(CNSNews.com) - Redactions, the blacked-out portions that appear in many government documents, are making it difficult for Congress to do its oversight work, says Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
In a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Wednesday, Grassley wrote: "Please provide unredacted copies of all text messages" between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page "to the Committee no later than June 6, 2018."
Grassley said some of the redactions "may contain relevant information relating to the Committee's ongoing investigation into the manner in which the Department of Justice and FBI handled the Clinton and Russia investigations."
Grassley mentions two particular redactions in the thousands of Strzok-Page text messages that call into question the FBI's "justification" for witholding information from Congress:
"As one example of redacted material, in a text message produced to the Committee, the price of Andrew McCabe’s $70,000 conference table was redacted," Grassley wrote. "In another, an official’s name was redacted in reference to a text about the Obama White House “running” an investigation, although it is unclear to which investigation they were referring."
"Should the Department continue to refuse to provide fully unredacted copies to Congress, please provide a privilege log describing the legal basis for withholding that information from Congress," Grassley wrote.
The senator's complete letter is printed below.
"We have so many redactions we can't put all the pieces together," Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, told Fox News's Laura Ingraham Wednesday night.
In addition to the August 5, 2016 text message referenced by Grassley that "the White House is running this," Johnson pointed to another text from Page to Strzok a month later, in which Page wrote, "POTUS wants to know everything we're doing."
All of this may fit into the emerging scenario that President Donald Trump is now calling "spygate."
Strzok and Page, who reportedly were having an extra-marital affair, both worked on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team for a while, and Strzok led the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton's mishandling of emails.
Page resigned from the FBI last week, and Strzok has been reassigned to the agency's human resources department, pending the result of an investigation into the FBI's handling of both the Clinton and Trump-Russia probes.
Numerous text messages between the two reveal a pro-Hillary, anti-Trump bias.
For example, Page texted Strzok on March 16, 2016: "I cannot believe Donald Trump is likely to be an actual, serious candidate for president." In other texts, Page calls Trump "loathsome" and "awful." Strzok called him an "idiot."
VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION
The Honorable Rod J. Rosenstein
Deputy Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
Dear Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein,
On May 1, 2018, and May 18, 2018, Committee staff reviewed in camera less redacted versions of the Strzok and Page text message productions provided to the Committee. On several occasions, my staff have requested that the Department of Justice provide the Committee with a redaction key, to no avail. Thus, the Committee is still in the dark about the justification the Department is relying upon to withhold that information from Congress. As one example of redacted material, in a text message produced to the Committee, the price of Andrew McCabe’s $70,000 conference table was redacted. In another, an official’s name was redacted in reference to a text about the Obama White House “running” an investigation, although it is unclear to which investigation they were referring.
In order to see under the redactions, Committee staff had to travel to main Justice to review a lesser redacted version. When viewing the still redacted portions in context with the unredacted material, it appeared that the redacted portions may contain relevant information relating to the Committee’s ongoing investigation into the manner in which the Department of Justice and FBI handled the Clinton and Russia investigations.
Congress, and the public, have a right to know how the Department spends taxpayer money. I am unaware of any legitimate basis on which the cost of a conference table should be redacted. Embarrassment is not a good enough reason. The manner in which some redactions have been used casts doubt on whether the remaining redactions are necessary and defensible.
Accordingly, please provide unredacted copies of all text messages produced to the Committee no later than June 6, 2018. Should the Department continue to refuse to provide fully unredacted copies to Congress, please provide a privilege log describing the legal basis for withholding that information from Congress.
I anticipate that your written reply and most responsive documents will be unclassified. Please send all unclassified material directly to the Committee. In keeping with the requirements of Executive Order 13526, if any of the responsive documents do contain classified information, please segregate all unclassified material within the classified documents, provide all unclassified information directly to the Committee, and provide a classified addendum to the Office of Senate Security. Although the Committee complies with all laws and regulations governing the handling of classified information, it is not bound, absent its prior agreement, by any handling restrictions.
Should you have any questions, please contact Josh Flynn-Brown of my Judiciary Committee staff at (202) 224-5225.
Charles E. Grassley
Committee on the Judiciary