A one-page investigative summary released by Justice Department Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz on Wednesday has the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee demanding answers.
The report, released ahead of the DOJ watchdog’s much anticipated report on the DOJ and FBI’s conduct during the 2016 election, alleges that a now-former FBI deputy assistant director [DAD] “engaged in misconduct,” including leaking “sensitive” information to the media, disclosing records that had been filed under seal in federal court (a violation of federal law), maintaining dozens of unauthorized contacts with reporters, and accepting “a ticket, valued at approximately $225, to attend a media-sponsored dinner, as a gift from a member of the media.”
In spite of this, the IG noted in the report that “prosecution of the DAD was declined.” The findings have been referred to the FBI for potential further action, reportedly.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) wrote letters to Horowitz and Attorney General William Barr on Thursday, asking if the DAD in question is fired FBI agent Peter Strzok (as everyone suspects), and why no action was taken.
IICYMI: @RepDougCollins letter to IG Horowitz inquiring about why the DOJ appears to have declined to prosecute Strzok for leaking to the press. Was the appropriate fed court even notified that an FBI agent disclosed to the media existence of info that been filed under seal? pic.twitter.com/HMohsyWL0L
— Nick Short (@PoliticalShort) May 31, 2019
The Georgia congressman explained why he believes Strzok is the unnamed former official:
“While the DAD is not named in the Summary, there are several indications the DAD in question is former FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok,” Collins said. “For example, the 2018 Report noted, ‘Peter Strzok is an experienced counterintelligence agent who was promoted to Deputy Assistant Director (DAD) of the Espionage Section in September 2016.’ The 2018 Report also said, ‘[m]ost troubling, on October 29, 2016, Strzok forwarded from his FBI account to his personal email account an email about the proposed search warrant the Midyear team was seeking on the Weiner laptop. This email included a draft of the search warrant affidavit, which contained information from the Weiner investigation that appears to have been under seal at the time in the Southern District of New York . . .'”
Strzok was the lead investigator of the Hillary Clinton email probe and opened the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016. He was also responsible for a defensive briefing that was given to then-candidate Trump on Aug. 17 of 2016, eighteen days after he opened the investigation. Trump was not warned about alleged Russian outreach to his team, nor was he informed that two campaign aides, Mike Flynn and George Papadopoulos, were already under FBI investigation, according to Fox News.
The new details about the so-called “defensive briefing” have emerged from congressional letters, text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and lawyer Lisa Page, and sources familiar with the matter. Such briefings are designed to warn the candidate and his team about national security threats.
Virulently anti-Trump text messages between lovebirds Strzok and Page were uncovered during the course of the inspector general’s investigation into the Clinton email probe.
Among these texts was a reference to a “media leak strategy,” which raised concerns last fall among Republican lawmakers and Trump. Despite warnings about “troubling evidence that the practice of coordinated media interactions” with the Justice Department and FBI, Strzok’s lawyer Aitan Goelman said the term “media leak strategy” in his client’s messages refered to a DOJ-wide initiative to detect and stop aides sharing information with the media. “The President and his enablers are once again peddling unfounded conspiracy theories to mislead the American People,” Goelman said in a written statement.
Strzok was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation in the summer of 2017 after the texts were discovered. More than a year later, he was fired from the bureau.
The Office of the Special Counsel deleted text messages from both Page and Strzok’s iPhones before turning them over to the IG, according to a report released last December by the federal watchdog.
“SCO’s Records Officer told the OIG that as part of the office’s records retention procedure, the officer reviewed Strzok’s DOJ issued iPhone after he returned it to the SCO and determined it contained no substantive text messages,” the OIG report said in stating that Strzok’s phone had been “reset to factory settings,” which means it was completely wiped of all of its data.
Additionally, the SCO claimed it “was unable to locate the iPhone previously assigned to Page.” When the phone was finally found, it too had all of its data deleted and was reset to factory settings, according to the report.
The report, which came out in the summer of 2018, said their text messages “potentially indicated or created the appearance that investigative decisions were impacted by bias or improper considerations. But the inspector general determined that there was no evidence “improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative decisions.”
In his letters, Collins asked about the progress of the IG’s leak investigation into former FBI Director James Comey.
“Last year you testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee your office was investigating former Director James Comey’s leaking of memos he wrote regarding his conversations with the president,” Collins wrote. “Specifically, you testified, ‘we received a referral on that from the FBI. We are handling that referral and we will issue a report when the matter is complete, consistent with the laws and rules. ‘”
The congressman asked Barr and Horowitz if the investigation was still ongoing and if not, what the investigation concluded. Collins also wanted to know when a report could be expected on the investigation’s findings.
In his letter to Barr, he also asked about the probes into former General Counsel James Baker, and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, saying, “little information has been shared publicly—or with Congress—regarding the status of these leak investigations.”
- Is the investigation into James Baker still ongoing
- Did the OIG criminal referral regarding Andrew McCabe develop into an investigation? If yes, is it ongoing and what is the status
- How many active cases does the Department have regarding classified leaks?
- Has the Department recently conducted a criminal investigation into James Comey regarding possible leaking of classified information? If so, how did that investigation originate, and what is the status of that investigation?
He asked for an answer to his questions before June 7, 2019.
“Leaking classified and sealed material is a dangerous, illegal action. The DOJ’s declination to prosecute leaks is concerning and only emboldens leakers to continue their reckless actions,” Collins wrote in a tweet.
Leaking classified and sealed material is a dangerous, illegal action. The DOJ's declination to prosecute leaks is concerning and only emboldens leakers to continue their reckless actions. Read more of my letter to AG Barr here: https://t.co/5GG42rSQQg
— Rep. Doug Collins (@RepDougCollins) May 30, 2019
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)