Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, the reported FBI lovebirds, are the poster children for the next “Don’t Text and Investigate” public service ads airing soon at an FBI office near you.
Their extraordinary texting affair on their government phones has given the FBI a black eye, laying bare a raw political bias brought into the workplace that agents are supposed to check at the door when they strap on their guns and badges.
It is no longer in dispute that they held animus for Donald Trump, who was a subject of their Russia probe, or that they openly discussed using the powers of their office to “stop” Trumpfrom becoming president. The only question is whether any official acts they took in the Russia collusion probe were driven by those sentiments.
The Justice Department’s inspector general is endeavoring to answer that question.
For any American who wants an answer sooner, there are just five words, among the thousands of suggestive texts Page and Strzok exchanged, that you should read.
That passage was transmitted on May 19, 2017. “There’s no big there there,” Strzok texted.
The date of the text long has intrigued investigators: It is two days after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named special counsel Robert Mueller to oversee an investigation into alleged collusion between Trump and the Russia campaign.
Since the text was turned over to Congress, investigators wondered whether it referred to the evidence against the Trump campaign.
This month, they finally got the chance to ask. Strzok declined to say — but Page, during a closed-door interview with lawmakers, confirmed in the most pained and contorted way that the message in fact referred to the quality of the Russia case, according to multiple eyewitnesses.
The admission is deeply consequential. It means Rosenstein unleashed the most awesome powers of a special counsel to investigate an allegation that the key FBI officials, driving the investigation for 10 months beforehand, did not think was “there.”
By the time of the text and Mueller’s appointment, the FBI’s best counterintelligence agents had had plenty of time to dig. They knowingly used a dossier funded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign — which contained uncorroborated allegations — to persuade the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to issue a warrant to monitor Trump campaign adviser Carter Page (no relation to Lisa Page).
They sat on Carter Page’s phones and emails for nearly six months without getting evidence that would warrant prosecuting him. The evidence they had gathered was deemed so weak that their boss, then-FBI Director James Comey, was forced to admit to Congress after being fired by Trump that the core allegation remained substantially uncorroborated.
In other words, they had a big nothing burger. And, based on that empty-calorie dish, Rosenstein authorized the buffet menu of a special prosecutor that has cost America millions of dollars and months of political strife.
The work product Strzok created to justify the collusion probe now has been shown to be inferior: A Clinton-hired contractor produced multiple documents accusing Trump of wrongdoing during the election; each was routed to the FBI through a different source or was used to seed news articles with similar allegations that further built an uncorroborated public narrative of Trump-Russia collusion. Most troubling, the FBI relied on at least one of those news stories to justify the FISA warrant against Carter Page.
That sort of multifaceted allegation machine, which can be traced back to a single source, is known in spy craft as “circular intelligence reporting,” and it’s the sort of bad product that professional spooks are trained to spot and reject.
But Team Strzok kept pushing it through the system, causing a major escalation of a probe for which, by his own words, he knew had “no big there there.”
The answer as to why a pro such as Strzok would take such action has become clearer, at least to congressional investigators. That clarity comes from the context of the other emails and text messages that surrounded the May 19, 2017, declaration.
It turns out that what Strzok and Lisa Page were really doing that day was debating whether they should stay with the FBI and try to rise through the ranks to the level of an assistant director (AD) or join Mueller’s special counsel team.
“Who gives a f*ck, one more AD like [redacted] or whoever?” Strzok wrote, weighing the merits of promotion, before apparently suggesting what would be a more attractive role: “An investigation leading to impeachment?”
Lisa Page apparently realized the conversation had gone too far and tried to reel it in. “We should stop having this conversation here,” she texted back, adding later it was important to examine “the different realistic outcomes of this case.”
A few minutes later Strzok texted his own handicap of the Russia evidence: “You and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely, I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.”
So the FBI agents who helped drive the Russia collusion narrative — as well as Rosenstein’s decision to appoint Mueller — apparently knew all along that the evidence was going to lead to “nothing” and, yet, they proceeded because they thought there was still a possibility of impeachment.
Impeachment is a political outcome. The only logical conclusion, then, that congressional investigators can make is that political bias led these agents to press an investigation forward to achieve the political outcome of impeachment, even though their professional training told them it had “no big there there.”
And that, by definition, is political bias in action.
How concerned you are by this conduct is almost certainly affected by your love or hatred for Trump. But put yourself for a second in the hot seat of an investigation by the same FBI cast of characters: You are under investigation for a crime the agents don’t think occurred, but the investigation still advances because the desired outcome is to get you fired from your job.
Is that an FBI you can live with?