Gowdy: FBI Agents Should Explain ‘Secret Society’ text

Wednesday on CNN’s “OutFront,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) weighed in on text messages swapped between FBI agents Lisa Page and Peter Strzok over the course of several months.

Among those text messages was a discussion about a “secret society,” which Gowdy told host Erin Burnett the two agents should have to explain.

Transcript as follows:

BURNETT: And let’s go straight now to Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy, he’s the chairman of the house oversight committee and he also sits on the crucial Intelligence Committee we are talking about right now, as well as the Judiciary Committee. Congressman Gowdy, thanks so much for your time, I appreciate it.

I want to give your chance right away to respond to this memo sent by the Assistant Attorney General here to Devin Nunes, the chairman of your House Intelligence Committee. It says it would be reckless to release that memo without showing it to Department of Justice for them to review it. What do you say?

GOWDY: Well, Erin, thank you for having me on. Let me say this at the outset. I have tremendous respect for the Department of Justice and the FBI. I worked in and with them for 18 of my professional years. So there is no member of Congress that holds that department in higher esteem than I do. I have concerns about what was done in the spring and fall of 2016.

And I’m not a critic of the department. Not someone who alleges the department is corrupt. I’m a fan of the department. And I have concerns about what they did in 2016. So I would say this to my friend Steven Boyd, let’s lower the rhetoric.

I don’t care if you see the memo. But let’s be clear about this, Erin, the memo was derived, distilled from information that the department gave us. So it’s not like there is new information. Everything in the memo they already have. What they don’t know specifically is what are their complaints — and I’m fine to share them with them, but you can’t possibly say a memo is reckless if you haven’t read it.

BURNETT: So let me ask you a crucial question here. Have you seen the underlying intelligence, classified intelligence that this memo, right, because this is summary written by the republican chairman, have you seen the actual intelligence that it is based on? And is it 100% consistent with the memo as you have seen it?

GOWDY: The answer to your first question, Erin is yes. I may be the only member who has read it all. I went to the Department of Justice on a couple different occasions —

BURNETT: Jerry Nadler, democrat, told me yesterday he had as well.

GOWDY: All right. That would be two. Well, Jerry’s not on Intel. He’s on Judiciary. More power to him. I think everybody ought to go down there and read it. It’s really hard to have a conversation about what’s in the documents when you haven’t read the documents. Glad jerry did it. I read it all.

I have concerns about the process, about representations that may be made in court pleadings. I have concerns about the duty of government to provide complete, full, accurate information. You know FBI agents and prosecutors are not advocates at this I go stage.

We are representatives to the courts. So there is an obligation to present accurate, full, complete information. And that’s true in every criminal case or every counter intelligence case. They don’t get the scrutiny that this one does.

BURNETT: Okay. They are saying though, and again, I just want to make the point, Steven Boyd, the Assistant Attorney General who signed this letter that I’m looking at right now, it says, and in among other things, not only do they think not only would it be reckless to release Chairman Nunes’ memo, but they seen no evidence of any wrongdoing to the FISA process.

And the reason this is so crucial, again let’s make the point, Steven Boyd is Donald Trump’s nominee. He is saying to you all he does not see any evidence of what is being alleged.

GOWDY: Yeah, well, I mean I would say this again. I like Steven. I work well with him. It’s really difficult to say a memo is reckless when you haven’t read it. To the extent he says that they’ve seen no evidence of any impropriety or untowardness or inappropriate conduct during the conduct during the process – we just respectfully disagree.

And that happens from time to time. Lawyers can look at the same fact pattern and draw two different conclusions. I’m sure Adam Schiff is going to do a minority memo he doesn’t see any problems.

But what that advocates for though, Erin, is the release of non-classified material, release it, in an appropriate form, and let the public decide. That’s what that advocates for.

BURNETT: Okay. But how is that consistent with you are saying how can anyone talk about this and the implications of it if they haven’t seen the underlying information?

