Missing FBI Text Messages Exemplify Animosity Between Organization And GOP

Jan 25, 2018
Originally published on January 26, 2018 9:45 am
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Republicans are trying to change the subject and move away from talking about the Russia investigation. But it's what they do want to talk about that's unusual. The party of law and order is raising big questions about the conduct of the FBI. Here's White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: You guys are absolutely obsessed with everything to do with collusion if it has anything to do with the president. We hope that you'll take some of that same obsession, energy and fervor and direct it to some of the places where it looks like there could've been some really inappropriate and possibly illegal behavior.

KELLY: Well, there are a lot of plots and subplots swirling here. And to help us unswirl some of them, we've brought in NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Let's lay out what we actually know. What Sarah Sanders was referring to there is missing FBI text messages. What are the messages, and why are they missing?

JOHNSON: The texts are from FBI agent Peter Strzok to FBI lawyer Lisa Page and vice versa. These folks were having an affair, and they exchanged lots of messages on their FBI work phones. These messages were uncovered in a review by the Justice Department inspector general. Congress has some of them, but thousands appear to be missing - not just the messages from Page and Strzok, who both worked for a time on the Russia investigation, but also other people. Just now the inspector general is telling Congress that it seems to have recovered some of those missing texts involving Page and Strzok. And the FBI says there's an innocent explanation. It was a technical glitch when the bureau was moving from one version of a cellphone to another.

KELLY: So lots of missing text messages. We don't have access to most of them. Some of them have come to light. And there is a reference that is raising a lot of eyebrows to a secret society. This was a text exchanged between these two at the FBI. Several Republicans have suggested this proves that there is a deep state conspiracy underway at the FBI. What are the actual facts, Carrie?

JOHNSON: Yeah, not so fast. People who have read the full exchange of these text messages suggest to me that the words secret society were a joke. It may not have been funny, but it wasn't evidence of some kind of cabal at the highest levels of the FBI to get anybody. In fact, Mary Louise, if you talk to agents, as a group they tend to be more politically conservative. In fact, fired FBI Director Jim Comey was a lifelong Republican. Current FBI Director Chris Wray is a Republican. And former FBI director, now special counsel Robert Mueller is a registered Republican, too.

KELLY: Let me ask you about a separate but related development which is feeding into these conspiracy theories there. This is about a memo drafted by the staff of the Republican chair of the House intelligence committee. That would be Devin Nunes. This memo reportedly claims - I say reportedly; we haven't seen it either - reportedly claims that the FBI abused its powers and spied on the Trump campaign. What are the facts here?

JOHNSON: You know who else hasn't seen this memo, Mary Louise, is the FBI or the Justice Department.

KELLY: So even they can't get their hands on it.

JOHNSON: No. The Justice Department sent a letter to Congress this week saying it would be reckless to release this memo to the public without giving the bureau a chance to look at it beforehand to protect any sources or methods. Justice also says there's no evidence of any wrongdoing it's uncovered by the FBI in any kind of application for wiretap with a secret foreign intelligence court. Devin Nunes hasn't even handed over this document to Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee. So a lot's to be known.

KELLY: Under tight hold there. Well - and you've covered the FBI for years. How unusual is this for the - to be caught up in the middle of partisan feuding like this?

JOHNSON: Very unusual. In fact, unimaginable, one bureau veteran tells me. Agents are not really able to defend themselves in this political context. And while the current FBI director, Chris Wray, and the deputy attorney general have said the FBI has agents of fine character and integrity, that's getting drowned out by criticism from the president, some Republicans on Capitol Hill and even some barbs from the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who's been pressing the FBI director to clean house.

KELLY: To clean house. Thanks very much, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

KELLY: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.