The Federal Bureau of Investigation has fired agent Peter Strzok, who had become the target of Republican anger over his text messages disparaging President Donald Trump, Strzok's lawyer said Monday.
Strzok was a key figure in the early stages of the FBI's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, until his anti-Trump text messages to his lover, former FBI attorney Lisa Page, were discovered.
In one of them, Strzok vowed to keep Trump from winning the election, though there was no evidence he and Page imposed their political views on the investigation. Earlier, Strzok helped investigate Trump's Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, over her use of a private email server while she was the U.S. secretary of state.
Trump praised the firing, saying in a Twitter comment, "Agent Peter Strzok was just fired from the FBI - finally."
The U.S. leader said the "list of bad players" at the FBI and the Justice Department "gets longer & longer." He said that "based on the fact" that Strzok once played an important role in special counsel Robert Mueller's criminal investigation of Russian meddling in the election, "will it be dropped? It is a total Hoax. No Collusion, No Obstruction - I just fight back!"
Trump called the Clinton email probe a "sham investigation. It was a total fraud on the American public and should be properly redone!"
Mueller's investigation is now in its 15th month. He has secured guilty pleas from several Trump associates, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and ex-foreign affairs adviser George Papadopoulos, both of whom pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about their contacts with Russia. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is currently on trial for bank and tax fraud in connection with his lobbying efforts for Ukraine that predated his work on Trump's campaign two years ago.
The FBI office that normally handles disciplinary actions had recommended that Strzok be demoted and suspended for 60 days over the anti-Trump texts, but FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich ordered the firing last Friday.
Strzok's attorney, Aitan Goelman, criticized his client's ouster, saying, "The decision to fire Special Agent Strzok is not only a departure from typical bureau practice, but also contradicts Director (Christopher) Wray's testimony to Congress and his assurances that the FBI intended to follow its regular process in this and all personnel matters."
Goelman said Strzok's dismissal after a 22-year FBI career “should be deeply troubling to all Americans. A lengthy investigation and multiple rounds of congressional testimony failed to produce a shred of evidence that Strzok’s personal views ever affected his work.”
Last month, Strzok told a House of Representatives hearing that the anti-Trump text messages he exchanged with Page reflected his personal opinions and that he had never let his beliefs interfere with his work for the FBI.
In the key exchange between Strzok and Page, she texted him that Trump is "not ever going to become president, right? Right?!" Strzok replied, "No. No he won't. We'll stop it."
In a lengthy review of FBI actions over the last two years, Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz weeks ago concluded there was no evidence the pair acted on their views, but said the exchange was "not only indicative of a biased state of mind, but even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.”