In a letter to Attorney General William Barr Thursday, Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) suggested that Obama’s FBI attempted to spy on the Trump transition team by planting agents among them to “develop relationships.”
The text messages, exchanged between FBI lovebirds Peter Strzok and Lisa Page nine days after the 2016 election “may show potential attempts by the FBI to conduct surveillance of President-elect Trump’s transition team” wrote Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Johnson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security.
The texts also seemed to suggest that top officials at the FBI were attempting to use members of Vice President Mike Pence’s staff to spy on the incoming Trump White House. Pence’s former chief of staff Josh Pitcock on Friday, however, denied having any involvement with the FBI’s surveillance schemes.
According to Grassley and Johnson’s letter:
In text messages exchanged between former FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok and former FBI Attorney Lisa Page, the two discussed the possibility of developing “potential relationships” at a November 2016 FBI briefing for presidential transition team staff.
Specifically, it appears they discussed sending “the CI guy” to assess an unnamed person(s) “demeanor” but were concerned because it might be unusual for him to attend. A few weeks after the presidential election, Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page discussed the logistics for the briefing.
Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page said the following:
Strzok: Talking with Bill. Do we want Joe to go with Evanina instead of Charlie for a variety of reasons?
Page: Hmm. Not sure. Would it be unusual to have [sic] show up again? Maybe another agent from the team?
Strzok: Or, he’s “the CI guy.” Same.might [sic] make sense. He can assess if thete [sic] are any news [sic] Qs, or different demeanor. If Katie’s husband is there, he can see if there are people we can develop for potential relationships
Page: Should I ask Andy about it? Or Bill want to reach out for andy?
Strzok: I told him I’m sure we could ask you to make the swap if we thought it was smart. It’s not until Mon so Bill can always discuss with him tomorrow.
The “Andy” mentioned in Page’s text likely refers to former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. “Bill” could be Bill Priestap, the former assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, who played a significant role in overseeing the FBI’s investigations into both Hillary Clinton’s private email server and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.
The senators noted in their letter to Barr that the purpose of the FBI’s attempts to “develop relationships” with the Trump and/or Pence transition team staff are not clear, but they wanted to bring the matter to the attorney general’s attention.
According to investigative journalist Sara Carter’s sources, “Strzok had one significant contact within the White House.”
Vice President Mike Pence’s Chief of Staff Joshua Pitcock, whose wife was working as an analyst for Strzok on the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server.
A senior White House official told this news site that Pitcock’s wife recused herself from the Clinton investigation as soon as Pence and Trump became the Republican nominees in July 2016. A senior law enforcement official also told SaraACarter.com that Pitcock’s wife no longer worked under Strzok after she recused herself from the Clinton investigation.
However, the text messages uncovered from November, 2016 and have left questions lingering about the relationship between Strzok, Pitcock and his wife among congressional investigators and lawmakers.
In a sharply worded statement Friday, Pitcock denied that he and his wife had anything to do with the FBI’s infiltration efforts.
In a statement to Axios, Pitcock said he had “no contact” with either Strzok or Page and “took zero actions on their behalf.”
Pitcock also said there was “no infiltration through me or my wife,” an FBI agent and another focus of the speculation. “Any assertions or speculation to the contrary is unfounded, uninformed and 100% false.” (Read his full statement here.)
But Pence is taking the issue seriously, and is demanding further investigation into the possibility of attempted infiltration into the Trump administration and its 2016 transition team — which started with a letter from top Republican senators raising questions about a text message exchange between the two former FBI officials.
“I was deeply offended to learn that two disgraced FBI agents considered infiltrating our transition team by sending a counter intelligence agent to one of my very first intelligence briefings only 9 days after the election,” Pence said in a statement to Axios. “This is an outrage and only underscores why we need to get to the bottom of how this investigation started in the first place.”
“The American people have a right to what happened and if these two agents broke the law and ignored long-standing DOJ policies, they must be held accountable.”
Pence himself raised eyebrows in May of 2017, when he registered a new political action committee (PAC) just one day after Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. Pence was the first active Vice President to create such a PAC while serving in office, reportedly.
“No vice president in modern history had their own PAC less than 6 month into the president’s first term,” Roger Stone, Trump’s longtime political adviser and confidant, tweeted at the time. “Hmmmm.”
It will also allow the vice president to transfer his database of donors and other campaign-related information he’s collected throughout his congressional and gubernatorial career to the PAC.
Nick Ayers, a senior adviser to Pence during the 2016 campaign said the PAC had been in the works since December of 2016 and was discussed with Trump, is a “legal necessity” for Pence.
He outlined the three main purposes of the PAC, saying it allows Pence to purchase his prior campaign data — held in a gubernatorial account he can’t utilize — and move it to a federal account, cover campaigning costs, and provide him with cash to support candidates and office holders who are supporting Trump’s agenda.
“Some in the media have suggested the PAC’s formation has other motives,” Ayers told Business Insider in a May 2017 email. “They are wrong.”
In their letter to the attorney general, Grassley and Johnson questioned the nature of FBI’s “surveillance activities” and whether they continued beyond Trump’s inauguration.
“Were these efforts done to gain better communication between the respective parties, or were the briefings used as intelligence gathering operations?” the senators asked. “Further, did any such surveillance activities continue beyond the inauguration, and in the event they did, were those activities subject to proper predication? Any improper FBI surveillance activities that were conducted before or after the 2016 election must be brought to light and properly addressed.”
A former FBI intelligence specialist told Fox News that the type of surveillance discussed in Page and Strzok’s texts “appear to conflict with strict rules laid out by then-FBI director Robert Mueller known as the Domestic Investigations Operations Guide.”
Grassley and Johnson requested a briefing on the DOJ’s efforts to investigate alleged spying during the 2016 election and asked that Barr answer the following questions no later than May 9, 2019:
1. Please describe the nature and extent of your review of FBI surveillance of the
Trump Campaign, President-elect Trump’s transition staff, Vice President elect Pence’s transition staff, President Trump’s staff, and Vice President Pence’s staff, including your efforts to determine whether that surveillance was adequately predicated.
2. How many counter-intelligence briefings were provided to the Trump and Pence transition staffs prior to Inauguration Day? Please list the dates, all agencies involved, and each official that represented those agencies at the briefings.
3. Many of the FBI employees involved in these activities are no longer employed by the federal government. How will your review obtain
information needed from these individuals?
4. Will you commit to providing the results of your review once completed?
5. What steps have you taken to investigate whether DOJ or FBI officials had unauthorized contacts with the media during the Russia investigation?
President Trump meanwhile told Fox News’ Sean Hannity Thursday night that he is ready to declassify the FISA applications, the 302s, and the Gang of Eight notebook.
“It will all be declassified. I’m glad I waited because I thought that maybe they would obstruct if I did it early and I think I was right,” said Trump.
The president added that the attorney general will take ‘a very strong look’ at the documents.
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)