There’s Another Explanation For Peter Strzok’s March 2016 Texts Than Setting Up Trump

There’s Another Explanation For Peter Strzok’s March 2016 Texts Than Setting Up Trump

While Peter Strzok led the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign and may have targeted Trump in early to mid-2016, Strzok also worked on other matters during that time.
Margot Cleveland
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Yesterday, George Papadopoulos suggested in a tweet that text messages between disgraced former FBI agent Peter Strzok and his colleague and “companion,” FBI attorney Lisa Page, implicated Joe Mifsud in the plot to spy on the Trump campaign.

As the former Trump campaign advisor noted in the tweet, he first met Mifsud—the supposed Russian agent who later told Papadopoulos the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton—in Rome on March 14, 2016.

Papadopoulos later passed Mifsud’s claim to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer over drinks in a London bar. Then, following WikiLeaks’ release of the Democratic National Committee emails in July 2016, the FBI pegged Papadopoulos’ statement to Downer as evidence that Trump operatives had foreknowledge of WikiLeaks’ hack. The FBI responded by launching Crossfire Hurricane on July 31, 2016, to investigate the Trump campaign’s supposed collusion with Russia.

However, over the last year, the FBI’s proffered explanation for launching Crossfire Hurricane has fallen apart. Similarly, contrary to Democrats’ attempts to portray Mifsud as a Russian agent, the evidence instead suggests that Mifsud has various connections with Western intelligence agencies. These revelations, coupled with the FBI’s admitted use of sources connected to the Trump campaign, led many to surmise that Mifsud was working as an informant, feeding information to Papadopoulos in order to entrap Trump.

Papadopoulos sees the messages exchanged between Strzok and Page as confirmation of this theory, stressing that on March 16, 2016, the FBI colleagues exchanged texts stating: “Our guy is talking,” and “Rock on.” Again, Papadopoulos first met Mifsud on March 14, 2016, and as he made clear in a second tweet, he met with Mifsud from March 14 to 16, 2016.

Papadopoulos’ theory is sound but, I believe, wrong. Here’s why.

While Strzok led the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign and may have targeted Trump before the official July 31, 2016, launch of Crossfire Hurricane, Strzok also worked on other matters during that time. We know that from emails exchanged between Strzok and Page.

In an email thread Strzok initiated on March 15, 2016, Strzok wrote Page that he had stopped the New York Office and the Southern District of New York “from doing something astoundingly ill advised.” Whatever this action was, Strzok noted it was related to an upcoming arrest.

In the remainder of the email thread, Strzok noted that a “Complaint for arrest warrant [was] signed yesterday,” and that agents would “Approach and mirandize tomorrow late. If he asks for attorney, arrested and to jail,” but “if he cooperates, likely to get arrested later, but potentially more softly with [attorney].” In layman’s terms: The FBI hoped to question the suspect, and if he talked, things would go easier on him.

A search for arrests on March 16, 2016, in the Southern District of New York revealed that government agents arrested an FBI employee name Kun Shan Chun on that date for providing sensitive FBI information to the Chinese government. A review of Chun’s docket confirmed that a complaint for his arrest had been signed on March 14, 2016, matching the details included in the Strzok-Page email exchange.

Under these circumstances, it seems much more likely that the March 16, 2016, “our guy is talking” text refers to the Chinese spy the Southern District of New York office had just arrested and whom Strzok and Page had been discussing on email the prior day.

That does not mean, however, that Mifsud was not connected to Western intelligence agencies. Mifsud might well have been a plant who sought to set up Papadopoulos and, in turn, Trump as early as March 2016. But Papadopoulos and those investigating “Spygate” should not hang their case on these “our guy is talking” texts.

Papadopoulos should keep this in mind when he appears next week before members of the House Judiciary and House Oversight and Government Reform Committees, because if Papadopoulos presents this text as proof of Mifsud’s complicity in “Spygate,” all Democrats need to do is refute that connection then claim Papadopoulos and Republicans are pushing a conspiracy theory.

Instead, Papadopoulos should stress the need for congressional investigators to demand straight answers. Papadopoulos can detail his various conversations with Mifsud and any suspicious circumstances, but then it is up to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committees to do their job.

They must demand answers: Who was Mifsud? What connections did he have with Western intelligence agencies? Or do the FBI and DOJ believe he is a Russian agent? And why? Finally, and most significantly, where is the FBI’s 302 interview summary and video tape of the agents’ questioning of Mifsud in Washington D.C. in February 2017? Had Mifsud been a Russian agent, the FBI could have arrested him then, but didn’t. Why not?

Maybe House investigators already know the answers to these questions, but Americans need the answers too in order to restore trust in the integrity of the FBI, DOJ, and those in Congress charged with oversight.

Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and current adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.

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