Just what did two FBI agents, both of whom ended up on Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe, mean by having an “insurance policy” against a Donald Trump victory? Mueller later removed Peter Strzok when the text messages emerged from their private communications, and Lisa Page had left the probe earlier on her own, but the claim appears to reference a plan in August 2016 to use the power of the FBI to attack a newly elected president. Politico reports that Senate Judiciary chair Chuck Grassley wants answers from Rod Rosenstein ASAP:
“The limited release of 375 text messages between Mr. Peter Strzok and Ms. Lisa Page indicate a highly politicized FBI environment during both the Clinton and Russia investigations,” Grassley wrote in a letter to deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed special counsel Robert Mueller to lead a criminal probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Republicans have zoomed in on one August 2016 exchange in which Strzok mentions a conversation in “Andy’s office,” which Republicans presume means FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe.
“I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk,” Sztrok wrote to Page. “It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40…”
Grassley asked Rosenstein to provide any additional materials that might shed light on the meaning of that message. In recent public testimony, DOJ officials, including Rosenstein, have declined to divulge more context or details about the significance of the texts, deferring to an ongoing inspector general investigation of the FBI’s handling of a 2016 probe of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think the story here is Republican zooming. No one expects people who work in government to be completely apolitical, not even in law enforcement. Most of the text messages released so far appear to be the same kind of political venting in which many Americans indulge in both private and public.
However, we do expect officials — especially in law enforcement — to execute the duties of their offices properly and without favor, and to abide by the results of elections even when the result cuts across their own preferences. This text exchange took place three months before the election and at least appears to reference a high-ranking FBI official as part of a conspiracy to react to one candidate’s election. That makes the context of the other text messages much more interesting, too; it points to a motive that has nothing at all to do with law enforcement.
Grassley wants to know just what was meant by the “insurance policy.” This exchange took place in August 2016, not long after the now-infamous Steele dossier came to the FBI’s attention. According to the timeline established prior to the exposure of the Strzok-Page texts, Steele brought the dossier to the FBI in early July 2016, which opened an investigation later the same month — just a week or two before Strzok’s texts. At some point, the FBI attempted to pay Steele for his work and did, in fact, reimburse him to some extent, as the Washington Post reported in February.
What role, exactly, did Strzok play in these actions? ABC News noted in September — when his departure emerged but not the reason for it — that he had been “chief of the FBI’s counterespionage section.” That would strongly suggest that Strzok was involved in the FBI’s management of the dossier, if not in charge of it. Was the attempt to pay Steele for continuing to work on the dossier the “insurance policy” that Strzok references? Was Andrew McCabe part of that plan?
In the end, the FBI didn’t find much corroboration for the dossier and didn’t release it during the campaign. However, someone leaked it to a number of media outlets after the election, with Buzzfeed publishing it in full — and getting reamed by other media outlets for doing so. Nevertheless, its release helped build momentum for the “Russian collusion” probe that has resulted in months of political instability and controversy.
All of this could be a coincidence … but Grassley isn’t making that assumption. Neither should Rod Rosenstein. Grassley has a set of specific questions for Rosenstein to answer:
Accordingly, please answer the following no later than December 27, 2017:
- On what date did you become aware of the text messages between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page and on what date were they each removed from the Special Counsel’s office?
- Are there any other records relating to the conversation in Andrew McCabe’s office shortly before the text described above on August 15, 2016? If so please produce them to the Committee.
- Please provide all records relating to Andrew McCabe’s communications with Peter Strzok or Lisa Page between August 7, 2016 and August 23, 2016.
- What steps have you taken to determine whether Mr. Strzok, Mr. Page, and Mr. McCabe should face disciplinary action for their conduct?
- My understanding is that the Inspector General’s current investigation is limited to the handling of the Clinton email matter only. What steps have you taken to determine whether steps taken during the campaign to escalate the Russia investigation might have been a result of the political animus evidenced by these text messages rather than on the merits?
- Has the Department identified the referenced “that phone” Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page used to discuss Secretary Clinton? What steps has the Department taken to review the records on this other phone that allegedly “can’t be traced.” If none, please explain why not? If steps have been taken, please detail them and provide all records reviewed.
Question 5 is the big enchilada. Did the FBI really have reason to buy the dossier from Steele on the basis of legitimate counterespionage? Or did Strzok just decide he wanted an “insurance policy” to get Hillary Clinton elected?