DANIEL VAUGHAN: OIG report exposes unforgivable pattern of leaks to the press

June 18, 2018

When asked by his adulterous lover Lisa Page in August 2016 whether or not Donald Trump would become president, Peter Strzok — the lead agent on the Hillary Clinton email investigation and a brief but key player on Robert Mueller’s Russia probe — said: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”

The day after Mueller was appointed as special prosecutor, on May 18, 2017, Strzok told Page about his desire to join Mueller’s team, saying, “For me, and this case, I personally have a sense of unfinished business. I unleashed it with MYE [refers to the Clinton-email investigation]. Now I need to fix it and finish it.”

Finally, when Page texted a story on Mueller’s investigation to Strzok, he replied to Page on May 22, 2017: “God I suddenly want on this. You know why.”

These are just the highlights of the texts between Lisa Page and Peter Strzok on pages 404-405 of the FBI OIG report on the Clinton email server investigation.

The inspector general grilled Page and Strzok for violating FBI policy and “cast[ing] a cloud” over both FBI investigations.

But in both its analysis and conclusion, the OIG didn’t find documentary or testimony evidence that these statements could connect to specific investigation decisions (page 420):

The conduct of the five FBI employees described in sections A, B, and C of this Chapter has brought discredit to themselves, sowed doubt about the FBI’s handling of the Midyear investigation, and impacted the reputation of the FBI. As described in Chapter Five, our review did not find documentary or testimonial evidence directly connecting the political views these employees expressed in their text messages and instant messages to the specific investigative decisions we reviewed in Chapter Five.

Nonetheless, the conduct by these employees cast a cloud over the FBI Midyear investigation and sowed doubt the FBI’s work on, and its handling of, the Midyear investigation. Moreover, the damage caused by their actions extends far beyond the scope of the Midyear investigation and goes to the heart of the FBI’s reputation for neutral factfinding and political independence.

That conclusion makes sense, and from the evidence the OIG presents along with their objective analysis, that’s probably a correct conclusion. But while the FBI’s investigative decisions may not have been impacted, there’s ample evidence that FBI employees actively attempted to influence political decisions of leadership, the 2016 elections, and the Trump administration post-election.

The OIG found significant leaking from FBI employees to reporters “at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media, who were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters” (page 430).

And FBI employees weren’t just in contact with journalists. They were taking gifts from reporters as well (page 430):

In addition to the significant number of communications between FBI employees and journalists, we identified social interactions between FBI employees and journalists that were, at a minimum, inconsistent with FBI policy and Department ethics rules. For example, we identified instances where FBI employees received tickets to sporting events from journalists, went on golfing outings with media representatives, were treated to drinks and meals after work by reporters, and were the guests of journalists at nonpublic social events. We will separately report on those investigations as they are concluded, consistent with the Inspector General (IG) Act, other applicable federal statutes, and OIG policy.

The leaking from the FBI during these months was so bad, the OIG couldn’t fit it all into its 568-page report.

And the OIG determined that this wasn’t an issue with FBI policy. Official ethical and procedure rules for the FBI are clear and unambiguous.

Instead, the OIG found that “these leaks highlight the need to change what appears to be a cultural attitude.”

The leaking occurred at all levels, too. The appendixes identify everyone from secretaries to FBI executives leaking information to the press.

This includes, in the middle, the very people responsible for conducting the investigations.

And while the report did not find evidence that specific investigative decisions were modified, there is significant evidence that FBI employees were actively trying to shape public opinion by leaking classified and confidential information about these investigations to the press.

This supports the idea that Strzok, Page, and other FBI employees didn’t use the investigations to try and stop Trump — they used the press. And when leaking information from the Clinton investigation didn’t work, they hoped they could move onto the Mueller probe and complete “unfinished business.”

The most startling part of this section of the OIG report is that it only covers three months: April, May, and October of 2016. We know, purely from press reports, that more leaks occurred outside those months, especially during the early months of President Trump’s administration.

What happened during the other months? What has happened since the Mueller probe started?

We won’t have to wait long to find out. The FBI will probably leak that too.

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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.