WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department has turned over to Congress additional text messages involving an FBI agent who was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team following the discovery of derogatory comments about President Donald Trump.
But the department also said in a letter to lawmakers that its record of messages sent to and from the agent, Peter Strzok, was incomplete because the FBI, for technical reasons, had been unable to preserve and retrieve about five months’ worth of communications.
New text messages highlighted in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray by Sen. Ron Johnson, the Republican chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, are from the spring and summer of 2016 and involve discussion of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. They reference, among other things, Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s decision to accept the FBI’s findings in that case and a draft statement that former FBI Director James Comey had prepared in anticipation of concluding the investigation without criminal charges.
Strzok, a veteran counterintelligence agent who also worked the Clinton email case, was reassigned from the team investigating ties between Russia and Trump’s Republican presidential campaign after Mueller learned that he had traded politically charged text messages — many anti-Trump in nature — with an FBI lawyer who was also detailed to the group. The lawyer, Lisa Page, left Mueller’s team before the text messages were discovered.
The Justice Department last month produced for reporters and Congress hundreds of text messages between the two officials, with Republican lawmakers contending that the communication reveals the FBI and Mueller team to be politically tainted and biased against Trump — assertions Wray has flatly rejected.
Beyond the communications already made public, the Justice Department on Friday provided Johnson’s committee with 384 pages of text messages, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.
But Johnson said the FBI had told the department that the FBI’s system for retaining text messages sent and received on bureau phones had failed to preserve communications between Strzok and Page over a five-month period between December 2016 and March 2017.
“The result was that data that should have been automatically collected and retained for long-term storage and retrieval was not collected,” according to a cover letter accompanying the texts.
One of the messages references a change in language to Comey’s statement closing out the email case involving Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent in the 2016 presidential election. While an earlier draft of the statement said that Clinton and President Barack Obama had an email exchange while Clinton was “on the territory” of a hostile adversary, the reference to Obama was omitted.
In another exchange, the two express displeasure about the timing of Lynch’s announcement that she would defer to the FBI’s judgment on the Clinton investigation. That announcement came days after it was revealed that she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, had an impromptu meeting aboard her plane in Phoenix.