We are now getting our first look at a new trove of text messages between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page -- who were having an affair during the 2016 election cycle as they worked on the Clinton email investigation, then later as part of the Mueller probe, from which they've been dismissed. The messages reinforce some previously-known dynamics, but also raise new questions. Leah wrote up the basics earlier, but here are a few major takeaways, from my perspective:
(1) In the "old news" file, it's clearer than ever how viscerally Strzok and Page despised Donald Trump as a candidate, lashing out at him as a "f--ing idiot," and calling his election "f--ing terrifying" and depressing. They also didn't think much of their Congressional overseers, referring to the legislative body as "utterly useless" and "contemptible." It appears as though Strzok's disdain for Republicans and GOP voters extended beyond Trump, as he expressed resentment toward the "ignorant hillbillys [sic]" who voted to defeat former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe's wife in a Virginia Senate election. She ran as a Democrat, of course, and was funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars by then-governor Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton ally. That money flowed to her campaign while McCabe was connected to the Bureau's Clinton email probe. The exchanges also demonstrate the deep reverence and admiration both agents harbored for their boss at the time, FBI Director James Comey.
(2) One text generating a lot of attention this morning is a message sent on September 2, 2016 (roughly two months before election day) suggesting that President Obama was personally and keenly interested in the specific status of their investigation (see update):
Let's think about this -- the timing is a bit strange here, isn't it? Remember, Comey announced his determination (the wrong one, in my view) not to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton in July of that year (Strzok helped soften anti-Hillary language in Comey's statement). That decision was made public the month following an infamous 'tarmac meeting' between Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the optics of which Strzok called "astoundingly bad" in a newly-disclosed text message to Page. Comey also began drafting a legal exoneration memo long before the investigation had concluded, before Mrs. Clinton herself was even interviewed, and after top aides were offered immunity and given passes for lying to the FBI. In late September, the Hillary email probe roared back to life upon the discovery of sensitive emails on the unsecure laptop of ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Huma Abedin. More on that in a moment.
But why would Obama want a thorough briefing on "everything" going on in the Clinton probe at a time when it was basically dormant, though technically still open? Does the 'potus' text necessarily refer to the Clinton investigation? Or was it about something else? Keep in mind that these texts were released in connection with a Senate inquiry into the FBI's handling of the Clinton matter, so it might follow that the Hillary email scandal was the relevant subject here. But given the dates, it's possible that Obama was asking for information on other FBI work, like looking into Russia's election meddling, or scrutinizing the Trump campaign. We don't have that full context yet, but I'd imagine the DOJ's nonpartisan Inspector General's office (which is conducting its own independent investigation into how the Bureau handled its business on Clinton's emails) does. If, indeed, Obama were asking for a detailed briefing on the Clinton probe while it was still open, this vow he made on national television months earlier becomes a problem:
"I do not talk to FBI Directors about pending investigations," he said, promising that Mrs. Clinton would not receive any special treatment from his Justice Department. Keeping those bright lines separate is "institutionally, how we have always operated," he averred. Critics have long pointed to his public statement that Clinton had not broken the law as evidence of improper presidential meddling. The FBI was actively on the case at the time, and his pronouncement of the 'proper' conclusion angered some within the Bureau and was attacked by conservatives as an attempt to prejudice an ongoing investigation. If Obama were also applying pressure behind the scenes, that looks more suspicious, particularly because he asserted outright that talking to FBI Directors about pending investigations is something that he scrupulously avoids. In this case, it appears he personally solicited such a meeting. Did he consider the issue no longer "pending"? Or, again, was he asking for information on a separate matter entirely? Let's wait and see.
(3) We now know about the existence of an unexplained, one-month gap in between the discovery of Clinton emails on Weiner's laptop, and Comey notifying Congress that this "recent" development was being investigated. The former occurred on September 28; the latter on October 28, right before the election. What explains this delay? My educated guess is that the answer has something to do with why McCabe was forced out of his position by new FBI Director Christopher Wray last month, not long after Wray had reportedly gone to bat for McCabe in private. The Inspector General's forthcoming report likely provides insights into this timeline, but I suspect it may turn out that McCabe improperly maneuvered to suppress new Clinton probe developments until after the election was over. If that's the case, his stall tactics obviously backfired; someone (Comey?) insisted that Congress be made aware of what was happening sooner, that notification -- delayed for weeks, by that point -- was then delivered to Capitol Hill, and the resulting furor contributed to Hillary's loss mere days later. We will likely glean clarifying, non-spectulative information into this once the IG report is published.
(4) The last piece that seems relevant is this "task" message, which Fox's report understandably links to the much discussed, cryptic anti-Trump "insurance policy" revealed months ago:
Later that month, on Nov. 13, 2016, Page wrote, "I bought all the president's men. Figure I need to brush up on watergate." The next day, Nov. 14, 2016, Page wrote, “God, being here makes me angry. Lots of high fallutin’ national security talk. Meanwhile we have OUR task ahead of us.” Page’s meaning here is unclear, but according to the Senate report, coupled with Strzok’s Aug. 15 text about an “insurance policy,” further investigation is warranted to find out what actions the two may have taken.
What task? Was it related to their anti-Trump "insurance policy"? These are serious, unanswered questions. I'll leave you with two mitigating factors that at least partially cut against hair-on-fire outrage over the Strzok/Page texts: First, despite his manifest and intense bias against Trump, Strzok helped draft Comey's letter to Congress about the Weiner laptop development, knowing full well that it would harm her candidacy. Second, as soon as Robert Mueller was informed of this deluge of texts filled with anti-Trump venom, he booted both agents from his team. If the whole system were corrupt and rigged against Trump, the Weiner laptop letter would never have seen the light of day prior to the election, and these anti-Trump partisans would still be on the job with Mueller. It did, and they aren't. Finally, here is my immediate analysis of these revelations on America's Newsroom this morning:
UPDATE - As I surmised, Obama asked for a briefing on Russia meddling, not the Clinton email probe, which was only nominally active at that point: