NEW YORK — Former FBI employees Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, the once romantically-linked duo infamous for their anti-Trump text messages, conducted the initial agency review of disgraced ex-FBI chief James Comey’s memos to determine whether the documents contained any potentially classified information.
Working on the initial classification review with Page and Strzok was another member of Comey’s inner circle, James A. Baker, the former FBI general counsel.
Those details were contained inside the report released last Thursday by the Justice Department’s inspector-general.
The IG report related that Strzok characterized himself, Page, Baker, and the Unit Chief of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Law Unit in the FBI’s Office of General Counsel as a “logical subset to sit and go through” Comey’s memos memorializing his conversations with Trump to determine classification.
Strzok told the FBI that it made sense that this team conducted the initial classification review because the members had a lot of “history and experience of working investigations relating to … the disclosure of classified information,” including the FBI’s Clinton email investigation.
That would be the same Clinton email investigation that became the subject of a separate 500-plus page IG report in June 2018 that was highly critical of actions taken by Comey and his team.
The IG report described an extraordinary system of communication set up between Page and former deputy director Andrew McCabe that bypassed the ordinary chain of command to communicate important information about the agency’s probe of Clinton’s email server. The method of communication involved Strzok, who was romantically involved with Page, sending information on the Clinton probe to McCabe through Page, the previous IG report found.
Meanwhile, the IG’s latest report released last Thursday documented that Page, Baker, Strzok and an unnamed legal Unit Chief conducted the first stage of the classification review for Comey’s memos. The final determination was made by Bill Priestap, then the chief of the FBI’s counterintelligence division following the legal review conducted by Page, Baker and Strzok. Priestap was also involved in the FBI’s Clinton email investigation.
Baker, Page, Strzok and Priestap were also among the small group of people who received Comey’s memos after Comey had written them and before he was fired as FBI director, the IG report relates.
The report states:
McCabe told the OIG that he believed Comey was trying to limit knowledge about Comey’s communications with Trump to a very, very small group” of close advisors. McCabe said he thought Comey “didn’t want these [Memos] floating around and…widely distributed.”
McCabe’s Special Counsel Lisa Page told the OIG that she thought Comey’s “objective in keeping the [number of] people exposed to [the Memos] incredibly small was an effort to insulate the core team, who was doing the Russian investigation,…from knowing any of this, so that it didn’t, ultimately, impact…their investigative steps….”
Baker explained to the IG how their review of Comey’s memos differed from the normal classification process:
Baker and the Unit Chief told the OIG that their classification review for the Memos differed from the FBI’s normal process, which usually involves sending documents out to the agency whose equities are at issue for their classification determination. One of the Unit Chief’s subordinates, an Assistant General Counsel in the Counterintelligence Law Branch who participated in the classification review for Memo 2, told the OIG that “[g]iven the urgency of how quick they were looking at doing the … classification review” the Memos were not referred for State Department input. Instead, where the equities at issue belonged to the State Department, the FBI personnel involved in the classification review told us that they relied on their experiences in the Clinton email case and their familiarity with what the State Department classified in her emails, and used that to determine whether specific statements by the President about foreign leaders were classified.
The IG report further reveals the process taken during the initial review in which meetings were held and sections of Comey’s memos were debated, yet not a single one of the participants kept notes documenting the classification process.
The report states (emphasis added):
The Unit Chief told the OIG that, during the June 1, 2017 meeting, the participants had some “back and forth” discussions about what should be classified, and that “there was definitely a debate” over some of the issues.
According to Baker, “[s]ome of those discussions were lengthy” and that the group sometimes “started down one path and then reversed the course later. … So, it took a while to get through them.” Strzok characterized the meeting as involving “a lot of discussion about is this classified, and if so, why, and … where that would fall in the Classification Guidelines.”
None of the participants kept notes of the meeting. Once the group reached agreement, Page placed handwritten brackets around the words in each of the Memos that they thought contained classified information.
As a result of their review, Baker, Strzok, the Unit Chief and Page recommended classifying portions of Memo 2, Memo 3 and Memo 7, which had not been marked classified by Comey. At the time they conducted this review, none of these individuals knew that Comey had shared copies of Memos 2, 4, 6 and 7 with his attorneys.
The IG report concluded that Comey broke FBI rules by providing one of his memos to a friend with instructions to share the contents with a reporter. Comey further failed to return his classified memos to the FBI after he was fired in May 2017, the report relates.
One particularly stinging revelation states: “Comey did not tell anyone from the FBI that he had retained copies of the Memos in his personal safe at home, even when his Chief of Staff, the FBI’s Associate Deputy Director and three SSAs came to Comey’s house on May 12, 2017 to inventory and remove all FBI property.”
Page and Strzok, meanwhile, have been the subject of public controversy following revelations that they exchanged a series of anti-Trump text messages, including one discussing an “insurance policy” if Trump won the 2016 presidential race.
The June 2018 IG report contained previously unknown text messages between Page and Strzok in which the pair further discussed stopping Trump from becoming president.
“[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right!?” Page texted Strzok in one August 2016 message.
“No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” Strzok responded.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
Joshua Klein contributed research to this article.