Text messages between former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page debating how much information to share with the Justice Department about a London meeting -- days after the bureau opened its initial Russia investigation -- are drawing fresh scrutiny as alleged surveillance abuse and the probe’s origins are investigated by three separate probes, Fox News has learned.
On Aug. 3, 2016, Strzok wrote, "I think we need to consider the lines of what we disclose to DOJ. For example, the last stipulation notes we will not disclose [the] identifies outside the FBI. I think you might argue the unauthorized disclosure might (reasonably) be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to US national security..."
In an earlier discussion on Aug. 2, 2016, Strzok reported he had a “good meeting.” Page warned, "Make sure you can lawfully protect what you sign. Just thinking about congress, foia (Freedom of Information Act), etc. I'm sure it's fine. I just don't know how protection of intel-type stuff works in that context."
Fox News has learned some of the words and names that were redacted in the string of Strzok-Page messages; they are included below.
[NOTE: 'OUTBOX' messages are from Page, 'INBOX' messages from Strzok]
The New York Times was first to report lengthy details about the 2016 meeting in question, when the FBI "dispatched a pair of agents to London on a mission so secretive that all but a handful of officials were kept in the dark." The report said this assignment included questioning Australian Ambassador Alexander Downer. Downer's information about then-Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos helped lay the foundation for the FBI’s counterintelligence probe – which later grew into former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
House Republicans, continuing to probe the texts, have considered August 2016 a pivotal month. They have been looking closely at these exchanges, and how long before the August meeting Downer reported the Papadopoulos information.
Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz, meanwhile, has been conducting a separate investigation into alleged surveillance abuse during the 2016 campaign, with that case in its final phases. And, this past May, Attorney General William Barr asked U.S. Attorney John Durham to probe the origins of the FBI counterintelligence case which was opened in late July 2016 by then-agent Strzok.
Fox News also has learned what's behind some of the redactions for the texts during that period, revealing new details of the Strzok meeting which took place at the U.S. embassy in London inside a secure facility known as SCIF.
In the texts, Strzok said the meeting did not include the No. 2 State Department official in London known as the deputy chief of mission.
"Was DCM (deputy chief of mission) present for the interview?" Page asked.
"No, two of them, two of us." Strzok responded.
Other texts indicated then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was trying to reach someone named “Jeremy” and make multiple references to “Ben,” though it’s not clear if they worked within or outside the FBI.
Strzok and Page then discussed how widely the information needed to be shared within the bureau, including Strzok’s immediate supervisor Bill Priestap.
Page wrote on Aug. 3, 2016, "New case. Information flow. Control." The section that followed was heavily redacted, but Strzok responded, “...plan on telling Bill I'm obviously going to tell him anything he wants to know, but recommend we not tell him or [higher] … specific data so that he and higher can tell DOJ, even we don't know the admin details."
Horowitz also has been investigating leaks from senior FBI officials as part of his probes. The expectation is that report will come after the surveillance abuse investigation.
In an apparent reference to bureau leaks, Strzok wrote, "this is MUCH more tasty for one of those (redacted) aholes to leak. For the first time in a while I'm not worried about our side."
A spokesman for the inspector general declined to comment on the status of the office's work.