“Has the Secret Service become a national security threat?” Ja’han Jones of MSNBC recently asked. He refers, of course, to the “scandal” surrounding missing or deleted texts of Secret Service agents sent on January 6 as the incursion into the Capitol unfolded.
Of course, the scandal really began when anonymous Secret Service agents made the mistake of embarrassing the House’s January 6 tribunal by contradicting the outlandish hearsay account of Cassidy Hutchinson. Hutchinson’s story riveted Trump-hating viewers. But the committee had rushed to promote her testimony without first checking with any of the people who were actually present. Naturally, with egg on their faces, the committee launched a revenge campaign against the agency assigned with protecting the president. It demanded texts and its media allies declared routine deletions to be a cover-up.
Ja’han Jones practically said the quiet part out loud: In the “get Trump” era, contradicting anti-Trump an narrative constitutes the highest of all crimes against the re-defined “national security” of the oligarchtical uniparty that really runs things.
But there is something oddly familiar about this deleted text scandal. As so often is the case, the fake outrage over the deleted Secret Service texts has a much more serious analogue that was received very differently because the shoe was on the other foot. In the get-Trump era, government insiders intentionally deleted texts to cover-up a very real attempt to overthrow a duly elected president.
Let’s take a walk down memory lane.
Shortly after the 2016 election, Democratic members of Congress demanded an investigation into the FBI handling of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. According to the 2018 inspector general report, Democrats were angry because the New York field office of the FBI acquired a laptop jointly used by former U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and his then-wife, Huma Abedin. In addition to the evidence of Weiner’s sexual predation, agents also discovered a vast cache of emails between Abedin and Hillary Clinton—the existence of which appeared to contradict official FBI narrative that Clinton’s emails had all been accounted for. Many Clinton supporters still believe that then-FBI Director James Comey cost Clinton the election by publicly disclosing the existence of the new emails just days before the election. Thus, the Democrats demanded an internal review into whether the FBI agents investigating Clinton might have harbored political bias.
Biggest boomerang ever.
Unfortunately for the inquiring congressmen, the FBI did not investigate the Clinton emails through the New York field office. Instead, the FBI assigned D.C.-based agent Peter Strzok to lead the investigation. The Justice Department inspector general dutifully gathered Strzok’s emails and texts and quickly made two discoveries. First, as noted by the report, the texts and instant messages sent between Strzok and his mistress, Lisa Page, “included statements of hostility toward then candidate Trump and statements of support for candidate Clinton, and several appeared to mix political opinions with discussions about the Midyear investigation,” and further, “the conduct of these five FBI employees [including Strzok] brought discredit to themselves, sowed doubt about the FBI’s handling of the Midyear investigation, and impacted the reputation of the FBI.” Second, the inspector general found, “a gap in text message data collection during the period December 15, 2016, through May 17, 2017.”
Readers may recall that Strzok also played a prominent role in the Mueller investigation of the Russian collusion hoax. The missing and deleted texts were contemporaneous with the early days of the investigation and were highly relevant to people who perceived the investigation as an illicit attempt to reverse the 2016 election. The inspector general concluded “that the gaps in collection were [not] intentional on the part of the FBI or any FBI personnel.”
Yet it kept happening.
By the summer of 2018, significant concerns had already emerged regarding the independence and good faith of the entire Mueller investigation. In October 2017, the law firm Perkins Coie revealed it commissioned the Steele dossier on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign through a subcontract under its contractor Fusion GPS. This made the Trump-Russia collusion hypothesis smell of a partisan smear. Shortly thereafter, the public became aware of the aforementioned anti-Trump text exchanges between Strzok and Page.
In January 2018, then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, himself implicated by the unfolding Russian collusion hoax scandal, attempted to intimidate congressional staffers seeking documents related to the Justice Department’s handling of the affair. As the probe wound down, Mueller team members began accidentally (according to them) wiping the official cell phones assigned to them while serving the special counsel.
On March 8, 2018, Andrew Weissmann, the real leader of the Mueller probe, entered an incorrect password on his phone so many times that it caused the phone to reset and delete all data. Lawyer James Quarles’ phone, “wiped itself” without his intervention. Greg Andres’, Kyle Freeny’s, and Rush Atkinson’s phones soon followed. According to Judicial Watch, in all, “20 phones were reported wiped of data due to ‘accidental wipe’ usually entering the password [incorrectly] too many times,” with an additional three phones being wiped for other causes, for a total of 23 phones in the possession of the Mueller team that were deleted, “accidentally.”
Of course, nobody believes these were accidents.
The Mueller team had an independent duty to use their prosecutorial powers for justice, not political revenge. Without rehashing the many misdeeds of the Mueller team, let’s just agree that reasonable minds can wonder whether they discharged that duty to pursue justice. One is naturally skeptical that 23 separate cell phone users working on a highly political project to overthrow Trump might actually and accidentally have deleted their messages—particularly in light of the trouble such texts caused one of their own, Peter Strzok. This stands in stark contrast to the Secret Service in the January 6 case, which nobody accused of failing to execute its protection duties. Even if these individuals did intentionally delete their texts, it couldn’t have been to cover for their own misconduct.
It will be interesting to see whether the Justice Department assigns some of these same cell phone-deleting attorneys and FBI agents to pursue the Secret Service for its text deletions. It will be even more interesting to see the reaction of Democrats to committees under a Republican majority subpoenaing Secret Service agents protecting Joe Biden.