A senior FBI counterintelligence official who had until recently been part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation spent months sending text messages to a colleague in the run-up to the 2016 election that derided President Donald Trump as a “douche,” an “utter idiot,” and a “loathsome human.”
The release of the texts from Peter Strzok, who had led the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server before joining the Russia probe, is giving new ammunition to Mueller’s conservative critics. The Trump defenders say the texts provide clear evidence that the former FBI chief isn’t running an impartial probe — and should be removed from his post.
The texts first came to light in early December, when the New York Times reported that Mueller had ousted Strzok after learning of the anti-Trump messages. Strzok, who was removed in late July, had sent the messages to an FBI lawyer, Lisa Page.
But the specific content of those messages wasn’t known until Tuesday night, when the Justice Department took the highly unusual step of sharing them with Congress and a set of reporters, despite the fact that Strzok is still being investigated by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog.
The roughly 375 text messages show Strzok and Page sharing harsh criticisms of Trump and strong support for Clinton. The messages start in mid-2015 and continue until weeks after the election.
For example, in an exchange in March 2016, Strzok wrote, "God Hillary should win 100,000,000 - 0."
Page replied to Strzok later, “Also did you hear [Trump] make a comment about the size of his dick earlier? This man can not be president.”
The text messages have enraged Republican lawmakers and conservative pundits, who see them as evidence that Mueller’s probe has been tainted by partisan bias.
And the news comes at a convenient time for them, as it discredits Mueller’s probe just as the investigation is ramping up criminal charges against Trump’s associates.
The text messages are giving Trump’s defenders new ammo
During a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, Republican chairman Bob Goodlatte (VA) said that the texts showed “extreme bias” against Trump, and were “deeply troubling.”
However, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the only official in the Justice Department with the authority to fire Mueller, said during the hearing he was “not aware” of Mueller acting inappropriately and he saw no good cause to dismiss him.
But the conservative media world isn’t convinced, and it devoted a great deal of airtime to the Strzok text messages on Wednesday, especially a string of enigmatic texts in which Strzok says “I’m afraid we can’t take that risk” while apparently alluding to the prospect of Trump’s election.
A Brietbart writer said the texts point to “a potential idea to thwart Trump’s election,” and the Daily Caller wrote that the text exchanges show potential plans to “prevent Donald Trump from being elected president.” Fox News’ Martha MacCallum said the texts hint at “some sort of poison pill perhaps or something to protect the country from what they see as what’s coming.”
This only adds to the enormous controversy swirling around Strzok in conservative circles. Earlier in December CNN revealed that when he led the FBI’s investigation of Clinton's private email server, he changed how then-FBI Director James Comey publicly described her behavior from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless” in a draft memo. That change had the effect of softening Comey’s criticism of Clinton at a particularly sensitive time in the 2016 campaign, and may have shielded her from charges of criminal conduct.
The scandal comes as the Mueller probe reaches deeper into Trump’s inner circle. The special counsel has already charged four people — two of whom pleaded guilty, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Multiple reports suggest Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner could be the next target. Plus, it appears Mueller is building a case that Trump himself may have obstructed justice.
And that’s why the Strzok controversy is so important. Trump’s defenders are trying to build a public case for firing the special counsel — and for defending the president afterwards. If Trump decides to one day pull the trigger, expect to hear Peter Strzok’s name bandied about as one of the reasons why.