Early Wednesday, Fox News published an explosive new story alleging President Obama sought detailed briefings about the Clinton email investigation. The report is based on texts between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page released by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security on Tuesday.
In a text sent on September 2, 2016, Page tells Strozok that “potus wants to know everything we’re doing.” Fox News claims this text “raises questions about Obama’s personal involvement in the Clinton email investigation.”
Fox News is hyping the story on air repeatedly as a bombshell, calling it “shocking.”
President Trump, an avid viewer of Fox News, got the message.
The theory is being pushed by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who recently advanced and then retracted a claim that there was a “secret society” in the FBI seeking to undermine Trump. Johnson released a report to accompany the emails called “THE CLINTON EMAIL SCANDAL AND THE FBI’S INVESTIGATION OF IT.”
On September 2, 2016, Page wrote about preparing talking points for Director Comey because “potus wants to know everything we’re doing.” This text raises additional questions about the type and extent of President Obama’s personal involvement in the Clinton email scandal and the FBI investigation of it.
There is just one problem: The entire Fox News story is a fraud.
It’s simply not a plausible interpretation of the September 2, 2016 text exchange that Obama was seeking a briefing on the Clinton email investigation.
FBI Director James Comey closed the Clinton email investigation on July 5, 2016. It was not reopened until October. The same trove of text messages released Tuesday reveals that the FBI did not even become aware of additional emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop until September 28, 2016.
Fox News suggests the texts were referring to talking points regarding the Clinton email case. But those talking points, according to documents released by the Senate, were completed in June. That makes sense because they were prepared in advance of Comey’s announcement in July.
So what was Obama interested in? Most likely, he wanted information about the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, which was active on September 2, 2016. Obama has publicly said that he confronted Putin about election interference a few days later at the Group of 20 meeting in China, telling the Russian leader to “cut it out.”
“[I]t has to be about the Russia probe,” former Department of Justice official Matthew Miller told ThinkProgress in reference to the September 2, 2016 texts.
There was nothing inappropriate about Obama seeking a briefing on the Russia investigation. “[S]ince the Russia investigation was a counterintelligence, not a criminal, investigation at that time, it was totally appropriate for Obama to be briefed,” Miller said. “The Department of Justice is allowed to brief and coordinate with the White House on national security matters, including terrorism and espionage.”
Don’t hold your breath for Fox News to correct this false report. It will likely be presented to millions of viewers tonight on primetime television. But that does not make it true.
UPDATE (2/7, 4:32PM): The Wall Street Journal, speaking to associates of Strzok and Page, confirms that the texts refer to the Russia investigation not the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Text messages from 2016 show preparation to brief Barack Obama about Russia’s interference in that year’s election, according to associates of the FBI employees involved in the exchange, not, as a Republican senator suggested, meddling by the then-president in the federal Hillary Clinton email investigation.