The Justice Department has confirmed a Fox News report that thousands of agency employee cell phones were affected by a technical glitch that caused texts from two DOJ employees at the center of a GOP anti-FBI conspiracy to go missing,
A Justice Department spokesperson confirmed the report, which Fox News first published on Wednesday, to TPM.
Fox News, citing law enforcement officials, said that phones used by thousands — “nearly” 10 percent of the 35,000 FBI employees — were affected by a technical lapse that prevented messages from being captured by the agency’s archives.
The admission adds some context to the revelation of a five-month gap that had been identified in texts sent between FBI official Peter Strzok and DOJ lawyer Lisa Page that the DOJ’s inspector general had turned over to lawmakers.
Strzok, a top counterintelligence official, and Page — a former aide to one of President Trump’s favorite FBI punching bags, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe — have come under fire after an inspector general investigation into the handling of the FBI’s Clinton email probe uncovered texts between the two expressing anti-Trump sentiments.
Both officials worked on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, with Strozk being removed from the probe last summer after the discovery of the texts. (Page had already left Mueller’s team by the time the texts were uncovered).
Republican lawmakers on multiple congressional committees have demanded more information about the texts. Last Friday the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI), was informed that messages sent between December 2016 and May 2017 were missing from the batch previously turned over to the committee.
The DOJ attributed the lapse to “misconfiguration issues related to rollouts, provisioning, and software upgrades that conflicted with the FBI’s collection capabilities.”
Since the gap has become public, Johnson and other Republicans have railed against the FBI, with President Trump himself on Twitter wondering about “50,000 important important messages” between the two officials, who were engaged in an extramarital affair. (The number of missing texts is not publicly known, so it’s unclear where Trump got the 50,000 number).
Where are the 50,000 important text messages between FBI lovers Lisa Page and Peter Strzok? Blaming Samsung!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 24, 2018
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said on Fox News earlier on Monday that the texts released so far show a “conspiracy” at the FBI.
“There is, no coincidence, in my opinion that we’re missing texts that run from when the Russia investigation was launched right up until the point where you have the Mueller investigation being launched,” he said.
The missing texts appear driven not by coincidence or conspiracy, but rather technical incompetence, a fairly common force in the federal government.