President Donald Trump and one of his lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, distorted the findings of a new report about the forensic recovery of text messages exchanged between Peter Strzok, a former FBI senior counterintelligence agent, and Lisa Page, a former FBI lawyer:
- Trump tweeted that “19,000 Texts between Lisa Page and her lover, Peter S of the FBI … were just reported as being wiped clean and gone.” The texts are not “gone.” Trump has it backward: The Department of Justice inspector general’s office said that it had recovered about 20,000 text messages sent and received by Page and Strzok on FBI-issued Samsung phones.
- The president also tweeted that the 19,000 text messages “were purposely & illegally deleted,” and Giuliani claimed they were “destroyed.” But the IG has said it found no evidence that “any employee” intentionally deleted text messages, blaming a software glitch that failed to preserve text messages from FBI-issued Samsung phones.
The president is referring to an inspector general’s report issued on Dec. 13, but that report — and a previously released IG report in June — both refute the claims made by Trump and Giuliani about the “19,000 texts.”
Text Messages ‘Wiped Clean and Gone’?
Trump frequently attacks Strzok and Page as part of a larger legal strategy of undermining the federal investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election.
During the election, Strzok, an FBI counterintelligence agent, was assigned to supervise the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of personal email for government business while she was secretary of state. Page, special counsel to the FBI deputy director, also was assigned to the Clinton investigation, which closed in early July 2016 without any charges being filed.
That same month, the FBI opened an investigation into reports that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s servers. Strzok was assigned to lead the Russia probe, and Page was assigned to serve as the deputy director’s liaison to the new investigation, according to the IG’s office.
After the election, the Justice Department announced on May 17, 2017, that former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III would serve as special counsel to investigate possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Strzok and Page were soon assigned to the special counsel’s office. Page joined the team on May 28, 2017, and Strzok, who was promoted to deputy assistant director of the espionage section in September 2016, was assigned to the special counsel’s office in early June 2017, according to the IG’s office.
But neither lasted long in the special counsel’s office.
Strzok was taken off the Russia investigation in late July of that year after the IG informed the special counsel’s office that Strzok and Page exchanged text messages that expressed “hostility” toward Trump during the 2016 presidential election, as the inspector general’s office would later characterize some of the texts in the June report.
Page’s assignment at the special counsel’s office also ended after less than two months, on July 15, 2017, according to the IG report.
Since learning that Strzok and Page exchanged anti-Trump text messages while assigned to investigate Clinton, the president has accused both of bias in their handling of the Clinton and Russian investigations. In its June report, the inspector general’s office said it was “deeply troubled” by the text messages sent by Strzok and Page, but the report found no evidence that their personal views influenced decisions that were made in the Clinton email investigation, as we have previously written.
The IG’s office issued a second report on Dec. 13 on its text message recovery efforts and findings, prompting Trump to renew his attack on Strzok and Page in a series of false tweets over several days.
On Dec. 15, Trump tweeted that “19,000 Texts between Lisa Page and her lover, Peter S … were just reported as being wiped clean and gone.”
Wow, 19,000 Texts between Lisa Page and her lover, Peter S of the FBI, in charge of the Russia Hoax, were just reported as being wiped clean and gone. Such a big story that will never be covered by the Fake News. Witch Hunt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 15, 2018
The 19,000 text messages are not “gone.” To the contrary, the Dec. 13 report — and the previous one on June 14 — both said that the IG used forensic tools to recover about 20,000 missing text messages from Dec. 15, 2016, through May 17, 2017.
Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, June 14: The FBI did not provide any text messages for the period from December 15, 2016, to May 17, 2017, because of issues with the data collection and preservation software used on the FBI’s Samsung S5 mobile devices. However, OIG forensic agents obtained the phones used by Strzok and Page, and recovered a large number of the text messages from this “gap” period. For the gap period, the OIG recovered 9,311 text messages from Strzok’s phone and 10,760 text messages from Page’s phone, some of which were duplicates or text messages exchanged with other people.
