- The federal judge who recused himself from the Michael Flynn case is personal friends with Peter Strzok
- The friendshipÂ is discussed in text messages the FBI agent exchanged with his mistress, Lisa Page
- Contrerasâ€™ recusal has been a source of mystery ever since he was taken off the Flynn case
The federal judge who recused himself from the Michael Flynn case is personal friends with Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who conducted the White House interview in which the former national security adviser has pleaded guilty to lying.
The friendship between Strzok and Rudolph Contreras, a judge on the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., is discussed in text messages the FBI agent exchanged with his mistress, Lisa Page.
The Justice Department redacted the references to Contreras in 384 pages of text messages provided to Congress. Congressional investigators read the underlying documents and have filled in some of the gaps. The unredacted versions of the texts were obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Now, twoÂ Republican lawmakers are questioning the DOJâ€™s handling of the text messages and also asking if Contrerasâ€™ recusal is tied to his friendship with Strzok.
In the texts, exchanged on July 25, 2016, Strzok refers to Contreras, an Obama appointee, as his friend. He also appears to acknowledge that the relationship could cause conflicts of interest warranting recusal.
Two months before the exchange, Contreras was appointed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). As the FBIâ€™s deputy chief of counterintelligence at the time, many of Strzokâ€™s investigations went through FISC.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican, posed two â€œfundamentalâ€ questions raised by the text messages: â€œWhy did [DOJ] make it hard for us to figure this out? Why did Contreras ultimately recuse himself?â€
Strzokâ€™s text messages were discovered during a Justice Department inspector generalâ€™s investigation into the FBIâ€™s handling of former Secretary of State Hillary Clintonâ€™s email probe.
Strzok was one of the top investigators on that matter. He also oversaw the FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential campaign. As part of that investigation, he conducted the Jan. 24, 2017, interview of Flynn. (RELATED: Top Clinton Aides Faced No Charges After Making False Statements To Peter Strzok)
The Justice Department has provided 1.2 million documents to the inspector general for its investigation. In contrast, only 3,162 documents have been given to the Judiciary Committee, which has oversight on the Justice Department.
â€œWe believe that we need to get more documents from the Department of Justice and FBI that are not redacted, and we need to get them quickly,â€ said North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee.
Contrerasâ€™ recusal has been a source of mystery ever since he was taken off the Flynn case on Dec. 7. He was appointed on Nov. 30, and the next day, on Dec. 1, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents â€” one of whom was Strzok â€” during his Jan. 24 interview in the White House.
Flynn, who served as national security adviser at the time, acknowledged lying to the FBI about contacts he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The day after Flynn pleaded guilty, newspapers reported that Strzok was removed from the special counselâ€™s Russia investigation because he sent politically charged, anti-Trump text messages to Page.
The messages show that Strzok referred to President Donald Trump as an â€œidiot,â€ while mocking the Republicanâ€™s supporters. Shortly after the Russia investigation was opened, Strzok also discussed an â€œinsurance policyâ€ in August 2016 against Trumpâ€™s possible presidential election. (RELATED: FBI Officials Discussed â€˜Insurance Policyâ€™ Against Trump Election)
Contreras recused himself from the Flynn case five days after those reports surfaced.
Because Contreras was on the Flynn case for a matter of days, he did little more than receive Flynnâ€™s guilty plea and sign papers granting Flynnâ€™s release from custody. Judge Emmet Sullivan, a Clinton appointee, is now handling the case.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. District Court in Washington did not respond to a request for comment about Contrerasâ€™ recusal.
â€œRudy is on the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court]! Did you know that?â€ Page, an FBI attorney, wrote to Strzok on July 25, 2016.
â€œJust appointed two months ago,â€ Strzok replied.
Contreras joined the FISC court in May 2016. The court reviews and approves warrants to conduct surveillance on Americans suspected of being agents of foreign governments. One such warrant was granted in October 2016 against Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser. (RELATED: Judge Recuses Himself From Flynn Case, But Nobody Knows Why)
It is not believed that Contreras was involved in approving the Page warrant or any of the three renewals that were approved in 2017.
â€œHe mentioned thinking about it even though he was junior, they needed people and they especially needed minorities, and then he said heâ€™d gotten on a month or two ago at a graduation party we were both at,â€ Strzok told Page of Contreras.
The texts then turned to a discussion about whether the relationship should warrant recusal by Contreras on any espionage cases in which Strzok was involved.
Strzok wrote that a colleague â€œbrought up a good point about being circumspect in talking to [Contreras] in terms of not placing him into a situation where heâ€™d have to recuse himself.â€
Page dismissed Strzokâ€™s concern.
â€œI canâ€™t imagine either one of you could talk about anything in detail meaningful enough to warrant recusal,â€ she wrote.
One text from Strzok suggests he realized that his friendship with Contreras would warrant recusal by the judge.
â€œReally? Rudy, Iâ€™m in charge of espionage for the FBI. Any espionage FISA comes before him, what should he do? Given his friend oversees them?â€ he wrote.
â€œStandards for recusal are quite high. I just donâ€™t think this poses an actual conflict. And he doesnâ€™t know what you do?â€ Page responded.
Strzok replied by saying that Contreras â€œgenerallyâ€ knew what Strzok did for a living.
â€œNot the level or scope or area. But heâ€™s super thoughtful and rigorous about ethics and conflicts. [redacted] suggested a social setting with others would probably be better than a one on one meeting,â€ he said.Â (RELATED: Op-ED: General Flynn Should WITHDRAW His Guilty Plea)
Itâ€™s not known whether Flynnâ€™s legal team will make an issue out of the links between Strzok and Contreras. One source close to Flynn said that it is something worth exploring. Flynn is currently cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his plea agreement.
Robert Kelner, Flynnâ€™s attorney, declined comment.