From what I understand no one is advocating to release the underlining information for what is a partisan memo that’s coming out of it. Because it’s so classified. Are you saying that the underlying information read — the top secret information you read should also be released, so everyone can read the source data and then decide if they think —

GOWDY: No.

BURNETT: — if the summary is fair?

GOWDY: No. I don’t. The president can declassify it. My counsel to him is don’t do it. Do nothing to jeopardize sources and methods. Do nothing to jeopardize the women and men in the intelligence committee. But you and I are having a conversation about it right now without divulging conversation.

People do it all day, every day. It can be done. You have to do it jointly, and you have to do it carefully. But you can have a conversation. I mean we’ll do it right now. Do you think information should be vetted before it’s included in a court proceeding?

That would be a question I have for you. If a hypothetical source is being paid by a political opponent, do you think that should be shared with a court or with a judge? See, you and I just did it. And I think the answer is, yes, that should it be shared with the court. And if it’s not shared with the court, then you have to tell me why it wasn’t important enough to do so.

BURNETT: Chairman, I want to ask you about a couple of other things tonight. One is it the other news that has been breaking over the past few hours regarding the text messages exchange between Mr. Strzok and Miss Page.

Thousands of FBI issued phones, we are finding out today — were affected by this technical glitch. All right? It resulted in five months of missing text data. And we are now told, a law enforcement official is now telling CNN about one in ten FBI phones were affected, so not just these two, it’s thousands – it’s one in ten phones – that were affected that has this exact same data outage. Do you accept this was a technical glitch or do you think there is some sort of conspiracy theory here?

GOWDY: I’m not a conspiracist. And I have no reason to impeach or under cut what the department is representing and what the FBI is representing. It puts those of us who are fans and supporters of the Department and Bureau in an awkward position.

There’s a five month gap that’s really important. But I have no reason to not believe them. I hope my Michael Horowitz or someone else will verify it. But I’m not a conspiracist.

I’m ever bit concerned about the texts we do have as the five months worth that we don’t. And the ones that we do have, evidents a level of bias that I have never seen before from any law enforcement officer and it is troubling. And I am eminently more interested in discussing the texts that do exist, than theorizing about what’s in ones that don’t.

BURNETT: All right, so let’s talk about what we have. First of all I just want to point out for the record of course, that the Special Counsel Bob Mueller, last summer when he found out about the text messages, which did indicate bias by the senior agent Strzok — he removed him from the team. Okay? He removed him immediately upon finding that out.

But let’s just share one of them that I know that you have talked about, as well as your republican senatorial colleague Senator Johnson. This one is from May 19th of last summer — so it’s right after the five month glitch, and in it, Strzok texts Page referring to the Russia investigation obstensibly.

“You and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely, I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern there is no big there there.”

Okay. Assumption being made here is they are talking about his willingness to join the Russian investigation. But my question to you is, Congressman, doesn’t this show you whatever his personal political believes is, what he’s saying here, I thought it likely I would be there no question, but didn’t have a bias against Trump on Russia. He’s saying there is no big there there. I don’t there is anything there.

GOWDY: You know what, Erin, respectfully, it tells me the exact opposite, because just above that text is a conversation about impeachment. And every single FBI agent I know would look at what Bob Mueller is doing right now and say you are performing a national service from a counter-intelligence standpoint and from a criminal standpoint. It’s just not how many pelts you can tack up against the wall in terms of guilty pleas and convictions – Bob Mueller’s also doing a counter-intelligence investigation about a foreign adversary, that attacked our country in 2016.

And if that doesn’t get a FBI agent excited enough to participate in an investigation, that’s heartbreaking. So I read that text exactly differently. If it’s not going to result in a conviction against the President of the United States, I’m not interested in participating. I don’t know another bureau agent that would take that approach.

