POLITICS
02/07/2018 17:53 EST | Updated 02/07/2018 18:12 EST

Senator Who Warned Of An Anti-Trump 'Secret Society' Has A New Theory On FBI Texts

Republican Ron Johnson makes the dubious claim that Obama might have been briefed by the FBI on a then-closed Clinton email investigation.

Sputnik Photo Agency / Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, in 2016.

WASHINGTON ― A September 2016 briefing for President Barack Obama mentioned in newly disclosed FBI text messages was about Russian interference in the election and not ― as a Republican senator and Fox News suggested ― the Clinton email investigation that was closed two months before that briefing.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) ― who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and previously suggested that a joke text indicated there really was an anti-Trump “secret society” within the FBI ― released a report Wednesday that was written by his staff. It suggests that a text from FBI lawyer Lisa Page raised questions about the “type and extent of President Obama’s personal involvement in the Hillary Clinton email controversy and the FBI investigation of it.

“potus wants to know everything we are doing,” Page texted FBI agent Peter Strzok on Sept. 2, 2016, when the two were dating. POTUS is an acronym for “president of the United States.”

The Clinton investigation was closed at the time of the text. Former FBI Director James Comey announced its closure in July 2016, and, as the Johnson report later indicates, the investigation wasn’t reopened until October 2016, when Clinton emails were discovered on the laptop of an aide’s husband, former Rep. Anthony Weiner.

Nevertheless, Fox News gave the dubious allegation that Obama had an improper role in the investigation a lot of play.

“Investigators are telling Fox News this now raises questions about President Obama’s personal involvement in the Clinton email investigation,” Griff Jenkins told “Fox & Friends” viewers. Echoing Fox News’ coverage, President Donald Trump tweeted the texts were “BOMBSHELLS!”

But the Obama briefing referenced was about Russian meddling in the 2016 election, not the Clinton investigation, a source familiar with the texts told HuffPost.

The texts were exchanged ahead of Obama’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 5. Obama later publicly stated that he confronted Putin about Russian election interference during that meeting, telling him to “cut it out.”

The Wall Street Journal also reported Wednesday that the briefing was about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Here’s the text exchange Republicans and Fox News zeroed in on:

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee

It wasn’t immediately clear whether “the 7th” was a reference to Sept. 7 or to the 7th Floor of the FBI, where senior leadership works. 

“TPs for D” is a reference to talking points for Director Comey, who would be speaking with Obama.

“I’m sure an honest answer will come out of that meeting 😒” Strzok wrote, referring to the Putin-Obama encounter.

The idea that Comey would be part of a conspiracy to improperly brief Obama on the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state goes against everything we know about Comey, everything we know about the email probe and everything we know about Obama.

Comey was obsessed with avoiding an appearance of impropriety, and he broke protocol when he publicly announced the findings of the Clinton email investigation. He then sent two letters to Congress in the final days of the presidential campaign that Clinton has blamed for her Electoral College loss. It seems unlikely he’d go along with an improper briefing on the Clinton investigation, even if you accept the idea that Obama would want one two months after the probe was closed.

Johnson’s dubious claim fits into a broader pattern of Republicans on Capitol Hill painting the nation’s premier law enforcement organization as a den of liberals out to take down Trump. It’s a theory that most of Trump’s base now buys into, however.

“The notion that the FBI is a bastion of liberalism ― that you have wild-eyed left-wingers there running the FBI or populating the FBI ― is totally inconsistent with, again, these little things, these bothersome things called the facts,” former Attorney General Eric Holder said in an interview with HuffPost on Wednesday.

Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’s senior justice reporter, covering criminal justice, federal law enforcement and legal affairs. Have a tip? Reach him at ryan.reilly@huffpost.com or on Signal at 202-527-9261.