Republican congressional leaders are calling for a new investigation of media leaks surrounding the Russia investigation -- possibly emanating from the intelligence community -- pointing to internal text messages they say indicate a more widespread problem.
"[T]hese texts and emails demonstrate the need to investigate leaks from agencies or entities other than FBI," Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote to Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael K. Atkinson, pointedly asking whether he's launched a probe "into these apparent leaks."
Attorney General Bill Barr testified last week, under questioning from Grassley, that the Justice Department has “multiple criminal leak investigations” underway concerning media contact by department officials during the special counsel’s Russia investigation.
But Johnson and Grassley, in suggesting a broader culture of leaking, pointed Atkinson in their latest letter to messages between former FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page hinting other government agencies may have been leaking to the press -- and the FBI could have been aware. This follows a previous letter from the same lawmakers regarding Strzok and Page messages indicating potential efforts to monitor members of the incoming Trump administration during briefings, as reported by Fox News.
The specific messages include a December 2016 text, in which Strzok told Page, "Think our sisters have begun leaking like mad. Scorned and worried and political, they’re kicking in to overdrive." Fox News previously reported on that exchange.
In April 2017, Strzok also sent an email commenting on an article about the Trump campaign and Russia by saying, "I’m beginning to think the agency got info a lot earlier than we thought and hasn’t shared it completely with us. Might explain all these weird/seemingly incorrect leads all these media folks have. Would also highlight agency as source of some of the leaks."
Johnson and Grassley voiced concern about what exactly these messages mean, though their letter being addressed to the intelligence community's chief watchdog indicates they suspect Strzok and Page were referring to either the CIA or some other intelligence agency.
During the Obama administration, the CIA was run by John Brennan and the intelligence community was overseen by James Clapper -- both of whom have emerged as prominent critics of the Trump presidency since the transition.
"These texts and emails raise a number of serious questions and concerns," the Republican senators' letter said. "For example, who are the 'sisters' and what does it mean to say that the 'sisters have [been] leaking like mad'? What are they worried about, and what are they kicking into 'overdrive'? Which 'agency' is he referring to and why does Strzok believe the referenced news article highlights that 'agency as [a] source of some of the leaks'?"
A CIA official referred questions on this matter to the IG's office, which has not responded to a request for comment.
The Justice Department Inspector General, meanwhile, already is looking into possible leaks from the FBI, as well as FISA abuse related to a warrant application for surveillance of former Trump campaign member Carter Page.
Those investigations remain ongoing, and Johnson and Grassley said they are anticipating reports on those probes "in order to gain a better understanding of what happened during the Russia investigation."