Investigators weren’t able to find any text messages between fired agent Peter Strzok and former bureau lawyer Lisa Page from their time on special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe because by the time their phones were recovered, they’d been reset for others’ use, an inspector general said Thursday.
In fact, the FBI’s data collection tool misses about 10 percent of text messages sent on Samsung Galaxy S7 devices — the same phones issued to Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page. That rate doubles to about 20 percent for an earlier model of the phone also used by the two FBI officials.
The revelations came in a report Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released to detail the efforts his team made to try to recover the texts between the two, who traded anti-Trump messages during the course of an adulterous affair they were having.
Investigators have already released many of the controversial messages, including one in which Mr. Strzok promised they would “stop” Mr. Trump from winning the White House.
But there was a gap in the text messages, or what the inspector general dubbed a “collection tool failure,” and the new report detailed investigators’ efforts to try to recover those messages directly from the Samsung Galaxy phones issued to both Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page.
All told about 19,000 messages were recovered according to the report.
The inspector general said there was “no discernible patterns” regarding the content of the text messages that were missed by the FBI’s collection tool, but later recovered by investigators.
“The messages included some political content, some work-related content, and some personal content,” the report said.
While messages were recovered from some phones, the inspector general said that wasn’t the case for the phones assigned to the two during their time on the special counsel’s probe.
Ms. Page joined that office on May 28, 2017, and left on July 15, 2017. Mr. Strzok joined in early June and was ousted from that team in late July, with his final clearance from the team coming Aug. 11, 2017.
They returned the phones issued to them, and they were both reset to factory settings and therefore had no content from their use.
The FBI employee who received Mr. Strzok’s phone says she didn’t remember it containing any substantive messages. Ms. Page’s phone couldn’t be located for several months, but when it was finally found this September, it had also been reset and had no messages.
Mr. Strzok had turned his device over to the Justice Department once he was removed from the special counsel’s team. A records officer for the special counsel’s office told the inspector general the phone had been reviewed for texts, but it contained “no substantive text messages.”
Ms. Page’s phone was not reviewed by the special counsel’s office for records that needed to retained, the report said.
The deputy attorney general told the inspector general that such resets are standard procedure when a user returns a device and it is to be reissued to another user.
In a response to the report, the FBI said it is reviewing its current collection method.
The FBI “appreciates and agrees with the OIG’s conclusion and explanation that the content of the text messages exchanged between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page did not appear to be a factor in their collection or lack thereof,” the FBI response said. “Further, the OIG did not find that gaps in the collection were intentional on the part of the FBI or any FBI personnel.”
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