The massive report from Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz makes clear that while several FBI officials broke with bureau protocol in their handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server during the 2016 campaign, they were not motivated by political bias against Donald Trump.
That, at first glance, is the big takeaway from the long-awaited report which President Trump – and some congressional Republicans – had insisted would back up their claims of a “deep state” conspiracy against him led by fired FBI Director James Comey and his deputy Andrew McCabe. The report says that Comey acted inappropriately in his decision to speak out about Clinton email investigation despite not bringing charges – among other things – but that he did not do so with the express goal of influencing the 2016 election one way or another.
Except that the report also includes an August 2016 text message exchange between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was intimately involved in not only the Clinton email investigation but also the FBI inquiry into Russia interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign.
Here it is: (bolding is mine)
PAGE: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”
STRZOK: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”
Those seven words are what Trump and his allies will seize on – casting them as definitive proof that the “deep state” not only didn’t want him to win but was actively working to keep him from the White House.
During Thursday’s press briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “The President was briefed on the IG report earlier today and it reaffirmed the president’s suspicions about Comey’s conduct and the political bias among some of the members of the FBI.”
Even before the release of these new text messages between Page and Strzok, who were having an extramarital affair during the campaign, Trump has focused on the duo as aligned against him.
“Wow, Strzok-Page, the incompetent & corrupt FBI lovers, have texts referring to a counter-intelligence operation into the Trump Campaign dating way back to December, 2015,” Trump tweeted in June. “SPYGATE is in full force! Is the Mainstream Media interested yet? Big stuff!” (There’s no evidence that Strzok, Page or the broader FBI were spying on Trump’s campaign.)
Trump has attacked the two since, at least last December, when emails and text between Strzok and Page were released, showing that both were skeptical of Trump. (Strzok was dismissed from the special counsel probe being run by Robert Mueller in summer 2017.)
This latest revelation – part of a tranche of previously unreleased texts between Strzok and Page – will have the effect of pouring 20 gallons or so of lighter fluid on the fire that is already burning in Trumpworld over the Strzok-Page texts.
What cannot be disputed now is that Strzok, a senior FBI official involved in the investigations into Clinton’s email server and Russian interference, wrote a text in the midst of the probes (and the election) that said Trump wouldn’t win because “we’ll stop it.”
That’s pretty damning stuff – especially in a vacuum.
And because Trump picks and chooses the pieces of news that serve his purposes, that vacuum is how the Strzok texts will be framed to the President’s base. See! We told you these guys were corrupt! The “deep state’” is real!
The broader context of the 500-page report will be ignored – no matter how many times people like me write about it or talk about it on TV. The broad conclusion that Comey and other FBI officials didn’t act with any political motivation will be lost.
So, too, will be the fact that what Comey did wrong, according to the IG report – publicly speaking about the decision not to prosecute Clinton, publicly announcing just days before the election that the investigation into Clinton’s emails had been re-opened – was, without question, beneficial to Trump’s chances of winning.
If Comey– and the broader FBI/Justice Department – was so biased against Trump (and was actively working to keep him from winning) why would Comey break protocol to go public twice(!) with information that would cast Clinton and her campaign in a negative light?
That sort of logic, of course, has flown out the window in our modern political world. All that matters is that Strzok texted those fateful seven words – “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.” – to Page.
Trump will make that the story his supporters hear and believe. Context? Pshaw.