News Tuesday that FBI agent Peter Strzok was escorted from the FBI building and effectively suspended from his duties was long overdue and a welcome development. Strzok improperly sent numerous harsh anti-Trump texts during the 2016 presidential campaign in exchanges with an FBI colleague he was romantically involved with.
Strzok was removed last summer by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as the lead FBI agent in Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the presidential election and possible Trump campaign collusion with the Russians, after Strzok’s texts blasting candidate Donald Trump were discovered. Strzok was reassigned to the FBI’s Human Resources Division until he was escorted out of the agency, reportedly on Friday.
Strzok removal from the FBI building “put Strzok on notice that the bureau intends to fire him,” The Washington Post reported.
The removal came after Strzok’s texts expressing strong opposition to Trump and his presidential candidacy were revealed.
Strzok was at the heart of the partisan, “inappropriate political messages” against Trump and in support of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that were exchanged among FBI agents through the FBI’s internal communications system, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in a report issued last week.
The Horowitz report investigated how the FBI conducted an investigation of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of State Department emails, including some that were classified, using her own private email server and personal email account.
According to Horowitz, Strzok’s texts attacking candidate Trump “sowed doubt about the FBI’s handling of the (Clinton) investigation, and impacted the reputation of the FBI.”
The damage caused by Strzok’s actions, and that of other FBI employees went “to the heart of the FBI’s reputation for neutral fact-finding and political independence,” Horowitz said in his report.
In fact, Inspector General Horowitz found that Strzok’s texts with his FBI lover Lisa Page (who has since left the FBI) “potentially indicated or created the appearance that investigative decisions were impacted by bias or improper considerations.”
Strzok’s texts telling Page that “we’ll stop’” candidate Trump from being elected and “other extensive text messages between the two disparaging candidate Trump” indicate “a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects,” Horowitz wrote.
Strzok’s actions were, according to the inspector general, “antithetical to the core values of the FBI and the Department of Justice.”
In fact, the text messages led the inspector general to conclude that he did not “have confidence” that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russian investigation over the Clinton email probe “was free from bias.”
The actions of Strzok and the other FBI agents involved in the Clinton investigation “demonstrated extremely poor judgment and a gross lack of professionalism,” Horowitz wrote.
Fired FBI Director James Comey also was harshly criticized in the Horowitz report for his conduct in the Clinton email probe.
Of course, while the inspector general’s report was only released last week, many of the text messages that demonstrated Strzok’s bias, partisanship, “poor judgment,” and “gross lack of professionalism” have been in the public eye for months – which means that the leadership of the FBI has known about them for even longer.
For over a year, the public – and more importantly FBI leadership – has known about Peter Strzok’s unprofessional behavior and abuse of his authority as an FBI agent. Action to remove Strzok from the FBI should have been taken months ago.
The FBI is the most powerful law enforcement agency in the country, with a power that can destroy an individual who is the target of an unethical, unprofessional, partisan investigation.
The mission statement of the FBI recognizes its duty to “combat public corruption at all levels” and to carry out its “responsibilities in a manner that is responsive to the needs of the public and is faithful to the Constitution of the United States.”
Fighting corruption “at all levels” includes, most importantly, fighting corruption inside the FBI to avoid such corruption tainting its investigations, hurting innocent individuals, and making the American people doubt that they can trust the objectivity and ethics of the FBI.
This requires the FBI to act quickly and decisively when it discovers corruption, which includes unethical and unprofessional behavior – not wait months or even years.
So it is a good thing that the FBI leadership has finally acted to begin a process that will hopefully result in the firing of Strzok. But if the FBI wants to restore its reputation and repair the enormous damage it has suffered to its credibility, then it has to act faster and more comprehensively with regard to all of the wrongdoing it has discovered by its personnel, including that revealed by the inspector general’s report.
Otherwise, the bureaucracy will simply shrug its shoulders and continue on a downward path that destroys the effectiveness of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And no one – except for criminals, terrorists, and other wrongdoers – wants that to happen.