Judiciary Democrats Demand Clarity After DOJ Releases Inconsistent Statements About FBI Text Messages Released To Media

Dec 15, 2017 Issues: Trump

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), along with Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD), sent a letter to the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Public Affairs Director Sarah Flores to demand clarity after she made inconsistent statements regarding the release of text messages between two FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page to the press.

In a statement to CNN yesterday evening, Flores said, “When the initial inquiries came from the committees and members of Congress, the deputy attorney general consulted with the inspector general, and the inspector general determined that he had no objection to the Department’s providing the material to the Congressional committees ... After that consultation, 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.”

In a statement to POLITICO issued later, Flores said, “As we understand now, some members of the media had already received copies of the texts before that—but those disclosures were not authorized by the department.”

Today’s letter follows two letters sent yesterday by Nadler, Jeffries and Raskin to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz and DOJ Public Affairs, requesting details regarding the release of text messages between FBI officials to the media. The Committee has not received a formal response from the Inspector General or the Public Affairs Director.

On the evening of Tuesday, December 12th, the U.S. Department of Justice released 375 text messages between FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page to the House Judiciary Committee. The following day, DOJ Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified before the Committee. During the hearing, Rosenstein confirmed that the Department released the text messages to Congress in consultation with the Inspector General and that any determination on wrongdoing regarding Strzok or the Clinton investigation would be made after the IG’s report. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries questioned Rosenstein about a tweet which stated that Fox News had obtained 10,000 text messages between Strzok and Page, noting that the Committee had only received 375 messages.

The Office of the Inspector General informed the Special Counsel of the existence of these texts messages on July 27, 2017.  Although federal regulations permit an FBI agent to “[e]xpress his or her opinion as an individual privately and publicly on political subjects and candidates,” Special Counsel Mueller immediately removed Strzok from the investigation. 

View the original letter to the DOJ Inspector General here.

View the original letter to the DOJ Public Affairs Director here.

View today’s follow up letter to the DOJ Public Affairs Director here and below:

Dear Director Flores,

We wrote to you yesterday regarding the Department’s decision to invite a group of reporters to view text messages between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page—in private, at Department headquarters, and before delivery to congressional offices was complete.[1]

Shortly after we transmitted our letter to the Department, you released a statement to the press:

When the initial inquiries came from the committees and members of Congress, the deputy attorney general consulted with the inspector general, and the inspector general determined that he had no objection to the Department’s providing the material to the Congressional committees . . . .  After that consultation, 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.[2]

But later in the evening, your story appears to have changed.  In an additional statement, you said: “As we understand now, some members of the media had already received copies of the texts before that—but those disclosures were not authorized by the department.”[3]

We require clarification on this point.  In addition to the questions we asked in yesterday’s letter to you, please tell us:

§  Did the media have access to these text messages prior to their delivery to Congress?

§  Did the Department authorize this disclosure?  If so, who in the Department authorized this disclosure?  If not, who in the Department made or facilitated this disclosure?

§  If indeed it happened, why did you omit this unauthorized disclosure from your initial statement to the press?

§  You say that you relied on the advice of “career ethics advisers” who “determined there were no legal or ethical concerns” with your release of this material to the press.  Please provide all documents and communications that form the basis of this advice.   

We ask for your response to both our initial letter and these questions no later than December 19, 2017.  We also ask that you communicate directly with our offices, rather than through the press, when providing your response.

 


[1] Natasha Bertrand, In ‘highly unusual’ move, DOJ secretly invited reporters to view texts sent by ousted FBI agents, Business Insider, Dec. 13, 2017.

[2] David Shortell, DOJ says no wrongdoing in release of FBI agent’s texts, CNN, Dec. 14, 2017.

[3] Darren Samuelsohn, Democrats want to know why Justice Department released FBI texts, Politico, Dec. 14, 2017.

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