FBI official Peter Strzok, who played a lead role in both the Russian meddling and Hillary Clinton email probes but became a political lightning rod after the revelation of anti-Trump text messages, has been fired.
Strzok attorney Aitan Goelman said in a statement Monday that his client, a 21-year FBI veteran, was fired Friday afternoon, claiming this was a departure from standard practice and politically motivated. Goelman said bureau Deputy Director David Bowdich “overruled” the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility to remove him.
“This decision should be deeply troubling to all Americans,” the attorney said.
The FBI responded: “Mr. Strzok was subject to the standard FBI review and disciplinary process after conduct highlighted in the IG report was referred to the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). 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 and/or penalty as deemed necessary in the best interest of the FBI.”
Strzok appeared to launch a new Twitter account to fire back, saying he's "deeply saddened" by the decision and linking to a GoFundMe page.
President Trump and his allies for months, though, have hammered the former FBI agent and cast him as the poster child for anti-Trump bias within the bureau and Justice Department.
Reacting to the firing, the president tweeted, "finally," while asking whether the Russia case will now be dropped:
"Agent Peter Strzok was just fired from the FBI - finally. 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!"
The president over the weekend had tweeted that Strzok and others have “badly damaged” the FBI’s reputation, referring to them as “clowns and losers!”
Strzok was removed from the special counsel probe last year after the discovery that he exchanged anti-Trump and other politically charged messages with colleague and lover Lisa Page.
In June, he was then escorted from his FBI office and lost his security clearance amid the release of a scathing DOJ inspector general report that largely dealt with the DOJ and FBI’s handling of the investigation into Clinton’s private email server but uncovered messages that “appeared to mix political opinion with discussions” about that probe -- namely, between Strzok and Page.
The IG ultimately found no evidence that the bias among the several FBI agents impacted prosecutorial decisions in the Clinton email probe. But Republicans have repeatedly raised concerns that anti-Trump bias played a role in the start of the investigation into Russian meddling and potential collusion with Trump associates in 2016.
One Strzok text in particular vowed to "stop" Trump from becoming president.
In an explosive congressional hearing last month, Strzok sought to clear his name and address the many controversial messages. He claimed his personal opinions did not affect his work. But Republicans tore into the FBI official, with House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy saying he exhibited "textbook bias."
Trump's allies cheered the former agent's termination on Monday.
"Peter Strzok was fired from the FBI because of what his own written words plainly showed: he was willing to use his official FBI position to try and stop President Trump from getting elected. He tarnished the FBI's sterling reputation and severely damaged public trust in an institution where trust is paramount. His conduct should deeply concern every American," House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said in a statement to Fox News.
Strzok’s attorney, meanwhile, blasted the bureau on Monday, saying the deputy director “reversed the decision of the career FBI official responsible for employee discipline who concluded, through an independent review process, that a 60-day suspension and demotion from supervisory duties was the appropriate punishment.”
He added, “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 Justice Department declined to comment for this report.
Text messages first emerged last year, showing Strzok and Page discussing 2016 campaign politics and repeatedly blasting Trump. In one message, Strzok called Trump an "idiot."
Messages continued to trickle out, including some reflecting apparent concern about being too tough on Clinton during the investigation into her private email system use.
The inspector general report, meanwhile, referred a total of five FBI employees for investigation in connection with politically charged texts, suggesting more disciplinary action could be considered for additional employees. Lisa Page left the bureau earlier this year.