An FBI agent’s reference to “an insurance policy” in a much-debated text message was meant to convey that the bureau needed to aggressively investigate allegations of collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, according to people familiar with his account.
The agent didn’t intend to suggest a secret plan to harm the candidate but rather address a colleague who believed the Federal Bureau of Investigation could take its time because Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was certain to win the election, the people said.
The text was one of many that have recently emerged in which FBI Agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page disparaged Mr. Trump, calling him an “idiot” and “loathsome human,” among other things.
Republicans have cited the texts as evidence of bias. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote the Justice Department: “Some of these texts appear to go beyond merely expressing a private political opinion, and appear to cross the line into taking some official action to create an ‘insurance policy’ against a Trump presidency.”
Mr. Strzok was the lead agent on the FBI investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state. Until late July, he was also the top investigator in special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, but Mr. Mueller removed him after learning of the texts.
The Justice Department’s Inspector General is examining the texts as part of an investigation of how the FBI and Justice Department handled the Clinton inquiry.
Few of the messages have attracted as much attention as the one sent by Mr. Strzok to Ms. Page in August 2016 mentioning an “insurance policy,” which critics have read as reflecting an intent to prevent Mr. Trump from winning.
Mr. Strzok wrote, “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office—that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40…”
Ms. Page and Mr. Strzok couldn’t be reached for comment.
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.
Mr. Strzok emphasized the seriousness with which he viewed the allegations in a message to Ms. Page on Aug. 11, just a few days before the “insurance” text. “OMG I CANNOT BELIEVE WE ARE SERIOUSLY LOOKING AT THESE ALLEGATIONS AND THE PERVASIVE CONNECTIONS,” he texted.
Mr. Trump has denied any collusion with Russia, depicting the inquiry as a witch hunt and a Democratic hoax. He has voiced skepticism of the notion that Russia interfered in the election, despite the conclusions of the intelligence community. Moscow has denied any such meddling.
In another text drawing questions from Congress, Ms. Page suggested she and Mr. Strzok were using an untraceable phone to communicate about the Clinton investigation. But Ms. Page was providing an excuse that Mr. Strzok could use with his wife if she ever raised a question about his texting habits, not referring to any actual phone, people familiar with her account said. The Washington Post first reported that explanation.
Some Republicans have called for a second special counsel to look into the allegations of bias.
Justice Department officials are defending the integrity of the investigation. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Friday the FBI “is doing a great job around the country” and suggested critics should wait for answers before jumping to conclusions.
“Sometimes things that might appear to be bad in the press have more innocent explanations,” Mr. Sessions said. “Fairness and justice should also be provided to our personnel.”
Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page complained about many people besides Mr. Trump in the 375 text messages released by the Justice Department. Among those who drew barbs were Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), former Attorney General Eric Holder, Chelsea Clinton and Mr. Sessions himself.