He was one of the FBI’s top investigators, a veteran assigned to lead the secretive investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, after running the sensitive daily operations of the Clinton email probe.
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Privately, Peter Strzok was critical of then-candidate Donald Trump and other political figures in text messages to a colleague with whom he was reported to be having an extramarital affair, telling her they would “stop” a Trump presidency in one of the thousands of messages they exchanged in 2015 and 2016.
Now, with his law enforcement career all but over and top Republicans calling for his firing and imprisonment, Strzok is headed to Capitol Hill, where he will face questions Wednesday from the House Judiciary Committee about his work and political views.
“We have a lot of questions for Mr. Strzok about his involvement in both of these investigations and the apparent bias that those text messages reflect,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said in an interview with Fox News on Sunday.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller quietly fired Strzok from his team last summer after discovering that he sent politically-charged and potentially anti-Trump text messages to FBI lawyer Lisa Page, with whom he was having an extramarital affair.
The Justice Department inspector general, in a recent report reviewing the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email probe, found no “documentary or testimonial evidence” that political bias impacted the investigation, but concluded that Strzok’s text messages with Page “cast a cloud” over the FBI’s handling of the investigation and its credibility. Page told the inspector general’s investigators the two texted each other on work phones to keep their affair from their spouses.
Republicans on Capitol Hill point to Strzok’s messages about Trump as evidence to support their concerns about anti-Trump political bias at the Justice Department and FBI – while Trump and his legal team have claimed the exchanges and the report itself discredits the Mueller investigation.
“If you read the IG report, I’ve been totally exonerated,” Trump told reporters earlier this month at the White House. “I think that the Mueller investigation has been totally discredited.”
(The report did not deal with the Mueller investigation into possible collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russia, and DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz later told Congress that “we don’t address issues with regard to the special counsel” in the review.”)
Strzok told IG investigators that his personal political opinions “never transited into the official realm,” and that his message about stopping Trump was meant to reassure Page and not to suggest that he would impact the investigation.
Strzok, who was moved to the FBI’s human resources division, was escorted out of the FBI building last week as part of ongoing internal proceedings, his lawyer told reporters.
“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,” Strzok lawyer Aitan Goelman said after the release of the IG report. calls from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani that Strzok should be imprisoned.
“Instead of publicly calling for a long-serving FBI agent to be summarily fired, politicians should allow the disciplinary process to play out free from political pressure.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the House Judiciary Committee, called Strzok’s appearance an “irrelevant distraction,” in light of the inspector general’s conclusions.
“There are tens of thousands of criminal investigations in America every year. We do not perform heart or brain surgery on the investigators and prosecutors to determine whether they had a private political bias after its all over,” he said. “The only relevant question is whether there is any official bias in the investigation, and there hasn’t been any and there’s been none credibly alleged.”
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are also seeking to question Strzok as part of their unilateral efforts to continue the committee’s Russia investigation.
Ahead of the interview on Tuesday, Trump tweeted that the questioning of Strzok “should be shown to the public on live television, not a closed door hearing that nobody will see.”
Goodlatte, who subpoenaed Strzok to appear before Congress this week, said he plans to bring Strzok back for a public hearing.
“I think he wants to tell his story. We want to hear it. If he’s trying to claim that he’s a victim in this process somehow, we have a lot of questions for him about that, too. But the fact of matter is, he is a central figure in both of these investigations. He has a lot of information that it’s very important that he share with the American people,” he said on Fox News on Sunday.