It’s the afternoon of 9/11 as I write this, and it’s been a day of tolling bells and remembrance. But as we remember all the sacrifice and bravery and the threat posed to our nation from the outside, we also see more indications of the threat posed from within, and it would be unfortunate to let those pass today without remark.
In just one example (the anonymous New York Times op-ed is another one; more on that soon), the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has obtained more text messages exchanged by former FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok and "office girlfriend" Lisa Page, who at that time was legal assistant to deputy FBI Director Andrew “Andy’s office” McCabe (whom the DOJ announced last week is currently under grand jury investigation for lying to investigators and leaking to the media). As revealing as the earlier texts were, these add even more to the narrative and help firm up the timeline regarding government leaks of unverified information involving made-up Trump/Russia connections, specifically the warrants to spy on Carter Page, who served briefly on the campaign as a foreign policy adviser. These texts show that Lisa Page was involved in surreptitiously getting word out to the media, with Strzok patting her on the back and saying, in effect, “You go, girl!”
These new texts, according to FOX News reporter Catherine Herridge, were sent during the time Inspector General Michael Horowitz has termed the “gap period,” from December, 2016, to May of 2017. Recall that Horowitz was the one who turned up the earlier Strzok-Page texts, without which we’d still be in the dark about the “insurance policy.” Recall also that it was during this “gap period,” especially the first few months of Trump’s administration, that a ridiculous amount of leaking was going on. These two were so addicted to texting each other that there must be a vast number of texts from this critical period. At least the gap is finally starting to fill in.
But not anywhere near fast enough. In a letter to deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who will probably ignore it, South Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows said that “a review of the new documents raises grave concerns regarding an apparent systemic culture of media leaking by high-ranking officials at the FBI and DOJ related to ongoing investigations.” Here are a couple of examples he included:
--- April 10, 2017: Peter Strzok contacts Lisa Page to discuss a “media strategy.” Specifically, the text says, “I had literally just gone to find this phone to tell you I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ before you go.”
--- April 12, 2017: Strzok congratulates Page on a job well done while referring to two derogatory articles about Carter Page. In the text, Strzok warns Page two articles are coming out, one of which is worse than the other about Page’s “namesake.” Strzok adds, “Well done, Page.”
I don’t have to tell you the one phrase that really jumps out. Say it with me: “MEDIA LEAK STRATEGY WITH DOJ.”
Meadows’ letter points out that it was on April 11 that the Washington Post broke a story about the Carter Page FISA application, “setting off a flurry of articles suggesting connections between President Trump and Russia.” To me, this sounds like an element of the “insurance policy,” a coordinated effort to be waged against Trump if he happened to beat the odds and win the election.
The letter goes on to request more text messages, emails and documents from certain FBI and DOJ officials –- Stu Evans, Mike Kortan and Joe Pientka –- in light of this new information. “To be clear, we are not suggesting wrongdoing on the part of Evans, Kortan and Pientka,” it says, “and, in fact, previously reviewed documents suggest that some of these individuals may share the committees’ same concerns.” (I would hope so.) But these communications, especially the ones with others whose names are more familiar to us by now, “would provide critical insight into the backdrop of the Russia investigation.”
At least Congress is doing its oversight job, trying to chase down the REAL “Russia” story while the special counsel chases phantoms. But Strzok’s attorney has released a statement calling the response to these texts a “conspiracy theory.” Actually, I’d say the word “conspiracy” is quite appropriate here because it really, really looks like one. And the word “theory” is appropriate, too, if by “theory” one means something that we know by now actually exists, like gravity. After all, we know Lisa Page told congressional committees that the texts between her and Strzok mean just what a reasonable person would think they mean. “Insurance policy,” “stop it,” etc. --- these words haven’t been wildly misinterpreted by conspiracy nuts. All we did was look at them rationally, within context; their meaning is crystal clear.
Tom Fitton at Judicial Watch pointed out to Harris Faulkner on FOX News’ “Overtime” that the kind of above-the-law behavior we’re seeing from the Justice Department, as blatant as it is these days, is nothing new. “We’ve been litigating against...the FBI for, you know, 20-plus years at Judicial Watch, and one thing that’s always been consistent is arrogance, illegal secrecy and contempt for the rule of law,” Fitton said. “They think they’re not accountable, and, at the leadership level especially, they just have complete contempt for anyone outside the agency, or within the agency that attempts to tell them to maybe follow the rules and do what’s right.”
What we have here, he said, is leadership at the FBI “that thought it could get away with illegally targeting a candidate for the President of the United States.” After numerous firings, it’s time to move forward and make the special counsel accountable for what has been done. Those people who are now discredited and removed from their positions are the ones responsible for making Mueller’s so-called case. Fitton made the point that without them, there would be no Mueller investigation.
“And so any other prosecution marred by this misconduct by the investigators would be shut down. And I don’t understand why Congress doesn’t take more of a leadership role here. Certainly the President is highlighting Mueller’s corruption, the corruption of the special counsel investigation. Someone’s got to call what’s going on here for what’s actually happening...you’ve got this corrupted Mueller investigation as a result of this misconduct during the Obama administration into the Trump administration.”
Fitton is right –- he’s talking about “the fruit of the poisonous tree” that normally would taint an investigation so much that it would be impossible to take it seriously, let alone bring charges. And there’s much more poison hidden inside; the FBI is telling Judicial Watch that the rest of the Strzok-Page texts won’t be released until at least 2020 (my guess is after the November elections). The texts we’ve seen are so bad, it’s hard to imagine what the FBI is still holding back. Fitton has also been told they have to wait another six months to get another 1600 pages of Bruce Ohr-related documents. And, of course, the FISA warrants that targeted Carter Page to initiate the spying on Trump’s campaign are still classified.
Even just with what we know so far, this tree is so poisonous that its fruit should not be swallowed by anyone. It’s time to swing the axe and bring it crashing down. We’re wise to the FBI and their shield of “classification,” which in this case hasn’t been put on documents to safeguard national security but simply to protect their own. President Trump would, of course, face screaming outrage and blind fury if he moved in the name of transparency to just declassify everything, but that’s what needs to happen. He faces screaming outrage and blind fury over everything he says and does, anyway, so I say, “Go for it.”