Angry and bitter text messages about President Donald Trump exchanged between two FBI agents have seriously disrupted the Department of Justice’s investigation into Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential election.
The two agents were involved in the investigation in 2016 and through mid-2017.
Their digital exchanges were released late Tuesday night — and they immediately sent shock waves throughout the Washington Beltway. But the reverberations may be felt far beyond “the swamp” as well.
Trump’s lawyers, along with key congressional Republicans, claim the messages are graphic evidence of unbridled hostility toward the president that undermines the credibility of the FBI, the Justice Department, and special counsel Robert Mueller in probing the Russian allegations.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — who appointed Mueller after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself earlier this year — faced hours of withering cross-examination Wednesday during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.
At one point, Rosenstein was asked by Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the committee’s ranking Democrat, if he now sees reason to fire Mueller. (Rosenstein inherited authority over Mueller due to Sessions’ recusal.)
But that hardly settles the issue. The text messages showed that one of the FBI’s top agents, who was investigating Trump and his associates, was disgusted by Trump and even by his family and supporters. The text messages could trigger serious re-examination of Mueller’s investigation.
Strzok was demoted to the human resources department last summer when the FBI inspector general found the text messages between the two agents.
“Calling it mere disdain is generous,” said Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.), the committee’s chairman. “The text messages prove what we all suspected.”
Agent Lisa Page — in one message to fellow agent Peter Strzok — forwarded a negative article on Trump to Strzok and remarked, “[M]aybe you’re meant to stay where you are because you’re meant to protect the country from that menace.”
Strzok responded, “Thanks. It’s absolutely true that we’re both very fortunate. And of course I’ll try and approach it that way. I just know it will be tough at times. I can protect our country at many levels, not sure if that helps.”
In March of 2016, Strzok bluntly texted to Page, “Omg he’s an idiot.”
In a later text, Strzok said he was ready to run interference in case Trump was elected. In the text, Strzok talked about Andrew McCabe, the FBI’s number-two official.
“I want to believe the path u threw out 4 consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk,” Strzok texted. “It’s like an insurance policy in unlikely event u die be4 you’re 40.”
Strzok, the number-two FBI man in counterintelligence investigations, went on to become part of the FBI’s Russian investigation. He was demoted to the human resources department last summer when the FBI inspector general found the text messages between the two agents.
But the demotion was a secret until The New York Times disclosed it earlier this month.
Some House Republicans have called for a new special counsel to investigate the conflicts of interest within Mueller’s investigation.
Former prosecutor Rep. Trey Gowdy, (R-S.C.) told Rosenstein he was particularly offended by remarks Strzok made about Trump supporters.
On Aug. 26, 2016, Strzok texted Page with this message: “Just went to a southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support.”
Strzok also admitted fear about the prospect of Trump’s winning the election.
“I do so hope his disorganization comes to bite him hard in November,” Page texted Strzok, remarking on the Republican National Convention, held on July 19, 2016.
“It HAS to, right?” Strzok responded. “Right?!? Panicked.”
For weeks Republicans have been pointing to bias in Mueller’s investigation. Last week, the Justice Department demoted an associate deputy attorney general, Bruce Ohr. He met with a former British spy who was compiling the so-called dossier of sensationally negative and as-yet-unproven charges against Trump in mid-2016.
And Laura Ingraham of Fox News, host of “The Ingraham Angle” and a co-founder of LifeZette, disclosed December 5 that one of Mueller’s investigators, Jeannie Rhee, was also the personal attorney for Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for then-President Barack Obama. Ingraham noted Rhee also represented the Clinton Foundation.