The Inspector General has recovered the Samsung 5 cellphones of two embattled FBI agents at the center of ongoing Department of Justice and Congressional investigations. The two agents are under scrutiny for their involvement in the Special Counsel’s investigation into President Trump and alleged collusion with Russia during the 2016 election. The DOJ’s Inspector general is now retrieving some of the missing five months of crucial text messages exchanged between the pair of FBI agents using forensic experts to track ‘ghost texts,’ left behind even after they are deleted from the devices, former and current law enforcement officials told this reporter.
The DOJ informed the Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson on Jan. 19, that a “technical glitch” failed to retain the text messages between FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok and his colleague FBI attorney Lisa Page from December 2016 and May 2017. DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz was also informed by the FBI that the text messages could not be retrieved because of the technical problems that occurred when the bureau switched from the Samsung 5 phones to the Samsung 7 phones. But Horowitz’s investigation last week into the missing text messages led to the request for the cellphones, which allowed the Inspector General’s team the ability to begin retrieving texts.
Attorney General Jeff Session’s revealed last week that Strzok and Page had exchanged more than 50,000 text messages and Congressional committees are investigating whether the apparent bias of the agents against President Trump altered the investigation into the President and his campaign. Strzok and Page were part of the Special Counsel’s office for a short period of time. Strzok, who was involved in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server to send classified information, was removed from his role in the Special Counsel’s Office after the Horowitz uncovered the biased text messages.
“The OIG has been investigating this matter and, this week, succeeded in using forensic tools to recover text messages from the FBI devices, including text messages from Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page that were sent or received between December 14, 2016 and May 17, 2017,” DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz stated in a letter to Sen. Ron Johnson, Republican chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs and Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“We will provide copies of the text messages that we recover from these devices to the Department so that the department’s leadership can take any management action it deems appropriate,” Horowitz wrote.
A former FBI special agent, who worked extensively on counterterrorism related cases, stated they were “dumbfounded” by the FBI’s original excuse that the text messages were irretrievable.
“Even though the servers ‘lost’ the text messages of Strzok they would still be on his actual device, even if he deleted them,” stated the former FBI special agent, who asked to speak on background due to the sensitivity of the case. “That’s how we catch bad guys, we forensically search their phones. Nothing disappears off the device, nothing… unless they take a hammer to it or microwave it. The question is, the FBI knows this, so why did the bureau say they couldn’t retrieve them – why did they mislead Congress.”
FBI spokeswoman Carol Cratty declined to comment on the ongoing inquiry by the DOJ’s Inspector General into the missing text messages.
Page and Strzok both served in Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel Office, which is investigating alleged ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russia. Many GOP lawmakers have criticized Mueller’s probe, as evidence emerged of extraordinary bias in the text messages against President Trump and inappropriate conduct between Strzok and Page, who were also having an affair.
This week, the DOJ informed the investigating committees that it wasn’t just Strzok and Page’s phones that were affected but thousands of the Samsung 5 phones, stating that the glitch has been remedied.
In a joint statement House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes stressed their “concern” over the missing texts. “Rather than clearing up prior FBI and DOJ actions, these recently produced documents cause us to further question the credibility and objectivity of certain officials at the FBI.”
A congressional official, familiar with the request for the text messages, said “it is difficult to believe that a crucial five months of text messages would just vanish, we didn’t believe and now we see that we were right. We expect those text messages will be retrieved and shared with members of Congress.”
A former informant for the FBI, who spoke to this reporter, said the FBI was able to do the same with his Samsung 5 telephone registered to Verizon and he questioned why the FBI told the committees the information was not retrievable.
“Their forensic experts who worked on my Samsung 5, which was wiped clean, to retrieve the information they needed,” said the former FBI informant, who asked not to be named. This reporter viewed the documents for the informant’s phone and the permission they gave to the FBI to retrieve the text messages from the phone.
“The FBI forensics team said it would be no problem at all pulling up the missing texts from the phone,” the FBI informant said. “It makes me wonder why they didn’t do that with the two agents phones to begin with and why did they tell the committees they couldn’t retrieve the texts.’