- Thomson Reuters
- Special counsel Robert Mueller ousted a top counterintelligence investigator on his team because of an investigation into messages he sent that could be seen as critical of President Donald Trump.
- The investigator, Peter Strzok, worked on the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server before joining Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
- Officials are examining the texts for evidence of bias in the Clinton and Trump investigations.
- They are reportedly concerned the messages will fuel Trump’s claim that the Russia probe is a political “witch hunt.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller ousted top counterintelligence veteran Peter Strzok from his team in August after the Justice Department’s inspector general began examining whether Strzok sent text messages that could be seen as critical of President Donald Trump, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
Mueller is currently spearheading the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, including whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the election in his favor. He is also looking into whether Trump sought to obstruct justice when he fired FBI director James Comey in May.
As the deputy head of counterintelligence, Strzok was widely considered one of the most experienced investigators in his field at the FBI. He worked extensively on the bureau’s inquiry into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server before joining Mueller’s team.
The Washington Post reported Saturday that while Strzok was working on the Clinton email investigation, he exchanged texts expressing anti-Trump sentiment with an FBI lawyer, Lisa Page, with whom the Post said he was engaging in an extramarital affair. At the time, Page worked for Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
Page and Strzok reportedly continued exchanging politically charged texts throughout the 2016 campaign season. Strzok was subsequently removed from Mueller’s team after the inspector general began examining the messages.
Strzok’s and Page’s communications are now being examined for any evidence of bias in their handling of the Clinton and Trump investigations, according to The Post.
ABC News first reported Strzok’s ouster in August, but it was unclear at the time why he was removed from the special counsel’s team. The report said that Strzok had stepped away from the probe and had begun working at the FBI’s human resources division.
A former FBI agent who worked with Strzok on and off over several years in the bureau’s counterintelligence division told Business Insider in August that Strzok’s move to HR means he has now been separated from counterintelligence work altogether. The FBI sometimes parks agents in the human resources department, the agent explained, when they need to be reassigned quickly away from substantive matters.
The Strzok-Page texts could fuel further demands from Trump and his defenders for a special counsel to examine how the bureau handled the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private server to conduct government business. Officials are also reportedly concerned that news of the texts could spark further claims from the president and his allies that the Russia investigation is a political “witch hunt.”