But perhaps no individual has been the target of more virulent or more demeaning presidential abuse than former FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Now 40, Page has been a Trump target — indeed, a seeming Trump obsession — for going on two years now, since the Justice Department leaked her private text messages with FBI colleague Peter Strzok.
Page had an affair with Strzok — “the most wrong thing I’ve ever done in my life,” as she told me during an interview published Sunday by the Daily Beast, the first time Page has spoken publicly about her ordeal. Her texts with Strzok — as the two were working on the probe into Clinton’s emails and Russian interference in the upcoming 2016 election — revealed hostility toward Trump.
So Page offered up a tempting and convenient target for Trump’s ire. But why has it been so intense and so constant? Page’s decision to come forward — “I decided to take my power back,” she told me — raises the question of why she has served as such an intense and constant subject of presidential abuse. I suspect the explanation is twofold: Page embodies two groups that most incite Trump’s wrath when threatened: she is a public servant — a member of the so-called deep state, as Trump sees it — and, perhaps even more inciting to Trump, she is a woman who has dared to stand up to him.
Trump’s obsession with the “deep state” is well documented. If anything, it is growing, as members of the Foreign Service and other career civil servants provide evidence against him in the impeachment proceedings. Just last month, as he interceded in the military justice system, casting his pardon of two former Army officers accused of war crimes and restoring the rank of a Navy SEAL, Trump described them as “three great warriors against the deep state.”
The president’s hostility toward powerful women has also long been evident; they seem to particularly outrage him. Trump’s favorite female targets include the Squad, Christine Blasey Ford, E. Jean Carroll and Elizabeth Warren. The president’s verbal assaults on women run the gamut from attacking Megyn Kelly’s physiology (“blood coming out of her wherever”) to attacking Carly Fiorina’s appearance (“Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?”).
Those two strands came together in Trump’s venomous reaction to Page. He has not held back from attacking Strzok, but the way he talks about Page is markedly different. While the president never comments on Strzok’s physical appearance, his descriptions of Page drip sexism and misogyny. It is always Strzok “and his FBI lover, Lisa Page,” “the lovely Lisa Page,” “FBI Lover/Agent Lisa Page.” The president’s use of the word “lovely” has a particularly patronizing undertone, as though Page’s value is completely a result of her appearance. The use of the word “lover” serves a similar function, as though Page, an experienced lawyer who rose through the ranks of the Justice Department and FBI, is valued and relevant only for her sexuality.
To spend time with Page, as I have over the past several weeks, is to understand the toll of Trump’s unrelenting assault on her and its fundamental unfairness. “I don’t ever know when the president’s going to attack next,” she told me. “You don’t really get used to it.” Page, in my time with her, came off as the opposite of the one-dimensional, sexualized creature of Trump’s portrayal; she is smart, competent and self-made, a dedicated civil servant who desperately wanted to keep working for the government at a fraction of what she could make in the private sector. She is heartbroken at not only what Trump has done to upend her life, but also the harm he has inflicted on her beloved FBI.
At this point in the Trump administration, I suppose, we should no longer be surprised by much of what he does — by his hostility toward public servants or by his deep-seated misogyny. No doubt this is politically useful, as attacks on people such as Page help Trump inflame his base; perhaps it is also simply therapeutic for the president to lash out at her. But, of course, empathy is not in the Trump character. “When Lisa Page, the lover of Peter Strzok, talks about being ‘crushed’, and how innocent she is, ask her to read Peter’s ‘Insurance policy’ text to her,” Trump tweeted after my article was published, referring to a text Strzok sent to Page before the election that said he wanted an “insurance policy” in case Trump was elected.
In fact, Page’s reference to “crushing” in the piece involved what Trump has done to the Justice Department. But Trump is incapable of understanding loyalty to an institution and of seeing women as anything other than weak.