Congressional investigators were rocked this weekend when the FBI notified them that five months of text messages from a top FBI investigator into the Trump campaign’s Russian connections had mysteriously vanished.
The FBI-issued cell phone of Peter Strzok, whose previous texts to his mistress (also an FBI employee) showed fierce hostility to Trump, suddenly had problems due to “software upgrades” and other issues — and voila — all the messages between the two from Dec. 14, 2016, to May 17, 2017 vanished. Strzok, who oversaw the Trump investigation from its start in July 2016, was removed from Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation last summer after the Justice Department Inspector General discovered his anti-Trump texts.
Stephen Boyd, the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, notified a Senate committee that “data that should have been automaticallycollected and retained for long-term storage and retrieval was not collected.” The missing texts could have obliterated the remnants of credibility of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign.
Conservatives are caterwauling about the vanished evidence but this type of tactic has long been standard procedure for the FBI. Acting FBI chief Patrick Gray was forced to resign in 1973 after it was revealed that he had burned incriminating evidence from the White House in his fireplace shortly after the Watergate break-in by Nixon White House “plumbers.” Gray claimed he was resigning to preserve the “reputation and integrity” of the FBI — but that hasn’t worked out so well.
The FBI has a long history of “losing” evidence that would tarnish its halo. And for most of the agency’s history, judges and Congress have let the FBI sweep its dirt under the rug.
In the Ruby Ridge case, when an FBI sniper gunned down an Idaho mother holding her baby in 1992, the chief of the FBI’s Violence Crimes division was sent to prison for destroying evidence. When a Senate committee held hearings three years later, four FBI agents took the Fifth Amendmentrather than tell the incriminating truth about their activities on the Ruby Ridge case. A subsequent Senate report concluded that the five successive FBI reports of internal investigations of the episode “are variously contradictory, inaccurate, and biased. They demonstrate a reluctance on the part of the FBI initially to take the incidents at Ruby Ridge seriously.” Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.) complained, “I would be asked by the FBI to believe (Ruby Ridge) was almost a model of (good) conduct. The conclusion, is drawn, from … all the people we’ve heard, that no one did anything wrong of significance or consequence.”
The FBI suppressed mounds of evidence regarding its final assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993. The FBI had always vehemently denied that it had any blame for a fire that killed nearly 80 people; six years after the attack, investigators found pyrotechnic rounds the FBI fired into the building before the conflagration erupted. Attorney General Janet Reno lashed out at the FBI for destroying her credibility.
Newsweek reported that, according to a senior FBI official, “as many as 100 FBI agents and officials may have known about” the military-style explosive devices used by the FBI at Waco, despite Reno’s and the FBI’s repeated denials that such devices were used. The FBI deceived Congress and a federal judge by withholding information that it had six closed-circuit television cameras monitoring the Davidians’ home throughout the siege. The resulting films could have the key information that could resolve the major issues of Waco but the FBI withheld the tapes for years, until they were impounded by U.S. marshals.