Donald Trump has falsely claimed texts between former FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were "wiped clean and gone" – despite a new report revealing the messages were not initially included in a Justice Department probe due to a technical error.
The president tweeted on Saturday: “Wow, 19,000 Texts between Lisa Page and her lover, Peter S of the FBI, in charge of the Russia Hoax, were just reported as being wiped clean and gone.”
“Such a big story that will never be covered by the Fake News,” he continued. “Witch Hunt!”
The FBI’s automated collection tool failed to collect five months of text messages between the agents due to a technology failure, according to a report released by the Justice Department’s office of the inspector general.
During the period in which the texts were unaccounted for, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd acknowledged the automatic tool’s technical errors, blaming the problem on “misconfiguration issues related to rollouts, provisioning and software upgrades that conflicted with the FBI’s collection capabilities".
The two agents – who have since left the FBI and were swiftly removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election – were not found to have committed any wrongdoing related to the texts going unaccounted for during the technical error.
The president also claimed the “Fake News” would not report the development, despite Politco, The Washington Post and several major domestic and international outlets already having published stories about the issues in retrieving the missing messages.
The inspector general’s office, a watchdog group within the Justice Department, located more than 9,000 texts transferred on Mr Strzok’s phone that had previously not been included in its probe, noting a case of systemic and widespread failure with the automatic tool used by the FBI. At least six separate department-issued electronic devices used by Mr Strzok and Ms Page were included in the probe.
It remains unclear where the president got the "19,000" figure from. The White House did not immediately respond to questions.
“The FBI's collection tool was not only failing to collect any data on certain phones during particular periods of time, it also does not appear that it was collecting all text messages even when it was generally functioning to collect text messages,” the office said in its report on the investigation, adding it would later submit a recommendation on how to reform practices surrounding the preservation of employee communications.
Mr Trump has frequently attacked the two former federal officials on Twitter after it was discovered they sent messages to each other reflecting disdain of his then-Republican candidacy for the White House.
The two have also become a target of the far right, with right-wing conspiracy theories suggesting Mr Strzok was planning to undermine Mr Trump’s presidency through the federal agency’s investigation into the 2016 election. He denied the allegations during a contentious Congressional hearing in July.
“Let me be clear, unequivocally and under oath: Not once in my 26 years of defending our nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took,“ he said at the time. “This is true for the Clinton email investigation, for the investigation into Russian interference and for every other investigation I’ve worked on.”
He added: “It is not who I am, and it is not something I would ever do. Period.“
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