Justice Dept: Early release of FBI agents’ texts was not authorized

The Justice Department says that it did not authorize the early release of anti-Trump text messages between two FBI officials to the media.

In a statement to Politico, Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said that text messages between Lisa Page and Peter Strzok were given to certain members of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday before Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein publicly testified before the committee on Wednesday. 

Flores said the same information was later shared with the media, but some reporters had already obtained the texts.

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“As we understand now, some members of the media had already received copies of the texts before that — but those disclosures were not authorized by the department,” Flores said.

Fox News first reported on the messages on Dec. 6, claiming that more than 10,000 texts between the two officials had been found and were being reviewed. The article raised questions about possible anti-Trump bias in the special counsel investigation over messages that criticized Trump.  

More than 300 text messages between senior FBI counterintelligence agent Strzok — who was assigned to the bureau's investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election — and in-house attorney Page were provided to Congress after they were provided to the media.

The Justice Department's inspector general came across the texts during an assessment of the FBI's handling of its investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDe Blasio pitches himself as tough New Yorker who can take on 'Don the con' From dive bars to steakhouses: How Iowa caucus staffers blow off steam Warren policy ideas show signs of paying off MORE's private email server.

The new Justice Department statement comes after it said earlier Thursday that it had invited a group of reporters to its offices to view the messages prior to Rosenstein's testimony. 

"Senior career ethics advisors determined that there were no legal or ethical concerns that prohibited the release of the information to the public either by members of Congress or by the department," the Justice Department said.

The text messages appear to show Strzok and Page openly criticizing Trump during the election and supporting Clinton, Trump's Democratic opponent. But the two also criticized other lawmakers.

Strzok said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was "an idiot like Trump," while Page called Trump "a loathsome human." 

"God, Hillary should win 100,000,000 - 0," Strzok said in one message to Page. 

Strzok was removed from his assignment after special counsel Robert Mueller learned of the texts.

Republicans have pounced on the text messages, saying they show anti-Trump bias among members of Mueller's team investigating Russian election meddling.