WASHINGTON — Peter Strzok, the FBI agent whose anti-Donald Trump text messages to a colleague during the 2016 campaign have been cited by the president as evidence of bias in the agency, has been fired.
Strzok initially helped lead the bureau’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections and possible complicity by the Trump campaign, which remained secret until after the election. When his texts with an FBI lawyer, Lisa Page, were disclosed last year by the agency’s inspector general, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III quickly removed Strzok from the team.
Strzok initially had been demoted and given a 60-day suspension after the bureau’s traditional independent review. But Friday, FBI Deputy Director David L. Bowdich overrode that decision and ordered his firing, according to Strzok’s attorney, Aitan Goelman.
“This decision should be deeply troubling to all Americans,” Goelman said in a statement Monday. “A lengthy investigation and multiple rounds of congressional testimony failed to produce a shred of evidence that Special Agent Strzok’s personal views ever affected his work.”
The FBI said in a statement it followed its standard review and disciplinary process after the inspector general referred the case to the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
“OPR reviewed the investigative materials, as well as the written and oral responses of Mr. Strzok and his counsel, and issued OPR’s decision. The deputy director, as the senior career FBI official, has the delegated authority to review and modify any disciplinary findings ... as deemed necessary,” the statement said.
The firing of Strzok, a 22-year FBI veteran and one of its senior counterintelligence agents, is an unexpected turn of events for him, but is in keeping with FBI Director Christopher A. Wray’s promise back in June to “hold people accountable.”
The decision to fire Strzok in the wake of repeated attacks on him by the president and his allies in Congress, who cheered the news, will do little to quell widespread concerns that the agency and the Department of Justice may not be acting independent of politics.
Strzok’s lawyer was quick to hit that theme.
“In his decades of service, Special Agent Strzok has proved himself to be one of the country’s top counterintelligence officers,” Goelman said in his statement. Strzok’s firing, he said, leads “to only one conclusion — the decision to terminate was taken in response to political pressure, and to punish Special Agent Strzok for political speech protected by the First Amendment, not on a fair and independent examination of the facts.”
Trump, who just Saturday tweeted that Strzok was among the “clowns and losers” at the FBI, on Monday weighed in on Twitter to applaud the firing.
“Agent Peter Strzok was just fired from the FBI finally,” Trump tweeted. “The list of bad players in the FBI & DOJ gets longer & longer. Based on the fact that Strzok was in charge of the Witch Hunt, will it be dropped? It is a total Hoax. No Collusion, No Obstruction I just fight back!”
When FBI Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz told Mueller last summer that Strzok, then the lead agent on his team, had been exchanging anti-Trump messages with Page, Mueller removed Strzok the following day. That did not satisfy the president and his defenders, who have sought to focus the public’s attention on Strzok and Page, who had a romantic relationship, to discredit the broader investigation.
Trump has mocked the pair as “FBI lovers.” Page, who had left the Mueller team before the texts became public, resigned in May.
Strzok has apologized for sending the messages and testified before Congress that they reflected personal views that did not affect his work. The text messages included criticism of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post contributed.