WASHINGTON (Circa) — While the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General found no evidence political bias influenced the outcome of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, it concluded politically-charged text messages exchanged by investigators “cast a cloud” over the FBI’s work.
“The damage caused by their actions extends far beyond the scope of the Midyear investigation and goes to the heart of the FBI’s reputation for neutral factfinding and political independence,” a report released by the OIG Thursday stated. The Clinton investigation was referred to internally as “Midyear Exam.”
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“FBI Agent Peter Strzok, who headed the Clinton & Russia investigations, texted to his lover Lisa Page, in the IG Report, that ‘we’ll stop’ candidate Trump from becoming President. Doesn’t get any lower than that!” President Donald Trump tweeted Friday, highlighting one exchange investigators found “deeply troubling.”
The OIG report offers an in-depth exploration of the interactions between two pairs of investigators who were engaged in romantic relationships and intertwined in the Clinton investigation and the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The OIG was particularly concerned about conversations between FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, special counsel to the deputy director. The two were engaged in an extramarital affair and they frequently expressed anti-Trump opinions on text messages sent on FBI devices.
Strzok also played a significant role in the counterintelligence probe of possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Both of them worked on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team after he was appointed to take over that case. Page completed her work with the special counsel before the OIG discovered their texts, and Strzok was reassigned when they were brought to Mueller’s attention.
The report also reveals previously undisclosed instant message conversations between two FBI agents involved in the Clinton probe who were dating at the time and have since married. They are identified only as “Agent 1” and “Agent 5.”
Agent 1 was one of four case agents assigned to the Clinton investigation and one of two who participated in Clinton’s FBI interview. Agent 5 was a member of the “filter team” sifting out any material obtained from Clinton’s attorneys that fell under attorney-client, medical, or marital privilege.
A fifth employee’s instant messages criticizing Trump were also reviewed by the OIG. The person, identified as “FBI Attorney 2,” was one of two FBI attorneys assigned to the Clinton investigation, and he later worked on the Russia investigation as well.
In the course of the investigation, the OIG reviewed more than 100,000 text messages and instant messages, including up to 60,000 between Strzok and Page alone. However, the OIG found no evidence that the personal views revealed in these messages influenced the decision not to recommend charges for Clinton or most of the choices investigators made.
One exception cited in the report is regarding emails discovered on a laptop belonging to the husband of one of Clinton’s top aides in September 2016. Investigators waited weeks to seek a search warrant to review the emails, and the OIG “did not have confidence” that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over those emails was free from bias.
The report quotes dozens of exchanges at key moments throughout the investigation. Among the most significant:
August 16, 2015
Strzok: “[Bernie Sanders is] an idiot like Trump. Figure they cancel each other out.”
The report lists numerous messages criticizing Trump and other candidates or expressing fear or doubt that Trump could win the election.
February 24, 2016
Page: “she might be our next president. The last thing you need us going in there loaded for bear. You think she’s going to remember or care that it was more doj than fbi?”
Although Clinton was not interviewed by investigators until July 2016, discussions of how to conduct the interview dragged on for months beforehand. Strzok and Page worried about unnecessarily sending too many agents and giving the impression the FBI was trying to intimidate Clinton.
Page sent similar messages to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and an advisor to McCabe. She told OIG investigators she did not want Clinton to be left with a feeling that “the FBI marched in with an army of 50” if she did win the election.
March 3, 2016
Page: “God trump is a loathsome human.”
Strzok: “Omg [Trump’s] an idiot.
Page: “He’s awful.”
Srtzok: “God Hillary should win 100,000,000-0.”
The two expressed disgust over a Republican primary debate in which Trump appeared to refer to the size of his genitals. In the weeks that followed, they continued to discuss their shock and disgust that Trump was a serious presidential candidate.
May 4, 2016
Strzok: “I saw trump won, figured it would be a bit.”
