New Strzok-Page texts: Obama wanted “to know everything,” but … Update: “I do not talk to FBI directors about pending investigations”
Timing is everything, especially in investigations. Fox News’ Jake Gibson reported overnight that newly released texts between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page indicated that then-President Barack Obama wanted to be informed about all of the activity in their investigation. But which investigation, and when, matters:
Newly revealed text messages between FBI paramours Peter Strzok and Lisa Page include an exchange about preparing talking points for then-FBI Director James Comey to give to President Obama, who wanted “to know everything we’re doing.”
The message, from Page to Strzok, was among thousands of texts between the lovers reviewed by Fox News. The pair both worked at one point for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
True — but that’s not what the text is about, according to Fox’s sources:
Page wrote to Strzok on Sept. 2, 2016 about prepping Comey because “potus wants to know everything we’re doing.” Senate investigators told Fox News this text raises questions about Obama’s personal involvement in the Clinton email investigation.
In other words, this isn’t about the Russia probe, which makes this quite a different kettle of fish. The date here is significant, as it comes between the time that Comey announced the FBI’s recommendations to the Department of Justice (July 5th, 2016) and the time that new e-mails were discovered on Anthony Weiner’s laptop (later in September). Comey had said in his July announcement that the probe would remain open, but that they didn’t expect any significant developments. By September 2nd, the investigation had been presumably dormant for a couple of months.
So why did Obama want a briefing on it at that point? That’s still a good question, although as president he had the authority to order one. Wasn’t that the point that Donald Trump’s defenders made when he fired Comey several months later? The FBI director works at the president’s pleasure, the president has the authority to direct his/her work, and therefore Comey’s firing couldn’t be considered obstruction of justice, or so the argument goes. (The same would apply if this text referred to the Russia probe too, by the way.) It’s certainly curious why Obama wanted a briefing on a then-dormant probe of his party’s presidential nominee, but it’s not scandalous in and of itself. Perhaps the probe wasn’t quite as dormant as previously reported, or maybe Obama just wanted to make sure it was over … which, of course, it wasn’t.
That’s not to say that there are no new developments on the Russia-collusion story. Last night, Rep. Trey Gowdy talked to Fox’s Martha McCallum about the FISA applications and the competing memos, but also dropped a little mini-scoop about the dossier. Gowdy’s not saying that Sidney Blumenthal was involved in the dossier effort as a conduit between Hillary Clinton and Christopher Steele … but if you say it, Gowdy will tell you you’re getting “really warm.” Hmmmmmm.
“I can guarantee … I can guarantee that not because I give Attorney General [Loretta] Lynch a directive, that is institutionally how we have always operated,” Obama said during an appearance on Fox News Sunday. “I do not talk to the Attorney General about pending investigations. I do not talk to FBI directors about pending investigations. We have a strict line and always have maintained it. I guarantee it.”
“I guarantee that there is no political influence in any investigation conducted by the Justice Department or the FBI, not just in this case but in any cas –.period,” he added. “Nobody gets treated differently when it comes to the Justice Department because nobody is above the law.”
It’s worth pointing out, however, that this video came from an interview five months earlier, when the FBI investigation into Hillary was still active. Obama makes a clear distinction in this about “pending investigations,” not all investigations regardless of status. The texts came two months after Comey declared that the investigation was all but closed. Yes, it might suggest that Obama took a more direct approach to Comey and the investigation than earlier suggested, but it’s not evidence of that. It’s also not a demonstration of impropriety — and would be tough to argue otherwise after defending Trump’s authority over the FBI and DoJ for almost a year after Comey’s firing.
Josh Kraushaar points out a more interesting nuance:
Yes, it does tend to undermine Obama’s claim in that regard.