The “Insurance” Text Explained: A Debate on How Urgently to Investigation Trump’s Russian Ties

WSJ has the fascinating explanation for Peter Strzok’s August 15, 2016 “insurance” text that Republicans have been spinning into a grand scandal. Effectively, Strzok and Lisa Page were debating about how aggressively FBI should investigate Trump’s Russian ties. Page figured they could do so deliberately, and therefore avoid any risk they’d burn sources, because he wasn’t going to win. Strzok disagreed, arguing they had to investigate more aggressively in case he did win.

The text came after a meeting involving Ms. Page, Mr. Strzok and FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, according to people close to the pair and familiar with their version of events. At the meeting, Ms. Page suggested they could take their time investigating the alleged collusion because Mrs. Clinton was likely to win, the people said.

If they move more deliberately, she argued, they could reduce the risk of burning sensitive sources.

Mr. Strzok felt otherwise, according to these people.

His text was meant to convey his belief that the investigation couldn’t afford to take a more measured approach because Mr. Trump could very well win the election, they said. It would be better to be aggressive and gather evidence quickly, he believed, because some of Mr. Trump’s associates could land administration jobs and it was important to know if they had colluded with Russia.

The investigation is telling for a number of reasons.

First, the comments came after just 7 of the 17 dossier reports — even assuming FBI got two reports dated August 10 immediately. Many of the most inflammatory ones — notably all the ones involving Michael Cohen — came after this. As WSJ notes, the text also comes four days after another Strozk one, dated August 11, exclaiming, “OMG I CANNOT BELIEVE WE ARE SERIOUSLY LOOKING AT THESE ALLEGATIONS AND THE PERVASIVE CONNECTIONS.” That’s probably not the dossier per se. But it may well be Paul Manafort’s burgeoning scandal; Manafort would resign August 19.

I’m also interested in how this plays with the report that Trump was warned Russians — and other countries — would try to infiltrate his campaign. The report is not that newsworthy; this kind of briefing is routine. But I wonder whether it’s coming out because the timing is of interest — perhaps in conjunction with Strzok’s increasing panic. I even wonder whether Strzok participated in the briefing.

All of which is to say that on this matter, Strzok and Page were not in agreement. Indeed, the text is actually a work debate about the tradeoff of guarding sources and methods and the urgency of excluding any compromised figures from joining Trump’s government.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

41 replies
  1. harpie says:

    If I’m reading the linked NBC News report correctly, this intelligence briefing of Trump about possible Russian infiltration attempts took place on August 17, 2016. Do other campaign officials attend these briefings?

    • harpie says:

      Well, it says right there near the top of the article:

      They said the briefings, which are commonly provided to presidential nomineeswere designed to educate the candidates and their top aides about potential threats from foreign spies.

       

  2. orionATL says:

    did strozok attend trump intell briefings? i don’t know. but a recent news report occuring simultaneously with his current infamy quoted a trump staffer as saying something like – strozok was a consummate professional who had this guy’s admiration. i’ve no cite, alas.

  3. Silence Hand says:

    Yes. The context here is hugely important. And asking for contemporary news consumers to consider context is hugely hilarious.

    In early August Trump’s campaign was a joke nursed along by media hoping to win eyeballs and a buck or two. It seemed a given he’d lose, so why not make HRC do winning backwards in high heels? And of course she did get lots more votes in the end. Trump’s horrible debate performances were still to happen.

    Strzok is being prudent, if inartful in his “insurance” language. Forgive the brother, it’s not like it was a press conference or something. He’s essentially arguing a minority position, against making a type 2 error. The view that sources would dry up if Trump won and started appointing everybody to admin positions is bang on.

    Considering that, Mueller dissociating him, thereby cutting off an angle of attack reflects the seriousness of what they were and are discovering.

    Sad to think what’d be happening now if Mueller hadn’t taken this step in July. Also sad to think he had to let a good and prescient man go to do it.

      • Silence Hand says:

        Thank you, much appreciated.  It’s difficult to overstate how much fog and chaos was present around everything in that time period.  I really want some sort of annotated graphic timeline of 4/16 – 1/17, with a special zoom-in on May – August.