Strzok: “Now the pressure really starts to finish MYE [Midyear Exam]”
Page: “It sure does. We need to talk about follow up call tomorrow. We still never have.”
After Sen. Ted Cruz announced he was dropping out of the GOP race and Trump became the presumptive nominee, Strzok and Page agreed there was a new urgency to complete the Clinton investigation. They told the OIG their concern was unrelated to their political views, but they knew FBI Director James Comey wanted to complete the investigation as early as possible to avoid influencing the general election campaign.
June 13, 2016
Strzok: “DoJ was Very Concerned about this.... Because they’re worried, holy cow, if the fbi missed this, what else was missed?”
FBI investigators received more than 30,000 emails from Clinton’s attorneys in late 2014, but they did not notice three contained “(C)” markings designating them as classified until June 2016. Strzok noted in another text to Page that the discovery contradicted Clinton’s frequent claim that none of her emails were marked classified.
During her interview with investigators weeks later, which Strzok attended, Clinton denied knowing what the (C) marking meant. According to the OIG report, officials who participated in the interview felt that defense “strained credulity,” but prosecutors could not affirmatively disprove her claim.
July 1, 2016
Page: “It’s a real profile in courag[e], since [Lynch] knows no charges will be brought.”
Days after Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s meeting with former President Bill Clinton was revealed, Lynch announced she would not recuse herself from the email investigation but she would accept whatever recommendation Comey and career prosecutors made.
The OIG found Comey was insubordinate in not informing Lynch of his decision not to recommend charges before delivering an extraordinary public statement on July 5, but Comey and DOJ officials had been discussing how to announce a declination of charges since that April because they did not expect to find evidence of a crime.
According to the report, prosecutors realized as early as September 2015 they were unlikely to find evidence of intent to mishandle classified information, which they believed was necessary to pursue criminal charges.
July 26, 2016
Page: “Yeah, it is pretty cool. [Clinton] just has to win now. I’m not going to lie, I got a flash of nervousness yesterday about trump.”
On the night Clinton was officially nominated at the Democratic National Convention, Page and Strzok commented on their concern that Bernie Sanders supporters or “anarchists Assanges” would disrupt Clinton’s path to victory. Strzok acknowledged to OIG investigators discussing personal views and work in the same exchange was “dumb,” but he insisted he never took investigative steps to help Clinton or hurt Trump.
July 31, 2016
Strzok: “And damn this feels momentous. Because this matters. The other one did, too, but that was to ensure we didn’t F something up. This matters because this MATTERS.”
After formally opening the counterintelligence probe of Russian interference in the election and possible ties to Trump’s campaign, Strzok suggested it was more important than the Clinton investigation. He told the OIG he considered the possible criminal activity in the Clinton case “comparatively limited,” while the Russia investigation could involve “the most extraordinarily, potentially grave conduct.”
August 8, 2016
Page: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”
Strzok: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”
According to the report, Strzok did not recall sending this message, but he believed he was just trying to reassure Page, not suggest they would do something to stop Trump. Two days earlier, Page wrote that Strzok may be “meant to protect the country from that menace,” and Strzok responded, “I can protect our country at many levels.”
Strzok and Page both maintained they did nothing to try to affect the election in the course of the Clinton case or the Russia probe, observing that if they really wanted to stop Trump, they would not have kept the investigation of members of his campaign secret.
August 15, 2016
Strzok: “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office—that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”
According to Strzok, the “insurance policy” comment was a reference to a debate over how aggressively to pursue alleged collusion between members of Trump’s campaign and Russia. They discussed whether it was worth compromising sources and methods if Clinton won, but he argued they should investigate thoroughly as if Trump were going to win.
September 28, 2016
Strzok: “Got called up to Andy’s earlier...hundreds of thousands of emails turned over by Weiner’s atty to sdny, includes a ton of material from spouse. Sending team up tomorrow to review...this will never end....”
