Judicial Watch, a Washington-based transparency advocate, declared that it has received 87 pages of records from the Department of Justice revealing communications between former top FBI official Peter Strzok -- who testified before Congress this week -- and FBI attorney Lisa Page that revealed their disdain for FBI hierarchy and policies. Also, DOJ has batted away a request by Judicial Watch for a court order to preserve all responsive Page-Strzok communications.
Strzok and Page -- who reportedly were engaged in an extra-marital relationship -- exchanged text message throughout 2016 while the FBI was conducting probes of Hillary Clinton’s email practices as Secretary of State and supposed Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Those texts have become the focus of Congressional hearings into alleged bias at the FBI. Both have been subpoenaed to testify before the House Judiciary and the Oversight and Government Reform Committees.
Judicial Watch obtained the documents through a January 2018 Freedom of Information (FOIA) lawsuit filed after the DOJ failed to respond to a December 4, 2017, FOIA request (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No. 1:18-cv-00154)). Judicial Watch’s lawsuit is seeking:
- All records of communications, including but not limited to, emails, text messages and instant chats, between FBI official Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page;
- All travel requests, travel authorizations, travel vouchers and expense reports of Peter Strzok;
- All travel requests, travel authorizations, travel vouchers and expense reports of Lisa Page.
Emails between Strzok and Page include exchanges about FBI policy changes that eventually would allow companies to discuss National Security Letters, which are secret non-court issued subpoenas for records:
From: Strzok, Peter P. (WF) (FBI)
Sent: Wednesday, February 04, 2015 3:34 PM
To: Page, Lisa C. (OGC) (FBI)
Subject: FWD: FBI to Allow Companies to Reveal When They Receive National Security Letters
Sigh…are you f’ing kidding…
From: Page, Lisa C. (OGC) (FBI)
Sent: Wednesday, February 04, 2015 3:36 PM
To: Strzok, Peter P. (WF) (FBI)
Subject: RE: FBI to Allow Companies to Reveal When They Receive National Security Letters
Sigh. This is the third conversation I will have had with him or someone on his staff about this.
On February 9, 2015, in a discussion of an article about how the Department of Defense may have unwisely used an Arabic translator in a Guantanamo hearing who had also been used as a translator at a CIA black site, Strzok says, “I cannot begin to describe the amount of f*ckupedness if true…” Page replies, “I know. I heard about it on npr on my way home tonight. Multiple mentions of the FBI’s infiltration of defense teams last year too.”
On June 1, Judicial Watch filed a motion for preservation order in this case to asking the court to order the Department of Justice to prevent both Strzok and Page from potentially deleting any incriminating records of their communications. Judicial Watch argues that several of the text messages produced to Congress reference work-related communications between Strzok and Page through personal accounts.
Judicial Watch notes that in January, the DOJ told Congress that the FBI had neither requested nor searched information from the personal accounts of Strzok and Page. Judicial Watch argues:
"In a January 25, 2018 letter to Senator Charles Grassley, Charles Thorley, Acting Assistant Director of the FBI, wrote, “FBI has not requested from Ms. Page or Mr. Strzok any information from their personal email accounts, nor has the FBI conducted searches of non-FBI issued communications devices or non-FBI email accounts associated with Mr. Strzok or Ms. Page….”
Under the law, '[a]n officer or employee of an executive agency may not create or send a record using a non-official electronic messaging account unless such officer or employee- (1) copies an official electronic messaging account of the officer or employee in the original creation or transmission of the record; or (2) forwards a complete copy of the record to an official electronic messaging account of the officer or employee not later than 20 days after the original creation or transmission of the record.'”
Not until May did the FBI say it had written Strzok and Page letters asking them to preserve the communications but there have been no assurances that this was even done:
[Judicial Watch] has asked for copies of those letters and of any responses it has received from Strzok and Page. [DOJ] refuses to provide any evidence supporting this assertion.
Because [Judicial Watch] does not know specifically what [DOJ] asked Strzok and Page to do and what, if any, steps Strzok and Page are taking to ensure preservation, [Judicial Watch] is concerned [DOJ’s] mere requests to Strzok and Page are insufficient. [Judicial Watch] therefore is concerned records responsive to [Judicial Watch’s] FOIA request will be lost or not otherwise searched.
[Judicial Watch’s] request is nothing out of the ordinary. At least three other judges of this Court have granted such requests in the last 18 months.
“Judicial Watch is in court successfully getting Strzok-Page documents thus far denied to Congress,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Yet the Justice Department is stonewalling and even protecting Strzok and Page by battling our request for preservation order to ensure that no government documents are destroyed.”
The newly obtained emails came in response to a May 21, order by U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton to the FBI to begin processing 13,000 pages of previously undisclosed records exchanged exclusively between FBI officials Strzok and Page between February 1, 2015, and December 2017. The first 500 pages of records are to be processed by June 29, 2018. This process will take over two years to complete.