Yes, the release of texts sent between top FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page show that both loathed Donald Trump while they were working on investigations involving Trump as a presidential candidate and later as president. Of course, lots of federal employees loathe Trump. It would be hard for all of them to recuse themselves from government matters, although it is probably not a great idea to have them play key roles in high-stakes probes that could have a momentous effect on the presidency.
More troubling, in the set of texts released Tuesday night, is a single message, from Strzok to Page, dated Aug. 15, 2016. Here is what it said:
I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy's office that there's no way he gets elected — but I'm afraid we can't take that risk. It's like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you're 40….
What does that mean? "Andy" apparently refers to FBI No. 2 Andrew McCabe, who was overseeing the bureau's Trump investigation. "He" apparently refers to Trump. And "insurance policy" apparently refers to…well, it is not known what that refers to. Actually, we don't know with absolute confidence what any of it refers to.
A suspicious reading of the message would be that Page laid out some scenario — a "path" — in which Trump would lose the election without anyone in the room doing anything. Strzok disagreed, arguing that "we can't take that risk," after which they decided to do … what?
A non-suspicious reading would be that without context, we don't know what the conversation was really about, and it might all have been entirely harmless.
The exchange occurred in the early weeks of the FBI's investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. When he was still director, James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee that the Trump-Russia probe began "in late July" 2016. So, it had been going for two or three weeks when Strzok wrote the "insurance policy" text.
Strzok played a large role in that investigation. It's not clear exactly how closely involved Page was, but she worked for McCabe, and she was part of Comey's "skinny group" of trusted advisers.
The Justice Department showed the text to reporters Tuesday night, prior to deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein's appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. Officials say there are about 10,000 Strzok-Page texts in all, but reporters were shown only about 375 of them.
That was clearly a press strategy, not a disclosure strategy, especially since Congress got the same thing reporters got. A source familiar with the matter from the Capitol Hill end said the House Intelligence Committee "received the batch of texts that DOJ presented to reporters [Tuesday] night." Which means the committee got 375 out of 10,000. The source added that the department promised to provide more texts "on a rolling basis."
Will congressional investigators see all 10,000? The department will undoubtedly argue that some of the texts between Strzok and Page, who were reportedly having an extramarital affair, are personal. That seems plausible. If so, there's still no reason that the department and Congress could not agree to allow a small number of senior committee staff to review all of them for any possible relation to the panel's investigation. A Justice Department spokesperson said that prior to the public release of the group of 375 texts, "career officials determined that the text messages could be released under both ethical and legal standards."
But what about the "insurance policy" text? What does it mean? A source familiar with the issue from the administration's side said they did not know the context of the text. It also appears Congress is in the dark. "The committee doesn't know more about the context of the 'insurance policy' text," the Capitol Hill source said, "but on its face, it is extremely troubling, as is the apparent reference to McCabe in that text."
Members of Congress will have a lot of questions when Strzok and Page appear before the investigating committees, whenever that might be.