Strzok and Page discussed the discovery of emails potentially relevant to the case on a laptop belong to Anthony Weiner, husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin, soon after the FBI learned of them. However, no action was taken to review the emails until nearly a month later.
The OIG was unable to figure out why it took so long. One reason offered was that much of the Midyear Exam staff had moved over to the Russia investigation, which was deemed a higher priority. The OIG found that explanation unconvincing, noting that many other agents could have been brought in to work on either case.
Strzok’s failure to act more aggressively on the Weiner laptop was the one investigative action reviewed in this report that the OIG could not confidently say was not driven by political bias. This report did not assess other decisions he made regarding the Russia investigation.
October 27, 2016
Page: “Please, let’s figure out what it is we HAVE first. What if we can’t make out [probable cause]? Then we have no further investigative step.”
Texts indicate Page and Strzok objected to Comey’s decision to inform members of Congress emails had been found on Weiner’s laptop and the Clinton case was being reopened to review them. Comey has said he felt an obligation to do so because he had testified before Congress the case was closed and he feared the information leaking out or being revealed after the election would be damaging to both the FBI and what seemed like a likely Clinton presidency.
Messages sent on November 5 and 6 suggest Page and Strzok also opposed Comey’s announcement that the emails had been reviewed and did not change his recommendation. “We’re out of the news cycle, let’s leave it that way,” Strzok wrote.
November 9, 2016
Page: “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.”
In the final days before the election, the two became increasingly alarmed about the prospect of Trump winning. “OMG THIS IS F***ING TERRIFYING,” Strzok wrote at one point. Following the election, they joked about Vladimir Putin calendars Strzok had apparently purchased.
Page told the OIG the texts also reflected real concern Trump would fire Comey and shut down the Russia investigation, in which case they joked about forming a “secret society” to continue the probe.
November 13, 2016
Page: “I bought all the president’s men. Figure I needed to brush up on Watergate.”
In texts from May 2017 forensically recovered by the OIG, Page mentioned that she was nearly done with “All the President’s Men,” and “the president resigns in the end.” “What?!?! God, that we should be so lucky,” Strzok responded.
May 18, 2017
Strzok: “For me, and this case, I personally have a sense of unfinished business. I unleashed it with MYE. Now I need to fix it and finish it.”
Strzok: “you and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.”
After Mueller was appointed, Strzok debated whether to join the special counsel’s team, but his comments suggested he did not expect the probe to find much. He told the OIG the reference to “unfinished business” and needing to “fix it” was regarding Russia’s use of the email investigation in its interference efforts and wanting to fix a misperception that Russia was not involved.
In the same conversation, Strzok mentioned the Mueller investigation could be “leading to impeachment.” In another exchange days later, Strzok mentioned the probe could be “resulting in an impeachment.” When questioned by the OIG about the impeachment comments, he denied having prejudged the Russia case.
“[W]hile it says that, I think my sense was very much, you know, where it could result in an impeachment. I am, again, was not, am not convinced or certain that it will,” Strzok told investigators.
September 2, 2015
Agent 1 to Agent 5: “Have a really bad feeling about this...this case...situation.... No control and horrible decisions and chaos on the most meaningless thing I’ve ever done with people acting like f***ing 9/11.”
Agent 1, one of the primary case agents on the Clinton investigation, was dating Agent 5, who was assigned to the filter team. The two later married.
Several messages Agent 1 sent early in the Clinton investigation to Agent 5 and other FBI employees suggested he considered the whole exercise to to be pointless. One in late September appeared to describe the case as a “waste of resources and time and focus.”
The agent told OIG investigators he had frustrating previous experiences with high-profile cases, and he expected the important decision-making would be done at senior levels. While he acknowledged the FBI needed to investigate possible mishandling of classified information, he also said he felt “maybe the intense scrutiny didn’t seem commensurate to what we had to do.”
January 28, 2016
Agent 1 to FBI Employee: “The case is the same is all of them. A lot of work and bulls*** for a political exercise.”
