As politicians and others went on Twitter on Tuesday morning to mark the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President Donald Trump used the platform to launch a fresh round of assaults on the FBI and Justice Department.
Trump — apparently seizing on allegations leveled the night before by one of his conservative allies in Congress — referred in particular two former FBI officials who have become infamous for trading anti-Trump texts: Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
The president repeated a claim from Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., that the pair employed a "media leak strategy" to undermine his administration, then blamed the bureau and Justice Department for inaction on the matter.
The claim from Meadows is debatable; Strzok's attorney said his client's reference to a "media leak strategy" was an effort to stem unauthorized disclosures of information. Both Strzok and Page have left the FBI, Strzok because he was fired over his anti-Trump texts.
"New Strzok-Page texts reveal 'Media Leak Strategy.' FoxNews So terrible, and NOTHING is being done at DOJ or FBI - but the world is watching, and they get it completely," Trump wrote.
Trump's tweet refers to a letter Meadows sent to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Monday alleging a "systemic culture of media leaking" among high-ranking Justice Department and FBI officials. The letter reveals previously undisclosed messages between Strzok and Page, who were involved in both the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and the probe of Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server.
Trump has frequently derided both officials as he has attempted to discredit the Russia probe.
Meadows alleged in the letter, first reported by Sara Carter, that Strzok texted Page in April 2017: "I had literally just gone to find this phone to tell you I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ before you go."
By itself, the text is difficult to interpret. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then-FBI Director James Comey had both vowed to crack down on leaks, and investigating such disclosures if they contained classified information would have been a part of Strzok's job as a counterintelligence agent. Aitan Goelman, Strzok's attorney, says that is what Strzok was referring to.
"The term 'media leak strategy' in Mr. Strzok's text refers to a Departmentwide initiative to detect and stop leaks to the media," Goelman said. "The President and his enablers are once again peddling unfounded conspiracy theories to mislead the American People."
Meadows, though, seemed to interpret the text, combined with other disparate data points, as Strzok suggesting a strategy to release information "potentially harmful to Donald Trump's information."
On April 12, two days after the "media leak strategy" text, Meadows wrote that Strzok warned Page about two articles that were soon to be published about former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and wrote, "Well done, Page." It was unclear to which "Page" he was referring. Meadows did not release the specific texts. The Washington Post on April 11 reported that Carter Page had been the subject of a secret court order that allowed the FBI to monitor his communications.
Meadows also noted that Andrew Weissmann, who now works on special counsel Robert Mueller's team, had met with reporters from the Associated Press in that same month for a discussion about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. An FBI agent has previously testified that investigators got more information from the reporters than the other way around at that meeting, though law enforcement officials did advise the reporters that they were generally on the right track.