Democrats attempted to refute point-by-point a letter from GOP Rep. Mark Meadows to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in which Meadows claims text messages between a former FBI agent and a Justice Department lawyer recently released to Congress show there is a “systemic culture of media leaking by high-ranking officials” at the agencies.
But the fired FBI official Peter Strzok and DOJ lawyer Lisa Page were not texting about leaking information to the press — they were texting about combatting leaks, Democrats said Tuesday.
Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform and Judiciary Committees, respectively, said Meadows ripped two isolated text messages out of context to paint an inaccurate picture of the text conversation between Strzok and Page.
“The documents clearly show that Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page were not discussing how to leak documents to the press — but whether the Justice Department should change its regulations to stop leaks to the media,” the Democrats said.
On April 10 of last year, according to Meadows’ letter, Strzok texted Page from his government-issued phone: “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.”
Then, two days later, he sent Page another text telling her two new articles were coming about former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, whom Strzok referred to as her “namesake.”
“Well done, Page,” Strzok wrote to Lisa Page.
On April 11 of that year, between the two text messages from Strzok to Page, The Washington Post broke a story with the headline, “FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor former Trump adviser Carter Page,” Meadows pointed out Monday on Twitter.
But, Nadler and Cummings said Tuesday in their joint press release, that’s not the article — or even the situation — Strzok was referring to.
Other texts on April 10 the Democrats released Tuesday show Strzok and Page had been discussing a meeting of higher-ups at the agencies about proposed changes to the DOJ’s “media leak regs” to stem leaks to the press.
“DoJ getting all political and about to blown (sic) up the media leak regs and turn this into a circus,” Strzok wrote.
Then, Strzok expressed concern that some officials were looking to shake up the DOJ’s internal leak regulations and suggested consulting with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and Director James B. Comey to intervene.
Strzok wrote: “if they are going to try to blow up the regs we need to get that to andy and d soonest.”
When Strzok referred to the “media leak strategy” — the text message Meadows highlighted — later that same day, April 10, he was referring to “the strategy, meetings, and discussions” about press leak regulations and the proposed internal changes to them by some officials.
And when Strzok texted “Well done, Page” on April 22, that was not, as Meadows has postulated, a reference to a report in The Washington Post about 10 days earlier about the FBI obtaining Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, Democrats said.
Rather, it appeared to refer to an article published in The New York Times that same day, April 22, profiling Comey. The “Well done, Page” text that Meadows referred to in his letter comes after a string of texts that began when Strzok texted Page: “Article is out!” — again, referring to the Comey profile.
The exchanges between Strzok and Page that Meadows revealed Monday “should lead a reasonable person to question whether there was a sincere desire to investigate wrongdoing or to place derogatory information in the media to justify a continued probe,” Meadows wrote in his letter to Rosenstein.
But the context of those text messages provided Tuesday by Democrats could lead to yet another escalation of tensions between the two parties who sparred publicly at a hearing with Strzok that degenerated into partisan bickering.
Democrats on the committees have repeatedly hammered their GOP counterparts for probing the DOJ and FBI’s actions during the Trump-Russia and Hillary Clinton private email server investigations, saying that Republicans are trying to deflect attention away from the president and the “culture of corruption” swirling around his administration.
“We don’t know how many times Republicans will try this same trick — or how many times President Trump will take advantage of them — but they need to start fulfilling their constitutional duty to conduct credible oversight of the Executive Branch rather than acting as the President’s personal defense counsel,” Nadler and Cummings said.
A spokesman for Meadows declined to comment on this story.