House Judiciary Committee Republicans on Tuesday released hundreds of pages of transcripts from last year's closed-door interview with ex-FBI attorney Lisa Page, revealing new details about the bureau's controversial internal discussions regarding an “insurance policy” against then-candidate Donald Trump.
Page first entered the spotlight in December 2017, when it was revealed by the Justice Department inspector general that she and then-FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok exchanged numerous anti-Trump text messages. The two were involved in the FBI’s initial counterintelligence investigation into Russian meddling and potential collusion with Trump campaign associates during the 2016 election, and later served on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
Among their texts was one concerning the so-called "insurance policy." During her interview with the Judiciary Committee in July 2018, Page was questioned at length about that text -- and essentially confirmed this referred to the Russia investigation while explaining that officials were proceeding with caution, concerned about the implications of the case while not wanting to go at "total breakneck speed" and risk burning sources as they presumed Trump wouldn't be elected anyway.
Further, she confirmed investigators only had a "paucity" of evidence at the start.
Then-Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., kicked off that section of questioning by asking about the text sent from Strzok to Page in August 2016 which read: “I want to believe the path you threw out in Andy’s [McCabe's] office—that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take the risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”
The former FBI lawyer explained how the FBI was trying to strike a balance with the investigation into the Trump campaign—which agents called “Crossfire Hurricane.”
“So, upon the opening of the crossfire hurricane investigation, we had a number of discussions up through and including the Director regularly in which we were trying to find an answer to the question, right, which is, is there someone associated with the [Trump] campaign who is working with the Russians in order to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton,” Page said. “And given that it is August, we were very aware of the speed and sensitivity that we needed to operate under.”
Page continued that, “if the answer is this is a guy just being puffery at a meeting with other people, great, then we don’t need to worry about this, and we can all move on with our lives; if this is, in fact, the Russians have coopted an individual with, you know, maybe wittingly or unwittingly, that’s incredibly grave, and we need to know that as quickly as possible.”
Page explained that the text message reflected their “continuing check-in” as to “how quickly to operate.”
“[W]e don’t need to go at a total breakneck speed because so long as he doesn’t become President, there isn’t the same threat to national security, right,” Page explained, while saying that if Trump were not elected president, the bureau would still investigate.
“But if he becomes President, that totally changes the game because now he is the President of the United States,” Page told lawmakers. “He’s going to immediately start receiving classified briefings. He’s going to be exposed to the most sensitive secrets imaginable. And if there is somebody on his team who wittingly or unwittingly is working with the Russians, that is super serious.”
Page made clear, though, that those involved did not think Trump would beat Clinton: “So this reflects: Let’s be reasonable, let’s not, you know, throw the kitchen sink at this because he’s probably not going to be elected, and so then we don’t have quite as horrific a national security threat than if we do if he gets elected.”
Page also spoke to how little information the bureau was starting with, saying the FBI “knew so little” about whether the allegations were “true or not true,” and had "a paucity of evidence because we are just starting down the path" of vetting the allegations.
She later said that all they needed was an allegation, and claimed “it is entirely common, particularly in a counterintelligence investigation, that you would only have—you would have a small amount of evidence” in launching a probe.
The transcripts were released as Mueller continues his investigation, which Trump assails as a "witch hunt" on a regular basis but could have an impact on where congressional Democrats go with their own investigations -- or whether they pursue impeachment, something House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has come out against for the time being.
Page, who served a short detail on Mueller’s team, returned to her post at the FBI in 2017, and ultimately left the bureau in May 2018. Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team after the texts were discovered and was reassigned to the FBI’s Human Resources Division before being fired in August 2018.
Former FBI Deputy Director McCabe, meanwhile, recently said he did not recall ever discussing the "insurance policy" with Strzok or Page.