BURNETT: All right. But I’m making the point he obviously didn’t think there was a there there. So he didn’t go into the Russian investigation, which he then subsequently joined before Mueller removed him. He didn’t go into it thinking the president was guilty. He went into it thinking the opposite. So as much as the guy, as you are pointing out, hates the president, he didn’t see any there there. He wasn’t going in thinking he was going to find anything.

GOWDY: Well, the only thing I would say in response to that Erin, is the morning after the election they are discussing impeachment. So if they are really open minded, objective, fact-centric FBI agents, what are they doing discussing impeachment when the ink isn’t dry on the ballot confirmation yet? This is the morning after and they are talking about impeachment.

So, look, I have a lot of respect for you. You’re going to have a really hard time convincing me that Peter Strzok should have been on this investigation.

BURNETT: Okay. So let me ask you, by the way, again, I’m just pointing because I need to for the record, that Bob Mueller did remove him when he found out about the texts. So Peter Strzok was removed from —

GOWDY: He did. I say Kudos to Bob —

BURNETT: — last summer. Just to make sure everyone knows. He didn’t stay on this investigation for some period of time after this was discovered. Okay, in the text messages —

GOWDY: That’s right. You never heard me criticize Bob Mueller.

BURNETT: — right, and you have said that you have seen the ones — the texts which exist, the ones that we know about personally.

One that was sent the day after the election which you are referring to impeachment. But one of the ones you talked about you quoted it as saying “Perhaps this is the first meeting of the secret society.” You didn’t give any context. Okay — what was the context? Did they elaborate? What are we talking about secret society?

GOWDY: It’s right after they were lamenting the fact trump won North Carolina and then he won Florida. And they’re really disappointed in the way the election turned out. And then about an inch down from that is a conversation about perhaps this is — should be the first meeting of the secret society. And then about two texts down they say let’s talk about it with Andy. I don’t know if that’s Andy McCabe and I’m not going to allege it is. But eerily similar to that.

BURNETT: But by saying it right now, you kind of – you kind of are. You’re throwing it out into the ether —

GOWDY: No, no no. Well, Andy McCabe is mentioned throughout their texts. I don’t know if there is another Andy. So – I don’t know if there is or not. So I’m not going to malign Andy McCabe.

I actually asked him directly about the insurance policy text and he denied it. I take him at his word. But take him out of it. Here are two bureau agents talking about a secret society. I have no clue what they are talking about. I don’t know whether one existed but you know what Erin?

It’s not my responsibility to prove that. They are the ones who used the phrase. They are the ones that should explain it. I can’t tell you what they meant. I can just tell you what they said. And talking about a secret society right after they were talking about how depressed they were that Donald Trump won.

BURNETT: All right. Let me ask you one more question before we go here since we’re out of time. This is important. The president tonight, you know, saying he doesn’t recall whether he asked Andy McCabe who he voted for.

Just to put the facts out there, we have confirmed that Andy McCabe did not vote in the general election, and in the primary, he voted in the republican primary in Virginia, Chairman.

But obviously the report is, which the White House did not deny today, was that the president asked, Andrew McCabe, the Deputy FBI Director, directly in the Oval Office, who he voted for.

Do you think that is appropriate in any way, shape or form for a president to ask that of a Deputy FBI Director?

GOWDY: I don’t think it’s appropriate for any one to ask that. Any time there is a curtain involved, that tells me supposed to be private. There is a curtain at the voting booth I vote in. No one should ever ask anyone else who they voted for. I don’t ask my wife if she voted for me. In part because I’m not sure what the answer is, and I’m not sure I want to hear it – but it’s none of my business who my kids vote for or my wife votes for.

I’d never asked a cop in my entire life, “Are you a republican or democrat?”

It doesn’t come up in the law enforcement context. So I hope Mr. McCabe was not asked that question and I hope he didn’t answer it. Because nobody’s business.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Chairman Gowdy, I appreciate your time. Good to have you back.

GOWDY: Yes, ma’am. Thank you.

Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor


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