- The US Department of Justice says copies of private text messages exchanged between two former special-counsel investigators were disclosed to some members of the media before they were given to Congress.
- According to a DOJ statement, those text messages “were not authorised” for release.
- The private text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were exchanged from 2015 to 2016.
- Many of those messages expressed disdain for then-candidate Donald Trump and revealed criticism of some top Democrats also.
The Department of Justice acknowledged in a statement on Thursday night that copies of private text messages exchanged between two former special-counsel investigators were disclosed to certain members of the media before they were given to Congress, even though those disclosures “were not authorised.”
Sarah Isgur Flores, a DOJ spokeswoman, told Politico that the text messages exchanged between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were given to key members of the House Judiciary Committee the night before Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s public testimony on Wednesday.
The DOJ’s Public Affairs division shared the same messages with a group of reporters after they were shared with the lawmakers, Flores said. But some members of the media “had already received copies.”
“As we understand now, some members of the media had already received copies of the texts before that – but those disclosures were not authorised by the department,” she said.
Business Insider first reported the Justice Department’s unusual invitation to a small group of reporters to travel to the DOJ on Tuesday night and view the private text messages Strzok and Page exchanged from 2015 to 2016.
The texts, many of which expressed disdain for then-candidate Donald Trump, were obtained in July as part of an ongoing investigation by the DOJ’s inspector general into how the FBI handled the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
Strzok, a veteran counterintelligence agent, was among those overseeing the Clinton investigation. He was abruptly removed from the special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in late July and relegated to the human-resources department after the FBI became aware of the texts. Page left over the summer for unrelated reasons.
A DOJ official said in a statement to Business Insider on Wednesday that the department “often” provided reporters with “information we give to Congressional committees to avoid any confusion.”
It is true that the DOJ will sometimes give documents to reporters that it is already going to hand over to Congress. But it is not clear that the DOJ had ever released private text messages to the press that were the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Office of the Inspector General. At least some of those disclosures now appear to have been unauthorised.
Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee, including its ranking member, sent a letter to Flores on Thursday asking her to explain who approved the invitation to reporters and whether she consulted with the OIG beforehand. The Democrats sent the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, a letter with similar questions.
The DOJ did not immediately return a request for comment from Business Insider. But Flores told Politico that Rosenstein had consulted with the inspector general, who “determined that he had no objection to the department’s providing the material to the congressional committees that had requested it.”
The statement did not appear to address questions about whether the OIG approved the release of the texts to the media.
It said senior career ethics advisers “determined that there were no legal or ethical concerns, including under the Privacy Act, that prohibited the release of the information to the public either by members of Congress or by the department.”
Rosenstein demurred when asked by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries during the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday who authorised the invitation. But he said there had been a decision that the texts turned over to Congress were fit for public consumption.
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