President Donald Trump attacked former FBI lawyer Lisa Page on Twitter on Monday in response to a profile of her that ran in The Daily Beast. And in doing so, Trump revived a conspiracy theory from the imaginations of right-wing media, alleging that text messages sent between Page and former FBI agent Peter Strzok that criticized the president after the 2016 election had been deleted under nefarious circumstances.
This is not remotely true. For one, Strzok’s and Page’s phones were wiped under standard procedures after they left the Trump-Russia investigation. Moreover, difficulties in finding some of their texts came from a technical glitch that apparently affected thousands of phones used by government officials, not just these two individuals. And the text messages were recovered eventually.
Trump was referring to Page’s comments in the Daily Beast profile — which came out in advance of the Justice Department’s upcoming inspector general report on the Trump-Russia investigation — that it is “crushing to see the noble Justice Department, my Justice Department, the place I grew up in, feel like it’s abandoned its principles of truth and independence.”
Earlier in the day, Trump boosters Charlie Kirk and Benny Johnson had tweeted that investigators under former special counsel Robert Mueller had supposedly “deleted” 19,000 texts sent between Strzok and Page.
Trump himself has trumpeted the same figure, claiming in 2018 that the “Mueller Angry Democrats” had “deleted approximately 19,000” messages between Strzok and Page. In fact, that number is the amount of texts investigators had recovered from their phones — the exact opposite of Trump’s claim — via additional forensic examination after they had been missed on an earlier attempt.
A previous DOJ inspector general’s report in June 2018 faulted Strzok and Page for damaging the “FBI's reputation for neutral factfinding and political independence” with their derogatory text messages in 2016 about then-candidate Trump, but it nevertheless concluded that “our review did not find evidence to connect the political views expressed in these messages to the specific investigative decisions that we reviewed.”