The FBI agent who was removed from the special counsel investigation for sending anti-Trump texts was escorted from the FBI building Friday and effectively relieved of work responsibilities — though he technically remains an FBI agent, his lawyer said.
Peter Strzok already had been reassigned to the FBI’s Human Resources Division after he was taken off special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team, though the move last week effectively took him off even that assignment. The move put Strzok on notice that the bureau intends to fire him, though he has rights to appeal that are likely to delay that action.
His lawyer, Aitan Goelman, said in a statement, that Strzok was “being put through a highly questionable process” and that the public should be concerned about how politics had “been allowed to undermine due process and the legal protections owed to someone who has served his country for so long.”
“Pete has steadfastly played by the rules and respected the process, and yet he continues to be the target of unfounded personal attacks, political games and inappropriate information leaks,” Goelman said. “All of this seriously calls into question the impartiality of the disciplinary process, which now appears tainted by political influence.”
Strzok was a key figure in two of the FBI’s most high-profile investigations: the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and the separate examination of whether President Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Strzok was a particular focus of a recent Justice Department inspector general report that uncovered an August 2016 text message in which Strzok told an FBI lawyer, Lisa Page, that “we’ll stop” Trump from making it to the White House.
The inspector general also suggested that Strzok’s bias might have played a role in the FBI’s not acting expeditiously in fall 2016 to follow up on a new lead related to the Clinton email case. The inspector general’s findings were forwarded to the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility to determine whether Strzok and other employees should face discipline.
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.
Mueller had removed Strzok from the investigation into possible Trump-Russia coordination after being made aware of the anti-Trump texts, and Strzok was then reassigned to human resources. Page, who was also assigned to Mueller’s team, had left a few weeks before Strzok was reassigned, and she resigned from the FBI this year.
Strzok and Page had been in a romantic relationship, and they exchanged tens of thousands of text messages on a broad range of political and work-related topics. Most of those messages, including their anti-Trump sentiments, had been public for some time, but the inspector general’s findings reignited the controversy surrounding the two.
The inspector general, pointing in particular to the exchange in which Strzok told Page “we’ll stop” Trump from becoming president, alleged that they had shown a “willingness to take official action to impact a presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.”
Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz testified on Capitol Hill that he found the conduct “deeply troubling and antithetical to the core values of the FBI and the Justice Department.” FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told lawmakers that the Office of Professional Responsibility would go through its process “fairly but without delay.”
“We will not hesitate to hold people accountable,” he said.
Goelman said in a previous interview that Strzok disputes that he would have been willing to use his official position to hurt Trump, noting that had he wanted to, he could have leaked that there was an investigation into Trump’s campaign before the election. He said Strzok would be willing to appear on Capitol Hill and answer questions without immunity and would do so even if fired from the FBI.