In a Friday court filing, the Justice Department said former Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein had made the decision to release text messages between FBI attorney Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok to members of the media in December 2017.
Rosenstein said he authorized the release because he thought the messages would become public anyway the next day when he testified before the House Judiciary Committee.
The messages between Strzok and Page, who had been having an affair while serving as part of an FBI team investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, became a focus of criticism as Trump assailed the FBI and accused the agency of bias against him. Among other criticism of then-candidate Trump, Strzok had referred to Trump as an “idiot’ in the messages.
“On December 12, 2017, 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 OPA [Office of Public Affairs] to disclose to the news media the messages that were being disclosed to congressional committees,” Rosenstein wrote in a declaration attached to the government’s filing.
The filing came in response to a lawsuit Strzok filed in August 2019 against the FBI for firing him, alleging a “pressure” campaign from Trump was a factor in his removal. Strzok also alleged the Justice Department violated the Privacy Act, which covers the release of government records, in releasing the messages.
Rosenstein wrote in his filing the Justice Department had concluded the release of the messages did not violate the Privacy Act, and that “law enforcement interests would not justify withholding the text messages from Congress.”
Rosenstein decided that the Justice Department’s release of the messages prior to his testimony would prevent congressional staff from releasing the messages before his testimony, which he thought would have the effect of “exacerbating the adverse publicity for Mr. Strzok, Ms. Page, and the Department.”