By now, it's common knowledge that the FBI is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. But the allegation that two FBI agents who once worked on the case were biased against President Trump is probably not widely known to those outside Fox News' regular audience. Now, Republicans want to know about an FBI "secret society," after a single mention of it appeared in leaked text messages between those two agents.
Interpretations of just what the "secret society" text actually meant vary widely. The message was sent the day after the 2016 election; lawmakers haven't released its full text, but it leaked anyway. Here's what the text, written by FBI lawyer Lisa Page to senior FBI agent Peter Strzok, said in full, as quoted by ABC News:
Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society.
According to the news outlets who obtained Page and Strzok's texts, that's the only mention of a "secret society" found anywhere in the leaked messages. Many observers interpreted the "secret society" reference as a joke, or at the very least, a throwaway line not worthy of the deeply serious tone many Republicans and conservative pundits are now taking when talking about the text.
Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy appeared Wednesday on Fox News to discuss this recent bit of news. "What's also troubling to me is this text that [Texas Republican congressman] Johnny Ratcliffe found last night about this secret society," he said. Gowdy said he didn't know exactly what they meant, but immediately went on to raise questions about Page and Strzok.
[I]t's the day after the election, and it's the same two people that were discussing a little bit later in the text the damage they had done with the Clinton investigation and how they could, quote, "fix it" and make it right.
He also said that while he respects special counsel Robert Mueller and has confidence in his investigation, employing Page and Strzok represents "hiring failures of epic proportion."
Another Republican, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, also appeared on Fox News and seemed to surprise host Bret Baier with the sudden revelation that there is an FBI "informant that's talking about a group that were holding secret meetings off-site." Johnson appeared to be drawing a line between the "secret society" and the "secret meetings" his informant had related. Johnson has since backed off that claim, saying he doesn't know exactly to what the "secret society" text was referring.
Two recent and related stories have likely encouraged some to promote the idea that an orchestrated plot against the president exists at the FBI and DOJ. The first is the fact that the FBI appears to have lost nearly five months of text messages between Page and Strzok. The FBI has blamed Samsung for a technical glitch that it says affected many other phones at the bureau. But the timing of the lost texts — several months leading up to the day of Mueller's appointment as special counsel — certainly doesn't help quash the conspiracy theorizing.
Secondly, Rep. Devin Nunes has written a memo that purportedly details FBI corruption in securing FISA court warrants for members of Trump's team. Nunes is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and has thus far denied the Senate, FBI, and DOJ access to his already infamous memo. (The hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo exploded on Twitter beginning on Jan. 18, though some of the online hype has suspicious origins.)
Critics warn that excessive focus on alleged FBI corruption could lay the groundwork for Trump to fire Mueller. According to Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast, at the very least, otherwise measured Republicans are joining the "'deep state' fever swamps" of extreme right-wing flame throwers like Alex Jones.