Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who came under fire by Republicans for sending politically charged text messages that disparaged President Donald Trump, was fired from the bureau late Friday, his attorney said on Monday.
Strzok is the third high-ranking person to be fired from the FBI during the Trump administration.
Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s attorney, said in a statement that FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich made the decision to terminate his client.
The decision, Goelman added, was at odds with a recommendation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which had called for Strzok to face a 60-day suspension and demotion from his supervisory responsibilities.
“The decision to fire Special Agent Strzok is not only a departure from typical Bureau practice, but also contradicts Director Wray’s testimony to Congress and his assurances that the FBI intended to follow its regular process in this and all personnel matters,” Goelman said.
Goelman said that his client’s firing was politically motivated and that his texts represented political speech protected by the First Amendment.
Earlier this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe after a scathing report by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog concluded he had leaked information to reporters and misled investigators about his actions.
Former FBI Director James Comey was fired by Trump in May 2017 after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein helped pen a memo that was critical of how Comey handled the FBI’s probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Later, however, Trump claimed he fired Comey over that “Russia thing,” apparently referring to the FBI probe into whether his presidential campaign colluded with Russia. Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion and called the investigation a witch hunt.
Both Comey and McCabe said, however, they believe they were fired because they are crucial witnesses in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into whether Trump may have tried to obstruct the investigation.
Strzok was deeply involved in the FBI’s Clinton email investigation and was temporarily assigned to Mueller’s office. He was removed from that post after his politically charged texts came to light.
His texts were criticized by the Justice Department’s inspector general in a recent report that examined the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email probe. Republicans in Congress have repeatedly pointed to them as evidence the FBI is biased against Trump.
An embattled FBI agent whose anti-Trump text messages exposed the Justice Department to claims of institutional bias vigorously defended himself at an extraordinary congressional hearing that devolved into shouting matches, finger-pointing and veiled references to personal transgressions.
Peter Strzok on Thursday testified publicly for the first time since being removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team following the discovery of texts last year that were traded with an FBI lawyer in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.
In a chaotic hearing that spanned 10 hours, he insisted he never allowed personal opinions to affect his work, though he did acknowledge being dismayed by Donald Trump’s behavior during the campaign. He also said he had never contemplated leaking damaging information he knew about the Trump campaign. And he called the hearing “just another victory notch in Putin’s belt,” referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“At no time, in any of those texts, did those personal beliefs ever enter into the realm of any action I took,” Strzok told lawmakers.
In breaking his silence, Strzok came face-to-face with Republicans who argued that the texts had tainted two hugely consequential FBI probes he had helped steer: inquiries into Hillary Clinton’s email use and possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“Agent Strzok had Hillary Clinton winning the White House before he finished investigating her,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Agent Strzok had Donald Trump impeached before he even started investigating him. That is bias.”
Republican Rep. Darrell Issa made Strzok read some of his texts aloud, including some with profane language. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte asked colleagues to imagine being investigated by someone who “hated you” and “disparaged you in all manner of ways.”
“Would anyone sitting here today believe that this was an acceptable state of affairs, particularly at an agency whose motto is ‘Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity’? I think not,” Goodlatte said.
Strzok repeatedly insisted the texts, including ones in which he called Trump a “disaster” and said “We’ll stop” a Trump candidacy, did not reflect political bias and had not infected his work.
He said the Trump investigation originated not out of personal animus but rather from concern that Russia was meddling in the election, including what he said were allegations of “extraordinary significance” of a Russian offer of assistance to a Trump campaign member.
He made clear his exasperation at being the focus of a hearing when Russian election interference had successfully sowed discord in America.
“I have the utmost respect for Congress’ oversight role, but I truly believe that today’s hearing is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart,” Strzok said.
The hearing brought to the surface a little-discussed reality of public service: Law enforcement agents and other government workers are permitted to espouse political views but are expected to keep them separate from their work. Strzok said he was not alone in holding political opinions, noting that colleagues in 2016 supported both Clinton and Trump but did not reflect those views on the job.
“What I am telling you is I and the other men and women of the FBI, every day take our personal beliefs, and set those aside in vigorous pursuit of the truth — wherever it lies, whatever it is.”
To which Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, responded, “And I don’t believe you.”
Strzok said under aggressive questioning that a much-discussed August 2016 text in which he vowed “we’ll stop” a Trump candidacy followed Trump’s denigration of the family of a dead U.S. service member. He said the late-night, off-the-cuff text reflected his belief that Americans would not stomach such “horrible, disgusting behavior” by the presidential candidate.
But, he added in a raised voice and emphatic tone: “It was in no way — unequivocally — any suggestion that me, the FBI, would take any action whatsoever to improperly impact the electoral process for any candidate. So, I take great offense, and I take great disagreement to your assertion of what that was or wasn’t.”
Plus, he said, both the Clinton and Russia investigations were handled by large teams that “would not tolerate any improper behavior in me anymore than I would tolerate it in them.
“That is who we are as the FBI,” Strzok said in an animated riff that drew Democratic applause. “And the suggestion that I, in some dark chamber somewhere in the FBI, would somehow cast aside all of these procedures, all of these safeguards and somehow be able to do this is astounding to me. It simply couldn’t happen.”
The hearing exposed clear partisan divides in the House judiciary and oversight committees, as Democrats accused Republicans of trying to divert attention from Trump’s ties to Russia by excessively focusing on Strzok.
Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee said he would give Strzok a Purple Heart if he could. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-New Jersey, said, “I have never seen my colleagues so out of control, so angry.”