The Dec. 13 report expanded on the methods used by the inspector general’s office to recover the previously missing text messages, but repeated that about 20,000 text messages were recovered and that many of those were duplicates.
Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Dec. 13: OIG digital forensic examiners used forensic tools to recover thousands of text messages from these devices, including many outside the period of collection tool failure (December 15, 2016 to May 17, 2017) and many that Strzok and Page had with persons other than each other. Approximately 9,311 text messages that were sent or received during the period of collection tool failure were recovered from Strzok’s S5 phone, of which approximately 8,358 were sent to or received from Page. Approximately 10,760 text messages that were sent or received during the period of collection tool failure were recovered from Page’s S5 phone, of which approximately 9,717 were sent to or received from Strzok.
The White House did not respond to our emails about Trump’s tweets about the 19,000 text messages being “gone.”
No Evidence Text Messages Were ‘Illegally’ Deleted
On Dec. 18, the president also falsely tweeted that the 19,000 text messages “were purposely & illegally deleted” — claiming that they “would have explained whole Hoax,” referring to the Russia investigation.
Biggest outrage yet in the long, winding and highly conflicted Mueller Witch Hunt is the fact that 19,000 demanded Text messages between Peter Strzok and his FBI lover, Lisa Page, were purposely & illegally deleted. Would have explained whole Hoax, which is now under protest!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2018
On “Fox News Sunday,” one of Trump’s lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, made a similar remark — claiming the 19,000 text messages were “destroyed.”
Giuliani, Dec. 16: I am disgusted with the tactics they have used in this case. What they did to General Flynn should result in discipline. They’re the ones who are violating the law. They’re looking at a non-crime collusion, the other guys are looking at a non-crime campaign violations, which are not violations. And they are the ones who are violating the law, the rules, the ethics and nobody wants to look at them. They destroyed Strzok and Page’s texts, 19,000 texts.
The IG reports contain no evidence that text messages “were purposely & illegally deleted” or “destroyed.” Instead, the IG found that there was a compatibility issue between the FBI-issued Samsung S5 phones and a text message collection tool that should have preserved the text messages from December 2016 to May 2017.
The June report said “a large number of FBI employees” were affected by the failure of the text message collection tool and the loss of data did not result “from the actions of any FBI employee, including Strzok.”
The December report went into more detail about the IG’s use of forensic recovery methods and its findings.
The report said the FBI switched in early 2017 from Samsung S5 to Samsung S7 and S9 phones partly to “address issues with the FBI’s text message collection tool.” Page received an FBI-issued Samsung S7 on May 18, 2017, to replace her Samsung S5. Strzok received his new Samsung S7 on July 5, 2017.
The IG report also said that missing text messages were found “where they are typically located through the use of forensic extraction tools” but also in a database identified as “enterprise.db.” The IG’s office compared the content of the text messages found in enterprise.db to text messages captured by the collection tool, but found “no discernible patterns.”
“That is, the OIG found that the content of the text messages did not appear to be a factor in whether they were found in only one of the enterprise.db database or the messages saved by the collection tool; the messages included some political content, some work-related content, and some personal content,” the new report said.
The IG’s office asked the contractor hired to recover missing data to review the text messages found in enterprise.db to determine why some were copied to that location. “[T]he contractor informed the OIG that it was unlikely that Strzok and Page attempted to circumvent the FBI’s text message collection capabilities, and the OIG found no evidence that they did,” the report said.
The new IG report also said that Strzok and Page received iPhones from the Department of Justice after they were assigned to the special counsel’s office in the spring of 2017.
No data could be recovered from the iPhones, because the DOJ reset the phones to factory settings after Page and Strzok left the special counsel’s office. Both FBI employees had the iPhones for less than two months, and they continued to use their FBI-issued phones while working in the special counsel’s office, according to the report.
Breitbart, a conservative website, said the special counsel’s office “scrubbed” Strzok’s iPhone before giving it to the IG’s office, but there is no evidence in the IG report of any wrongdoing. The report notes that the DOJ “routinely resets mobile devices to factory settings when the device is returned” by an employee.