Newly redacted text messages discovered by congressional investigators reveal that an embattled FBI agent at the center of the Russia investigation controversy was close friends with a District of Columbia judge who recused himself from the criminal case over former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, congressional members said, and text documents show.
The never before seen text messages, which were a part of the texts given to Congress by the Department of Justice, show that FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok and his paramour FBI attorney Lisa Page discussed Strzok’s relationship with U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras, who presided over a Dec. 1, 2017, hearing where former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Strzok was removed from Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel’s Office last year after anti-Trump text messages between him and his FBI agent lover were discovered by the DOJ’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz. But on Dec. 7, without warning, Judge Rudolph Contreras was removed as the presiding judge on Flynn’s case. Little information was given at the time as to why Contreras was removed.
“We’re asking the department of justice and the FBI to give us the documents we need to do proper oversight…”
Mark Meadows (R-NC)
DOJ officials did not immediately respond for comment.
In a text message chain from Page to Strzok on July 25, 2016, she writes, “Rudy is on the FISC! Did you know that? Just appointed two months ago.” At that point, the pair continues to discuss other issues but comes back to Contreras, “I did. We talked about it before and after. I need to get together with him.” Then later Strzok appears to return to his discussion about Contreras.
Page: “Thought of it because you had to Google FISC judges and him there. I’m telling you.”
Strzok: “….She brought up a good point about being circumspect in talking to him in terms of not placing him into a situation where he’d have to recuse himself.”
Page: “I can’t imagine you either one of you could talk about anything in detail meaningful enough to warrant recusal.” Page then goes back to discussing a different issue saying, “Anyway, maybe you meant to, but didn’t.’
Strzok: “Really? Rudy. I’m in charge of espionage for the FBI. Any espionage FISA comes before him, what should he do? Given his friend oversees them?”
Page: “Standards for recusal are quite high. I just don’t think this poses an actual conflict. And he doesn’t know what you do?”
Strzok: “Generally he does know what I do. Not the level or scope or area but he’s super thoughtful and rigorous about ethics and conflicts. (redacted) suggested a social setting with others would probably be better than a one on one meeting. I’m sorry, I’m just going to have to invite you to that cocktail party. Of course, you’ll be there. Have to come up with some other work people cover for action.”
Page: “Why more? Six is a perfectly fine dinner party.”
Investigators working with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Rep. Mark Meadows, both with the House Oversight Committee, discovered the text messages during their ongoing investigation into the FBI’s handling of the alleged Trump-Russia collusion investigation, the Congressional members told this reporter. Under rules established by DOJ officials, congressional investigators could only review the less-redacted version of the pairs’ text messages at DOJ headquarters and only the highly redacted version of the texts was allowed to be removed during the ongoing process, they said. Of the 1.2 million documents collected by Horowitz’s team, the House Oversight Committee has only received 3,162 “unique documents,” they added.
“Why did Contreras recuse himself?” said Jordan. “Text messages show he had a relationship with Strzok… Why did the DOJ make it difficult for us to get the information? To me, those are the two fundamental questions. We don’t know that answers to either one of those ”
Jordan noted that the text messages provide some context but that some of the communications are not completely clear. He added what is “clear is that the back and forth exchange shows that Strzok and (Contreras) were friends. But we don’t know if the discussion regarding recusal has anything to do with Russia or if they were referring to another case. What we do know is that Contreras recused himself after the guilty plea but we still don’t know why?”
Meadows added that a “recusal for a judge is a very high bar.”
“I think from my standpoint we’re asking the department of justice and the FBI to give us the documents we need to do proper oversight,” said Meadows. “Failing to be able to be able to provide Congress with those documents in an expeditious manner would certainly strengthen the case for a special prosecutor.”
The DOJ’s failure to be forthright with the information makes it extremely difficult for Congress to conduct oversight, he added.
“The only thing we would not have access to is grand jury material and some classified documents,” said Meadows. “There is no reason why we cannot get the same documents the Inspector General has.”