In simultaneously published articles on December 2, the New York Times and the Washington Post each reported that former top FBI official Peter Strzok had been removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. The Times and the Post attributed their stories to usual unnamed “people briefed on the matter.”
Here I want to offer a few notes on a big story whose relevant facts continue to remain almost entirely out of view.
1. The simultaneous publication of anonymously sourced stories by the Times and the Post suggests the management of a big scandal. It reminds me of nothing so much as Lois Lerner’s management of the May 2013 admission that the IRS had been targeting Tea Party groups. Lerner’s extraordinarily misleading admission had the object of exculpating IRS management from misconduct that could no longer be denied. By the same token, one can see scandal management on the face of the Times’s Strzok story (“’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”).
2. Strzok served as Mueller’s lead investigator until his departure from Mueller’s team in August. ABC News originally reported Strzok’s departure on August 16. No reason was given for his exit. Why was the story leaked now?
3. The story appears to have been leaked now because the FBI has been cornered by Rep. Devin Nuenes and his colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee into producing the text messages in which Strzok expressed his partisanship in favor of Hillary Clinton and his animus against then candidate Donald Trump. The FBI has been stonewalling Congress like a perpetrator concealing evidence of his guilt. What is the FBI hiding?
4. Strzok had served as a senior FBI counterintelligence official and a trusted lieutenant of former FBI Director James Comey. He worked on the “investigation” of Hillary Clinton in which Comey seized control of the prosecutorial decisions and rendered his get-out-of-jail free passes in July 2016.
5. The current stories report that Strzok has been reassigned to the FBI’s human resources department. This must be something like removal to one of the FBI’s Alaska field offices. I take it that he is in the FBI doghouse, big league.
6. Strzok’s removal and reassignment are attributed to his text messages to FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Page also worked on Mueller’s team. ABC News reported Page left Mueller’s team a few weeks before Strzok’s departure.
7. Strzok and Page were extramarital lovers. Strzok is married. The Post refers to their relationship as “problematic.” The texting apparently took place in the context of their intimate relationship.
8. At the FBI, all roads lead to Strzok. Strzok had served as a trusted lieutenant of former FBI Director James Comey. He had a big hand in the FBI’s “investigation” of Hillary Clinton and came up with the characterization of Clinton’s use of a private server as “extraordinarily careless” rather than “grossly negligent.” (I think these phrases are synonymous.) He had a hand in the FBI’s questioning of Michael Flynn. He moved on to Mueller’s team. He is a key figure in every matter roiling the agency. Paul Sperry takes up the intersecting stories in which Strzok appears as a principal in his New York Post column today. See also Gregg Jarrett’s excellent Fox News column covering much the same ground.
9. Strzok’s text messages are the reason given for his removal from Mueller’s team. Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz brought the text messages to light in the course of an investigation that the Times vaguely describes: “The inspector general’s office at the Justice Department said that as part of a larger inquiry it was conducting into how the F.B.I. had handled investigations related to the 2016 election, the office was ‘reviewing allegations involving communications between certain individuals, and will report its findings regarding those allegations promptly upon completion of the review of them.’”
10. None of the stories pause to ask why the Inspector General have sought Strzok’s text messages in the first place. What is going on here? As the Times notes, FBI regulations allow an agent to express his opinions “as an individual privately and publicly on political subjects and candidates.”
11. A law enforcement source writes to observe that the Inspector General would not be able to access the private text message communications of an FBI official as senior and prominent as Strzok unless he had good cause to do so. What was this cause?
12. He adds: “Reviewing an agent’s private text messages is not an investigative action which is entered into lightly unless the situation is serious. I cannot think of a situation where you would find the IG’s office looking at your private text messages unless you, or someone you were communicating with, is in big, big trouble. There is something very, very shady going on here with the IG’s investigation of Strzok….why the IG was investigating him in the first place is much more interesting.”
Today’s New York Post cover story (“Fix Be In”) focusing on Strzok quotes Rep. Peter King saying that the House had been tipped off to Strzok. One wonders if we will ever get to the bottom of what looks like a bottomless story.