The Department of Justice on Thursday acknowledged that some members of the media received copies of texts between two FBI agents before members of Congress did, and said the disclosures "were not authorized."
In a statement to Politico, Department of Justice spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said key members of the House Judiciary Committee were given copies of the texts between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page ahead of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's public testimony on Wednesday, Business Insider reports.
Some messages between Strzok and Page expressed support for Hillary Clinton and disdain toward then-presidential candiate Donald Trump during the 2016 election.
Strzok was part of the operation overseeing the Clinton email investigation, and both agents worked for a time on the special counsel investigation into alleged Russian meddling and collusion. Once the texts were uncovered over the summer, Strzok was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and relegated to the FBI's human-resources department. Page had previously left her stint on the team before Mueller's office was made aware of the text messages.
After sharing the text messages with lawmakers, the Department of Justice's public affairs division then shared the same messages with reporters, but some members of the media "had already received copies."
"As we understand now, some members of the media had already received copies of the texts before that—but those disclosures were not authorized by the department," Flores said.
The text were uncovered in July as part of an ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice's inspector general into how the FBI handled the probe into Clinton's use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state.
A Department of Justice official on Wednesday told Business Insider the department "often" provided reporters with the information they give to congressional committees to "avoid any confusion."
The department's statements were made in response to Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee asking for an explanation of the early media release, and inquiring whether the Office of Inspector General was consulted before the release. The Democrats also sent a similar letter to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
The department consulted with a senior career ethics adviser who, despite Flores' description that the release was not initially authorized, "determined that there were no legal or ethical concerns, including under the Privacy Act, that prohibited the release of the information to the public either by members of Congress or by the department," Politico reported.
Rosenstein also addressed the release of information to the media on Wednesday during the public hearing.
"Generally speaking, our goal is to be as forthcoming with the media as we can, when it is lawful and appropriate to do so," Rosenstein said during the hearing. "So I would not approve anybody disclosing something that was not appropriate to disclose."