To date, Lisa Page’s infamy has been driven mostly by the anti-Donald Trump text messagesshe exchanged with fellow FBI agent Peter Strzok as the two engaged in an affair while investigating the president for alleged election collusion with Russia.
Yet, when history judges the former FBI lawyer years from now, her most consequential pronouncement may not have been typed on her bureau-issued Samsung smartphone to her colleague and lover.
Rather, it might be eight simple words she uttered behind closed doors during a congressional interview a few weeks ago.
“It’s a reflection of us still not knowing,” Page told Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) when questioned about texts she and Strzok exchanged in May 2017 as Robert Mueller was being named a special prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation.
With that statement, Page acknowledged a momentous fact: After nine months of using some of the most awesome surveillance powers afforded to U.S. intelligence, the FBI still had not made a case connecting Trump or his campaign to Russia’s election meddling.
Page opined further, acknowledging “it still existed in the scope of possibility that there would be literally nothing” to connect Trump and Russia, no matter what Mueller or the FBI did.
“As far as May of 2017, we still couldn’t answer the question,” she said at another point.
I reached out to Page’s lawyer, Amy Jeffress, on Friday. She declined to answer questions about her client’s cooperation with Congress.
It might take a few seconds for the enormity of Page’s statements to sink in. After all, she isn’t just any FBI lawyer. She was a lead on the Russia case when it started in summer 2016, and she helped it transition to Mueller through summer 2017.
For those who might cast doubt on the word of a single FBI lawyer, there’s more.
Shortly after he was fired, ex-FBI Director James Comey told the Senate there was not yet evidence to justify investigating Trump for colluding with Russia. “When I left, we did not have an investigation focused on President Trump,” Comey testified.
And Strzok, the counterintelligence boss and leader of the Russia probe, texted Page in May 2017 that he was reluctant to join Mueller’s probe and leave his senior FBI post because he feared “there’s no big there, there.”
The Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general asked Strzok shortly before he was fired from the FBI what he meant by that text, and he offered a most insightful answer.
Strzok said he wasn’t certain there was a “broad, coordinated effort” to hijack the election and that the evidence of Trump campaign aides talking about getting Hillary Clinton dirt from Russians might have been just a “bunch of opportunists” talking to heighten their importance.
Strzok added that, while he raised the idea of impeachment in some of his texts to Page, “I am, again, was not, am not convinced or certain that it will,” he told the IG.
So, by the words of Comey, Strzok and Page, we now know that the Trump Justice Department — through Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — unleashed the Mueller special prosecutor probe before the FBI could validate a connection between Trump and Russia.
Which raises the question: If there was no concrete evidence of collusion, why did we need a special prosecutor?
Page’s comments also mean FBI and Justice officials likely leaked a barrage of media stories just before and after Mueller’s appointment that made the evidence of collusion look far stronger than the frontline investigators knew it to be. Text messages show contacts between key FBI and DOJ players and the Washington Post, the Associated Press and the New York Times during the ramp-up to Mueller’s probe.
And that means the news media — perhaps longing to find a new Watergate, to revive sagging fortunes — were far too willing to be manipulated by players in a case that began as a political opposition research project funded by Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, and led by a former British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, who despised Trump.
Finally, Page’s statement signals that the nation’s premier intelligence court may not have been given a complete picture of the evidence — or lack thereof — as it approved an extraordinary surveillance intrusion into an American presidential nominee’s campaign just weeks before Election Day.
There was no fault to the FBI checking whether Trump was compromised by Russia; that is a classic counterintelligence responsibility.
The real fault lies in those leaders who allowed a secret investigation to mushroom into a media maelstrom driven by official leaks that created a story that far exceeded the evidence, and then used that false narrative to set a special prosecutor flying downhill ahead of his skis.
No matter where Mueller ends his probe, it is now clear the actions that preceded his appointment turned justice on its head, imposing the presumption of guilt upon a probe whose own originators had reason to doubt the strength of their evidence.