The FBI has fired agent Peter Strzok, who helped lead the bureau’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election until officials discovered he had been sending anti-Trump texts.
Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s lawyer, said FBI Deputy Director David L. Bowdich ordered the firing on Friday — even though the director of the FBI office that normally handles employee discipline had decided Strzok should face only a demotion and 60-day suspension. Goelman said the move undercuts the FBI’s repeated assurances that Strzok would be afforded the normal disciplinary process.
I can’t say that I know enough about the FBI’s internal disciplinary procedures to say how unusual it is for the deputy director to overrule the bureau’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which recommended a much lighter sanction (they ruled that he should be subject to a demotion and 60-day suspension, which is still serious). But just to be clear about this, the misconduct that Strzok committed was exchanging texts with another FBI employee with whom he was having an affair, Lisa Page, in which they disparaged then-candidate Donald Trump, the subject of an investigation in which Strzok was participating. That’s it. Trump has managed to spin that out into a grand conspiracy against him, and if propagating that idea required trashing the FBI, he was only too happy to do so.
Call me crazy, but I’m guessing this was not the first time an investigator had a low opinion of the target of their investigation. But that brings up something else to remember: We’ve only seen Strzok and Page’s texts because the Justice Department released them. What the Justice Department hasn’t done is reviewed and released the text messages of any other agents who might have had something to say about Trump or Hillary Clinton.
Which does matter, because we know from multiple reports that there was a coterie of agents in the New York FBI office who despised Clinton and were committed to ensuring her defeat, and who undertook a campaign of leaks to the media — and, in at least one case, to Trump ally Devin Nunes — in order to undermine her. But we don’t know who these agents were, let alone with whom they might have been having affairs. I’m guessing that their text messages from 2016 might be downright fascinating.
And as Strzok made clear in his testimony last month, if he had wanted to derail Trump’s candidacy, he could have leaked details of the investigation to the media, but he didn’t. Nor have Republicans been able to point to any actions he took that were outside established procedures or biased the investigation in any way. If anything, the investigation into the Trump campaign’s numerous contacts with Russians and the Russian government’s multifaceted effort to help Trump get elected was overly cautious. Yet Republicans imagine an anti-Trump conspiracy within the FBI that went after Trump by … assiduously protecting the confidentiality of the investigation lest its existence have an effect on the election. Perhaps their diabolical plan involved letting him get elected and then show the world that he’s an erratic buffoon.
What’s the lesson in all this? Imagine that you’re an FBI agent, doing your best to do your job. You see someone like Strzok become an unwilling celebrity when Republicans make him into the villain of their imagined conspiracy — and then you see him fired, possibly because of political pressure. Then you watch as the president of the United States sends out tweets like this, saying that your colleagues should be put in jail if they aren’t sufficiently loyal to him:
As a law enforcement official told The Post in February, “There’s a lot of anger. The irony is it’s a conservative-leaning organization, and it’s being trashed by conservatives. At first it was just perplexing. Now there’s anger, because it’s not going away.”
No one could think Strzok’s firing will mollify the president. He’ll continue to trash the FBI and the Justice Department whenever he feels threatened. And when Robert S. Mueller III hands down more indictments and reveals more evidence of Trump’s wrongdoing, it will only get worse.