January 3, 2018 / 7:46 PM / 5 months ago

Public interest group sues Justice Department for release of FBI messages

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A public interest group sued the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday, demanding a quicker response to a request for internal communications about a decision to show some reporters private text messages between two FBI officials who worked for special counsel Robert Mueller.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), whose leadership includes critics of President Donald Trump, asked a federal judge to declare that the Justice Department was violating the Freedom of Information Act by not expediting the group’s request.

The Justice Department on Dec. 12 invited a small group of journalists to examine private text messages exchanged during the 2016 presidential election campaign by FBI lawyer Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, a senior FBI agent who at one point was working on FBI investigations into possible contacts between Trump’s team and Russia.

In the message traffic, Strzok was quoted as saying Democrat Hillary Clinton “just has to win” and he and Page expressed concern that a Trump presidency could politicize the FBI.

Trump and his supporters, including members of Congress, have cited the messages between the FBI employees as evidence of alleged bias against Trump by Mueller’s team.

Mueller is investigating whether Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the election. Russia has denied meddling and Trump has said there was no collusion.

CREW’s lawsuit said it asked the Justice Department for internal correspondence on how the department decided to release the messages to the media, any correspondence with Congress about such a release and communications with reporters regarding the meeting at which the materials were disclosed.

The Justice Department had no comment.

Trump administration officials say a decision by the Obama Justice Department to release internal communications about an anti-drug operation that went wrong set a precedent for the release of messages exchanged between Strzok and Page.

Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Bill Trott

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