Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authorized the release to the media of text messages between two highly placed FBI employees who exchanged criticism of then-candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Justice Department has revealed in a new court filing.
Rosenstein also said in the court filing submitted shortly before midnight Friday that he made the decision to share the messages with the press in part to protect FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page from the drip effect of incremental releases of the texts by lawmakers or others.
In the messages, Strzok and Page regularly disparaged Trump and appeared to seek to reassure each other he could not be elected. Both called Trump an “idiot” and said Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton deserved to win.
The texts also included murky discussions of an “insurance policy” to guard against Trump’s election. Trump backers have interpreted the reference as a plan to use the then-ongoing investigation into ties between Trump advisers and Russia as way to prevent him from taking office or undermine his presidency, but Strzok and Page have denied any such intent.
In the two years since the first disclosure of the politically charged texts between Strzok and Page, Trump has subjected the pair to frequent public attacks, excoriated the two for bias and asserted that their actions at the FBI amounted to “treason.”
Trump has also made crude salvos against them for engaging in an extramarital affair a staple of his campaign events. At a rally last month, he appeared to imitate Page having an orgasm. She responded by calling Trump’s attacks “sickening” and saying they have devastated her life.
Strzok and Page filed separate lawsuits against the Justice Department last year, alleging that the release of their text messages violated the Privacy Act — an almost half-century-old statute that safeguards information federal agencies hold about private individuals.
Despite the litigation, until Friday it remained unclear just who at Justice gave the final OK to give about 375 Strzok-Page texts to journalists — including a POLITICO reporter — on the evening of December 12, 2017.
In a formal declaration submitted as part of the government’s defense to Strzok’s suit, Rosenstein owned up to being the one who made the call. He said he did so in part because the texts’ public release by members of Congress was inevitable in connection with testimony he was set to give to the House Judiciary Committee the following day.
“With the express understanding that it would not violate the Privacy Act and that the text messages would become public by the next day in any event, I authorized [Justice’s Office of Public Affairs] to disclose to the news media the text messages that were being disclosed to Congressional committees,” Rosenstein wrote in a five-page statement signed Friday.
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