The FBI’s Document Blackouts

The bureau is redacting documents without credible justification.

 
 

FBI Director Christopher Wray in Washington, D.C. on May 16.
FBI Director Christopher Wray in Washington, D.C. on May 16. PHOTO: TOM WILLIAMS/CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY/NEWSCOM VIA ZUMA PRESS
 

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray want Congress to trust them about the FBI’s actions in 2016. That would be easier if not for daily proof that they continue to play games when redacting documents.

Senate oversight Chairman Ron Johnson exposed the latest unjustified blackouts in a June 8 letter to Mr. Wray. The Wisconsin Republican is one of several Chairmen objecting to the FBI’s excessive redactions and its refusal to even supply the standard “log” with justifications for each redaction. Under pressure, Justice grudgingly invited Johnson staffers to review some documents in late May.

Those sessions revealed that the bureau is redacting in a way that stymies Congress’s ability to run down leads in its oversight of the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump investigations. Notably, Justice and the FBI have been redacting names or initials of employees involved in handling those cases. This frustrates Congress’s ability to seek more information or interviews with those individuals.

 
One initial batch of documents contained an Oct. 11, 2016 text message from FBI official Peter Strzok to his FBI paramour Lisa Page. It read: “Currently fighting with”—while the rest was redacted. The unredacted version reads: “Currently fighting with Stu for this FISA,” which may be a reference to the warrant the FBI obtained to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Who is Stu and what was that fight? Congress has a right to know.

The initials “BO” are also redacted from several messages. An unredacted version shows a Strzok text on Oct. 7, 2016: “Jesus. More BO leaks in the NYT.” Another from Oct. 25, 2016 reads: “Just cranky at them for bad choices about BO.” Investigators aren’t certain who BO is, but one possibility is Bruce Ohr, the DOJ employee who was demoted after it emerged that he’d held undisclosed meetings with anti-Trump dossier author Christopher Steele, and whose wife worked for Fusion GPS, the firm that hired Mr. Steele.

Another less-redacted text shows someone blacked out a Strzok explanation for why the FBI didn’t pursue some Clinton leads. “Clinton, Mills, and Abedin all said they felt the server was permitted and did not receive information that it was not. To the extent there was objection down the line in IRM, we did not pursue that as State OIG did, because it was not a key question behind our investigation.”

Why not? An important issue regarding Mrs. Clinton’s private email server was whether she and aides Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin intentionally violated State Department rules in setting it up, and if this increased her mishandling of classified information.

Redactions are supposed to be limited to guarding national security, attorney-client privilege, individual privacy or criminal investigations. These blackouts appear motivated to withhold pertinent information from Congress or spare the FBI political embarrassment.

Meanwhile, the FBI is refusing to answer a May 11 letter from Sen. Johnson seeking the names of employees who are doing the redacting. Mr. Johnson is concerned that some of the employees involved in this investigation might also be overseeing the redacting.

As retired FBI special agent Thomas Baker wrote on these pages last month (“The FBI’s Shocking Disrespect for Congress,” May 11), the FBI has damaged its credibility by flouting subpoenas and slow-rolling or hiding information. This behavior is why Congress must continue to pry out the truth.

Appeared in the June 14, 2018, print edition.

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