In one of the most arrogant displays of presumed privilege in recent memory, attorneys for the adulterous pair of FBI employees, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, whose personal text messages threw a rather glaring spotlight onto the highly partisan roots of the Russia Hoax, have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice for violating the privacy rights of the two love birds. Never mind that their text messages were sent on government phones, the messages archived on a government server, that a lot of the messages took place while the duo were on duty, and that all of the messages were discoverable by any legal action, somehow these two, by virtue of their position, have rights that absolutely no other federal employee has.
Specifically, Strzok’s lawsuit accuses the agencies of violating his First and Fifth Amendment rights by firing him over the texts and then depriving him of due process to challenge his expulsion. And, Strzok argues, DOJ’s decision to give the incendiary messages to reporters before handing them to Congress — generating blaring headlines — was “deliberate and unlawful,” a violation of the Privacy Act.
The Justice Department and FBI did not immediately comment.
DOJ has not disclosed who authorized the release of the text messages, which were under investigation at the time by Inspector General Michael Horowitz. Strzok’s legal team said in the filing that it hopes to learn that in discovery.
Now their dreams have been answered.
In a formal declaration submitted as part of the government’s defense to Strzok’s suit, Rosenstein owned up to being the one who made the call. He said he did so in part because the texts’ public release by members of Congress was inevitable in connection with testimony he was set to give to the House Judiciary Committee the following day.
“With the express understanding that it would not violate the Privacy Act and that the text messages would become public by the next day in any event, I authorized [Justice’s Office of Public Affairs] to disclose to the news media the text messages that were being disclosed to Congressional committees,” Rosenstein wrote in a five-page statement signed Friday.
Rosenstein’s statement does not indicate whether he consulted with Page, Strzok or their attorneys to seek their views on the planned release, but he had them informed that night that the disclosure was forthcoming. The former DOJ No. 2 official said he did have one of his top aides confirm with Justice’s top privacy official that the disclosure would not run afoul of the Privacy Act.
That official, Civil Liberties and Privacy Officer Peter Winn, has said in a prior court filing that he opined that the release of the texts would be legal.
Justice Department lawyers argue that Rosenstein’s consultation with Winn — a career official — effectively nullifies the Privacy Act portion of Strzok’s suit. Under the law, officials can only be liable for monetary damages for a Privacy Act violation if they broke the law intentionally or willfully.
Rosenstein’s filing does not discuss why journalists were initially told they could not identify the Justice Department in their stories as the source of the messages. Justice officials later lifted that condition.
I find this unsurprising. I’m not sure what the play was by Strzok and Page in making a huge deal out of who authorized the release of the text messages unless they wanted to pull Jeff Sessions into the food fight and claim that as a Trump ally he released the messages to simply dirty up Strzok and Page even more than they were. But apparently there is some huge conspiracy here that I’m not seeing:
OMFG. Wut? https://t.co/XhjrGWcknv
— Molly Jong-Fast (@MollyJongFast) January 18, 2020
With the new admission that Rosenstein authorized the release of Strzok and Page texts, recall the bizarre way they trickled out of DOJ's press office. DOJ's story has changed over time. Hoping @NatashaBertrand will have things to say about this today. https://t.co/WL0zTVs56E
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 18, 2020
As I’ve said, when the history of this Administration is written, Rod Rosenstein will be the villain who protected Trump, not the hero who protected us. https://t.co/KsaVZ9U4g9
— Neera Tanden (@neeratanden) January 18, 2020
Rosenstein claims that he made the decision to release the Strzok-Page texts in part because it would be helpful to Strzok and Page for him to do so.
This rationale doesn’t seem like it will hold up when he's questioned under oath. https://t.co/XgqflAjZQo
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) January 18, 2020
This lawsuit is just more #Resistance Porn. I don’t know if Strzok and Page are getting paid to keep this nonsense alive but very little else makes a lot of sense. The objection by Strzok and Page that the cherry picking of some 400 anti-Trump emails was a very bad thing seems to me to be disingenuous. Do we really think the entire oeuvre of their private conversations was so pristine that they would actually have preferred that everything they texted be released. The idea that some rando Justice Department figure released the texts without approval…since Rosenstein notified the FBI’s most notorious lothario and his mistress that the Justice was releasing them…is incoherent. Likewise the notion that a senior FBI official okayed the release without covering himself is just nonsense.
But, now we know. Rod Rosenstein okayed the release. Can we all go back to sleep now?