A new cache of text messages exchanged between two top FBI officials that have come under fire for criticizing then-presidential candidate Donald Trump were delivered to lawmakers on Capitol Hill Friday evening, according to a letter from Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.
The delivery of nearly 400 pages of new text messages sent by FBI officials who were briefly on special counsel Robert Mueller's team sets up a new chapter in the political swirl of accusations that some members of the FBI working on the Russia probe are biased against Trump.
In a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Saturday, Johnson -- the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee -- described several of the texts that appear to involve the FBI's handling of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of state, a subject of investigation for the committee.
In one February 2016 exchange, FBI lawyer Lisa Page calls it "unbelievable" that the 2016 presidential race would come down to Clinton versus Trump. Peter Strzok, who led the investigation of the Clinton email server as the No. 2 official in the FBI's counterintelligence division, responds, "Now the pressure really starts to finish MYE . . . ," an apparent reference to "Midyear Exam" -- the FBI's internal case name for the Clinton investigation.
The Homeland Security Committee, as well as at least two House panels and the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, are all independently examining the FBI's conduct of the investigation and actions surrounding the Clinton investigation.
The initial batch of 375 text messages, from August 2015 through early December 2016, included insults against politicians on both sides of the aisle, but their dismay over Trump becoming President has been repeatedly cited as evidence that the Mueller team is tainted. Trump told The Wall Street Journal earlier this month that the messages amounted to "treason."
As a leading counterintelligence expert, Strzok was also involved in opening the investigation into ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives. Page was also briefly on Mueller's team before returning to the FBI, but she completed her detail before the special counsel's office was made aware of the texts.
Representatives for Strzok and Page have declined to comment on the text messages, but some US officials familiar with Strzok's work have told CNN that his role in the Trump-Russia probe doesn't neatly fit the public portrayal by critics.
The new tranche of texts show, according to Johnson's letter, Strzok bemoaning the timing of news that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had decided to accept the recommendations of career supervisors in the Justice Department and FBI on the Clinton email matter, just days after Lynch met privately with President Bill Clinton aboard her plane in Phoenix, Arizona.
Strzok texted, "(t)iming looks like hell. Will appear to be choreographed." Page eventually texts back, "And yeah, it's a real profile in couragw (sic), since she knows no charges will be brought."
Johnson additionally asked Wray in Saturday's letter whether the FBI has any records of messages exchanged between Strzok and Page from December 14, 2016, to May 17, 2017, which the Justice Department said were not preserved due to a technical glitch.
"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," Johnson wrote.