The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee acknowledged Thursday that a reference made between two FBI employees of a "secret society" could have been said in jest as opposed to evidence of an anti-Donald Trump plot.
"It's a real possibility," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, told CNN.
Republicans have seized on the exchange between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok, which was sent after the 2016 presidential election, as potential evidence of an anti-Trump bias at the agency. Strzok was a member of the team investigating Hillary Clinton's email server and, later, a member of Robert Mueller's special counsel team looking into Russia's attempted interference in the 2016 election.
Speaking to Fox News on Tuesday about the "secret society" reference, Johnson suggested bias and potential corruption at the upper echelons of the agency.
"What this is all about is further evidence of corruption -- more than bias -- but corruption at the highest levels of the FBI," Johnson said.
The Republican senator said at the time he obtained his information from an informant.
"And that secret society -- we have an informant talking about a group that were holding secret meetings off-site. There's so much smoke here, there's so much suspicion," Johnson said.
Johnson confirmed to CNN Wednesday he spoke to an informant who told him about the "off-site" meetings FBI managers were holding. But he acknowledged not knowing what the meetings were about, suggesting he wanted to dig into the matter.
The context of the "secret society" reference in the message, which has been viewed by CNN, is unclear. Strzok and Page's attorneys have declined to comment to CNN.
"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 a text message.
The Justice Department's Inspector General informed lawmakers Thursday that a trove of missing text messages exchanged between the two FBI employees has been recovered.
™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.