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Nicole Lafond

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.

Articles by Nichole

After making the rounds on nearly every national cable news show this week to spout his belief in a “secret society” within the FBI, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) told NPR Thursday that he’s “certainly not” trying to discredit the agency.

During an interview with Fox News Tuesday evening, Johnson first mentioned the “secret society” and claimed he had an informant that told him about secret meetings being held off-site after the 2016 election. He later dialed back on the “secret society” claim, saying he borrowed that terminology from a text exchange between two FBI officials who are at the center of a conservative firestorm over whether there’s an anti-Trump bias within the FBI.

Johnson was asked Thursday whether the “secret society” talk is part of a campaign by Republicans to discredit the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“Certainly not on my part. My part goes back three years, and the sham investigation into what I believe was a crime by Secretary Clinton,” he told NPR, referencing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s initial probe into then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for official business.

He later added that he is going public with this information because he wants “transparency” and wants to make sure “the FBI is beyond reproach in terms of integrity.”

“The only way to restore their integrity is if we get to the bottom, and we need transparency and that’s all I’m trying to provide,” he said.

The texts that Johnson’s basing a portion of his argument on are part of a Justice Department investigation into 50,000 text messages exchanged between agent Peter Strzok and former FBI attorney Lisa Page during the 2016 presidential election, which reportedly show the pair did not want Trump to become president.

The “secret society” text message stands alone in a series of texts and lacks any type of context to tie it to the rest of the conversation, according to ABC News, which obtained a copy of the texts in question and concluded that the comment was likely made as a joke.

Over the weekend, the FBI was expected to release a new round of text messages between Strzok and Page, but announced that the texts have gone missing due to a Samsung phone glitch, which has pushed Trump and Republicans into a fury.

Listen to the interview below:

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During an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Wednesday evening, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) grew combative about the media and blamed Democrats for attempting to block the release of a Republican-authored memo that claims to reveal the basis of an anti-Trump bias at the FBI.

Cuomo told Gaetz that he wants the memo released because he doesn’t trust politicians.

“I want to know more because politicians have politics in mind,” Cuomo said.

“So do reporters,” Gaetz said, cutting Cuomo off.

“And I do no trust any of you as ultimate arbiters of fact,” Cuomo continued.

“I don’t trust CNN anchors, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a debate about the context. … CNN calling someone partisan?” Gaetz scoffed.

The memo in question was authored by Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) staffers, and it reportedly contains classified information about the conduct of senior Department of Justice and FBI officials, that allegedly proves Republicans’ claims of the Justice Department’s bias against President Donald Trump. The memo was reportedly shared with many Republican members of Congress, but has not been turned over to the FBI or the Department of Justice.

Democrats are questioning the validity of the memo, with Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) calling it a “conspiracy theory.” Two California Democrats Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam Schiff have asked Facebook and Twitter to probe whether the hashtag promoting the release of the memo on social media was propagated by Russian bots.

Watch some of the exchange between Cuomo and Gaetz, who spouts several other theories about the FBI and the Russia investigation, below:

 

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The text messages exchanged between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page that reference a supposed “secret society” at the FBI appear to have been made in jest, according to new reporting from ABC News, which obtained copies of the messages.

On Tuesday and Wednesday Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) made the cable news rounds to raise alarm about the missing texts and propagate his theory that there is a “secret society” operating out of the FBI. He claimed an informant had told him about “off-site meetings” that were held after the election.

Johnson later clarified that the “secret society” terminology was taken from the Strzok and Page text exchanges that, according to ABC News, lack context and were likely made as a joke.

“When Strzok and Page had described a secret society, that didn’t surprise me because I had corroborating information,” Johnson told ABC Wednesday.

The text message in question: “Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society,” Page texted Strzok when he was working for special counsel Robert Mueller and his probe into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election. 

According to ABC, the “secret society” text message stands alone in a series of texts and lacks any type of context to tie it to the rest of the conversations.

Over the weekend, the FBI was expected to release a new round of text messages between Strzok and Page, but announced that the texts have gone missing due to a Samsung phone glitch.

The Justice Department is investigating 50,000 text messages exchanged between Strzok and Page during the 2016 presidential election. According to transcripts of the texts released by the Justice Department, the pair referred to Trump as an “idiot” and used language that indicated they supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her presidential bid. The texts also show that Strzok believed there was “no big there there” regarding Russia investigation.

Trump and other Republicans are using the texts to hold a candle to their accusations of bias within the FBI, a phenomenon the President has been fueling since he fired former FBI Director James Comey last spring.

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Claiming President Donald Trump is a “changed person,” Franklin Graham, the son of influential evangelical Christian minister Billy Graham, said that God helped put Trump in the White House for a reason.