A series of messages sent by Agent 1 in early 2016 indicated political considerations during the presidential primaries were impacting, if not driving, the investigation. One on February 1 described the case as “the biggest political s*** show of them all” and said it had “no substance.”
Still, when asked by the OIG, the agent denied investigators were just “going through the motions.” “I think if classified information is found in a place that it shouldn’t be, there should be an investigation,” he said, but he again suggested the attention the case was getting was out of proportion to the possible violations involved.
February 4, 2016
Agent 1 to FBI Employee: “Awesome. Lied his ass off. Went from never inside the scif [sensitive compartmented information facility] at res, to looked in when it was being constructed, to removed the trash twice, to troubleshot the secure fax with HRC a couple times, to everytime there was a secure fax i did it with HRC. Ridic.”
FBI Employee: “would be funny if he was the only guy charged n this deal”
Agent 1: “I know. For 1001. Even if he said the truth and didnt have a clearance when handling the secure fax – aint noone gonna do s***”
When confronted by the OIG, the agent backed off the suggestion that no one would have been charged regardless of what was found. He said that was more of a “general complaint” about the FBI and there was nothing specific to this case that he was referring to. The agent did not recall any discussion about charging this witness with a crime.
February 9, 2016
Agent 1 to Agent 5: “To look for something conjured in a place where you cant find it, for a case that doesnt matter and is predestined. All you ask for is acknowledgment of that and clear guidance. But no. DOJ comes in there every once in awhile and takes a wishy-washy, political, cowardice stance. Salt meets wound.”
Agent 1’s message was in response to Agent 5’s frustration with an assignment she was given on the filter team. Despite the “predestined” comment, Agent 1 denied to the OIG that the outcome of the case was predetermined. He said leadership told the team, “Whatever you find, you know, is what it is.”
July 6, 2016
FBI Employee to Agent 1: “you interviewed the president?”
Agent 1: “you know – HRC” [Hillary Rodham Clinton]
Agent 1: “future pres”
Agent 1: “Trump cant win”
Agent 1 complained about an 18-hour day completing his report on the interview with Hillary Clinton, whom he referred to as “the President.” The agent said the implication that Clinton would become president was based on public polling, but he insisted he did not treat her differently because he thought she would win the election.
August 29, 2016
Agent 1: “I find anyone who enjoys [this job] an absolute f***ing idiot. If you dont think so, ask them one more question. Who are you voting for? I guarantee you it will be Donald Drumpf.”
Agent 5: “i forgot about drumpf”
Agent 5: “that’s so sad and pathetic if they want to vote for him.”
Agent 5: “someone who can’t answer a question”
Agent 5: “someone who can’t be professional for even a second”
As the election approached, several exchanges flagged by the OIG displayed contempt for both Trump and his base. Agent 5 told investigators the comments were in response to “TV programming and
commentary” they had watched together.
In a subsequent conversation on September 9, Agent 5 made a derogatory reference to Trump supporters like “the ones from ohio that are retarded.” Agent 5 told the OIG the comment was not a general statement about Ohioans but mocking individuals who were unable to articulate why they favored one candidate over the other.
In an October 28 exchange reacting to Trump’s statement welcoming Comey’s reopening of the Clinton case, Agent 5 said she was sick of Trump, the FBI, and the “Average American public.”
November 8, 2016
Agent 5: “she better win otherwise i’m gonna be walking around with both of my guns.”
Agent 5: “and likely quitting on the spot”
Agent 1: “You should know;..”
Agent 1: “that”
Agent 1: “I’m..”
Agent 1: “with her.”
Agent 1: “ooooooooooooooooooo”
Agent 1: “show me the money”
Agent 5: “<:o)”
Agent 5: “screw you trump”
Agent 5: “wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”
Agent 5: “go baby, go! let’s give her Virginia”
Agent 1: “not to my country. You just cant get up and try to appeal to all the worst things in humans and fool my country.”
