Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) as written to FBI Director Chris Wray about the situation. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo
The FBI is missing five months of text messages between two senior officials who Republicans on Capitol Hill have accused of political bias, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) revealed in a letter to the bureau made public on Sunday.
Republicans have been scrutinizing the text messages between senior counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page as part of their inquiry into whether bias infected the bureau’s investigations into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state and into President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.
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Johnson, who leads the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote to FBI Director Chris Wray with questions about the missing communication, which he said spanned Dec. 14, 2016 to May 17, 2017, the day Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
In his letter — delivered Saturday — Johnson said correspondence from the FBI a day earlier ascribed the missing text messages to “misconfiguration issues related to rollouts, provisioning, and software upgrades that conflicted with the FBI’s collection capabilities.”
“The result was that data that should have been automatically collected and retained for long-term storage and retrieval was not collected,” the FBI informed the committee, according to Johnson, who called the missing information “concerning.” The missing texts were first reported by the Daily Caller.
Johnson said the agency did turn over 384 pages of text messages last week between Strzok and Page. The Justice Department gave lawmakers about 375 texts in December. The pair has faced withering criticism from Republicans on Capitol Hill after the earlier round of text messages, unearthed by DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz, revealed a series of anti-Trump exchanges, among criticism of politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Republicans have pointed to the messages to claim that bias in the upper ranks of the FBI led officials to soft-pedal the investigation of Clinton’s handling of classified information and to look into Trump allies’ ties to Russia. Strzok had been tapped as a senior deputy in Mueller’s criminal probe of the Russia matter but was later removed from the team.
There’s been no public evidence that Strzok or Page acted on their dislike of Trump to influence any aspects of the investigation.
Johnson said in his letter that among the new texts produced to the committee, a May 4, 2016 exchange showed Strzok and Page were worried that Trump’s likely nomination as the Republican candidate for president would increase pressure to complete “Midyear Exam,” the shorthand name the bureau had given to the Clinton investigation. In July, Comey announced the FBI would not recommend that Clinton face charges over the email issue.
In a July 1 exchange, the two officials also criticized then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s decision to defer to the FBI’s judgment on whether to charge Clinton. They suggested she already knew the bureau planned to recommend against charging Clinton.
“It’s a real profile in couragw [sic],” Page wrote,” since she knows no charges will be brought.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a top House conservative who has been among the most aggressive critics of FBI leadership, pointed to the missing texts as a reason for a new special counsel to examine the FBI investigation.
“First the IRS destroyed emails pivotal to our investigation of their political targeting,” he tweeted, recalling actions that frustrated conservatives during an investigation while President Barack Obama was still in office. “Now the FBI ‘failed to preserve’ texts between Peter Strzok & Lisa Page following the ’16 election.”
Johnson asked Wray to reveal the “scope and scale of all records lost, destroyed, or otherwise alienated during the midyear examination investigation.” He also asked whether the FBI had records of any other communications between Strzok and Page during the time period when their texts were lost, and he asked if the FBI had searched the two officials’ personal devices for any additional communications that might be relevant.
Josh Gerstein contributed reporting.