AP Photo / Manuel Balce Ceneta
- Questions about the integrity of the FBI, Department of Justice, and special counsel Robert Mueller intensified this week.
- The revelation that the FBI was not able to save 50,000 text messages exchanged between FBI officials accused of expressing opposition to President Donald Trump has fueled speculation among Republicans that the investigation is biased against the president.
- Republicans are also clamoring for Trump to authorize the release of a secret memo that they say proves former President Barack Obama abused surveillance laws.
Republicans’ criticism of the FBI hit a fever pitch this week amid reports that 50,000 texts between two FBI employees who wrote anti-Trump messages to each other went missing because of a software glitch on Samsung phones.
“Where are the 50,000 important text messages between FBI lovers Lisa Page and Peter Strzok? Blaming Samsung!” Trump said in a tweet Wednesday.
In a letter sent last week to Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, Stephen Boyd, the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs at the Department of Justice, said that the FBI’s system was not able to preserve messages between Strzok and Page that were sent between December 16, 2016, and May 17, 2017. The content of the texts from those five months would have likely provided lawmakers with a clearer picture of the nature of the two FBI employees’ involvement in the Russia investigation.
Special counsel Robert Mueller removed Strzok from his investigative team after texts with Page, a senior FBI lawyer, surfaced last year showing Strzok making disparaging remarks about Trump. Strzok, who also played a critical role in exonerating Hillary Clinton in the FBI's investigation of her use of a private email server, was demoted to another department at the bureau last summer.
Now that his texts with Page aren’t available for lawmakers to see, some Republicans are ramping up attacks against the FBI. Others, including Trump's lawyers, have taken it a step further. They want a second special counsel to formally investigate anti-Trump bias and potential corruption within the FBI, DOJ, and Mueller's investigative team.
“First the IRS destroyed emails pivotal to our investigation of their political targeting. Now the FBI ‘failed to preserve’ texts between Peter Strzok & Lisa Page following the ’16 election,” tweeted Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, who sits on the House and Judiciary and Oversight committees. “The time for a second special counsel is now.”
Trump administration officials have tried to clarify the president's feelings towards the FBI, even as he continues to slam the Russia investigation, which he has called a "hoax" and a "witch hunt."
During the White House press briefing Wednesday, press secretary Sarah Sanders said that Trump has "100% confidence" in FBI Director Wray as well as in the rank-and-file of the FBI. Trump's criticism, she insisted, is only aimed at "a few bad actors," although she declined to state names.
Secret memo shocks Republicans, underwhelms Democrats
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/APRepublicans have also been pushing for the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Rep. Devin Nunes, to release a memo that outlines purported illegal surveillance during the transition period against then-President-elect Trump by President Barack Obama's administration.
The Twitter hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo has been trending on social media, pressuring Trump to give disclosure of the memo a green light.
Trump, who famously tweeted in the early months of his presidency that he "just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory," has led the charge in questioning the credibility of US intelligence agencies.
Last month, he claimed the FBI's reputation was "in Tatters - worst in History!"
The tweet then prompted FBI Director Christopher Wray, whom Trump appointed to replace James Comey, to respond, albeit indirectly, to the president's comments.
“There is no shortage of opinions out there,” Wray said during a hearing on Capitol Hill. “The FBI that I see is people, decent people, committed to the highest principles of dignity and professionalism and respect.”