Ron Johnson Fights with the FBI and Justice Over Hillary Clinton Investigation Redactions

Senator Ron Johnson continues his effort to claw documents out of the grip of a reluctant FBI and Department of Justice. As hhairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, he has been fighting to acquire materials involving the FBI and DoJ investigations both into Hillary Clinton’s email server, and into the counterintelligence probe of Trump campaign aides. Even when documents have been made available, much has been blacked out. On June 8, Johnson penned a searing letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray accusing the bureau of “highly questionable redactions without apparent legitimate reasons.”

This letter follows earlier letters—March 23 to the attorney general, and May 11 to the FBI—asking for explanations of their redaction policies. The Justice Department and FBI made a halfway gesture in response—they let investigators from Johnson’s staff review “less-redacted material in camera on May 18, 2018 and May 29, 2018.”

Looking at some pages that hadn’t been given the Sharpie-pen treatment proved unsatisfying but instructive, particularly comments sent by text message between FBI buddies Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. For example, there is a message from Strzok to Page on October 11, 2016 in which he says “Currently fighting with [redacted].” Blacked out are the words telling the two most important things that might be in such a message: 1) Who Strzok was fighting with, and 2) what they were fighting about.

When Johnson’s staff were allowed to peruse the unredacted text they found that it read “Currently fighting with Stu for this FISA.” The FBI, of course, secured a FISA warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page just ten days later. Was that the FISA warrant that Strzok was fighting with Stu about? If so, what was the crux of their disagreement? Who is Stu? These are just some of the questions raised when the obscurantists at DoJ are not allowed to, literally, cover up.

Some of the other details regularly blanked out are the initials “BO” as in the October 25, 2016 text from Strzok: “I’m still angry at them over this stupid [redacted].” The redaction read “BO DOD thing.” And then there was the October 7, 2016 text from Strzok to Page: “Jesus. More [redacted] leaks in the NYT.” The redaction read “BO.” So who is BO? Perhaps Bruce Ohr (then the associate deputy attorney general, and an official notable for having been dossier-author Christopher Steele’s connection at the Justice Department)? Barack Obama? Someone else entirely? These are relevant questions that can only be asked once the relevant information has been revealed.

But perhaps the most intriguing of the redactions uncovered by Sen. Johnson’s staff come from a Strzok text written to Page on September 26, 2015.

Here’s the redacted version: “DoJ wants to [redacted] I get they want to scope as narrowly as possible but they’re creating a ton of extra work for everyone. [redacted] Anyway, now I have to go in tomorrow so they can look thru emails.”

Here’s the unredacted version (with the previously redacted bits in bold): “DoJ wants to bargain away everything. I get they want to scope as narrowly as possible but they’re creating a ton of extra work for everyone. Stockholm Syndrome. Anyway, now I have to go in tomorrow so they can look thru emails.”

Johnson notes that this text, though not crystal clear in its meaning, was sent “during the FBI’s investigation of classified information on Secretary Clinton’s private email server.” It’s no great leap to read Strzok as saying that the Department of Justice was captured by Clinton. It’s also no great leap to conclude that the redactions are an effort by the DoJ bureaucrats to keep a secret: that they had come so thoroughly under Clinton’s influence that a lead FBI agent on the investigation thought that Justice suffered from Stockholm Syndrome.

And then again, perhaps not. Perhaps there’s a perfectly legitimate alternate reason—something having to do with national security—for blacking-out the words “Stockholm Syndrome”. If there is, alas, I haven’t been able to imagine it.

We won’t know the how, what, and why of the high-stakes FBI investigations of the last few years until Congress is allowed to see full, uncensored copies of the documents it requests from the bureau and DoJ. Which is why Sen. Johnson is right to make it clear that he does not consider his requests optional: “I will not end my Committee’s oversight into these matters,” he wrote, “until all of our questions have been answered and the public’s confidence in the FBI and the Justice Department has been fully restored.”

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