Former deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was the official who approved releasing to the media hundreds of text messages — many of which were politically charged ― between high-ranking FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page in 2017, according to a Justice Department court filing released Friday night.
Rosenstein said in an affidavit that he’d authorized the release of the messages on Dec. 12, 2017, the day before he provided testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, because he believed there was a “legitimate” need for Congress to see them.
He said he also believed it inevitable that members of Congress would publicly disclose the messages and said he wanted to avoid the “additional harm” that could be caused by a cherry-picked release.
“The disclosure obviously would adversely affect public confidence in the FBI, but providing the most egregious messages in one package would avoid the additional harm of prolonged selective disclosures and minimize the appearance of the Department concealing information that was embarrassing to the FBI,” Rosenstein wrote.
The Justice Department released some 375 text messages between Strzok, then an FBI agent, and Page, a former attorney with the bureau. The messages, which were sent on government-issued phones, included disparaging comments that Strzok and Page had made about Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. The pair, who both briefly worked on special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling, lambasted Trump as an “idiot” and expressed support for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Strzok and Page were removed from the Mueller investigation after the messages were released. Strzok was later fired over the messages, and Page resigned from the FBI. It was unclear before Friday who had authorized the texts to be made available to the press.
The former deputy attorney general refuted this allegation in a statement filed as part of DOJ’s defense to Strzok’s lawsuit.
“If I had believed that the disclosure was prohibited by the Privacy Act, I would have ordered Department employees not to make the disclosure,” Rosenstein wrote.
“All I can say is this: I very much look forward to Rod’s deposition,” Page tweeted Saturday.