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Top GOP senator switches gears, says FBI secret society text might be a joke

Sen. Ron Johnson admitted Thursday it's "entirely possible" the mention of an FBI "secret society" in a text -- a text that has spawned far-reaching conservative theories and something he himself had suggested had substance to it earlier in the week -- was a joke. 

Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, suggested to reporters Thursday that a text between then-FBI agents Lisa Page and Peter Strzok mentioning a "secret society" may not be all that conservatives -- himself included -- thought it was. Only the day before, Johnson, appearing on Fox News, said he had heard from "somebody who has talked to our committee that there -- there is a group of individuals in the FBI that was holding secret, off-site meetings." Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, first raised concerns over the "secret society" text earlier this week, after the Justice Department delivered thousands of texts between Page and Strzok to Capitol Hill last week. 

The text, CNN reported Thursday, referred to joke gift calendars featuring Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society," Page wrote to Strzok in the text message, which was first reported by ABC News.

GOP members' talk of the text only heightened conservatives' concern over anti-Trump texts Strzok and Page exchanged. Those texts ultimately led to Strzok's removal from special counsel Robert Mueller's team. News that the Department of Justice was missing texts for a five-month period between Strzok and Page prompted concern about operations at the FBI. The DOJ's watchdog recently acknowledged Thursday that it has recovered at least a portion of the missing texts between the two through forensic tools. 

Texts between Strzok and Page, however, haven't been the only ones missing. According to a senior DOJ official, thousands of FBI-issued Samsung 5 phones had a technical glitch that resulted in a failure to preserve texts

Johnson told reporters Thursday he is reserving judgment about the "secret society" text until he sees the texts.

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.