Missing Texts: Senate Investigators Demand Answers About Strzok and Page Messages

Senator Chuck Grassley, pictured here on December 6, and Senator Ron Johnson, are demanding that the Department of Justice inspector general provide information about missing text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. Drew Angerer/Getty

Two top Republicans in the Senate want answers about what happened to text messages exchanged by a pair of senior FBI employees that the Department of Justice said it did not preserve.

Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Ron Johnson, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced on Tuesday night they had written to Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz about the messages.

Related: Mueller threw an agent off the Trump-Russia probe

News reports first disclosed in early December that Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination with President Donald Trump's campaign, had removed an investigator, Peter Strzok, from his team after the Justice Department inspector general found Strzok had exchanged anti-Trump text messages with another team member, Lisa Page. Both Strzok and Page were senior FBI employees before joining the special counsel investigation.

The Justice Department later released some of the text messages to media outlets and lawmakers. Trump and other Republicans have claimed that they show evidence of an anti-Trump bias at the Justice Department and the FBI, and that the Mueller probe is tainted.

On January 19, the Justice Department provided members of Congress with 384 pages of text messages between Strzok and Page, according to Tuesday's letter. But a note from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd accompanying the release said, "The FBI's technical system for retaining text messages sent and received on FBI mobile devices failed to preserve text messages for Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page from December 14, 2016 to approximately to May 17, 2017." He went on to blame "misconfiguration issues" on "FBI-provided Samsung 5 mobile devices."

In their letter, Grassley and Johnson ask why the inspector general did not notify Congress about the missing texts. They also call for the inspector general to give them all communications related to the missing texts, among other requests. The senators told the inspector general to respond by January 29.

The Republican complaints about the missing texts appear to be part of a series of attacks on the credibility of the Justice Department and the FBI. Trump has weighed in on the subject, tweeting on Tuesday, "In one of the biggest stories in a long time, the FBI now says it is missing five months worth of lovers Strzok-Page texts, perhaps 50,000, and all in prime time. Wow!" He added in another tweet, "Where are the 50,000 important text messages between FBI lovers Lisa Page and Peter Strzok? Blaming Samsung!"

As Justice Department observers have pointed out, the agency has said the 50,000 number represents the total amount of texts between the two employees that the inspector general obtained, not the amount that is missing.

Horowitz, the inspector general, has said he expects to release the findings of the review that produced the text messages this spring. The review is more generally focused on the FBI's handling of its investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a personal email server while secretary of state and alleged misconduct by former FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.