Communications between two former FBI officials nine days after the 2016 election regarding a briefing with Vice President-elect Pence have attracted fresh scrutiny from top Senate Republicans, Fox News reported Thursday.
The text messages, exchanged between FBI lovebirds Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, “may show potential attempts by the FBI to conduct surveillance of President-elect Trump’s transition team” wrote Sen. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee,
and Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, in a letter to Attorney General William Barr Thursday.
To be clear, the texts may show that top officials at the FBI were attempting to recruit staffers to spy on the Trump transition team.
In the letter, the senators wrote that they wanted to bring the matter to Barr’s attention to assist his review into the “genesis and conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016.” According to the 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.
As the senators noted in their letter to Barr, the purpose and extent of their attempts to “develop relationships” with the Trump or Pence transition team staff are not clear.
But according to Fox News’ Sara Carter, “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.
The “Katie” mentioned by Strzok, may be the wife of Josh Pitcock, Pence’s chief of staff. [See update below. Pitcock on Friday denied that there was any infiltration into the Trump transition team through him or his wife].
“Were these efforts done to gain better communication between the respective parties, or were the briefings used as intelligence gathering operations?” Grassley and Johnson asked in their letter. “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.”
The senators also wrote that they were “troubled by the apparent unauthorized disclosures of surveillance efforts and other classified information” to the media during both the Clinton email investigation and the Trump/Russia probe. They asked the attorney general to look into the matter.
They 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 Presidentelect 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?
A former FBI intelligence specialist told Fox News that “the texts appear to conflict with strict rules laid out by then-FBI director Robert Mueller known as the Domestic Investigations Operations Guide.”
According to Timothy Gill, the former FBI intelligence officer, “texts indicate both FBI employees were executing investigative strategies on a sensitive investigative matter without any regard for the Mueller endorsed DOJ DIOG.”
In a statement to Axios, Pitcock said neither he nor his wife had 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.”