Peter Strzok has spent his FBI career hunting down Russian and Chinese spies, but after the news of derogatory text messages he sent about President Donald Trump came to feel like he was the one who was being hunted down.
There were threatening phone calls and messages from strangers, and anxious stares through the blinds before her family left the house. FBI security experts advised him on best practices – walk around your car before entering, watch for unknown vehicles in your neighborhood – more often associated with mob targets seeking to evade detection.
“To be subjected to outrageous attacks up to and including by the president himself, which are full of lies and misrepresentation and simply crude and cruel, is horrible,” Strzok told The Associated Press in an interview. “There’s no getting around it. “
A new book by Strzok traces his journey from a veteran counterintelligence agent to the man who came to embody Trump’s public contempt for the FBI and his characterization of his Russia investigation as a “witch hunt.” The texts cost Strzok his job and drew Trump’s vitriol. But even among Trump’s critics, Strzok is no hero. His anti-Trump texts on a government phone to an FBI lawyer gave Trump and his supporters a major opening to undermine the office’s credibility right as it led one of the most important investigations in its history .
Trump’s attacks continued even as two Inspector General reports found no evidence that Strzok’s work in the investigations was tainted with political bias and multiple investigations confirmed the validity of the investigation into the Russia.
Strzok expresses measured regret for the texts of “Compromise: Counterintelligence and Threat of Donald J. Trump”, scheduled for Tuesday.
“I deeply regret that I casually commented on the things I observed in the headlines and behind the scenes, and I regret the effectiveness with which my words have been used to harm the Office and support absurd conspiracy theories on our vital work, ”writes Strzok.
Before becoming a virtual household name, Strzok spent two decades at the FBI working in relative anonymity on sensational spy cases. He helped uncover Russian sleeper agents in the United States, worked on the Edward Snowden case, and investigated whether Hillary Clinton mishandled classified information. (She did, he writes, but not in a way that deserves prosecution.)
After the conclusion of the Clinton affair in July 2016, Strzok opened an investigation into whether his Republican opponent’s campaign was coordinated with Russia, devising the code name “Crossfire Hurricane” which he said was co-ordinated with Russia. proved to be premonitory.
In the interview, Strzok said he wanted his book to provide insight into the Clinton investigation, Russian election interference and, “first and foremost, the threat of counterintelligence that I see. at Donald Trump ”.
“To do this,” he added, “I wanted to show the reader what happened but also why they should believe me. “
As the investigation progressed, Strzok came to regard the actions of the Trump administration towards Russia as “highly suspect” and the president as compromised by Russia, especially due to transactions. financial institutions in Moscow that Strzok says Trump lied about repeatedly.
These concerns deepened after Trump sacked James Comey as FBI director and bragged to a Russian diplomat that “the big push” had been removed. The FBI began investigating whether Trump himself was under Russian influence, finding “too much smoke” not to seek the fire, Strzok writes.
“And the closer we got to the Oval Office, the stronger the smell seemed to get,” he says.
Special Advocate Robert Mueller’s investigation uncovered significant contact between the Trump campaign and Russia, but found insufficient evidence of a criminal conspiracy.
Strzok documents pivotal moments in the investigation, for example recounting how then-national security adviser Michael Flynn “lied” to him and another agent about his Russian contacts, even though Flynn didn’t had not shown the usual signs of deception.
Although Trump supporters argue the interview was designed to trick Flynn into lying, Strzok says the FBI actually gave him several prompts to jog his memory. While Attorney General William Barr said the interview was conducted without a legitimate purpose, Strzok said there was a need to better understand Trump’s orbit’s links with Russia and his own “hidden negotiation of Flynn with a foreign power that had just attacked our elections ”.
Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Barr’s request to dismiss the case is pending.
In another episode, he said then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein asked him to stay after a meeting and skeptically urged him on a perjury investigation by Attorney General Jeff Sessions for statements made during his confirmation hearing. Sessions have never been billed. Rosenstein declined to comment.
Strzok’s stint with Mueller’s team was short-lived, shattered in the summer of 2017 by the Inspector General’s discovery of anti-Trump text messages he had exchanged during the campaign with a lawyer from the FBI with whom he had had an extramarital affair.
He was summoned to meet Mueller, who in a “soft voice” told Strzok he was going to be fired.
Transferred to the more bureaucratic human resources division, Strzok said deputy manager David Bowdich reassured him the situation could be worse, including if Trump got his hands on the texts.
This is exactly what happened two months later when news of the texts broke and the Justice Department leaked them to reporters. According to Strzok, Trump has attacked him for more than 100 times in tweets.
The SMS leak is part of a lawsuit by Strzok, who also expresses his displeasure at the end of his career.
After Trump accused Strzok of treason, Strzok appealed to the FBI for a statement condemning the comments, but got none. The FBI has been working to remove its access to categories of classified information so that Director Chris Wray can brief lawmakers the next day. Senior management overturned a lower level decision by firing him.
Today, Strzok teaches at Georgetown University and observes from the outside the election interference of Russia, which he says had information it did not use in 2016.
“I can’t speak in detail about this,” he added, “but I think they put those arrows back in their quiver and improved them for this year.