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Debunking CNN’s ‘Debunking’ of the FBI Text on Obama Wanting ‘to Know Everything’

CNN takes anonymous sources at face value, even when their story doesn’t add up

When Fox News reported Thursday that new text messages between FBI agents Lisa Page and Peter Strzok included one -- apparently in reference to the Clinton email probe -- that said President Obama wanted to "know everything," CNN quickly pounced, claiming the report is clearly false as the Clinton probe at the time the text was sent had been put on hold.

The message, sent September 2, 2016, said, Obama “wants to know everything we’re doing.”

As CNN points out, the Hillary probe was not an active investigation at this point. CNN's Oliver Darcy spoke to an anonymous former Obama official and an anonymous associate of Peter Strzok, both of whom said the text was in reference to an upcoming Obama meeting with Vladimir Putin:

One former Obama official told CNN that the idea the text message was about the Clinton email investigation was "total nonsense," noting that the theory did not conform with the timeline of events.

Indeed, the text message was sent on September 2, 2016, months after the bureau had closed its investigation into Clinton, and before it reopened that investigation. But September 2, 2016 was just days before Obama confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin over Russia's meddling in the presidential election.

A person familiar with Strzok's thinking reiterated this account, telling CNN that the text referred to Obama's broader interests in issues of potential Russian interference in the election more generally. The idea that Obama was micromanaging the FBI's investigation does not match reality, the person said.

But in CNN's haste to "debunk" the original Fox News report, it failed to check the facts themselves. Here is the original September 2nd, 2016 text exchange between Strzok and his colleague/mistress, Lisa Page:

STRZOK: “Checkout my 9:30 mtg on the 7th.”

PAGE: “I can tell you why you’re having that meeting. It’s not what you think.”

STRZOK: “TPs [talking points] for D [Comey]?” 

PAGE: “Yes, bc potus wants to know everything we are doing.”

Note that the meeting is scheduled for September 7th, 2016. Why would the meeting wherein the FBI is supposed to prepare its talking points for an Obama/Putin meeting -- when that Obama/Putin meeting happened two days before? While Obama was away on a trip in Asia, he met with Putin on September 5th in Hangzhou, China, as the Wall Street Journal documented at the time.

And despite the fact the Clinton probe was on hiatus, that does not mean the FBI dropped the matter altogether. On the day of this text exchange, the FBI was set to release transcripts of Clinton's testimony with the FBI (an interview conducted by Strozk). The transcripts were released late Friday, leading many to criticize the law enforcement agency for trying to downplay the matter. As Fox News reported late Wednesday:

Also on Sept. 2, 2016, though, the FBI released a full transcript – with redactions – of its interview with Hillary Clinton as part of the email probe, along with a memo summarizing the bureau’s investigation of her use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

After the mention of “potus,” Strzok alerted Page to “ breaking,” which could have been the report, “FBI Papers Offer Closer Look at Hillary Clinton Email Inquiry.” 

A scan of the headlines from September 2nd show that this was the dominant story. The transcripts showed Clinton repeatedly claiming she "didn't recall" various incidents regarding her secret email server, and the nightly news programs largely focused on how these revelations would affect her campaign. 

Again, the Strzok/Comey meeting was scheduled for September 7th. Was there anything related to the Clinton probe happening that day? Actually, yes. Fox News's Catherine Herridge reported that night that Comey was trying to quell "internal dissent" over the FBI's decision to exonerate Clinton. On CNN, Rep. Adam Schiff attacked then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz for calling on the FBI to re-open the Clinton probe. (Chaffetz suggested calling new hearings after news emerged that the Clinton team used "BleachBit" to permanently delete emails.) 

To give a flavor of the FBI-related news coverage over this time period, Grabien News scanned news clips we posted from September 2nd to September 7th that were tagged "FBI"; here are some samples:

  • 09/02/2016: CNN: The FBI Can’t Say for Sure that Hillary Clinton’s Email Wasn’t Hacked
  • 09/02/2016: CNN Fact Check Confirms Clinton Aide Destroyed Mobile Devices with Hammers
  • 09/02/2016: CNN: Clinton Told FBI She Didn’t Recall ‘39 Times’
  • 09/02/2016: WSJ’s Bussey: FBI Email Report Keeps Scandal in the News and Before Congress and ‘That’s Bad’ for Clinton
  • 09/02/2016: Tucker Carlson: FBI’s Friday Dump of Clinton Email Report ‘Discredits a Venerable Agency’
  • 09/02/2016: CNN’s Toobin: Clinton ‘Seems Like a Clueless Baby Boomer’ with Emails
  • 09/02/2016: Trump Spox: FBI Email Report ‘Another Indicator of Why Hillary Clinton Is Unfit’ to Be President
  • 09/05/2016: Joseph Borelli: FBI Notes Are Damning to Hillary
  • 09/06/2016: Halperin: To Release the Clinton Email on a Holiday Weekend Makes Comey an Arm of the Campaign
  • 09/06/2016: Brzezinski: The FBI Has Exposed Itself as ‘Weak’ and ‘Political’ by Releasing Clinton Report on Holiday Weekend
  • 09/06/2016: Scarborough: FBI Interview with Clinton Was ‘So Pathetic’
  • 09/06/2016: Halperin Battles Steve Rattner: ‘There Are Many Things’ in FBI Report That Are New
  • 09/06/2016: Judge Nap: W.H. ‘Has Restrained the FBI from Doing Its Job’ in Clinton Email Investigation
  • 09/06/2016: Clinton on Whether She Asked for Emails To Be Deleted: ‘No, of Course Not’
  • 09/06/2016: Kallstrom: James Comey Is ‘Playing Politics’ with Clinton Email Investigation
  • 09/07/2016: Clinton on Classified Emails: None of My Emails Had Such a Header

Point being: Even as the FBI wasn't actively investigating Clinton at this point in time, the topic was still very much occupying the news, and the FBI's, focus. 

A final point on the Clinton probe and this text exchange: The texts came from Sen. Ron Johnson, who is overseeing a report on the FBI's handling of the Clinton email probe. The DoJ's inspector general was tasked with turning over texts related to the Clinton probe, and this is one he included. As The Federalist's Mollie Hemingway reported:

It is true that the report says this relates to the Clinton email investigation, despite the September date. The report gave a footnote for this explanation, which said, “The Justice Department notified the Committee that it had redacted other text messages that were personal in nature or relating to other investigations.” It added, “Presumably, because this message was not redacted, the Department believes it may relate to the FBI’s investigation of classified information on Secretary Clinton’s private server.”

So since the committee was only supposed to see texts that relate to the Clinton email investigation, the committee presumed this related to the email investigation. 

But set all of that aside. What if the text exchange was in reference to the Russia investigation?

That itself is still a major story, as President Obama had promised a hands-off approach with any FBI investigation.

"I do not talk to the Attorney General about pending investigations," Obama told Chris Wallace in April, 2016. "I do not talk to FBI directors about pending investigations. We have a strict line and always have maintained it."

In the interview, Obama repeatedly gave a "guarantee" he does not speak to the FBI about "pending investigations." 

Yet this text message exchange shows he did exactly that. 

CNN's report attacked Fox News for reporting on this broken assurance. "Fox News continued to discuss the story on its air Wednesday afternoon, even after multiple outlets -- including the Wall Street Journal, which is controlled by Fox head Rupert Murdoch -- had reported contrary information," Darcy wrote. 

Is CNN suggesting it's not newsworthy the president lied to the American people? Based on its current coverage, it takes this matter very seriously. Just not, it appears, when that president is named Barack Obama. 

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