Newly obtained text messages between former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and bureau lawyer Lisa Page reveal a high-level meeting among senior intelligence officials was held weeks before President Trump’s inauguration – during a critical period for the Russia probe.
In a Dec. 12, 2016, text reviewed by Fox News, Page wrote to McCabe: "Btw, [Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper told Pete that he was meeting with [CIA Director John] Brennan and Cohen for dinner tonight. Just FYSA [for your situational awareness]."
Within a minute, McCabe replied, "OK."
Cohen is likely then-Deputy CIA Director David Cohen. Pete is a likely reference to Peter Strzok, who played a lead role in the original Russia investigation at the FBI (and with whom Page was having an affair).
It is unclear whether the dinner meeting concerned the investigation and suspicions about Russians' contacts with Trump advisers including incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn.
But two government sources told Fox News it was “irregular” for Clapper to be in direct contact with Strzok, who was at a much more junior level. It is not clear from the text if Strzok also attended the dinner. A lawyer for Strzok declined to comment, but did not dispute the text referred to Strzok.
Asked for comment, a former government official characterized the dinner as a routine monthly sit-down held to discuss “ongoing intelligence issues,” adding that it’s “impossible” to recall what was discussed. The former official said the “bottom line” is that Clapper “does not know Peter Strzok beyond possibly receiving a briefing from him years ago, and he certainly never kept him in the loop about anything.” The source also said Clapper “does not know Strzok on a personal level, and has had no professional relationship with him.”
(In text messages above, "incoming" refers to texts from McCabe; "outgoing" refers to texts from Page)
However, the December 2016 meeting that was apparently shared with Strzok – as documented in the text – came during a critical period for the Russia probe. Donald Trump had scored a stunning upset victory a month earlier; Flynn, around this time, was having conversations with Russia’s U.S. ambassador that caught the attention of the feds; the FBI had recently started surveillance on Trump adviser Carter Page; The New York Times was about to publish a lengthy report on Russia’s U.S. election interference; and then-FBI Director James Comey and others would soon brief Trump on allegations against him in the so-called Steele dossier.
The McCabe-Page texts also show Flynn was on their radar at the time. On Nov. 17, 2016, Page sent McCabe a Washington Post article entitled, "Trump offers retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn the job of national security adviser, a person close to the transition says."
After Trump’s inauguration, Flynn would resign for lying to the administration about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador. He later pleaded guilty to making false statements in connection with the Russia probe.
That probe was handed over to Robert Mueller upon his appointment as special counsel in May 2017. Mueller submitted his findings last Friday, reporting that his investigation had found no evidence of coordination between the Russian government and Trump campaign regarding election interference.
Trump has claimed vindication in the wake of the investigation, but he and his allies have renewed calls to scrutinize the origins of the probe at the FBI.
Fox News first reported last week on the contents of some of the McCabe-Page texts, which showed bureau officials battling with a DOJ official about the "possible bias" of a source pivotal to the Carter Page surveillance warrant application.
"OI [Office of Intelligence] now has a robust explanation re any possible bias of the chs [confidential human source] in the package," Page wrote to McCabe on Oct. 12, 2016. "Don't know what the holdup is now, other than Stu's continued concerns."
Fox News is told the texts were connected to the ultimately successful Page application, which relied in part on information from British ex-spy Christopher Steele – whose anti-Trump views are now well-documented – and cited Page’s suspected Russia ties.
"Stu" was an apparent reference to Stuart Evans, then the DOJ's National Security Division deputy assistant attorney general.
When Fox News first reported on the McCabe-Page texts, Page did not respond to requests for comment. McCabe and the FBI declined to comment.
Fox News’ Gregg Re contributed to this report.