Newly discovered text messages obtained by The Federalist reveal two key federal law enforcement officials conspired to meet with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) judge who presided over the federal case against Michael Flynn. The judge, Rudolph Contreras, was recused from handling the case just days after accepting the guilty plea of President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser who was charged with making false statements to federal investigators.
The text messages about Contreras between controversial Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) lawyer Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, the senior FBI counterintelligence official who was kicked off Robert Mueller’s special counsel team, were deliberately hidden from Congress, multiple congressional investigators told The Federalist. In the messages, Page and Strzok, who are rumored to have been engaged in an illicit romantic affair, discussed Strzok’s personal friendship with Contreras and how to leverage that relationship in ongoing counterintelligence matters.
“Rudy is on the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court]!” Page excitedly texted Strzok on July 25, 2016. “Did you know that? Just appointed two months ago.”
“I did,” Strzok responded. “I need to get together with him.”
“[He] said he’d gotten on a month or two ago at a graduation party we were both at.”
Contreras was appointed to the top surveillance court on May 19, 2016, federal records show.
The pair even schemed about how to set up a cocktail or dinner party just so Contreras, Strzok, and Page could speak without arousing suspicion that they were colluding. Strzok expressed concern that a one-on-one meeting between the two men might require Contreras’ recusal from matters in which Strzok was involved.
“[REDACTED] suggested a social setting with others would probably be better than a one on one meeting,” Strzok told Page. “I’m sorry, I’m just going to have to invite you to that cocktail party.”
“Have to come up with some other work people cover for action,” Strzok added.
“Why more?” Page responded. “Six is a perfectly fine dinner party.”
It is not known whether the proposed party happened as planned.
While working as one of the top counterintelligence officials at the FBI, Strzok reportedly took part in the FBI’s interview of Flynn on January 24. Flynn later pleaded guilty to one charge of providing false information to federal investigators. Strzok later left the FBI to join Mueller’s special counsel team, which obtained the indictment of Flynn.
Flynn’s guilty plea was accepted in federal court by Contreras on December 1, 2017. The New York Times reported the next day that Strzok, who left the FBI to work for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, had been removed from the case by Mueller due to inappropriate text messages between Strzok and another federal official, now believed to be DOJ attorney Lisa Page. On December 5, 2017, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to FBI director Christopher Wray demanding text messages from Strzok as well as any notes he took regarding his interviews with Flynn. Contreras was recused from the Flynn case on December 7, 2017, and the case was reassigned to Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, according to federal court documents.
Neither Contreras nor federal judiciary officials have publicly indicated the reason for Contreras’ removal from the case. Contreras’ office declined to comment on inquiries asking about his relationship with Strzok, or why he was not recused from the Flynn case until after he had accepted Flynn’s guilty plea.
The pre-existing relationship between Strzok and Contreras and Contreras’ mysterious recusal from the Flynn case, forced or otherwise, raise serious questions about whether Flynn’s case, among others, was properly conducted.
The text messages that show Page and Strzok conspiring to meet with Contreras were originally hidden from Congress. In records provided by DOJ to Congress, the exchanges referencing Contreras, and plans to meet with him under the guise of a cocktail party, were completely redacted by federal law enforcement officials. The exchanges obtained by The Federalist include information that was never turned over to Congress.
Congressional investigators told The Federalist that only 3,162 of the more than 1.2 million documents retained by the DOJ Inspector General (IG) have been turned over to the committees specifically tasked with oversight of the Department of Justice and FBI.
Ongoing DOJ obstruction of congressional oversight has only increased the calls for a special counsel to investigate criminal leaks, federal surveillance abuses, and other alleged improprieties within the agencies. On Thursday, Grassley and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to name a special prosecutor to work independently with the IG to investigate the law enforcement agencies.
“They cannot be counted on to investigate themselves,” Grassley said in an interview. “If you do something wrong, you don’t have the fox guard the chicken house.”
Sessions has not yet publicly said how he plans to tackle the problems in his department.
Sean Davis contributed to this report.