But Republicans eager to undermine Mueller’s investigation berated Strzok, citing the texts as evidence of partisan bias within law enforcement. An inspector general report last month blamed Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page for creating an appearance of impropriety through their texts but found that the outcome of the Clinton investigation wasn’t tainted by bias.
At one point, Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, invoked Strzok’s personal life by alluding to the fact the texts were exchanged while he and Page were in a relationship. Gohmert speculated about whether he looked “so innocent” when he looked into his wife’s eyes and lied about the affair.
The comments sparked immediate objections from Democrats, who called them outrageous, and Strzok was livid. He told Gohmert the fact that he would say that “shows more what you stand for” than anything else. Gohmert tried to shout over him and the committee chairman vainly tried to restore order.
When Strzok declined to answer some questions on the Russia probe, Goodlatte suggested Republicans might recess the hearing and hold him in contempt. Democrats objected and Goodlatte eventually let the hearing proceed.
In his opening statement, Strzok acknowledged that while his text message criticism was “blunt,” it wasn’t directed at one person or party and included jabs not only at Trump but also at Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
He said he was one of the few people in 2016 who knew the details of Russian election interference and its possible connections with the Trump campaign, and that that information could have derailed Trump’s election chances. But, he said, “the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind.”
FBI Director Chris Wray has said employees who were singled out for criticism by the inspector general have been referred to internal disciplinary officials. Strzok’s lawyer said he was escorted from the FBI building last month as the disciplinary process proceeds.
Page, who left the FBI in May, is expected to be interviewed by lawmakers behind closed doors on Friday after being subpoenaed to appear.
Associated Press writer Chad Day in Washington contributed to this report.
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An FBI agent whose anti-Trump text messages fueled suspicions of partisan bias will tell lawmakers Thursday that his work has never been tainted by politics and that the intense scrutiny he is facing represents “just another victory notch in Putin’s belt,” according to prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press.
Peter Strzok, who helped lead FBI investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email use and potential coordination between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign, was testifying publicly for the first time since being removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team following the discovery of the derogatory text messages last year.
He will say in his opening statement that he has never allowed personal opinions to infect his work, that he knew information during the campaign that had the potential to damage Trump but never contemplated leaking it and that the focus on him by Congress is misguided and plays into “our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”
Republican members of the House judiciary and oversight committees were expected to grill Strzok for hours as they argue that the text messages with FBI lawyer Lisa Page color the outcome of the Clinton email investigation and undercut the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russian election interference. Trump himself has launched personal attacks against the two FBI officials, including a Wednesday evening tweet that asked “how can the Rigged Witch Hunt proceed when it was started, influenced and worked on, for an extended period of time” by Strzok. He described the texts as “hate filled and biased.”
In the prepared remarks, Strzok acknowledges that while his text message criticism was “blunt,” it was not directed at one person or political party and included jabs not only at Trump but also at Clinton as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders. He said there was “simply no evidence of bias in my professional actions.”
“Let me be clear, unequivocally and under oath: not once in my 26 years of defending my nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took,” he will say.
He says that he was one of the few people during the 2016 election who knew the details of Russian election interference and its possible connections with people in the Trump orbit, and that that information could have derailed Trump’s election chances. “But,” he said, “the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind.”
Although Strzok has said through his lawyer that he was eager to tell his side of the story, he makes clear his exasperation at being the focal point of a congressional hearing at a time when Russian election interference has been successfully “sowing discord in our nation and shaking faith in our institutions.”
“I have the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role, but I truly believe that today’s hearing is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart,” Strzok will say, according to the remarks. “As someone who loves this country and cherishes its ideals, it is profoundly painful to watch and even worse to play a part in.”
He also flatly rejected the president’s characterizations of Mueller’s work and the threat of Russian election interference, saying, “This investigation is not politically motivated, it is not a witch hunt, it is not a hoax.”
The sharp tone of Strzok’s statement sets the stage for a contentious hearing following hours of closed-door questioning last week. It also reflected an effort to shift attention away from the content of Strzok’s texts and onto what he says is the more pressing issue: the Russians’ “grave attack” on American democracy and continuing efforts to divide the country.
But that’s unlikely to be the focus of Thursday’s hearing. Republicans eager for ways to discredit Mueller’s investigation have for months held up the texts from Strzok and Page to support allegations of anti-Trump bias within federal law enforcement. One message that has received particular attention, and is likely to be discussed at the hearing, is an Aug. 8, 2016 text in which Strzok, discussing with Page the prospect of a Trump win, says, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”
The Justice Department’s inspector general has criticized Strzok and Page for creating the appearance of impropriety through the texts. But the report said it found no evidence of political bias in the FBI’s decision to not pursue criminal charges against Clinton. And many Democrats say actions taken by law enforcement during the campaign season — including announcing a reopening of the investigation into Clinton just days before the election — actually wound up harming the Democratic candidate and aiding the Republican candidate, Trump.
FBI Director Chris Wray says the FBI has referred to internal disciplinary officials employees who were singled out for criticism in the inspector general’s report. Strzok’s lawyer has said he was escorted from the FBI building last month as the disciplinary process winds its way through the system.
Page left the bureau in May. House lawmakers have subpoenaed her to appear for a private interview and warned her that they would begin the process of holding her in contempt if she does not show this week. Her lawyer says Page had offered to voluntarily appear before the committees later this month but needed more clarification about what the lawmakers would be asking.
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