The American people must demand an explanation from the FBI as to why Peter Strzok, a 20-year FBI veteran who had held the position of deputy assistant director of the counterintelligence division, was fired.
Strzok was a senior agent who led the bureau’s 2016 investigations of the Hillary Clinton e-mails and the Trump-Russia connections. But last year, when it was discovered that he had sharply criticized Donald Trump, who was then a candidate for president, in some private e-mails, Mueller immediately removed him from the Russia investigation. The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, concluded that, “our review did not find documentary or testimonial evidence directly connecting the political views these employees (Strzok and his paramour, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page) expressed in their text messages to the investigative decisions we reviewed.”
“We further found evidence that in some instances Strzok and Page advocated for more aggressive investigative measures (in the Clinton email investigation) than did others.” In other words, Strzok’s political opinions did not affect any of his actions.
And as Strzok himself pointed out in testimony, had he wanted to try to impede Trump’s election, he could have leaked to the press that the Trump campaign was under investigation for possible collusion with Russians to help him win the 2016 election.
As might be expected, Trump seized on the anti-Trump e-mails exchanged by Strzok and Page to further his conspiracy theory that the “Deep State” was busily trying to submarine his presidency. Again, as might be expected, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee tore into Strzok in his public testimony before the committee. Strzok, however, did not sit still for the bullying from the likes of Trey Gowdy or Chairman Bob Goodlatte. He conceded that his and Ms. Page’s private comments were inappropriate and counter to FBI protocols, but he insisted that at no time in his career did he ever permit his personal news to affect a decision he made or an action he took on any case that he had worked on in his more than 20 years at the agency.
And he added, “I think it’s appropriate when you look at those texts that you understand the context in which they were made and the things that were going on across America.”
He referred to one exchange between him and Page in which she had fretted about the possibility of Trump’s election and he had replied, “we will stop it.” Then he told the committee that comment “was in response to a series of events that included then-candidate Trump insulting the immigrant family of a fallen war hero. And my presumption based on that horrible, disgusting behavior, that the American population would not elect somebody demonstrating that behavior to be president of the United States.”
Although the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility recommended a 60-day suspension and a demotion, director Christopher Wray nonetheless decided to fire the longtime agent.
No explanation was given, nor did the agency respond to several requests for comment. Sadly, it’s likely that the reason was simply political and Wray, despite assurances at his confirmation hearing that he would not allow himself to be subject to political pressure, has apparently caved and, in so doing, has effectively given Trump what he wanted from James Comey — subservient loyalty. That bodes ill for the United States and for the rule of law. We already know that Trump possesses no regard for the rule of law.
But if America’s top law enforcement agency allows itself to become an arm of the White House, there is no telling how far this grotesquely indecent, vengeful parody of a president will go in his paranoia to attack and punish his perceived enemies.
Already behaving like a third-world despot, he summarily revoked security clearance for former CIA director John Brennan because Brennan had publicly criticized the administration and that such criticism helps our adversaries to “sow division.” Trump also argued that Brennan’s “erratic behavior poses risks that disqualify him from holding clearance.”
The absurdity of Donald Trump criticizing someone else’s “erratic behavior” is beyond laughable. And a man who disclosed highly secret information to Russians inside the Oval Office is hardly in a position to suggest that someone of the stature of John Brennan poses a security risk.
Stephan Lesher is a retired journalist and Connecticut resident.