DOJ official dodges 'secret society' questions

Department of Justice Director of Public Affairs Sarah Isgur Flores dodges CNN's Chris Cuomo's questions about an alleged FBI "secret society," saying it is an "unproductive line of questioning."

Posted: Jan 26, 2018 2:19 AM
Updated: Jan 26, 2018 2:19 AM

A Justice Department spokeswoman said Thursday that it's unclear whether a text message between two FBI employees referring to a "secret society" was serious or done in jest.

"It's unclear. That's why we wait for an inspector general report, who is investigating this," Sarah Isgur Flores told CNN's "New Day."

Conservatives have seized on the text exchange between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok, which was sent after the 2016 presidential election, as potential evidence of an anti-Donald Trump bias at the FBI. Strzok was a member of the FBI team investigating Hillary Clinton's email server and, later, a member of Robert Mueller's special counsel operation looking into Russia's attempted interference in the 2016 election.

CNN has reviewed the text message that Republicans appear to be referring to. The message does not reveal an obvious intention behind the exchange, and raises the possibility that it may have been an off-hand remark or joke.

"Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society," Page said to Strzok, with whom she was romantically involved, in one of the tens of thousands text messages they exchanged.

Flores also said the DOJ wants to see the House Intelligence Committee's four-page memo that alleges FBI abuses related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the use of the opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia. Republicans on the committee are considering using an obscure committee rule to bypass the executive branch's declassification process to release the classified memo.

The Justice Department warned Wednesday that it "would be extraordinarily reckless" for the committee to release the memo publicly "without giving the Department and the FBI the opportunity to review the memorandum" and to "advise" on possible harm to national security and ongoing investigations from its public release.

"A lot of congressmen have seen it and a lot of congressmen have been disturbed by it. And so I think what we're saying is, if you have evidence of wrongdoing, we really need to see that," Flores said.

Flores added that "at this point I haven't seen any evidence" of FISA warrant abuse, but noted that members of Congress have "seen over a thousand pages of material. Maybe they've seen something that we haven't."

Flores did not confirm that the President pressed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to possibly remove or reassign FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, who has come under public criticism by Trump and his allies in recent weeks over the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and his connections to the text messages between Page and Strzok.

"I'm also not going to talk about what the attorney general says to his FBI director, but I do think the attorney general has made clear that he thinks that the FBI deserves a fresh start, and that he has great confidence in (FBI Director) Chris Wray, a man of great integrity, to get the job done," she said.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Trump asked then-acting FBI Director McCabe who he voted for in the 2016 election in an introductory Oval Office meeting in May, not long after former FBI Director James Comey had been fired. McCabe reportedly responded by telling the President that he didn't vote.

McCabe thought the exchange was "disturbing," the Post reported one official as saying.

Flores said she had "no idea" whether the exchange happened.

"The President says it didn't happen, so I'm going to take his word for it," she added.

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