Special counsel Robert Mueller removed an FBI agent from the investigation into Russia‘s influence on the 2016 election last summer after the Justice Department began looking at the agent’s text messages expressing an anti-Trump bias.
According to the New York Times, agent Peter Strzok was reassigned from the investigation to FBI’s human resources department after the discovery of texts Strzok sent to a colleague reacting to current events that appeared critical of President Donald Trump and supportive of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Strzok’s departure was originally reported in August, though the reason was originally unclear.
“Immediately upon learning of the allegations, the special counsel’s office removed Peter Strzok from the investigation,” Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, told the Times.
It is unclear what Strzok wrote in the 2016 campaign text messages, though CNN reported that the wording of the messages appeared to make fun of then-candidate Trump and raised concerns that they could be interpreted as Strzok having a pro-Clinton bias. The texts were exchanged with FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who was in an extramarital affair with Strzok. Page was also part of Mueller’s team but left two weeks before the texts came to light.
Strzok had previously led the investigation into Clinton’s private email server, and he played a major role in linking Russia to Trump’s campaign. Current and former law enforcement colleagues told the Times they had never seen evidence that Strzok influenced investigations with his politics. They said Strzok was deeply trusted by former FBI director James Comey and that he would probably have become a top FBI official if it had not been for the questionable texts. Inside the FBI, Strzok’s relocation was seen as a demotion.
In response, Trump blasted the FBI on Twitter on Sunday.
Tainted (no, very dishonest?) FBI “agent’s role in Clinton probe under review.” Led Clinton Email probe. @foxandfriends Clinton money going to wife of another FBI agent in charge.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2017
After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters – worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2017
A former senior Trump official told the Washington Post that Strzok was fair in his dealings with the Trump White house.
“I had the occasion to work closely with Special Agent Peter Strzok and never experienced even a hint of political bias. He was one of the most competent [counterintelligence] agents, and a role model,” the official said. “The country is tearing itself apart, and men like Pete Strzok are victims. The enemy [foreign adversaries] is better off with him sidelined.”
The Justice Department’s inspector general’s office told the Times it was “reviewing allegations involving communications between certain individuals” as part of a larger investigation into how the FBI previously handled investigations related to the 2016 election. The office will “report its findings regarding those allegations promptly upon completion of the review of them.”