On Tuesday morning, President Trump characterized missing text messages that were exchanged by two FBI employees who were not fans of his as “one of the biggest stories in a long time.”
In one of the biggest stories in a long time, the FBI now says it is missing five months worth of lovers Strzok-Page texts, perhaps 50,000, and all in prime time. Wow!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 23, 2018
Trump’s tweet contains a factual inaccuracy — as David Wright of CNN pointed out, the exact number of “missing” texts between agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page is unknown.
But more importantly, the story is being used by Trump and his supporters to discredit the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
During his Fox News show on Monday evening, Lou Dobbs called for federal agents to be “dispatched to the Justice Department and FBI to sequester everything and to at least take into custody the top people who are responsible for the operations of those organizations.”
Fox News host Sean Hannity alleged that the missing text are evidence of an “Anti-Trump ‘CONSPIRACY’ at DOJ.”
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) January 23, 2018
Trump posted his tweet about the texts shortly after the story was discussed on his favorite show, Fox & Friends.
What text messages are missing
Strzok and Page have been in the news since last month, when the Justice Department took the unusual step of releasing records indicating that during the 2016 presidential campaign, the two agents — who were having an affair at the time — exchanged texts expressing anti-Trump views.
In messages to Page, Strzok called Trump “awful” and “an idiot,” and after the election, Page texted Strzok and expressed dismay at the prospect of Jeff Sessions becoming attorney general.
Both agents were involved in the FBI investigations of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. When Special Counsel Robert Mueller learned about the text messages in August, he removed Strzok from his team. Page had reportedly already completed her stint working in the special counsel’s office by that time.
There is no evidence anywhere in the many thousands of Strzok-Page text messages that have been released indicating that the two agents’ private views translated to anti-Trump actions at their jobs. As the Huffington Post details, Trump supporters overlook that the Strzok-Page texts also “make clear that both Strzok and Page were frustrated by stories that reflected poorly upon the FBI’s handling of the Clinton probe,” and had no interest in weaponizing the power of the bureau.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd has informed members of Congress that messages sent between Strzok and Page were not retained between December 14, 2016 and May 17, 2017 due to a technical issue.
“The FBI has informed us that many FBI-provided Samsung 5 mobile devices did not capture or store text messages due to misconfiguration issues related to rollouts, provisioning and software upgrades that conflicted with the FBI’s collection capabilities,” Boyd wrote.
Prominent Republican accept the FBI’s explanation
Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr (R-NC) — who has previously been enlisted to help the White House out of its Russia mess — has indicated he accepts the FBI’s explanation.
BURR doesn’t share same alarm as Trump over missing FBI texts. “I’m not going to read anything into it other than it may be a technical glitch at the bureau.The fact that they have provided the rest of them certainly doesn’t show an intent to try to withhold anything,” he told us
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 23, 2018
The Trump administration, however, is seizing on the missing texts as a “scandal.”
On Tuesday morning, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the story a “great cause for concern” during an appearance on Fox News. Later in the day, Sessions ordered an investigation into the missing messages.
The worst conspiracy of all time
The underlying theory by Trump supporters is that the texts reveal a conspiracy by the FBI to take down Trump.
In fact, the FBI’s respective handling of the Trump and Clinton investigations was a key factor in Trump’s victory, according to an analysis by Nate Silver. While the bureau’s investigation into Trump began in July 2016, the existence of the investigation wasn’t publicly disclosed until after Trump’s inauguration. On the other hand, FBI Director James Comey went out of his way to publicize the Clinton email investigation just days before the election. Around that same time, the New York Times published a report sourced to “law enforcement officials” that claimed there was “no clear link” between Trump and Russia — a report that looks very suspect in light of the many Trump-Russia contacts that we’ve seen learned about since then.
When Trump supporters been pushed about the major holes in their theory of the case — why would then-FBI Director Comey have publicized the Clinton email investigation if his bureau was trying to help Clinton? — they haven’t had answers.