Lawmakers have refused to publicly release the full text message, sent the day after Trump won the 2016 presidential election. But ABC News has obtained a copy of the one message that Republicans appear to be citing, and it’s unclear if the message’s reference to a “secret society” may have been made in jest.
“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,” FBI lawyer Lisa Page wrote to senior FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was working on the FBI’s probe of Russian meddling in the presidential election and would later join Page for a brief period on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
That text stands alone in the series of messages obtained by ABC News – with no apparent tie to other messages sent before or after it.
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In another text message obtained by ABC News, sent the day after the presidential election in November 2016, Strzok told Page: “Omg I am so depressed.”
Those texts are among a large cache of messages handed over to House and Senate committees in the past two months. After recent news accounts reported that Strzok was axed from Mueller’s team for sending potentially anti-Trump messages, lawmakers demanded to see the messages for themselves.
On Friday, the Justice Department handed the Senate Homeland Security Committee and other committees a new batch of more than 1,000 messages sent between Strzok and Page. The messages newly obtained by ABC News were in that set.
Asked Wednesday whether he believes there’s a “secret society” inside the FBI to take down the president, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., said, “That’s Strzok and Page’s term.”
“Everything I take with a grain of salt,” he added. “[But] I’ve heard from an individual that … there was a group of managers within the FBI that were holding meetings off site.”
So “when Strzok and Page had described a secret society, that didn’t surprise me because I had corroborating information,” Johnson said.
He declined to describe the “whistleblower” in any way, and he said he did not know what the FBI’s “off-site” meetings might have entailed.
Nevertheless, he said he is “trying to be as transparent as possible.”
Text messages between Strzok and Page were first discovered after the Justice Department’s inspector general launched an investigation early last year to look at how the Justice Department and FBI handled matters related to the 2016 presidential election, including the criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, which resulted in no charges.
Last month, the Justice Department publicly released about 375 of the messages, including those in which Strzok repeatedly called Trump an “idiot.”
Republican lawmakers pounced on the messages as evidence that the FBI and special counsel probes – with Strzok’s involvement – were propelled by political bias.
But in a May 2017 text message from Strzok released by Johnson on Monday, Strzok expressed reticence to join Mueller’s team, saying he believed “there’s no big there there.”
And Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has dismissed such suggestions, insisting there is nobody “better qualified for this job” than Mueller and noting “political affiliation” is not the same as political “bias.”
“We recognize we have employees with political opinions. It’s our responsibility to make sure those opinions do not influence their actions,” Rosenstein recently told a House panel.
Meanwhile, Trump and his Republican allies are raising concerns over a five-month gap of text messages missing from the FBI’s systems.
They have described the missing texts as a major scandal. But according to the Justice Department, the five months’ worth of messages are missing due to a “technical” glitch and “misconfiguration issues” after the FBI tried to upgrade the devices used by its agents in the field.
The Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, said he believes the Justice Department’s explanation and described the FBI as being cooperative in providing documents to his committee for its investigation looking at Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.