- Republicans intensified their scrutiny over the integrity of the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the special counsel Robert Mueller this week as Sen. Ron Johnson claimed there was a “secret society” within the FBI opposed to President Donald Trump.
- News that the FBI was not able to save thousands of text messages exchanged between two FBI officials found to have expressed opposition to Trump has further fueled speculation among Republicans that the Russia investigation is biased against the president.
- Republicans are also clamoring for Trump to authorize the release of a memo they say proves President Barack Obama abused surveillance laws.
Republicans’ criticism of the FBI reached a fever pitch this week, as Sen. Ron Johnson claimed a “secret society” opposed to President Donald Trump existed within the FBI and reports emerged that thousands of texts between two FBI employees known to be critical of Trump went missing because of a software glitch on Samsung phones.
In a letter sent last week to Johnson, Stephen Boyd, the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs at the Department of Justice, said the FBI’s system was not able to preserve messages between the FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page that were sent between December 16, 2016, and May 17, 2017. The content of the texts from those five months might have provided lawmakers with a clearer picture of the nature of the two FBI employees’ involvement in the Russia investigation.
“Where are the 50,000 important text messages between FBI lovers Lisa Page and Peter Strzok? Blaming Samsung!” Trump said in a tweet Wednesday.
Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the FBI’s Russia investigation, removed Strzok from his team after separate texts with Page, a senior FBI lawyer, surfaced last year showing Strzok making disparaging remarks about Trump. Strzok, who also played a critical role in the FBI investigation that cleared Hillary Clinton of wrongdoing related to her use of a private email server, was demoted to another department at the bureau last summer.
Now that many of Page’s texts aren’t available for lawmakers, some Republicans are ramping up attacks against the FBI. Others, including Trump’s lawyers, have taken it a step further. They want a second special counsel to formally investigate potential anti-Trump bias and corruption within the FBI, the DOJ, and Mueller’s investigative team.
“First the IRS destroyed emails pivotal to our investigation of their political targeting. Now the FBI ‘failed to preserve’ texts between Peter Strzok & Lisa Page following the ’16 election,” tweeted Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who sits on the House Judiciary and Oversight committees. “The time for a second special counsel is now.”
Trump administration officials have tried to clarify the president’s feelings toward the FBI, even as he continues to slam the Russia investigation, which he has called a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.”
During the White House press briefing Wednesday, the press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump had “100% confidence” in FBI Director Christopher Wray, as well as in the rank and file of the FBI. Trump’s criticism, she insisted, was aimed only at “a few bad actors,” though she declined to specify.
The FBI’s ‘secret society’
On Tuesday, Johnson said, without evidence, that he knew about a “secret society” within the FBI that plots to undermine Trump. Johnson’s claim compounded concerns many of his Republican colleagues have expressed in recent weeks about the FBI’s integrity.
“We have an informant that’s talking about a group that was holding secret meetings off-site. There’s so much smoke here. There’s so much suspicion,” Johnson told Fox News’ Bret Baier. “This is bias, potentially corruption, at the highest levels of the FBI.”
He continued to slam the FBI, adding that Mueller “is in no position to do an investigation over this kind of misconduct” and calling for a special counsel to investigate.
Johnson’s claim appears to stem from texts between Strzok and Page that were reviewed by some congressional lawmakers. One of the texts, ABC News reported, mentions a “secret society,” but the context is unclear.
“Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society,” Page said to Strzok, expressing disappointment in Trump’s election victory.
Johnson urged Congress “to continue to dig.” During a CNN appearance Thursday morning, a DOJ spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, joked that she was “not a member of any secret society” and said she would wait for the inspector general’s report before drawing any conclusions.
Secret memo shocks Republicans, underwhelms Democrats
Republicans have also been pushing for intelligence officials to allow the public release of a memo written by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and his aides, which outlines purported illegal surveillance by President Barack Obama’s administration during the transition period after Trump was elected.
The Twitter hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo has been trending on social media, pressuring Trump to give disclosure of the memo a green light.
Democrats have disputed the way Republicans are characterizing the memo, calling GOP concerns a “misleading set of talking points.”
Trump, who tweeted in the early months of his presidency that he “just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory,” has led the charge in questioning the credibility of US intelligence agencies.
Last month, he claimed the FBI’s reputation was “in Tatters – worst in History!”
The tweet prompted Wray, whom Trump selected as FBI director after firing James Comey, to respond, albeit indirectly, to the president’s comments.
“There is no shortage of opinions out there,” Wray said during a hearing on Capitol Hill. “The FBI that I see is people, decent people, committed to the highest principles of dignity and professionalism and respect.”