Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson demanded more answers from the Department of Justice on Tuesday about the revelation that investigators are missing five months of FBI text messages pertinent to an investigation.
News of the missing text messages broke on Sunday, after Johnson, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, raised an alarm about the messages in a letter to the FBI on Saturday. The DOJ inspector general handed over 384 pages of additional texts to the committee on Friday, but also disclosed the FBI had “failed to preserve” texts from two bureau employees between December 2016 and May 2017.
Grassley and Johnson asked in a letter to the DOJ IG why they were not informed of the missing texts sooner, particularly since an earlier statement from investigators suggested they had recovered all of the relevant messages. “These statements need to be reconciled,” they wrote. Grassley chairs the Judiciary Committee.
They also asked what steps the IG will take to recover the missing messages, such as obtaining them from another source or asking the employees to turn them over, and whether the IG has failed to obtain any other records of interest.
The messages between Peter Strozk and Lisa Page are in the spotlight after investigators learned the two FBI employees, who were allegedly conducting an affair, expressed pro-Clinton and anti-Trump sentiments while working on the Hillary Clinton email and the Russia collusion investigations. Strozk was on the Russia probe until July 2017, when he was removed following the discovery. Page completed her work on the probe before then.
The DOJ is investigating the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email server scandal, and reviewing tens of thousands of messages between the pair that have proved a treasure trove for Republicans accusing the pair of anti-Trump bias and raising concerns about agency corruption. The department is now also launching a probe into how the FBI “failed to preserve” the missing messages between Strozk and Page.
The five-month gap covers an important period, from the early stages of the Trump transition until May 17, the exact day Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel on the Russia investigation. The DOJ IG said in the Friday note that the FBI failed to capture the messages with its retention software because of a technical glitch related to phone updates.
In their letter, Grassley and Johnson ask flatly whether the FBI’s explanation is accurate, and requested all communications between the DOJ IG, the FBI and the DOJ regarding the missing texts. They gave the IG until January 29 to respond.