        I think Josh Marshall has a good take on this in his consideration of the revelation that Trump was warned that the Russians (among others) would try to infiltrate his campaign.  This in itself is entirely normal and unsurprising.  Shockingly, though, this happened around the time he publicly called on Russian intelligence services to hack Clinton and release information – and in the thick of many things related to questionable Russia contacts.  Around this time the FBI was clearly having in-house conversations about investigating the Don, as EW points out.

        Would there be some sort of wiki-able graphic timeline that certified users could annotate and comment on? Not everyone is able to retain this hyperdimensional matrix in working memory, as EW apparently can.

  4. Christopher says:

    I agree with Silance H. Mueller’s disassociation of Strzok is the real insurance policy. Holiday presents are always welcome. Will Mueller deliver a greeting card, tree ornament, door wreath or supermax creche?

  5. Babyl-on says:

    As stressful as all this is so stressful for everyone, here is a bit of good news from a Guardian article today:

    “While nuclear deterrence strategies cannot prevent all conflict, they are essential to prevent nuclear attack, non-nuclear strategic attacks, and large-scale conventional aggression,” the NSS said.

    In September, the deputy assistant secretary of defence, Rob Soofer, includedcyber attacks against US infrastructure” in the category of non-nuclear strategic threats.

    Why would you want to impeach Trump when he is ready to use nuclear weapons against cyber attackers – I presume you believe he already has cause.

  6. greengiant says:

    That is pretty funny timing. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-set-to-declare-north-korea-carried-out-massive-wannacry-cyber-attack/2017/12/18/509deb1c-e446-11e7-a65d-1ac0fd7f097e_story.html For impeachment to pass the House requires a vote of the Judiciary committee and then by majority in the House. For conviction it requires 2/3 vote by the Senate. The rest of the US can only kibitz and so on except for a few who can threaten state or local prosecution when the president leaves office. I at least would prefer someone in office with a modicum of logic and arithmetic skill but that is not a requirement for office.

    • lefty665 says:

      1) He wasn’t Hillary B) He was contesting Hillary’s coronation and making it difficult.  iii) He was an admitted socialist or commie or sumpthin.

  7. Bjorn Jensen says:

    Robert Parry continues to examine the scandal of Russia meddling as completely unfounded. Mr. Parry is a respected journalist.

    I am curious and invite an opinion on his views – no matter how smart and measured EW’s on all related matters are and they are substantial and smart .

    Once again he writes here his complete skepticism on the entire scandal especially following his visit to Russia, and appearing on Russian talk shows: Does he have a point at all ?

    Of course Trump is odious and inexplicably unqualified to serve on the PTA let alone the office of President, but does Parry have a point ? Or is his view that there is no credible evidence linking Russia to hacking/meddling the point – or not ?

    https://consortiumnews.com/2017/12/18/questioning-the-russia-gate-motive/

    Additionally I read a lot about the views of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and as I am not a cyber specialist at all I cannot gauge how seriously their asessments should be taken- or have been taken by any other specialists .

    I would appreciate if anyone here has any further info on the VIPS.

    There is so much information spewing out daily that it is becoming harder to follow.

    Something is fundamentally wrong within this administration and it seems obvious that they are hiding something.
    But what is it?

  8. Bjorn Jensen says:

    I mistakenly attributed Gilbert Doctoriw’s piece to Robert Parry. Applogies. However, the position of Consirtium News remains the same.
    Russiagate is all
    hogwash.

    • zonefreezone says:

      If you are looking for intelligent  discussion here you are going to be disappointed.

      If your thing is to be the subject of competitive abuse and name-calling you will not be disappointed.

      as per Avattoir, see below vvv.

      • bmaz says:

        Hi there ZoneFreeZone guy. If you don’t like the conversation here, feel free to slide right the fuck back out of our comments and back to where you came from. I just looked through all your posted comments. You are such a whiny ass little troll that you give common trolly a bad name.

    • bmaz says:

      Man, you are either new to this trolling thing, or really bad at it.

