Peter Strzok, the former FBI special agent whose anti-Trump texts were revealed in 2018, accused the FBI of firing him as “political retribution” for the president and of violating his constitutional rights.
Strzok, 49, who helped lead the FBI’s investigations into Hillary Clinton’s illicit private email server and into any connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians, responded Monday to a Justice Department motion to dismiss his wrongful termination lawsuit that alleges the Trump administration ignored his free speech and due process rights when they terminated him and made public thousands of his texts with FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
Strzok’s lawsuit alleged “the concerted public campaign to disparage and, ultimately, fire” him was enabled by a “deliberate and unlawful disclosure to the media” of his texts and by targeting by President Trump, who celebrated Strzok’s firing in a tweet and said in December that “these were evil people, and I hope that someday I’m going to consider it my greatest, or one of my greatest achievements, getting rid of them.”
Calling the DOJ argument “terrifying,” Strzok’s legal team argued Monday that if the court dismissed the case “there is no remedy, and indeed no administrative or judicial review, for a career federal employee who is fired for privately expressing political opinions deemed to be disloyal to the President even after the FBI official responsible for the Bureau’s disciplinary process decided that termination was not the appropriate consequence” then “it would subject thousands of midlevel managers in the federal government to punishment for expressing their opinions about candidates for national office in private water cooler conversations.”
Candice Will, assistant director at the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, recommended Strzok be demoted and suspended for 60 days without pay in 2018, sharply criticizing the dozens of Strzok-Page texts showing pro-Clinton and anti-Trump bias and citing his affair with Page in a letter sent to him. But FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich overruled her, and the FBI fired Strzok the next day. Strzok was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in 2017 because of the texts.
But Strzok’s lawyers claimed “his firing by the Deputy Director of the FBI after Mr. Strzok had already entered into a binding agreement to accept demotion and suspension was indeed a politically-motivated achievement of President Trump and his political allies tied to a politically-motivated effort to use Mr. Strzok’s text messages to discredit investigations of the President and his campaign.”
And Strzok said he’d been largely vindicated by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
“Two lengthy and exhaustive investigations by the DOJ Office of the Inspector General concluded that Strzok’s political opinions had no impact on his work,” Strzok’s legal team said. “Both reports criticized, among other things, politically charged texts exchanged between Strzok and a government attorney, Lisa Page. The reports also concluded that there was no evidence that [Strzok’s] political opinions impacted his work on either the Clinton or Russia investigations.”
But the DOJ watchdog had criticized Strzok in his June 2018 report on the FBI’s inquiry into Clinton in 2016, noting he “did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision” that Strzok’s handling of Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s emails found on disgraced former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner’s laptop “was free from bias.”
And Horowitz’s December 2019 report on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuses ended with the DOJ inspector general unable to determine whether the FBI’s repeated failures were due to “sheer gross incompetence” or “intentional misconduct.”
Strzok’s lawyers claimed he was the victim of “an orchestrated campaign by the President of the United States to pressure the FBI into firing Strzok because of the content of his speech” and said his arguments are “bolstered by a seemingly endless stream of decidedly unpresidential tweets, President Trump’s accusations that Strzok committed treason, and by contemporaneous news accounts of the President personally imploring the Attorney General and the FBI Director to fire Strzok.”
The DOJ said Strzok’s “lapses in judgment embodied in those messages and others like them risked undermining public confidence in two of the Bureau’s highest-profile investigations” and “risked damaging the public trust in the FBI as a nonpartisan, even-handed, and effective law enforcement institution — trust that is essential to the FBI’s ability to vigorously enforce the nation’s laws without fear or favor.”
But Strzok’s lawyers said “it is a bit rich for this administration to be criticizing Mr. Strzok’s decorum when the President has repeatedly used the most inflammatory and vulgar language to attack Mr. Stzrok” and claimed that “this pattern, which is ongoing and has included false charges of treason and restraining orders, reached its ugly (thus far) peak at a rally in Minneapolis in October 2019, at which Mr. Trump mimicked Mr. Strzok having an orgasm before tens of thousands of jeering supporters, thereby completing the President’s debasement of the office once held by Lincoln and Washington.”