OIG: Mueller's Office Scrubbed Strzok-Page Text Messages Before IG Could Review Them
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) was unable to recover text messages from the iPhones of FBI lovebirds Peter Strzok and Lisa Page from their time on the special counsel team because the records officer scrubbed them, a new report from the DOJ watchdog reveals.
Regarding Strzok's iPhone, investigators were told that it "had been reset to factory settings and was reconfigured for the new user to whom the device was issued."
The special counsel’s records officer said that she had "determined it did not contain records that needed to be retained.” She wrote in her records log, "No substantive texts, notes or reminders,” the report states.
In a phone call, Page told the special counsel's office (SCO) after she left the team that she left her government-issued iPhone and laptop on a bookshelf at the office. The SCO located the laptop, but when the OIG asked for the iPhone on January 24, 2018, the SCO could not locate it.
It was finally located in early September 2018 and the OIG took custody at that time. The report states that on July 31, 2017, two weeks after Page left the special counsel, her iPhone was also wiped and restored to factory settings.
It was not reissued to anyone else within the agency and no one within the special counsel’s office or the Justice Management Division of the agency had any records as to who handled Page's device or who reset it, according to the report.
"Office of the Deputy Attorney General told the OIG that the Department routinely resets mobile devices to factory settings when the device is returned from a user to enable that device to be issued to another user in the future," the report states.
The OIG on Thursday released this information in an 11-page report titled, "Recovery of Text Messages on Certain iPhone Devices."
The report also states that a "technical glitch" caused a swath of text messages between anti-Trump ex-FBI officials Strzok and Page to disappear.
The DOJ's Inspector General (IG) said that, with help from the Department of Defense, it was able to uncover thousands of missing text messages written by Strzok and Page and sent using their FBI-issued Samsung phones from December 15, 2016 through May 17, 2017, "as well as hundreds of other text messages outside the gap time period that had not been produced by the FBI due to technical problems with its text message collection tool."
The OIG was able to recover more than 19,000 texts between the two, but did not include the contents of the texts in the report.
Strzok was removed from Mueller's team in late July 2017 after the FBI discovered he had been sending politically charged anti-Trump text messages -- including several to Page, with whom he was engaged in an extramarital affair.
In one text message that was not initially turned over by the FBI to the IG -- but which was recovered by the watchdog after it conducted its own independent in-depth forensics analysis -- Strzok assured Page that Trump would not become president because "We'll stop" it from happening. (The FBI was, however, able to produce Page's question to Strzok just hours earlier about whether Trump would be elected.) Strzok was fired from the FBI entirely in August 2018.
In its response to the IG's report, the FBI acknowledged that "text message collection failure, and rate of collection failure, has been an issue the FBI has worked to understand and correct since its identification in 2014."
"During calendar year 2017, the FBI phased out use of the Samsung Galaxy S5 devices by its employees and replaced them with Samsung Galaxy S7 devices because of software and other issues that prevented the data collection tool from reliably capturing text messages sent and received via FBI issued Samsung Galaxy SS mobile devices," the OIG wrote.
The OIG could have chosen any text, but chose to highlight a particularly egregious Strzok-Page text to explain the purported tech problem in the FBl's collection program. The report said that the FBI "had collected (and therefore produced to the OIG) the text message on August 8, 2016, from Page to Strzok that stated, 'He's not ever going to become president, right? Right?!'"
But the FBI text message collection program did not collect Strzok's response later in the day, which stated, "No. No he's not. We'll stop it."
"It was only through the enterprise.db extraction that the OIG obtained this Strzok text message," the IG explained.