      Robert Parry and “Consirtium News”. Hahahahahaha. Also, are the Consirtium brain trust still flat out STEALING our content from here? Spare me this tripe.

    • Silence Hand says:

      Unlike Avattoir, I was inclined to cut slack for the i vs o thing, since it’s an easy mistake to make while thumb typing.  The argument cited is patently ridiculous, so on the off chance that Mr. Jensen is for real and subject to reason I opted to respond seriously (below).  I don’t think it merits further analysis.  Of course, I also have a weakness for troll baiting, a habit I’m resolving to kick in the new year.

      I’m not party to nastiness that’s been visited on this blog from other sites or trollish commenters, and thus do not have the leather eyeballs and short tempers of some.  As an uninvolved newcomer, in fact, I’d say its a pretty minor issue.

    • bell says:

      hi bjorn,

      emptywheel is very polarized on this topic… i posted the Gilbert Doctorow commentary here on a previous thread and not a peep from anyone..  here is a link to alastair crooke’s latest – bad moon rising which goes along the same lines.. any contrary view on the topic of putin meddling in the usa election is a non starter here… the thought that the usa wants a war with russia, or that cold war 2 was initiated a good chunk of time before trump was anywhere in sight is not something most of the folks at ew want to ponder.. for them it is a simple slam dunk – russia stole their clinton win and trump is responsible in some way, shape or form.. even when the mueller investigation is showing the cia/fbi to be the unaccountable hacks they are, the clinton bots insist their lunch was eaten by putin… anything that doesn’t go along with the story line here is attacked as trolling.. all 5 of the regular ew posters will jump on you for that! thanks for your post..

      • Desider says:

        You ignore that for the longest while Marcie has been posting nay say about assuming the Russian links are accurate. But you’re just here for the driveby, not the accuracy. Ad lib ad lip on.

        • bell says:

          marcy does seem a lot more impartial then the few posters who post here constantly looking for red meat in every dispatch from the mueller investigation.. i do note however  the corollary stories that show the level of deception and depravity from the fbi and many out to take down trump don’t get near the same coverage…  i guess this implies all is fair in love and war and anything to take down trump is fair game in the land of the brave and the free..

          silence hand – i acknowledge what passes for serious consideration verses not here.. sometimes what is up is down and what is down is up… thanks..

          i see even bmaz chimed in with nothing to say… such a surprise!

           

      • Silence Hand says:

        Sir or madam;

        While I’m new to this board, my diagnosis after reading through many threads is that harsh reactions to trollish behavior (if not according-to-Hoyle trolling) are merely fairly understandable symptoms.  Perhaps look to your own posts, such as the above, for a sense of their cause.  I suspect you’ve foreclosed any chance of being taken seriously and the right to expect peeps in response to inane contrarianism.  I wonder if your sole purpose is to vex and make noise, because that’s what it seems.

        If so, may I suggest getting yourself a sandbox?

         

        • bmaz says:

          I have been here since the first day. This kind of nonsense is not what we are about, nor what we want. Never has been. But if you have an open comments section, you have to find a way to deal with Bell, Franklin and ZoneFreeZone. There are only a few of us here that actually are running the hamster wheels behind this site.

          We do it without ads. It is hard enough without dedicated trolls. Especially ones we thought we were long done with and who reared their ugly heads in anger yet again quite recently.

          Alas, that which was old is new again. Don’t mind the cleanup on aisle 5 when it needs to be done.

           

          • Silence Hand says:

            I can certainly appreciate all of that, and it’s clear that the site’s analytical essentials are qualitatively way above class.  It initially surprised me that trollish commentators spew the usual here, but I guess it shouldn’t have.  Regardless, it’s a mildly amusing sideshow.

            I can imagine that replay of such commenters reflects the quickly increasing urgency and importance of the subject matter.  A form of Saturn return, I suppose.

