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Conservative conspiracy theory about FBI texts is bullshit, according to ... Fox News

A new article contradicts wild claims made by, among others, Fox News’s leading television hosts.

FBI Headquarters,  J. Edgar Hoover Building - Washington, DC (Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Fox News just published a story that directly cuts against a conspiracy theory being pushed by the network’s television hosts, congressional Republicans, and the president himself.

Yes, that Fox News.

For the past few days, Fox News has been featuring wall-to-wall coverage of an unknown number of text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page that had disappeared from FBI server records. Previous Strzok and Page messages had included a number of vitriolic comments about President Trump — even a reference to an “insurance policy” against his election.

So the missing texts were taken by the White House, pro-Trump Republicans in Congress, and many in the conservative media as proof that the FBI was covering up a vast anti-Trump conspiracy at the bureau.

“This is like Watergate but far worse,” Sean Hannity said on his Monday night Fox show. “This reeks of law-breaking, it reeks of conspiracy, and it reeks of obstruction of justice.”

Yet on Wednesday afternoon, Fox published an article on its website by reporter Jake Gibson, saying this theory was flatly wrong. Gibson writes, citing “federal law enforcement officials,” that the messages were deleted by a technical error, not malice — one that had affected not just Strzok and Page’s phones, but “thousands” of Bureau-issued devices between the dates of December 14, 2016, and May 17, 2017.

“The gap in records covered a crucial period, raising suspicion among GOP lawmakers as to how those messages disappeared,” Gibson writes. “But Fox News is told that the glitch affected the phones of ‘nearly’ 10 percent of the FBI’s 35,000 employees.”

So either one of two things is happening here: Fox News has gotten a huge story wrong in a way that deeply undercuts the president, or its big-name talk show hosts like Hannity have been peddling a narrative that has absolutely zero basis in fact — but dovetails directly with a broader attack on the FBI aimed at undercutting special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

We report, you decide.

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