A Republican senator’s report questioning former President Barack Obama’s involvement in the Clinton email investigation is in dispute based on a timeline of events, and a source familiar with the context of a central text message challenges how it is being portrayed.
The interim report highlights a text between top FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, whose messages have been scrutinized by Republican lawmakers. The messages – some of which revealed personal biases against President Donald Trump – have stirred controversy in Washington and caused many Republicans on Capitol Hill to question the FBI’s independence in their Russia probe.
But the insinuation of the report issued by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, is disputed by a source familiar with one of the FBI official’s thinking who said that those texts referred to Obama’s broader interests in issues of potential Russian interference in the election, not the Clinton investigation.
And the timeline of the texts, as laid out by Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, does not comport with what was happening when the messages were sent in 2016 and ignores that the texts were sent days before Obama confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin over the country’s meddling in the 2016 election.
Johnson released the text messages in a 25-page report that outlines how, in their view, Obama kept tabs on the investigation into Clinton’s email, an issue that hung over much of the 2016 election.
A footnote in Johnson’s report explains that the Justice Department explained it would redact “text messages that were personal in nature or relating to other investigations.” Johnson’s report presumes that since this specific text was not redacted it was related to the investigation into classified information on Clinton’s private server.
According to Johnson’s report, Page texted Strzok on September 2, 2016, about preparing talking points for then-FBI Director James Comey because “potus wants to know everything we’re doing.”
That is the only part of that specific exchange that references Obama.
Johnson’s report alleges that the 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.”
And Trump, who has previously seized on texts between Strzok and Page, tweeted Wednesday: “NEW FBI TEXTS ARE BOMBSHELLS!”
Three days after Page sent her text, Obama confronted Putin for Russian meddling in the 2016 election on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Hangzhou, China.
“In early September, when I saw President Putin in China, I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that did not happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out, there were going to be some serious consequences if he did not,” Obama told reporters on December 16, 2016. “And in fact, we did not see further tampering of the election process. But the leaks through WikiLeaks had already occurred. So, when I look back in terms of how we handled it, I think we handled it the way it should have been handled.”
The September 2016 text also came months after Comey held a July news conference where the FBI director announced the closure of the Clinton email investigation and sharply criticized Clinton’s handling of her emails at the State Department but recommended no charges against the former secretary of state.
And a subsequent text that Johnson released seemed to indicate Strzok only learned of new Clinton emails being discovered at the end of September, and it was weeks before Comey would reopen the Clinton investigation. Comey briefly reopened the investigation on October 28 – 11 days before the presidential election – because of new emails found as part of an investigation into former Congressman Anthony Weiner, a Democrat. Weiner was then married to Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
The texts also reference an op-ed on Russian meddling that CNN had previously reported Comey was pushing to write. The piece would end up not being published, but the Obama administration did publicly finger Russia as being behind the election hacking in a joint statement from the Department of Homeland Security and the director of National Intelligence.
“The US Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations,” read the statement.
A spokesperson for Obama declined to comment on this story.
This story has been updated.