Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., startled politicos and journalists this week when he claimed he had knowledge of an anti-President Trump “secret society” operating within the FBI.
It appears, however, that the Wisconsin Republican got ahead of himself.
The supposedly nefarious “deep state” conspiracy hinges on a nameless “informant” and a handful of texts sent between two anti-Trump FBI officials previously involved in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Johnson, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said his anonymous source told him an anti-Trump “secret society” in the FBI held emergency meetings following the 2016 presidential election.
The senator went as far as to claim the recently acquired FBI texts, coupled with his source’s information, were evidence of a widespread conspiracy of corruption.
"What this is all about is further evidence of corruption — more than bias — but corruption at the highest levels of the FBI," Johnson said Tuesday in an interview on Fox News.
“And that secret society? We have an informant talking about a group that were holding secret meetings off-site. There's so much smoke here, there's so much suspicion,” he added in a remark that certainly caught his interviewer’s attention.
On Wednesday evening, however, ABC News obtained what it said is the document upon which much of Johnson’s claim of high-level corruption is based. The evidence, it seems, is nothing more than an in-joke between FBI Russian counterintelligence expert Peter Strzok and his mistress, FBI attorney Lisa Page.
Page said in a text to Strzok, “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.”
That’s it. That’s quite literally all she wrote.
The senator told CNN he believed text corroborated something his anonymous source once said about FBI off-sight meetings.
"Everything I take with a grain of salt," Johnson told CNN. "I've heard from an individual that ... there was a group of managers within the FBI that were holding meetings off-site."
He added, “[S]o when Strzok and Page had described a secret society, that didn't surprise me because I had corroborating information."
If you’re still holding out hope that this story has legs, and you’re not willing to trust ABC News’ reporting, consider the fact that Johnson himself seems to be backing away from that whole “secret society” bit.
The Wisconsin Republican was asked Thursday whether it’s possible Page and Strzok were merely kidding around, and that they weren’t seriously discussing an FBI “secret society.”
“It’s a real possibility,” he responded.
He also told reporters this week he’s not sure what the text or his “whistle blower” meant when they said, “secret society.”
Ron Johnson tells us his “secret society” comments were based on an informant and the words used in a Strzok-Page text exchange. He acknowledges not knowing what they meant - and says the focus now on his committee is the Clinton email scandal.
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 24, 2018
Just so we're clear, this is how the story has evolved this week: We’ve gone from Sen. Johnson alleging “further evidence of … corruption at the highest levels of the FBI,” to saying, “It’s a real possibility” that Page and Strzok were just kidding.
Great work all around, fellas.
This is about as embarrassing as the time someone leaked bogus information to CNN, MSNBC and CBS News so they could allege falsely that Donald Trump and his inner circle coordinated with Russian-aligned hackers during the 2016 election.