Senator says FBI lost crucial texts tied to Clinton probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Bureau of Investigation has lost about five months worth of text messages between two staffers who worked on probes into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails and possible collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, according to a Republican lawmaker.

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, revealed in a Jan. 20 letter that the FBI's technical system failed to preserve texts that were exchanged between Lisa Page, a lawyer, and Peter Strzok, an agent, between mid-December 2016 through mid-May of 2017.

A spokesman for the FBI and a spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

Congressional Republicans have been focusing on Strzok and Page in recent weeks after learning the two had exchanged anti-Trump text messages on their work-issued cell phones.

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DES MOINES, IA - OCTOBER 28: Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to reporters following a campaign rally at Roosevelt High School on October 28, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. With less than two weeks to go until election day, Hillary Clinton is campaigning in Iowa.

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U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton holds an unscheduled news conference to talk about FBI inquiries into her emails after a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S. October 28, 2016.

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U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton leaves after an unscheduled news conference on FBI inquiries about her emails after a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S. October 28, 2016.

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US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton answers a question during a press conference about the FBI's reopening of a probe into her use of a private email server while secretary of State, in Des Moines, Iowa, on October 28, 2016. The FBI dealt Hillary Clinton's seemingly unstoppable White House campaign a stunning blow Friday by reopening a probe into her use of a private email server while secretary of state. / AFP / JEWEL SAMAD

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Republicans have said the texts, which referred to Trump as an "idiot" and a "loathsome human," raised concerns the FBI is biased against Trump and may have given Clinton favorable treatment after deciding not to recommend criminal charges in connection with the probe into her use of a private email system while she was secretary of state.

Strzok and Page were involved in that investigation and also were briefly assigned to work with Special Counsel Robert Mueller on the Russia investigation.

After Mueller learned about the texts, Strzok was re-assigned to a different post. Page's 45-day detail on Mueller's team ended in July.

In his letter, Johnson said he learned of the software problem from the FBI on Jan. 19, after it gave 384 texts to the committee, one of several in Congress that recently launched inquiries into how the FBI handled the Clinton investigation.

"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.

He cited examples, including an exchange between Strzok and Page that took place in May 2016, after it became apparent that Trump would likely be the Republican presidential candidate.

"Now the pressure really starts to finish [midyear exam]," Strzok wrote, in what Johnson's letter says is a reference to the Clinton investigation.

"It sure does," Page responded.

In his letter, Johnson asked the FBI to follow up with more details about the scope of the lost records, and to tell the committee whether it has conducted searches of their non-government issued devices.

 

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Paul Simao)

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