“I believe Donald Trump is a good man,” Franklin Graham said on CNN Tuesday evening. “He did everything wrong as a candidate and he won and I don’t understand it. Other than I think God put him there.”

When questioned by CNN’s Don Lemon about reports of Trump’s recent impropriety — an alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels — and, as the Wall Street Journal reports, a $130,000 payout of hush money, Franklin Graham said he believed Trump when he denied those reports.

“He said he didn’t have an affair with her and there’s not evidence — and I think that alleged affair was 11 years ago,” he said. “That was a long time ago, I’m more interested, Don, in who a person is today than what they were 11 years ago and I believe he’s a changed person.”

Franklin Graham, who performed a prayer at Trump’s inauguration, has openly defended Trump, despite his “crude” manner of speaking. He has called Trump “refreshing,” but said Tuesday he hopes Trump “will be a better moral authority in these next three years.”

While he never explicitly endorsed Trump, Franklin Graham put out statements leading up to the 2016 election encouraging congregants to vote with matters like the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice, religious liberty and combatting abortion in mind. All are key issues for many Catholic and evangelical members of Trump’s base and are often cited by some Christian leaders as rational for their consistent support of the President despite behavior and allegations against him that are inconsistent with Christian values.

Franklin Graham’s father, Billy Graham is widely recognized for paving the way for the intersection of the Christian faith and politics. He served as a pastor to nearly every president from Truman to Obama.

Despite being a lifelong registered Democrat, Billy Graham is credited with constructing the ideology behind the religious right movement, which was further propagated by fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson — the host of the 700 Club who interviewed Trump — in the 1980s. Polls show that white evangelicals are the leading demographic that helped put Trump in the White House.

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Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) said Tuesday that the missing text messages between two FBI officials is just further evidence of “corruption” within the FBI and claimed without evidence that top-level agency officials held “secret society” meetings off-site after the election.

“What this is all about is further evidence of corruption,” he told Fox News Tuesday. “It’s more than bias, but corruption at the highest levels of the FBI and that secret society, we have an informant that is talking about a group that were holding secret meetings off-site. There is so much smoke here, there is so much suspicion.”

Johnson also made similar baseless claims about the Department of Justice: “There are similar individuals highly biased, political operatives burrowed into the Department of Justice as well,” he said.

Johnson is just one of many Republican lawmakers claiming anti-Trump bias within the FBI.

Over the weekend, the FBI was expected to release a new round of text messages between former agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page, but announced that due to “misconfiguration issues” the five months worth of texts had been lost, according to Politico and multiple other news outlets. The FBI later said the texts were missing due to a Samsung phone glitch, which the President later referenced in a tweet Tuesday evening.

Johnson said he was “suspicious” of the missing texts and he wants to “get to the bottom of it.”

“So many experts in IT, they say those messages are somewhere and need to be retrieved,” he said. “The timing is suspicious.”

In a second interview with Fox News Wednesday, Johnson would not confirm how many FBI officials were involved in the supposed “secret society,” but said it was “more than just Strzok and Page” who were involved.

There were indications there were a number of high level FBI officials holding secret meetings off-site,” he said. 

The Justice Department is investigating 50,000 text messages exchanged between Strzok and Page during the 2016 presidential election. There are 50,000 texts messages total, not 50,000 missing, as Trump has said twice.

According to transcripts of the texts released by the Justice Department, the pair referred to Trump as an “idiot” and used language that indicated they supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her presidential bid. The texts also appear to show the two knew Clinton would not be charged before the investigation in her use of private email servers during her time as secretary of state was complete.

Trump and other Republicans are using the texts to hold a candle to their accusations of bias within the FBI, a phenomenon the President has been fueling since he fired former FBI Director James Comey last spring.

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Calling Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) decision to compromise with Republicans and reopen the government Monday a “humiliating defeat,” President Donald Trump said late Tuesday that “Cryin’” Schumer knows “if there is no Wall, there is no DACA.”

“We must have safety and security, together with a strong Military, for our great people!” he tweeted Tuesday night.

On Tuesday afternoon, Schumer told reporters that he was rescinding his side of the deal he made with Trump last week, when he offered $25 billion for Trump’s border wall in exchange for some of the Democrats’ demands for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Schumer had made the deal as part of a last-ditch effort to keep the government open on Friday.

Schumer retraced his steps Tuesday after receiving widespread criticism from his party’s liberal base, who complained Democrats were too quick to cave on their demands for DACA recipients in order to reopen the government.

On Monday Congress approved a three-week spending plan. Some Democrats agreed to vote for the bill after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed to try to reach a deal on immigration, as well as key budget issues, by Feb. 8.

