Communications uncovered by congressional investigators reveal the FBI may have improperly coordinated with Department of Justice officials in an effort to pressure those officials to expedite a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance warrant on a former volunteer with the President Trump’s campaign, congressional officials said.
Text messages obtained by investigators reveal that FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok and his colleague Lisa Page were discussing the FBI’s difficulty in obtaining the warrant to spy on Carter Page, who worked for a short stint with the Trump campaign. The FBI obtained its first warrant to spy on Page on Oct. 19, 2016, and there would be three subsequent renewals every 90 days for the warrant on Mr. Page.
“At best, it’s a strange coincidence worth investigating further—but it’s likely much more…”
The communications, which were first released last week and obtained by congressional investigators, occurred roughly one month before the Page warrant was obtained. The communications suggested that there was possible coordination by Obama White House officials, the CIA and the FBI into the investigation into President Donald Trump’s campaign, as reported earlier.
In one of the September 2016 text message chains, Strzok tells Lisa Page about an argument that occurred with former DOJ prosecutor David Laufman. Laufman, who was then chief of the DOJ’s National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, oversaw the probe into former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, as well as the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. Laufman left the DOJ earlier this year citing personal reasons for leaving his post, according to news reports.
In the text message, Strzok complains that Laufman told him the hold-up for the application “EDVA is/was the delay.” The EDVA refers to the Eastern District of Virginia—a court that has previously issued subpeonas in the Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigation. This exchange raises concerns about FBI agents potentially pressuring prosecutors and the courts to speed up the production of information related to issuing FISA warrants, congressional staffers added. Congressional investigators originally stated that the EDVA had possibly been involved in the issuing of a FISA warrant.
“Everything here—from the texts complaining about FISA delays to the exchanges indicating coordination, to the White House visitor logs—seems to match to a disturbing degree. At best, it’s a strange coincidence worth investigating further—but it’s likely much more,” a congressional investigator told this reporter. “Congress has to take this information seriously if we hope to restore Americans’ trust in our federal justice system.”
In March 2016 there was already tension brewing between the FBI and Laufman.
“I am getting aggravated at Laufman,” a March 2016 message from Strzok to Lisa Page said.
According to congressional investigators, the new communications suggest that conflict only got deeper in the following months.
In a Sept. 8, 2016 text message, Lisa Page told Strzok: “Oh, just make sure I understood where things were on the [redacted] paper, trying to talk to Axelrod [Matthew Axelrod, DOJ prosecutor] because he’s ‘so angry’ with how this came over to them. I told her not to put herself out too much if Matt wants to call and yell at Andy it’s fine.” Matthew Axelrod was the former top deputy to then acting attorney general Sally Yates. Yates was fired by Trump in January 2017 after she refused to enforce his executive travel ban order.
The reference to ‘Andy’ is former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired on March 16, by the Department of Justice at the request of the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). Only several days after the text was sent, White House visitor logs reveal that on Sept. 12, 2016, Axelrod met with President Obama at the White House.
McCabe may now be looking at possible charges for lying under oath to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who is investigating the FBI’s handling of its investigation into Clinton. His firing came days before he would have been eligible for a lifetime pension. The bureau fired McCabe based on evidence that he lied to the DOJ’s Inspector General’s office four times regarding leaks to the media during the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s use of the unsecured private server to send classified messages.
DOJ Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that McCabe had “made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor—including under oath—on multiple occasions.”
McCabe contended in a statement shortly after his firing that he was fired as part of the administration’s “ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation.”
However, current FBI Director Christopher Wray disputed McCabe’s assertion that he was fired for political reasons saying in an interview with NBC’s “Nightly News” that his “commitment to making sure that our process is followed, that it relies on objective input, and that most importantly, it is not based on political or partisan influence is something I am utterly unyielding on.”
Clarification: This story has been updated with additional information from Congressional investigators on the Eastern District of Virginia court. They had originally stated that a FISA warrant was issued in the Eastern District of Virginia.