Former FBI agent Peter Strok is suing to get his job back. Strzok was fired last August and immediately there were questions from some quarters about whether or not that was fair to him. Now Strzok’s attorneys are arguing that he was fired because of pressure from President Trump.
Strzok accuses the president of inappropriately bullying law enforcement officials deciding his fate, raises questions about why his texts were leaked to the media and lambastes the administration for only defending its employees’ free speech rights when they are praising Trump.
Specifically, Strzok’s lawsuit accuses the agencies of violating his First and Fifth Amendment rights by firing him over the texts and then depriving him of due process to challenge his expulsion. And, Strzok argues, DOJ’s decision to give the incendiary messages to reporters before handing them to Congress — generating blaring headlines — was “deliberate and unlawful,” a violation of the Privacy Act.
Strzok was initially removed from Mueller’s investigation because of his partisan text messages in the summer of 2017, though his removal didn’t become news until December of that year. The Office of Professional Responsibility investigated and found Strzok had crossed a line in three specific ways:
The first, “unprofessional conduct off duty,” directly related to his use of an FBI-issued cell phone to send the private texts. The second, “investigative deficiency” — later reduced to “dereliction of supervisory duty” — related to Strzok’s perceived delay in searching a laptop that belonged to Anthony Weiner, the husband of a top Hillary Clinton aide, as part of the probe of Clinton’s emails in the fall of 2016.
Finally, Will told Strzok that he had committed a “security violation” for forwarding certain sensitive law-enforcement documents to his personal Gmail account.
None of those have to do with the content of Strzok’s emails and the OPR did not recommend Strzok’s firing. However, point #2 was a significant part of the IG’s report on the Clinton investigation. The IG found that the FBI had all the information it needed to investigate hundreds of thousands of emails found on a laptop belonging to Anthony Weiner by late September. However, for several weeks, nothing happened. From the IG report:
Additional discussions took place on October 3 and 4, 2016. However, after October 4, we found no evidence that anyone associated with the Midyear investigation, including the entire leadership team at FBI Headquarters, took any action on the Weiner laptop issue until the week of October 24, and then did so only after the Weiner case agent expressed concerns to SDNY, prompting SDNY to contact the Office of the Deputy Attorney General (ODAG) on October 21 to raise concerns about the lack of action.
It occurred to the IG that Strzok’s partisan texts might provide an explanation for slow-walking the investigation of the laptop in the weeks before the election. The IG looked for evidence that was the case and couldn’t find anything definitive. However, he concluded that none of the explanations offered to explain the delay made any sense:
We searched for evidence that the Weiner laptop was deliberately placed on the back-burner by others in the FBI to protect Clinton, but found no evidence in emails, text messages, instant messages, or documents that suggested an improper purpose. We also took note of the fact that numerous other FBI executives—including the approximately 39 who participated in the September 28 SVTC—were briefed on the potential existence of Midyear-related emails on the Weiner laptop. We also noted that the Russia investigation was under the supervision of Priestap—for whom we found no evidence of bias and who himself was aware of the Weiner laptop issue by September 29. However, we also did not identify a consistent or persuasive explanation for the FBI’s failure to act for almost a month after learning of potential Midyear-related emails on the Weiner laptop.
So there’s no evidence partisanship was the cause but there’s also not other persuasive explanation for the delay. Ultimately, it was this delay that led to Comey’s surprise announcement that the FBI was still investigating Clinton days before the election. If the laptop investigation hadn’t stalled, Comey’s announcement might have come weeks earlier.
In any case, Strzok’s partisan texts certainly put the investigations he was part of in a bad light. Whether or not the FBI had cause to fire him based on the OPR’s conclusions is something that will now be worked out in court.