          • orionATL says:

            bmaz –

            i know you’ve seen this, but i want to bring it directly to your attention:

            it is clear from another commenter (SC, below) that a climate site, no doubt a big target for trolls, is doing something similar to what i suggest below.

            in the last few months this site has blossomed in both variety of commenters, informative, useful comments, and a general feeling of good will among commenters in a way i have not seen in years. trolls are deadly to – directly destructive of – this type of constructive commmunal behavior.

            the trolls need to be removed from the mainstream of conversation. the passive invocation: “don’t feed the troll” is worthless.

            some plan for quarantining trolls at emptywheel needs to be implemented. i’d bet rayne could give you a useful technical thought or two on the way to implementation.

            “….OrionATLsays:

            December 17, 2017 at 11:04 am

            FOR BMAZ:

            bmaz,you were bemoaning the appearances of trolls in your column.

            i had this great idea for dealing with trolls early this a. m.

            no need to ban their call number/isp address.

            trolls belong under bridges with their 4-legged goat cousins.

            create a permanent (or weekly/monthly) post called “under the bridge”.

            monitor takes all troll comments from where they appear in a specific post, copies them, and drops that comment into the “under the bridge” post with its time and date. a small note is left where the troll first posted “moved to under the bridge”.

            this serves the purpose of destroying the immediacy and continuity and annoyance of troll comment which is usually intended to taunt, disrupt, or demean.

            all troll contributions to emptywheel website are preserved (not that i personally would be so generous were it my website).

            there is no excuse for trolls making, or moderators, allowing extensive troll disruption of a legitimate argument.

            under the bridge with the goat fuckers!… ”

            “…. SCsays:

            December 17, 2017 at 2:50 pm

            Realclimate, one of the better blogs about climate change, gets hit by waves of climate trolls and does exactly that. Troll (and/or troll-like) comments land in the Bore Hole, a separate topic consisting of a chronological list of troll comments.

            This: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/category/the-bore-hole/

            Moving, presumably while reviewing them, troll comments to the Bore Hole keeps threads readable, avoids censoring, and provides a useful context for viewing trolls. From what I can tell, it works well for Real Climate and I’m surprised I don’t see that approach elsewhere…”

            http://www.realclimate.org/

            http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/category/the-bore-hole/

            .

            • Silence Hand says:

              I support the “sandboxing” idea, in which failure to hew to reasonable norms of communication can land one there.  I can imagine one might petition for removal from the sandbox.  Notably, honest disagreement (as opposed to obtuse wrangling) doesn’t seem to be problematic among thoughtful commenters.

            • lefty665 says:

              “this serves the purpose of destroying the immediacy and continuity and annoyance of troll comment which is usually intended to taunt, disrupt, or demean.”

              Remarkable orion that you would advocate for the segregation of so many of your own comments. Or maybe it is just a profound lack of self awareness.

          • matt says:

            I see some articulate and informed commentary from some of your “trolls.”  I have also seen impressively abusive language from the troll accusers.

            We’re all big kids here, please do not sensor the site and scrub opposing views.

  9. Avattoir says:

    It could be too fuzzy a concept to hope for ‘a better class of troll’, but surely not that they be able to spell & get folks’ names right.

  10. Dural says:

    Bjorn Jensen:

    Trump is hiding his finantial ties to certain Russians and perhaps knows now he has been filmed in Russia with women. Seams that Putin very reasonably wants Trump toremove NATO from Russia’s borders. The media is using this issue to distract and hide secret plans to continue destroying the Middle East and attack Iran as well as preventing Assian nations to establish an axis on nuclear and economic power

  11. greengiant says:

    The incompetence of EW trolls has gone viral. Figured out why Trump is #Fakenews 100 percent of the time. Not only does Trump lie all the time, he changes his lies all the time. This permits weak minds to choose themselves what they want to believe about him. Just cult recruitment. The less sales job the better let the target change their self identification. All should be alert to a Reichstag fire at any time,  perhaps even assisted by or blamed on Putin to further the narrative of “no collusion”.  Already Trump operatives are grinding public noise about the train wreck in Washington state might be caused by domestic dissidents. This time it seems simply the train was going 80 MPH in a 30 MPH zone. When the Trump team produces lies that would have made Goebbels blush what else are they capable of?

