The Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) has decided to fire Peter Strzok, one of the top agents previously tasked with overseeing the Trump-Russia investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller, following the revelation of text messages presenting the appearance of an anti-Trump bias several months ago.
According to a new report from Vox, a publication which received an email statement from Strzok’s attorney Aitan Goelman, it was the FBI’s deputy director David Bowdich who specifically ordered Strzok’s firing for unspecified reasons, defying the disciplinary office recommending a lower punishment for the agent.
This decision was quickly celebrated by the president, a key subject of the investigation, who’s been more than happy to label federal agents as participants in a political “witch hunt” into the potential criminal behavior of his 2016 presidential campaign:
“Agent Peter Strzok was just fired from the FBI — finally,” Trump tweeted early Monday morning. “The list of bad players in the FBI & DOJ gets longer & longer. Based on the fact that Strzok was in charge of the Witch Hunt, will it be dropped? It is a total Hoax. No Collusion, No Obstruction — I just fight back! Strzok… was [also] in charge of the Crooked Hillary Clinton sham investigation,” the president continued. “It was a total fraud on the American public and should be properly redone!”
In early December, the DOJ’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a scathing 500-page report documenting major missteps within the F.B.I. under the tenure of former director James Comey. The report, originally obtained by The Washington Post, cites over 50,000 texts that were exchanged between former F.B.I. Agents Strzok and his lover Lisa Page, a trial attorney on Mueller’s team. The scandal surrounds messages showing discontent for then-candidate Trump and a personal preference for his rival Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and Democratic nominee.
Behind the scenes, Strzok was among the lead agents heading up the 2016 criminal investigation into Sec. Clinton’s use of an unsecured private email server while at the State Department (DOS).
According to government sources with CNN—the network jokingly called the “Clinton News Network” — there are electronic records which show Strzok drafted Comey’s famous decision not to indict Clinton, changing the language from her being “grossly negligent” with DOS top secret classified information, which could be considered a criminal offence, to the new term of “extremely careless,” which has nowhere near the same kind of legal punch.
These records haven’t been released to the public for verification, though they were highlighted by the ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. During this time, the lovers exchanged texts worried about the political implications of a Clinton indictment:
(Extract from the Senate Judiciary Committee)
Page: “One more thing: she might be our next president. The last thing you need us going in there loaded for bear. You think she’s going to remember or care that it was more DOJ than FBI?”
Strzok: “Agreed. I called Bill [Priestap, the FBI’s chief of counterintelligence] and relayed what we discussed. He agrees. I will email you and [redacted] the same.”
Page: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”
Strzok: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”
(Strzok was the Deputy Assistant Director of Counterintelligence at the time.)
“I don’t recall writing that text,” Strzok said during an open hearing with the House Judiciary and Oversight Committee in July. “What I can tell you is that text in no way suggested that I or the FBI would take any action to influence the candidacy. As I’ve stated, that text was written late at night, in shorthand.”
While the inspector general heavily criticized Strzok, expressing concern that potential bias could infest Mueller’s investigation, the report stops short of presenting evidence that political views affected his decisions and made clear “Strzok was not the sole decisionmaker.” This makes our job difficult given that CNN’s anonymous sources are making the more anti-Clinton claims against Strzok and the Trump government aren’t leaping to the president’s narrative. They’ve both flipped the script on each other, in a sense, turning two sides of partisan political theatre into a genuine he said-she said.
Whatever the truth may be, Mueller decided to terminate Strzok’s position from the Trump-Russia investigation months ago. The appearance of bias against the president, the key subject of the investigation, was too much of an ethical liability for the likes of Mueller. Now the F.B.I. has followed suit, though the decision has a messier implication. Without providing a reason for his firing, the F.B.I. has sent a message that any private conversation between agents about presidential candidates and subjects/targets is a fireable offense — where no evidence or investigation need necessarily be required.
Job ethics aside, isn’t there at least a free speech conversation to be had there? Doesn’t the F.B.I. have a process to prevent wrongful termination? Or ethical oversight in how the Clinton/Russia probe decisions were made? Or is the businessman-in-chief and the lower lackeys able to hire and fire without much gridlock? Strzok now joins former F.B.I. Director James Comey and former Deputy F.B.I. Director Andrew McCabe in the lost list of agency officials fired by Trump’s government. The right-wing frame this as swamp draining, ridding the agencies of political activists among their ranks. The left-wing is more cautious, wanting transparency to ensure a semblance of justice.
These narratives require questions as we move forward.
(You can read the publicly released texts here.)