President Donald Trump on Thursday called 2016 texts between former FBI officials evidence of an attempted “coup” after a news report showed they were discussing people inside the Trump administration who they could “develop for potential relationships.”
And on Friday, he defended the remarks.
Trump was responding to a Fox News report about the texts exchanged between former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and former FBI agent Peter Strzok. The President immediately claimed the text messages were evidence of a plot against him, but the Fox News report notes that it “was not clear from the messages whether Strzok and Page merely sought to build bridges with the incoming administration, or wanted to engineer the briefings to investigate Trump and his associates.”
“Really it’s a coup, it’s spying,” Trump told Fox News in an interview, adding that Strzok and Page, were “trying to infiltrate the administration.”
Speaking to press at the White House Friday, Trump sought to justify his coup claim.
“Oh, I think absolutely (there was a coup),” Trump said. “If you look at what’s been happening, and all the things you’ve been seeing with the insurance policy statement from two agents that are now gone, if you look at many of the elements of intrigue and, frankly, we’re going to be seeing a lot over the next couple of weeks, things that a lot of people haven’t seen what took place here was a very, very terrible situation.”
In congressional testimony last summer, Strzok defended a text message he sent about Trump potentially being elected, saying “we will stop it.” Strzok said the text was “in no way, unequivocally, any suggestion that me, the FBI, would take any action whatsoever to improperly impact the electoral process, for any candidate.” He later said that “at no time in any of these texts did those personal beliefs ever enter into the realm of any action I took.”
In her testimony to Congress, Page also said the professional decisions she and Strzok made were not connected to the personal text messages they exchanged.
Trump said Page and Strzok “were dirty cops” and “sick people” and claimed, “this was an attempted overthrow of the United States government.”
“I think it’s far bigger than Watergate, I think it’s possibly the biggest scandal in political history in this country, maybe beyond political,” Trump said.
It’s another example of the President going on Fox News and using inflammatory rhetoric to describe the investigation into his campaign. Last month, following the release of Attorney General William Barr’s letter summarizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, Trump called the investigation an “attempted take over of our government” and accused Page, Strzok and “hundreds of others” of treason.
Trump has frequently criticized a series of text messages Page exchanged with Strzok, in which they disparaged him as a then-presidential candidate. Both Page and Strzok were involved in the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information, in addition to the early days of the bureau’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and briefly served on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
Allies of the President have previously latched onto the texts between Strzok and Page without context. Conservatives previously speculated about a nefarious “secret society” at the FBI stemming from a text exchange, only to later learn it was a reference to a gag gift of Vladimir Putin-themed calendars that one of the employees purchased for those working on the early stage of the Russia investigation.
Later, allies of the President pointed to a text from Page in September 2016 that said “potus wants to know everything we’re doing,” alleging – without any corroboration – it proved President Barack Obama had demanded information about the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information.
Strzok was dismissed from Mueller’s team once the text messages were uncovered by internal investigations. Page left the team before the text messages were discovered.
Trump later listed a number of his other critics from the FBI and the rest of the intelligence community, all of whom served under President Barack Obama and were involved in the early days of the investigation into Trump’s campaign, as potentially being a part of a conspiracy against him.
“Let’s see what happens with (former acting FBI Director Andrew) McCabe and (former FBI Director James) Comey and (former CIA Director John) Brennan and (former Director of National Intelligence James) Clapper,” Trump said, adding, “let’s see how high it goes up.”
Trump also touched on a number of other topics during his lengthy interview on Fox News, including applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court related to the Russia investigation and his campaign.
Trump’s congressional allies have been pushing him to declassify the applications to the court for a month, accusing those in the senior ranks of the Justice Department and FBI of being biased against the President.
On Thursday, Trump said he plans to grant their request.
“Everything’s going to be declassified,” Trump said. “And I’m glad I waited.”
Congressional allies who have been pushing the President to do this have privately expressed hope that he would renew efforts to declassify these documents now that the Russia investigation is over and doing so can’t be perceived as undermining an ongoing probe. Trump had said previously that he would declassify the FISA applications but was persuaded not to last year.
CNN’s Maegan Vazquez, Laura Jarrett, Kaitlan Collins, Clare Foran, Sophie Tatum and Sarah Westwood contributed to this report.