Richard Nixon's secretary Rose Mary Woods erased 18 minutes of tape recording of the president and became infamous in1972. The FBI failed to preserve five months of text messages and expects the American public to believe it was a random mistake.
This is worse than Watergate. The text messages between agents Peter Strozk and Lisa Page are instructive for several reasons.
First, the texts were sent in the lead-up to Robert Mueller being named a special counsel in the investigation of Russia and the 2016 presidential election.
Second, earlier messages that have been released included not only the involvement of outgoing FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, but the desire of top-level FBI officials to create an “insurance policy” against a Donald Trump presidency.
Strozk and Page eventually ended up working on Mueller’s probe into possible Russia connections to the Trump campaign. However, Strozk was removed after the Justice Department’s inspector general revealed Strozk’s extramarital affair with Page, and also disclosed the anti-Trump bias that was animating Strozk and Page. Page had already left the probe before the texts were discovered.
The period in question – Dec. 14, 2016 to May 17, 2017 – includes several key moments in the FBI’s investigation into alleged Trump campaign-Russia collusion. These include activities by Michael Flynn, who briefly served at national security adviser before he was fired by President Trump; Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from overseeing the investigation; significant leaks from the FBI investigation, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court reprimanding the unmasking of U.S. citizens, and finally, the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.
All of these events surely would have involved Strozk and Page. But now we can only speculate what level of misconduct occurred after President Trump took office.
This apparent FBI cover-up and failure to retain evidence must be met with the harshest penalties available under the law. It is reassuring that Sessions promised to leave “no stone unturned in an investigation,” and that, “If any wrongdoing were to be found to have caused this gap, appropriate legal disciplinary action measures will be taken.”
Sessions is on solid legal ground to demand answers. The missing text messages may have included evidence of a crime having been committed, and that itself is a crime. 18 U.S.C. Section 1519 states: “Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”
Now, we don’t know what is contained in these missing messages. But even if they did not contain evidence of crimes per se but were simply relevant to investigations by congressional committees’ and the Office of Inspector General at the Justice Department, those institutions were entitled to have the messages.
If the texts were destroyed intentionally, then that would absolutely be a crime.
It is beyond convenient that key pieces of potential evidence are disappearing before the American peoples’ eyes as congressional committees struggle to get answers about how the Trump campaign, transition and administration were targeted by the nation’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This only fuels suspicion and further erodes public trust in these institutions.
If one was not already cynical about how power is wielded in Washington against political opponents, there is little left to keep public confidence intact. The entire manner in which the Obama administration seems to have carried out its investigation into the Trump campaign – which then carried over into the transition and administration in 2017 – could turn out to be one of the greatest scandals in modern U.S. history.
This is very much worse than Watergate. We’ll know more when the House Select Committee on Intelligence releases its own memo revealing its findings into this whole affair.
The only thing that separates the U.S. from a banana republic is respect for the outcome of elections – that is, the consent of the governed. Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, and now we are learning of what looks to be an attempt by our own government to target his campaign before he ever won by setting up an “insurance policy” investigation – and doing so using dubious sources like the infamous dossier paid for by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign.
After Trump won, the investigation appears to have been put on steroids with the seeming incredible ultimate goal of overturning the 2016 elections.
Without prejudging the contents of either Chairman of the House Select Committee Devin Nunes’ memo or the erased texts, it is clear that the American people need to know what was done by the Obama FBI and Justice Department to attempt to interfere with the 2016 election and the peaceful transfer of power.
We can deal with how best to reform these institutions after we know the facts. But right now what we need is the truth – so that this can never happen again.