Newly released text messages showing anti-Trump FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page discussing a “media leak strategy” amid the Russia probe rekindled harsh criticism from President Trump of Justice Department and FBI leadership -- even as Strzok's attorney claimed the text merely referred to efforts to stop leaks.
“So terrible, and NOTHING is being done at DOJ or FBI - but the world is watching, and they get it completely,” Trump tweeted Tuesday, in reference to a Fox News report about the texts.
In a new letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., raised “grave concerns” about an “apparent systemic culture of media leaking” among high-level FBI and Justice Department officials to release information damaging to Trump. He cited two text exchanges in April 2017 between now-fired FBI agent Strzok and former FBI attorney Page, in which the two discuss the bureau's "media leak strategy."
"I had literally just gone to find this phone to tell you I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ before you go," Strzok texted Page on April 10, 2017, according to Meadows, who cited newly produced documents from the Justice Department.
In response to the latest letter and Trump tweet, though, Strzok lawyer Aitan Goelman said the line in question referred to an effort to stop leaks and accused the president of misleading people.
“The term ‘media leak strategy’ in Mr. Strzok’s text refers to a Department-wide initiative to detect and stop leaks to the media. The President and his enablers are once again peddling unfounded conspiracy theories to mislead the American People,” he said in a statement.
On April 22, though, Strzok wrote, "article is out! Well done, Page," and on April 12 he told her that two negative articles about Page's "namesake" would soon come out, according to Meadows. That was an apparent reference to Carter Page, the former Trump adviser whom the FBI surveilled for months after obtaining a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. Meadows' initial letter to Rosenstein stated the "Well done, Page" text was sent on April 12, but in an updated letter Tuesday, he stated that it actually occured later in the month.
On April 11, 2017, the Washington Post published a story titled, "FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor former Trump adviser Carter Page. The article, citing "law enforcement and other U.S. officials," reported that the DOJ and FBI had convinced a FISA judge there was "probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia."
The text message exchanges "should lead a reasonable person to question whether there was a sincere desire to investigate wrongdoing or to place derogatory information in the media to justify a continued probe," Meadows, who serves on the House Oversight Committee, wrote.
Meadows’ letter to Rosenstein also requested messages between several FBI and DOJ officials, and figures like Strzok, Page and top Russia probe investigator Andrew Weissmann.
Trump’s latest jab at the DOJ, over these texts, comes as he regularly fumes at Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe – last month, Trump urged the AG to investigate Strzok and Page and others tied to the start of that investigation.
Sessions has held firm, putting out an extraordinary statement last month after Trump called on him to take control of the DOJ saying: “While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”
Carter Page has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Heavily redacted documents have since shown that a dossier written by ex-British spy Christopher Steele and funded by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign played a key role in obtaining the FISA warrant to surveil him beginning in October 2016.
The FBI and DOJ declined to comment on the latest letter.
It comes after Meadows last month touched off a firestorm by claiming on Twitter that his office had information suggesting the FBI leaked information to the press and used the resulting articles to help obtain surveillance warrants.
An FBI official pushed back at the time, but Meadows largely stood by his claims, saying, “We have emails and texts plainly showing the FBI leaks to the media.”
Meanwhile, Carter Page blasted the purported “leak” practice after the release of the latest texts.
"It's not about me," he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. "They're just trying to get to the Trump administration and the Trump campaign."
Fox News’ Catherine Herridge and Judson Berger contributed to this report.