Huh? The record thus far shows that special counsel Robert Mueller removed Peter Strzok from his investigatory team after learning about texts between them demonstrating hostility toward Donald Trump. Mueller’s office took credit for it at the time, and even Strzok gave Mueller credit for facilitating a somewhat-mutual decision, by his telling.
However, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe told Congress eighteen months ago that it was he who pulled Strzok off his special-counsel assignment:
Mr. McCabe. On July 27th of this year, as I was serving as acting director, I was contacted by the attorney — I’m sorry — the inspector general’s office at the Department. They asked me — they said they had a very important matter for me to review and they needed me to come across the street and talk to them that day, which was unusual.
Mr. Raskin. You learned of it on July 27th?
Mr. McCabe. I did.
Mr. Raskin. And then at what point was he removed from the investigation and reassigned?
Mr. McCabe. I made the decision to remove him from the investigation that evening.
Mr. Raskin. That very day you decided to remove him?
Mr. McCabe. I came back from my meeting with the inspector general. I met with a very small group of my fellow leaders. We discussed Peter’s reassignment, and we discussed where we would place him.
Note that nowhere does McCabe mention Mueller in this process, which seems unusual, to say the least. Don’t forget that Strzok ended up in human resources, which gives an indication of the regard McCabe and other FBI leaders held Strzok after hearing from the IG. McCabe made the decision all on his own to reassign Strzok after hearing from the IG after consulting other FBI “fellow leaders” on where to put him, even though Strzok was working for a special counsel in an autonomous capacity? And Mueller didn’t even get consulted on how Strzok ended up researching job applications? Come on, man.
At the time of McCabe’s testimony, it was widely reported that Mueller himself removed Strzok and sent him packing. Here’s the New York Times report from almost three weeks prior to McCabe’s testimony, in which Mueller’s office publicly took responsibility for removing Strzok:
The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, removed a top F.B.I. agent this summer from his investigation into Russian election meddling after the Justice Department’s inspector general began examining whether the agent had sent text messages that expressed anti-Trump political views, according to three people briefed on the matter. …
Mr. Strzok was reassigned this summer from Mr. Mueller’s investigation to the F.B.I.’s human resources department, where he has been stationed since. The people briefed on the case said the transfer followed the discovery of text messages in which Mr. Strzok and a colleague reacted to news events, like presidential debates, in ways that could appear critical of Mr. Trump.
“Immediately upon learning of the allegations, the special counsel’s office removed Peter Strzok from the investigation,” said a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, Peter Carr.
Politico’s Kyle Cheney notes the confusion, which apparently extends to Strzok himself:
Strzok himself omitted any mention of McCabe’s role in his removal when he discussed it with the same congressional committees in June 2018.
“My recollection is that there was a brief discussion between me, the special counsel, and one of his attorneys, a discussion of his desire and, you know, expression that he thought it would be appropriate for me to return to the FBI,” Strzok recalled under questioning from Rep. John Ratcliffe (D-Texas).
Strzok said Mueller indicated that his text messages were the reason for his removal but that they didn’t discuss specifics. “My recollection was there was a sense of regret. There was a sense that Special Counsel Mueller absolutely wanted to run an investigation that was not only independent but also presented the appearance of independence, and the concern that these texts might be construed otherwise,” Strzok recalled.
After Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team, his office put out a statement that attributed Strzok’s removal to the special counsel’s office. “Immediately upon learning of the allegations, the Special Counsel’s Office removed Peter Strzok from the investigation,” said spokesman Peter Carr in a Dec. 2, 2017, statement, shortly after the details of some of Strzok’s anti-Trump comments became public.
One would think that Strzok would remember who removed him from the special-counsel investigation. One would also assume that the special counsel’s office would not have taken responsibility for that move if the FBI had pre-emptively pulled Strzok and Page off that assignment. So why did McCabe claim credit for that decision while discussing this with the House Judiciary Committee?
For one thing, the hearing focused on a number of issues surrounding FBI investigations of both Trump and Hillary Clinton. Panel members were pressing McCabe at various points on political considerations leaking into FBI operations. McCabe was trying to impress the panel with his energetic efforts to prevent politicization, an allegation against which he would later have to defend himself too. In fact, McCabe later asserts again that he removed Strzok himself because his presence “could possibly” create the appearance of bias in the investigation.
Or it might be that McCabe wanted to take credit for yanking Strzok because of this exchange later in the transcript:
Mr. Johnson of Georgia. Thank you. Mr. McCabe, last week, we received a batch of text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. There was one text that was issued or that was dated August 8th of 2015, which states, quote: “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office that there’s no way he gets elected, but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It is like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40,” end quote. That’s a text message from Strzok to Page. Are you familiar with that text message.
Mr. McCabe. I am only familiar with that text message because it has been — it has been brought to my attention in this process and through the media.
Mr. Johnson of Georgia. Do you know the identity of the “Andy” who is mentioned in that text message?
Mr. McCabe. I do not.
Mr. Johnson of Georgia. Were there any other Andys who were working on this email investigation employed by the FBI or DOJ?
Mr. McCabe. I mean, not at my level and not that I’m aware of, sir, but I can’t vouch for how many Andys we have.
The members of the House Judiciary panel likely had a pretty good idea of who “Andy” was, and McCabe likely knew it. Taking credit for yanking Strzok would provide McCabe some deniability for the implication of Strzok’s text about “Andy.”
Of course, McCabe was later cashiered for lying to investigators on other points about the FBI’s investigation. Perhaps the House Judiciary Committee should take a closer look at this testimony and consider whether McCabe was less than compliant with them as well.