WASHINGTON (CN) — A federal judge balked Friday at the Trump administration’s challenge of lawsuits filed by former FBI agents Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, telling the government it had not come close to proving that its disclosure of messages between the agents was above board.
Listing off a plethora of “unresolved matters of fact,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson called the government’s motions for summary judgment and to dismiss “stunning.”
The Obama appointee also said she found it “somewhat jarring” that the government invoked the Freedom of Information Act in defending its release of the Page and Strzok communications.
“They just say, ‘take our word for it,’” the judge said, referring to the Justice Department.
Referring to FOIA cases seeking federal agency records, Jackson said the Justice Department’s claim that the public disclosure of the messages was proper and does not warrant review by the court “doesn’t bear any resemblance to the department’s daily representations in this court.”
Strzok, a veteran FBI counterintelligence agent, and Page, an FBI lawyer, had worked on the Russia investigation headed by former special counsel Robert Mueller.
Their widely publicized communications in 2016 revealed the two officials calling President Donald Trump an “idiot” and “loathsome human,” and worrying about the future of America if he was elected. The president has repeatedly mocked the ex-agents and relied on their messages to claim that Mueller’s probe was a “hoax.”
At the time, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General was investigating whether the FBI’s probe of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for government work had been biased.
Strzok and Page brought separate complaints in Washington that have since been consolidated. Both argue that the release of their messages to the media in 2017 was a ploy to seek favor with Trump, and that the FBI and DOJ violated the Privacy Act in the process.
The case turns on the night of Dec. 12, 2017, when the Justice Department summoned a select group of reporters to the agency to review a 90-page document of 375 messages between Page and Strzok.
Jackson questioned on Friday the public interest in such a disclosure and whether the agency consulted with its Office of Inspector General before publicly releasing the texts, which had been retrieved from FBI-issued cellphones.
“And if the point was to be transparent, why some reporters and not others … why all the cloak and dagger stuff?” the judge said.
Jackson, who has presided over several high-profile cases arising from the Russia investigation, made clear her decision not to squelch Page and Strzok’s case did not indicate her leanings.
“Plaintiffs are going to have a lot to do and have an uphill battle on a lot of issues,” she said, nearing the end of a more than hour and a half recounting of the case and her decision Friday.
The judge also said the statement on the record by former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that he signed off on the release of the messages with “the express understanding that it would not violate the Privacy Act” will be a significant hurdle for attorneys for Page and Strzok as the litigation proceeds.
But other declarations by federal officials submitted by the government contained hearsay, Jackson added.
Strzok has also raised First Amendment claims, arguing he was fired because of the disparaging comments about Trump in the messages to Page and denied the opportunity to challenge his dismissal before the FBI’s Disciplinary Review Board.
In deciding whether the lawsuits survived the motion to dismiss, Jackson said it was her duty to “assume the truth of all material factual allegations in the complaint.”