Text messages between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, released Wednesday, raised serious questions about whether President Obama kept tabs on the bureau’s 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton, despite his assurances otherwise.
In a Sept. 2, 2016, message to Mr. Strzok, a senior FBI agent, Ms. Page, a bureau lawyer, said they were preparing reports on the Clinton investigation for FBI Director James B. Comey because “potus wants to know everything we are doing.” “POTUS” is the common Washington acronym for President of the United States.
In another text exchange, sent on June 30, 2016, Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page discussed changes to the statement Mr. Comey was writing in preparation for clearing Mrs. Clinton of criminal wrongdoing. Mr. Strzok, the agent in charge of the Clinton investigation, wrote, “He changed President to ‘another senior government official.’”
The exchanges appear to contradict Mr. Obama’s assertion that he had not discussed the Clinton investigation with Mr. Comey.
Republicans on Capitol Hill and at the White House are now demanding answers.
“NEW FBI TEXTS ARE BOMBSHELLS!” President Trump tweeted Wednesday morning about the disclosures.
His staff was more circumspect.
“There is a lot within those text messages that gives us great cause for concern,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Mr. Obama had insisted that he wasn’t checking in on the investigation of the woman he was backing to be his successor.
“I do not talk to the attorney general about pending investigations,” Mr. Obama said in an April 2016 interview with Fox News. “I do not talk to FBI directors about pending investigations. We have a strict line and have always maintained it. I guarantee it.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest backed up Mr. Obama’s claim in the fall of 2016, when he repeatedly stated that the president didn’t know details of the probe and didn’t want to know.
“The White House is going to be scrupulous about avoiding even the appearance of political interference in prosecutorial or investigative decisions,” Mr. Earnest said on Oct. 31, 2016.
Mr. Comey told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in June that he had not discussed the Clinton case with Mr. Obama.
“I had two one-on-ones with President Obama that I laid out in my testimony: once, to talk about law enforcement issues — law enforcement and race, which was an important topic throughout for me and for the president — and then once, very briefly, for him to say goodbye.”
Some in the Obama camp suggested privately that the FBI employees’ texts more likely pertained to the FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the election.
But Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican, said the texts raise alarming questions about the extent of Mr. Obama’s involvement in the Clinton investigation.
“While the president certainly has the right to be informed about ongoing investigations, Ms. Page’s message, if true, seems to undercut Obama’s statement of April 2016,” he said.
Mr. Gaetz pledged to investigate the matter as a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released the texts Wednesday as part of a report on the FBI’s investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, spearheaded the committee’s investigation. He said the Strzok-Page messages “paint a picture of bias and animus and certainly raise questions about possible corruption.”
The texts also delved into Mr. Comey’s public handling of the results of the FBI investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s secret but unprotected email account, which she used to send and receive classified information while serving as the country’s top diplomat.
On Sept. 28, 2016, Mr. Strzok texted Ms. Page that he was summoned to then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s office after some of the Clinton emails in question showed up on the laptop of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, New York Democrat, in an unrelated investigation. Mr. Weiner’s wife was top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, who exchanged classified information with her boss.
Mr. Comey didn’t inform Congress that the Weiner emails were being reviewed until Oct. 28, 2016, just days before the presidential election. Mrs. Clinton’s aides have blamed that announcement for her loss.
The timing of the messages raises questions about when Mr. Comey learned of the emails.
“The FBI had learned of the existence of emails that appear pertinent to the investigation,” Mr. Comey said in late October. “I am writing to inform you that the investigative team briefed me on this yesterday.”
The Justice Department’s inspector general is trying to determine whether Mr. McCabe or other FBI officials attempted to delay the investigation until after Election Day, according a report in The Washington Post. Mr. McCabe “appeared not to act for about three weeks” after the emails were found on Weiner’s laptop.
Mr. McCabe was accused of slow-walking the Clinton investigation.
His wife, Jill, ran unsuccessfully for a state Senate seat in Virginia. She received nearly $500,000 in campaign donations from a political action committee affiliated with then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who was chairman of Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Mr. McCabe recused himself from the investigation just before Election Day after a Wall Street Journal report linked his wife’s campaign donations to Mr. McAuliffe.
Ms. Page expressed frustration about Mr. McCabe’s recusal, saying it was hard to find information and “being unable to tell Andy and powerless to stop them.”
Mr. Strzok responded, “Need you on the inside now more than ever. Truly. And no bs, your country needs you now. We are going to have to be wise about all of this.”
The two FBI employees’ texts also seemed to call into question the importance of then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch’s recusal from decision-making in the Clinton investigation after she met with Mrs. Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, on the tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Ms. Lynch said at the time that she would accept whatever Mr. Comey recommended.
After Ms. Lynch’s statement, Ms. Page wrote to Mr. Strzok, “it’s a real profile in couragw [sic] since she knows no charges will be brought” against Mrs. Clinton.
Mr. Comey testified that the White House and Department of Justice had no idea ahead of time what he was going to announce in July when he exonerated Mrs. Clinton. His statement appears at odds with the Strzok-Page texts.
The texts also revealed a deep animus Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page had toward Republicans and Mr. Trump in particular.
After the third presidential debate, Mr. Strzok wrote, “I am riled up. Turmp is a [expletive] idiot, is unable to provide a coherent answer … WHAT THE [expletive] HAPPENED TO OUR COUNTRY, LIS!?!?!?”
Ms. Page responded, “Trump is a disaster. I have no idea how destabilizing his presidency would be.”
On Election Day, when it was clear Mr. Trump was going to win, Ms. Page used an expletive and called the results “TERRIFYING.” Mr. Strzok agreed and responded, “Omg, I am so depressed.”