On Election Day, the two agents continued to express a strong preference for Clinton. After the election, Agent 5 also complained about having to be on call for the day of Trump’s inauguration and the prospect of receiving a presidential award for public service from him.
Agent 1 told investigators he understood why their political exchanges raised doubts about the integrity of the Clinton investigation but the comments were a way to relieve stress and deal with the frustration of people suggesting the outcome of the election was their fault.
“[I]n no way do I think it, it impacted my view,” Agent 1 said, according to the report. “I guess the best way is almost like a, it’s almost like you switch on your, when, when we did our morning meetings, it was what do we have and where do we go next? It, it was just like almost, you know, like there’s a, there’s the professional side, the do your job side, and there’s a personal side.”
October 28, 2016
FBI Attorney 2: “I mean, I never really liked the Republic anyway.”
In messages to FBI employees who were uninvolved in the case, FBI Attorney 2, who worked on both the Clinton and Russia investigations, vented about Comey’s letter to Congress and his frustration that the FBI was injecting itself into the election. However, he said comments about destruction of the republic were “hyperbolic.”
November 9, 2016
FBI Attorney 2: “I’m just devastated. I can’t wait until I can leave today and just shut off the world for the next four days.”
FBI Employee: “Why are you devastated?”
FBI Employee: “Yes, I’m not watching tv for four years.”
FBI Attorney 2: “I just can’t imagine the systematic disassembly of the progress we made over the last 8 years. ACA is gone. Who knows if the rhetoric about deporting people, walls, and crap is true. I honestly feel like there is going to be a lot more gun issues, too, the crazies won finally. This is the tea party on steroids. And the GOP is going to be lost, they have to deal with an incumbent in 4 years. We have to fight this again. Also Pence is stupid.”
FBI Employee: “Yes that’s all true.”
FBI Attorney 2: “And it’s just hard not to feel like the FBI caused some of this. It was razor thin in some states.”
FBI Employee: “Yes it was very thin.”
FBI Attorney 2: “Plus, my god damned name is all over the legal documents investigating his staff.”
FBI Employee: “But no I absolutely do not believe the FBI had any part.”
FBI Attorney 2: “So, who knows if that breaks to him what he is going to do.”
On the day after the election, the attorney fretted to another FBI employee that the bureau may have contributed to Clinton’s loss. In the same conversation, the employee commented that the attorney “promised me this wouldn’t happen,” but the attorney told investigators he had not promised anything.
November 22, 2016
FBI Attorney 2: “Viva le resistance”
The attorney sent a message to the other attorney who had worked on the Clinton case and the Russia probe commenting on how much someone working on the Trump campaign who was the subject of an FBI investigation had been paid. The attorney referred to “le resistance,” but he told investigators he did not mean he planned to fight back against Trump.
Former FBI agents said the messages discussing political views were at best unwise and likely violations of FBI policy.
“As an FBI agent, I’m extremely disappointed in both Strzok and Page,” said John Iannarelli, a former FBI special agent and spokesperson. “Aside from the messages being absolutely idiotic, it violates every tenet of what FBI agents are taught from day one. Your job is to represent all people, not just the people you agree with.”
With Strzok heavily involved in the initiation of the investigation of Trump’s campaign, Jim Wedick, who once ran an FBI anti-corruption unit in California, warned Strzok's work on that case could be called into question too.
“My first thought was any investigation based on this guy was compromised and any work he did would have to be redone,” Wedick said.
As political partisans attempt to spin the report for their benefit, the revelation of the text messages also threatens to overshadow the primary finding that bias did not affect the outcome of the investigation.
“The comments of Peter Strzok—especially the one in which he says that we, whoever we are, will not allow President Trump to be elected—are prime candidates for an allegation already made that those conducting the investigation of possible collusion between Russia and members of the campaign are politically biased,” said Glenn Altschuler, a professor of American studies at Cornell University.