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Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) said in a letter on Sunday that the FBI is missing five months worth of text messages between senior counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Now, far-right media wants to know where some missing text messages might be, and it’s turning into the next big government conspiracy.
Strzok and Page worked in some capacity on both the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton‘s private email server and possible ties between Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign and Russia to help influence the 2016 election. The two drew scrutiny from the right after it was revealed they sent messages disparaging Trump during an extramarital affair last year.
The text messages have also been used to try and discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s sprawling probe into Russian election interference. However, Strzok was reassigned from Mueller’s team following the discovery of the texts and Page only worked on the probe for 45 days, ending last July.
In his letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Johnson says the FBI “did not preserve” texts between Page and Strzok from Dec. 14, 2016 to May 17, 2017.
“The loss of records from this period is concerning because it is apparent from other records that Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page communicated frequently about the investigation,” Johnson wrote.
The missing text messages have sparked a flurry of activity online from far-right media and ardent supporters of Trump.
Breitbart, the far-right website that until recently was associated with former White House adviser Steve Bannon, ran with the headline: “Whoops! FBI ‘loses’ five months of texts between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.” The website embedded a tweet suggesting that the end date of the range of lost text messages, May 17, 2017, coincided with the appointment of Mueller.
What a weird coincidence! “Misconfiguration issues related to rollouts, provisioning, and software upgrades” destroyed the Strzok-Page text messages during a period that ended on May 17, the very day Mueller started. How bizarre is that? It's almost as if it was planned that way.— Mike (@Doranimated) January 21, 2018
The Daily Caller, another far-right website, said the missing texts were “evoking memories” of Lois Lerner, an IRS official who in 2013 became the center of a controversy involving the agency targeting conservative groups.
Emails sent by Lerner were lost after her computer’s hard drive crashed in 2011. The Justice Department, after a two-year investigation, found “substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment, and institutional inertia, leading to the belief by many tax-exempt applicants that the IRS targeted them based on their political affairs,” but added that: “But poor management is not a crime.”
But the push has already caused #FindTheTexts to ignite on Twitter, with many right-wing users believing it as another “Release the Memo” moment.
5 months of missing FBI texts between Page & Strzok attributed to a misconfiguration issue. How convenient. Gaps in the paper trail will make prosecution difficult. You need every piece in the puzzle. People involved in making the txts disappear know that. https://t.co/nFptHtEO9z— David A. Clarke, Jr. (@SheriffClarke) January 22, 2018
There is no evidence that the classified FISA memo and the FBI’s deleted texts have any correlation.
Andrew Wyrich is a politics staff writer for the Daily Dot, covering the intersection of politics and the internet. Andrew has written for USA Today, NorthJersey.com, and other newspapers and websites. His work has been recognized by the Society of the Silurians, Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE), and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).