Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday announced the Justice Department will investigate missing text messages sent between two FBI agents critical of President Trump, joining the chorus of Republican lawmakers who are eager to recover the exchange.
GOP officials have seized on the messages as evidence of FBI bias against Trump in the probes into Russian election meddling and Hillary Clinton‘s use of a private email server while secretary of State.
“We will leave no stone unturned to confirm with certainty why these text messages are not now available to be produced and will use every technology available to determine whether the missing messages are recoverable from another source,” Sessions said in a statement.
“I have spoken to the Inspector General and a review is already underway to ascertain what occurred and to determine if these records can be recovered in any other way. If any wrongdoing were to be found to have caused this gap, appropriate legal disciplinary action measures will be taken,” he continued.
An investigation revealed that FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page had privately sent disparaging text messages about Trump during the presidential race. Special counsel Robert Mueller removed the two officials from his team after the exchanges became known.
The FBI told lawmakers in a Sunday letter that the bureau did not have a record of messages exchanged over a roughly five-month period between Strzok and Page, citing problems with the bureau’s issued mobile phones over “rollouts, provisioning, and software upgrades.”
“The Inspector General has been reviewing these texts based on ‘allegations that Department or FBI policies or procedures were not followed … and that certain underlying investigative decisions were based on improper considerations,’” Sessions said.
Republicans now are also eager to hunt down the missing back-and-forth, between Dec. 14, 2016, and May 17, 2017.
“Six congressional committees made a request to the Department of Justice for FBI text messages between two FBI employees from July 1, 2015 to July 28, 2017, which the Department agreed to produce as quickly as possible,” the attorney general noted in his statement.
“If we are successful, we will update the congressional committees immediately.”
Also Monday, three Republican House committee chairmen — Judiciary’s Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Oversight’s Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Intelligence’s Devin Nunes (R-Ca.) — issued a joint statement on Monday expressing further concern about political bias among top FBI and Justice Department officials, calling the contents of the private text message records “extremely troubling.”
GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) also urged Congress to subpoena the cellphone carriers in an effort to retrieve the messages.
“Congress must do everything it can to recover these critical text messages, including subpoenaing Strzok and Page’s cell carriers and requesting the FBI perform a full forensic exam of their employees’ phones in an attempt to recover the messages,” Zeldin said in a statement
Republicans have also sought to draw attention to the text messages as a sign that the investigation is politically motivated against the president, while Democrats accuse their colleagues of attempting to undermine the Russia probe that is looking into ties between Trump campaign aides and Russia.
The president and his allies have also described Mueller’s Russia investigation as a “witch hunt.”