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The ranking Democratic member on the House Judiciary Committee is asking the committee’s chairman to turn over Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) staff’s classified memo to the Department of Justice, the FBI and the rest of the House Judiciary Committee.

In a letter to Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) called the memo “profoundly misleading” and a “conspiracy theory.” He claimed the document is causing “too many of our colleagues” to construct “their own version of history.”

The memo in question was authored by Nunes’ staffers, and it reportedly contains classified information about the conduct of senior Department of Justice and FBI officials, that allegedly proves Republicans’ claims of the Justice Department’s bias against President Donald Trump.

Nadler said it was “profoundly unfair” that the memo hasn’t been given to the FBI or the Justice Department and said it was the Judiciary Committee’s responsibility to help those agencies “formulate a meaningful response” to the accusations in the memo.

On Tuesday, California Democrats Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam Schiff wrote a letter to Facebook and Twitter officials asking them to probe whether a hashtag promoting the release of the classified memo — “#ReleaseTheMemo” — was propagated by Russian bots.

Read Nadler’s letter below:

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California Democrats Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam Schiff are asking Twitter and Facebook to probe whether a hashtag promoting the release of a classified memo compiled by Republicans was propagated by Russian bots.

In a letter sent to the two companies’ CEOs Tuesday, Schiff and Feinstein asked the social media giants for “urgent assistance” in “our efforts to counter Russia’s continuing efforts to manipulate public opinion.”

The memo in question was authored by Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) staffers. It reportedly contains classified information about the conduct of senior Department of Justice and FBI officials that allegedly proves Republicans’ claims of the Justice Department’s bias against President Donald Trump. The memo was made available to the entire House of Representatives on Thursday, which prompted calls on social media for the memo to be made public, including a Twitter hashtag “#ReleaseTheMemo.” The memo reportedly has not been shared with the Justice Department, Politico and the Daily Beast reported. 

Citing reports from multiple news outlets, Schiff and Feinstein said that by Friday the hashtag “was ‘the top trending hashtag among Twitter accounts believed to be operated by Kremlin-linked groups’” and was being used “‘100 times more than any other hashtag’ by accounts linked to Russian influence campaigns,” the pair said in the letter.

They asked Facebook and Twitter to determine by Jan. 26 how many Russian influence accounts were linked to social media posts calling for the release of the memo; “the frequency and volume of their postings on this topic;” and how many non-bot Twitter and Facebook users had been exposed to posts calling for the memo’s release.

Read the letter below:

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions for several hours last week, making Sessions the first known member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet to be interviewed in Mueller’s Russia probe, The New York Times first reported Tuesday.

A Department of Justice spokesperson confirmed the interview took place in response to the Times’ questions about the probe. Sessions’s attorney Chuck Cooper attended the interview with him, according to the Times.

NBC, ABC and CNN have all confirmed that the interview took place. The White House told CNN that it was cooperating with Mueller’s probe.

In March, Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and that’s also looking at whether Trump or his campaign officials colluded with the foreign power to win the election. Former FBI Director Mueller was then appointed to take over the probe.

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President Donald Trump is joining the chorus of Republicans outraged by news that the FBI is missing five months worth of text messages between two FBI staffers whom GOP lawmakers have accused of having an anti-Trump bias.

In a tweet on Tuesday morning, Trump called the news “one of the biggest stories in a long time” and suggested there could be as many as 50,000 texts that haven’t been reviewed by authorities.

“Wow!” he said.

Over the weekend, the FBI was expected to release a new round of text messages between former agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page, but announced that due to “misconfiguration issues” the texts had been lost, according to Politico and multiple other news outlets. The announcement sparked outrage among Republican lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee, who released a statement calling the loss of the messages “concerning” and said it caused them to “further question the credibility and objectivity of certain officials at the FBI,” Reps. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said in a joint statement shared with Politico.

The three are also at the forefront of the debate over whether a classified memo they compiled about the conduct of Department of Justice and FBI officials should be made public.

The President’s tweets follow news from the DOJ Monday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans to examine the records to see if any of the texts can be recovered.

The text messages exchanged between Strzok and Page during the 2016 presidential election refer to President Trump as an “idiot” and indicate the two supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her presidential bid. The department’s Inspector General is currently probing the two officials’ potential bias and the work they did for the Russia investigation. That investigation isn’t expected to wrap up until April.

Trump and other Republicans are using the texts to hold a candle to their accusations of bias within the FBI, a phenomenon the President has been fueling since he fired former FBI Director James Comey last spring.

Read the latest editor’s brief (Prime access) on this story »

 

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