In 'highly unusual' move, DOJ invited reporters to view texts sent by ousted FBI agents

  • The Justice Department invited a group of reporters to its offices on Tuesday night to view private text messages.
  • The messages were sent during the election by former investigators on special counsel Robert Mueller's team, and some expressed a negative sentiment toward President Donald Trump.
  • The department invitation was "highly unusual," according to multiple sources, since the texts are currently the subject of an ongoing investigation by the DOJ's Inspector General.

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department invited a group of reporters to its offices on Tuesday night to view private text messages that were sent during the election by Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, former investigators on special counsel Robert Mueller's team, Business Insider has learned.

President Donald Trump's allies have seized on the texts, which were critical of Trump, as evidence that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has been tainted. The texts were obtained as part of an investigation by the DOJ's inspector general into how the FBI handled the probe into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private email server last year.

Strzok, a veteran counterintelligence agent who was among those overseeing the Clinton investigation, was abruptly removed from Mueller's Russia probe in late July and relegated to the human resources department. Page left Mueller's team over the summer for unrelated reasons.

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Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective
June 7: The 2016 primary season essentially concludes, with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as the presumptive party nominees
June 9: Donald Trump Jr. — along with Jared Kushner and former campaign chair Paul Manafort — meets with Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
June 9: Trump tweets about Clinton's missing 33,000 emails
July 18: Washington Post reports, on the first day of the GOP convention, that the Trump campaign changed the Republican platform to ensure that it didn't call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces
July 21: GOP convention concludes with Trump giving his speech accepting the Republican nomination
July 22: WikiLeaks releases stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee
July 25: Democratic convention begins
July 27: In final news conference of his 2016 campaign, Trump asks Russia: "If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing"
August 4: Obama CIA Director John Brennan confronts his Russian counterpart about Russia's interference. "[I] told him if you go down this road, it's going to have serious consequences, not only for the bilateral relationship, but for our ability to work with Russia on any issue, because it is an assault on our democracy," Brennan said on "Meet the Press" yesterday.
October 4: WikiLeaks' Julian Assange says his organization will publish emails related to the 2016 campaign
October 7: WikiLeaks begins releasing Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta's emails
October 7: Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence release a statement directly saying that Russia is interfering in the 2016 election
October 31: "This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove," Trump says on the campaign trail
November 4: "Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks," Trump says from Ohio.
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It is "highly unusual" for the DOJ to release correspondences that are the subject of an ongoing investigation to Congress, let alone to the press, a source on one of the congressional committees investigating Russian election interference told Business Insider on Wednesday. The source emphasized that none of the leaks came from Capitol Hill, which obtained the texts from the DOJ separately on Tuesday.

"It’s appalling behavior by the Department," said former DOJ spokesman Matthew Miller. "This is an ongoing investigation in which these employees have due process rights, and the political leadership at DOJ has thrown them to the wolves so Rosenstein can get credit from House Republicans at his hearing today."

One source close to the process who requested anonymity to discuss internal DOJ deliberations said the texts were given to reporters in case they did not leak in time for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's public hearing on Wednesday morning.

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Rod Rosenstein through the years
Rod Rosenstein, nominee to be Deputy Attorney General, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
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UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 10: Deputy U.S. Attorney General Paul McNulty, center, speaks during a news conference with Alice Fisher, head of the criminal division of the U.S. Department of Justice, left, and U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, during a news conference in Washington D.C. Tuesday, October 10, 2006. McNulty announced the formation of a National Procurement Fraud Task Force, an effort aimed at the detection, prevention and prosecution of procurement fraud associated with increased contracting activity for national security programs. (Photo by Carol T. Powers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
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U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein talks about the sentencing of Thomas Bromwell Sr. and Mary Patricia Bromwell following their appearance in federal court in Baltimore, Maryland, Friday, November 16, 2007. (Photo by Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun/MCT via Getty Images)
GREENBELT, MD JUNE 30:United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein talked with reporters after the Guilty plea of Prince Georges County Councilwoman Leslie Johnson the U.S. District Court on June 30, 2011 in Greenbelt, MD. To Rosenstein's left is Acting Special Agent in Charge Jeannine A. Hammett of the Internal Revenue Service and to his right is Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (Photo by Mark Gail/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump, listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 7, 2017. The confirmation hearing for Rosenstein began with Republicans and Democrats squaring off over who should lead probes into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and potential contacts between Moscow and Trumps campaign team. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump, swears in to a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 7, 2017. The confirmation hearing for Rosenstein began with Republicans and Democrats squaring off over who should lead probes into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and potential contacts between Moscow and Trumps campaign team. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump, sits during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 7, 2017. The confirmation hearing for Rosenstein began with Republicans and Democrats squaring off over who should lead probes into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and potential contacts between Moscow and Trumps campaign team. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 07: Deputy U.S. Attorney General nominee Rod Rosenstein arrives before the Senate Judiciary Committee for testimony March 7, 2017 in Washington, DC. During the hearing, Democratic senators pressed Rosenstein to appoint a special prosecutor in an ongoing federal inquiry into Russian influence in the U.S. presidential election. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Rod Rosenstein, nominee to be Deputy Attorney General, arrives to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
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"It is at least debatable whether it was appropriate to turn them over to the Hill in the middle of an ongoing investigation," Miller said. "Under no circumstances was it appropriate to leak them to the press."

It is not clear who invited the reporters to view the texts. Former FBI counterintelligence agent Asha Rangappa said that if the invitation came from Attorney General Jeff Sessions' office, it could be "a violation of his recusal" from investigations in which he has a conflict of interest.

A DOJ official provided a statement on Wednesday.

"We often provide information we give to Congressional committees to avoid any confusion," the official said.

Asked whether that also applies during ongoing OIG investigations, the official replied: "Statement stands."

Rangappa said she has "never heard of DOJ interfacing directly and privately with reporters, outside of an official press conference. Especially when there is still an ongoing internal investigation. Both FBI and DOJ have press offices that should be fielding questions from reporters on behalf of the agency."

The correspondences were provided to Congress by Stephen Boyd, a former communications director for Attorney General Jeff Sessions who now serves as the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs.

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