’s investigation has collected 1.2 million documents, of which the House Oversight Committee has only received 3,162 “unique documents.”
Perhaps there is an innocent explanation for the hiding of the text messages from Congress. They appear to derive from Horowitz’s work. Under the circumstances, however, I think it would be a mistake to accord the FBI or the Department of Justice the benefit of the doubt.
UPDATE: A reader urges that we not overlook this important point:
I think there is an important aspect to the most recent text messages that is being overlooked. Here is the critical portion of the text exchange
“[REDACTED] suggested a social setting with others would probably be better than a one on one meeting,” Strzok told Page. “I’m sorry, I’m just going to have to invite you to that cocktail party.”
“Have to come up with some other work people cover for action,” Strzok added.
“Why more?” Page responded. “Six is a perfectly fine dinner party.”
This is not just Strzok and Page discussing meeting Contreras socially, “REDACTED” is also involved. Who is REDACTED? It does not take a rocket scientist to narrow down the likely possibilities. #1 on the list is Andrew McCabe. We already know that “Andy” is into insurance policies. Other possibilities include Comey, Bill Priestap and Sally Yates.
The reader concludes that “an important aspect of there being another person involved in these discussions” is the revelation of a systemic issue within the FBI and the Department of Justice. It is an issue that obviously extends beyond “a lone rogue cop and his girlfriend.”