Peter Strzok, a longtime agent who once worked on special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, was fired by the FBI after he sent text messages criticizing President Donald Trump to a colleague.
Strzok was removed from Mueller's team a year ago after the texts were discovered. Trump's allies have seized on the texts, saying they show the investigation into possible co-ordination between the Trump campaign and Russia is tainted by political bias.
Strzok's lawyer, Aitan Goelman, said his client was fired late Friday by FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich. He said the 21-year veteran of the FBI was removed because of political pressure and "to punish Special Agent Strzok for political speech protected by the First Amendment."
Goelman also said the FBI had overruled the agency's Office of Professional Responsibility, which he said had determined that a 60-day suspension and demotion from supervisory duties was "the appropriate punishment."
Strzok, who exchanged text messages with FBI lawyer Lisa Page, vigorously defended himself at a combative House hearing in July that spanned 10 hours. Strzok repeatedly insisted the texts, including ones in which he called Trump a "disaster," did not reflect political bias and had not infected his work.
Texts between the two included their observations of the 2016 election and criticism of Trump. They used words like "idiot," "loathsome," "menace" and "disaster" to describe him. In one text four days before the election, Page told Strzok that the "American presidential election, and thus, the state of the world, actually hangs in the balance."
Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page arrives for a House committee deposition, one day after the session involving Strzok. The two are at the centre of controversial texts that led to him being removed from Mueller's team. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
In another text, Page wrote Strzok in August 2016: "[Trump's] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!"
Strzok responded: "No. No he won't. We'll stop it."
Strzok worked on the early stages of the Russia investigation in 2016 and worked on the special counsel's team for a few months after Robert Mueller was appointed in May 2017.
Strzok was also a lead investigator on the probe into Democrat Hillary Clinton's email sever in 2016. An internal Justice Department report issued in June blamed Strzok and Page for creating an appearance of impropriety through their texts but found the outcome of the Clinton investigation was not marred by bias. Clinton was cleared in the probe.
Republicans were livid during the July hearing, which several times devolved into a partisan shouting match. Democrats accused Republicans of trying to divert attention from Mueller's investigation and Trump's ties to Russia by focusing on Strzok.
Trump, who has repeatedly taken aim at Strzok, said in a tweet Monday that Strzok is one of many "bad players" in the FBI and the Justice Department.
There is no indication that the probe will be dropped.
North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, one of the leading critics of the FBI investigations, said Strzok was fired "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."
Trump has launched public campaigns against prominent FBI officials and both his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Sessions's deputy, Rod Rosenstein.
He fired FBI Director James Comey less than halfway into his tenure in May 2017, which helped pave the way for the special counsel to take over investigations into Russia interference.
The president also lashed out at the subsequent acting director, Andrew McCabe, both for his actions with respect to the Clinton investigation and the fact that his wife once mounted a run for political office that saw her receive donations from prominent Democrats.
McCabe was fired from the bureau earlier this year, just two days shy of his retirement date.
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