Deep State? Lisa Page Claims DOJ Released Out of Context Texts for ‘Political Impact’
Former FBI Lawyer Lisa Page has been at the center of the “Deep State” conspiracy theory since private texts between her and her former paramour Peter Strzok were curiously released by the Department of Justice in 2017. Page claims that the texts made public were selectively chosen and largely out of context, and in an interesting intersection of media and politics, forces a new look at former DOJ Spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores, who has since left the Trump administration to become a paid contributor for CNN.
Page broke her silence on her role in the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged coordination with Russia in the 2016 general election, which ultimately led to the Mueller investigation, but also has made her a frequent target by President Donald Trump and pro-Trump commentators like those on Fox News.
Taken on their own, the texts supported the notion that Page and Strzok, who were central to investigations into both Hillary Clinton and Trump, shared a private political bias against the current president. Much has been made of texts that reveal that neither wanted Trump to win the general election and even mentioned an “insurance policy” to keep that from happening.
These released texts have become central to something of a cottage industry of conspiracy theories — that is to say, theories of federal agents conspiring to undermine a presidential candidate — which have given rise to legitimate questions about the role that DOJ officials played and an Inspector General report set to be released next week, that is reported to largely exonerate Page, Strzok and others allegedly a part of the “deep state.”
But according to Page, the specific texts released where were designed to undermine the politics of the investigation and bolster the president’s case that he was a target. “Those texts were selected for their political impact. They lack a lot of context. Many of them aren’t even about him or me. We’re not given an opportunity to provide any context. In a lot of those texts we were talking about other people like our family members or articles we had sent each other.”
Writing for The Daily Beast, Molly Jong-Fast reports:
“After this comes out, there’s a firestorm, of course, and now the president and the Republicans on the Hill latch on to this, and it becomes about political bias,” she explains. “A week or two later, Rod Rosenstein [then the deputy attorney general] was scheduled to testify on the Hill. And the night before his testimony, the Justice Department spokesperson, Sarah Flores, calls the beat reporters into the Justice Department. This is late at night on a weekday. Calls them in to provide a cherry-picked selection of my text messages to review and report on in advance of Rod Rosenstein going to the Hill the next morning.”
“You’d have to ask Sarah Flores,” she says. “I can tell you that the reporters there that night were told that they weren’t allowed to source them to the Justice Department, and that they weren’t allowed to copy or remove them, just take notes. That’s what I know.”
Sarah Isgur Flores has left the administration and referred questions to the Justice Department. The department declined to comment.
The text release has been a lightning rod of criticism from both sides of the aisle though for very different reasons. While Trump supporters see it as clear evidence of a conspiracy designed to undermine Trump, it has also drawn criticism from those who are politically opposed to Trump. As Jong-Fast writes:
As Politico noted at the time, “The DOJ decision to release the text messages to the media and lawmakers before the IG report has drawn criticism from outside the department.” Ben Wittes wrote on the Lawfare blog, “Rosenstein here has, at a minimum, contributed to that circus—at the expense of his own employees. In throwing a career FBI agent and career FBI lawyer to the wolves by authorizing the release to the public of their private text messages—without any finding that they had done anything wrong—he once again sent a message to his workforce that he is not the sort of man with whom you want to share your foxhole.”
A source familiar with the DOJ text release has told Mediaite that they were selected by the IG and approved by the FBI for release to Congress. In an effort to caution against unfair leaks, and in the interest of fairness, the DOJ provided them to the beat reporters to prevent selective or distorted disclosures. Since Page was then an employee of the DOJ, the Inspector General would likely have alerted Page and Strzok.
Trump and his allies consistent claims of a “deep state” conspiracy is a classic example of the “best defense is a good offense” approach that has served him well for virtually as long as he has been in the public eye. There is something of a logical flaw in the alleged conspiracy suggested by those defending Trump in terms of the “deep state” efforts to undermine him.
There were two ongoing FBI investigations into the presidential candidates in the months leading up to the 2016 general election and only one was announced publicly — the probe of Hillary Clinton’s private server and missing emails. The investigation looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russian intelligence, however, remained secret until January of 2017 when news of the Steele Dossier became public.
UPDATE: Trump has reacted to Page’s interview:
When Lisa Page, the lover of Peter Strzok, talks about being “crushed”, and how innocent she is, ask her to read Peter’s “Insurance Policy” text, to her, just in case Hillary loses. Also, why were the lovers text messages scrubbed after he left Mueller. Where are they Lisa?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2019
The president has also drawn a retort from Jong-Fast:
You guys, I don’t think he read the piece. pic.twitter.com/Azc6tCRLTq
— Molly Jong-Fast (@MollyJongFast) December 2, 2019
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