Behind the redactions

It is incredibly difficult to keep up with the release of primary documents in the congressional Trump-Russia investigations. Some of them are first released in heavily redacted form (making crucial parts incomprehensible) and then released in less redacted form requiring comparison with those released earlier. In the Weekly Standard column “Grassley raises objections to Justice Department redactions,” Eric Felten focuses on the content behind the redactions in the Strzok-Page text messages previously produced to Senator Grassley.

In doing so, Eric draws on the letter sent by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on Wednesday to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (embedded via Scribd at the bottom of this post, committee press release posted here). Grassley staffers have been allowed to take a peek behind some of the redactions. What now? “The manner in which some redactions have been used casts doubt on whether the remaining redactions are necessary and defensible,” Grassley writes.

You can see why Senator Grassley might be a tad suspicious about the good faith of the FBI/Department of Justice redactors. Here is Felten’s summary:

Some of the texts the senator has in mind touch on serious questions, such as whether the FBI’s various probes of presidential candidates were politically skewed. An “official’s name was redacted,” Grassley writes, “in reference to a text about the Obama White House ‘running’ an investigation, although it is unclear to which investigation they were referring.”

Some of the questionable redactions, by contrast, are charming efforts at bureaucratic butt-covering. Lisa Page, for example, was discussing with Peter Strzok the challenge of having an intimate meeting in Andrew McCabe’s conference room, given the size of his grand new conference table. “No way to change the room,” Page texts in the version provided by Justice. “The table alone was [REDACTED]. (You can’t repeat that!)” Hmmm, what classified, top-secret, national-security information could possibly have been redacted? The blacked out bit, it seems, was a simple “70k.” The DoJ—and can you blame them, really?—didn’t want Congress to know they were in the habit of spending $70,000 on a conference table.

The Justice Department’s redactions weren’t always just nips and tucks. In some places whole swaths of text are obscured. Consider pages numbered by Justice as DOJ-PROD-0000287 and DOJ-PROD-0000288. The pages cover texts from a mid-October weekend in 2016—less than a month before the presidential election—and we find that Strzok and Page are getting ready for a possible company trip to London.

“Hey just thinking – do you have a current official passport,” Strzok texts Page.

“I do,” she responds. “Need to find it, but I think it is still good. Remind me Monday.”
“And if we do go to london,” she adds in another text, “I’m going to have to call [REDACTED]”

“[REDACTED] And Rybicki just called” Strzok replies, “need to call him back.”
“K. Let me know what he’s calling about…” Page texts

About 10 minutes later, Strzok is back: “Hi. Done. Talk?”

What follows are 26 texts over some four hours. But there’s no way to know what they find so engrossing: The conversation isn’t redacted piecemeal, it’s obliterated with half-page opaque gray blocks.

Once those bulk redactions are over, Strzok and Page get back to their plans for enjoying London on the company dime: “They drink in London,” texts Strzok.

“I especially like drinking in London,” Page replies. “I will be the official food and beverage tour guide.”

“Can blue collar Budweiser guys like me and Jon afford your taste?” asks Strzok.

“On per diem you can! ;)”

Eric comments: “The surprise is the censors didn’t black out per diem.”

2018-05-23 CEG to DOJ (Redacted Texts) by Scott Johnson on Scribd