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    A faux conversation of the kind Faux News would delete from its text messages:

    OMG, you mean these people might be running the USG in a few weeks time?  Guess we’ll be working overtime to sort through the Russian connections.  The Bureau hasn’t seen so many since we covered Berkeley and Los Alamos in the 1940s.

    Some leads might be about the illicit import of eels, vodka and caviar, or their exchange for petty favors.  Some might be about corrupt exchanges of cash for favors.  Who knows, some might relate to why the president was so hell-bent on being nice to Vlad that he put his presidency in jeopardy before it even started.

  13. Silence Hand says:

    Bjorn: I think the bit you reference is so transparently yarglebargle that it opens you to accusations of “trolling”. In defense of your spelling, though, I’d note that I and O are right next to each other and a problem for thumb typing! Regarding consortium news and the “Russia investigation = hogwash”, my sense is that it’s designed to encourage tortured logic and wishful thinking. Overall, it is specious. Of course this is the null hypothesis, but public evidence argues strongly against it.

    Bjorn, I don’t think you’ll find much enthusiasm for hashing over it here, any more than you’ll find enthusiasm for debating young Earth creationism at a molecular evolution conference. Naturally, people with impressive sounding credentials can always hold and argue ridiculous contrarian views. As far as I know, Peter Duesberg still claims that HIV is not the causative agent of AIDS. The key to doing this is asking for “PROOF!!1!1” while constantly redefining that and throwing rhetorical sand. Well, I do not need to go to the core of the moon to discount the idea that it’s hollow with a vast city inside. If I’m walking on train tracks and I see a light coming towards me, I don’t need to physically encounter a train to decide to step off the tracks. Natually, Doctorow and ilk are free to tell me keep standing there, but I’m no fool. Nor should you be.

    BTW, assuming you’re not throwing sand yourself or sockpuppeting, ignore the direct response to your post. I’d say that the accusation of trolling is a measure of how absurd serious commenters find the argument you link.

  14. lefty665 says:

    Bjorn, It is my experience, over more than a decade, that Marcy calls things pretty straight, as generally do other posters like bmaz, Ed and Jim.  Marcy has stated on several occasions that it is her understanding that the Russians hacked the DNC based to some extent on information she is not free to disclose. From public information, which is all that is available to me, the case is not compelling. Traffic analysts like Binney (as good as anyone in the world, and better than most), and investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, suggest there are other possibilities. It also seems entirely possible there were several breaches of the DNC, both via IP and locally over the DNC network. Accepting one method of breach does not preclude others. There is absolutely no credible evidence so far that the Russians supplied Wikileaks with DNC data. It is even possible Assange is telling the truth that it did not come from the Ruskies.

    Marcy has done a couple of posts on what she has termed dumb fucking Democrats for using the largely discredited Steele dossier to attack Trump when there is much better information to beat him with. The idea being that using discredited and unsupported “facts” allows the Trumpies to factually discount opponents arguments. There are a number of those hysterical folks who hang out in the peanut gallery here. They are not hard to identify, they are RUSSIA TRUMP, COLLUSION, RUSSIA TRUMP, !!ALAS POOR HILLARY!! all the time and segue quickly into ad hominem attacks on those whose observations differ. The intensity usually varies inversely with the quality of their position. While the attacks are intended personally, I encourage you to ignore that and to take solace in the knowledge that the more intense the attack, the shakier the ground the attacker is on.

    Consortium News and Seymour Hersh, and some others including Greenwald, are good alternatives to MSM conventional wisdom. They have long histories of getting things right when much of America does not. That dates back to Iran Contra and the Me Lai massacre respectively. Marcy and Emptywheel are making a solid place in that tradition.

     

     

    • J-Mann says:

      What you said.  Marcy responds intelligently to questions and differing povs.  bmaz and the regular commenters Can. Not. Handle. anything that doesn’t fit their #RUSSIA #HACK #POORHILLARY groupthink, hence their pathetic smears of Robert Parry and anyone pointing out the gaping flaws in their conspiracy koolaid.

      Come for Marcy’s analysis.  Ignore the lockstep herd and their angry denials.

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