The last few days the media has been buzzing with speculation about the precise meaning of a text message sent by the sacked FBI investigator Peter Strzok to his lover FBI lawyer Lisa Page on 15th August 2016.
I am puzzled by this speculation. I don’t think there is any mystery at all about this text. There is no doubt it refers to the Russiagate investigation and its meaning is perfectly clear.
Let’s look first at the text itself
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….
“Andy” is FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. “He” is Donald Trump. If that was not so someone by now would have said so.
The text shows Strzok and Page took part in a discussion in McCabe’s office in which Donald Trump and the election were discussed. Over the course of this discussion Page expressed the view – commonplace in August 2016 – that Donald Trump had no prospect of winning the election. She therefore counselled that the proposed Russiagate investigation was unnecessary. Strzok responded that the FBI had no choice but to proceed with the Russiagate investigation because of the risk of not doing so was too great.
The Russiagate investigation is obviously the “insurance” Strzok is talking about. Nothing else makes sense.
Does the text message tell us anything else? The short answer is it does, and it is important.
The proposal to launch the Russiagate investigation clearly ran into resistance from some members of the FBI. Clearly they were unhappy because they were worried that it would amount to improper interference in the election. Undoubtedly they were also worried that it might violate the Hatch Act, which forbids misuse of public office to engage in partisan political activity especially during an election
That there were discussions within the FBI about the Hatch Act over the course of the summer of 2016 we know because concern about a possible violation of the Hatch Act was the reason former FBI Director James Comey gave for his refusal to sign the US intelligence community’s 7th October 2016 statement which blamed Russia for meddling in the US election.
It was clearly in response to these concerns about the possible unlawfulness of the Russiagate investigation and its possible impropriety that Page who is a lawyer suggested that there was no need to launch the Russiagate investigation because Trump was certain to lose the election anyway.
The hardliners – and Strzok’s text message clearly identifies Strzok as one of the hardliners – however overrode those objections. They insisted the Russiagate investigation had to be launched. They did so because the mere possibility of Trump winning the election, however remote, was too great a risk for them to accept.
As to why this was so, the answer is that Strzok and the other members of the FBI who supported him had by this point clearly convinced themselves that the claims that Donald Trump was connected to the Russians were true.
The key piece in the jigsaw is again the Trump Dossier.
It is now known that Christopher Steele – the Trump Dossier’s compiler – was in contact with the FBI in early July 2016, before publication of the DNC emails by Wikileaks on 22nd July 2016.
The very first entry of the Trump Dossier dated 20th June 2016 and almost certainly seen by Strzok before Wikileaks published the DNC emails and therefore before the earliest possible date for the launch of the Russiagate investigation already claimed that the Russians had compromising material on Trump because of Trump’s supposed orgy with Russian prostitutes in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Moscow in 2013.
Later entries in the Trump Dossier dated 19th July 2016, 30th July 2016, 5th August 2016 and 10th August 2016, and one entry incorrectly dated 26th July 2015 but which can be clearly dated to July 2016, not only claimed that the Russians were meddling in the election on Donald Trump’s behalf – purportedly on the direct orders from President Putin himself – but also claimed that Trump’s campaign was actively colluding with the Russians in doing this. Some of these entries would almost certainly have been seen by Strzok before the Russiagate investigation was launched, and he had probably seen all of them before he texted Page on 15th August 2016.
It is now known that the FBI gave credence to the Trump Dossier in the summer of 2016 to the point where it used information obtained from the Trump Dossier to obtain FISA warrants, notably one authorising surveillance of Carter Page.
That fact alone is sufficient to explain why hardliners within the FBI like Strzok were insisting in the summer of 2016 that the Russiagate investigation had to be launched despite the doubts about its lawfulness and propriety expressed by some people within the FBI.
It was in order to arrive at a decision whether or not to launch the Russiagate investigation despite the doubts some were expressing about it that the meeting in McCabe’s office was called, with the decision being to proceed as Strzok wanted despite the doubts.
All this seems to me obvious from the wording of Strzok’s text, from its date, and from the surrounding circumstances.
There is one further possibility which is more speculative.
It is now know that sometime in August 2016 the CIA forwarded to President Obama a report alleging that the Russians were meddling in the US election. All the facts show that this report was based on the Trump Dossier.
Assuming that the FBI and the CIA were consulting each other and exchanging information about the Trump Dossier – as is highly likely – it is possible that the discussion in McCabe’s office was also about the report the CIA was proposing to send to Obama, with some people within the FBI concerned that the Trump Dossier’s unverified allegations were being used to compile a report for the President of the United States.
Regardless of this second possibility, the Strzok text is key evidence because it shows that the FBI pressed ahead with the Russiagate investigation despite the objections of some of its members.
Should there ever be an investigation by a second Special Counsel of the FBI’s conduct during the election, and should criminal charges ever be brought against its top officials for the things they did during the election, this may prove to be important.
It would show that they pressed ahead and did things disregarding warnings that what they were proposing to do was wrong.