The FBI has fired Peter Strzok, the counterintelligence agent who came under fire for sending disparaging text messages about President TrumpDonald TrumpJudge rules Alaska governor unlawfully fired lawyer who criticized Trump Giuliani led fake electors plot: CNN Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE and other political figures during the 2016 election.
Strzok's lawyer, Aitan Goelman, confirmed the firing, which took place on Friday. He blasted the decision in a statement, saying the "Deputy Director of the FBI overruled the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and departed from established precedent by firing 21-year FBI veteran Peter Strzok."
"The decision to fire Special Agent Strzok is not only a departure from typical Bureau practice, but also contradicts Director [Christopher] Wray’s testimony to Congress and his assurances that the FBI intended to follow its regular process in this and all personnel matters," Goelman continued in the statement.
Strzok, a 21-year veteran of the bureau, has faced a barrage of attacks from Trump and Republicans after an internal investigation from the Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed he had sent messages critical of the then-Republican candidate during the 2016 presidential race to then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page. The two were having an extramarital affair at the time.
GOP critics say Strzok’s texts with Page are clear evidence of anti-Trump bias. They argue the pair's disdain toward Trump may have influenced two of the FBI’s key probes, given Strzok’s central role in both the investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNo Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way The dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat MORE's use of a private email server while secretary of State and the beginnings of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE's probe into Russia's election interference.
Democrats as well as Strzok’s lawyer have claimed that the attacks on Strzok are an attempt to undermine Mueller's probe.
“It is a decision that produces only one winner - those who seek to harm our country and weaken our democracy,” Goelman's statement continues.
The FBI said "Strzok was subject to the standard FBI review and disciplinary process" in a statement defending the handling of his ouster.
"[The FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility] reviewed the investigative materials, as well as the written and oral responses of Mr. Strzok and his counsel, and issued OPR's decision," it said.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a lengthy 500-page report earlier this year that fiercely criticized Strzok for his conduct, saying he displayed a “biased state of mind” during a key phase of the Clinton email investigation.
One of the most explosive revelations from Horowitz's report was a text Strzok sent to Page in which he said they will "stop" Trump from becoming president.
Horowitz, however, said his investigative team found no evidence that any decision made during the course of the investigation was a result of political bias or improper influence. Nonetheless, the report found that those actions cast a cloud over the department and was deeply critical of FBI and DOJ leadership.
Mueller promptly removed Strzok from his team after Horowitz's internal review uncovered the critical text messages that disparaged Trump and his supporters.
Goelman emphasized that there is no evidence to support that Strzok’s personal views, which fall under his First Amendment rights, ever impacted his work.
“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,” Goelman says.
“In fact, in his decades of service, Special Agent Strzok has proved himself to be one of the country’s top counterintelligence officers, leading to only one conclusion – the decision to terminate was taken in response to political pressure, and to punish Special Agent Strzok for political speech protected by the First Amendment, not on a fair and independent examination of the facts.”
The House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees grilled Strzok during a grueling 11-hour public hearing last month.
Strzok during the hearing sought to emphasize that many of the texts messages under scrutiny could be explained away with some context.
In particular, he rejected the suggestion that the sentiment of his “We’ll stop it” text is evidence that he acted in a way that would’ve hurt Trump’s chances of winning the election.
“That was written late at night, off the cuff and it was in response to a series of events that included then-candidate Trump insulting the immigrant family of a fallen war hero,” Strzok said during the hearing, in response to question from Rep. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.).
Strzok during the hearing showed he wasn't afraid to fight back and defend himself. And many GOP lawmakers emerged from the hearing further enraged by Strzok, who they claimed looked smug while he refused to answer some of their questions — at the direction of FBI general counsel.
Trump has repeatedly bashed Strzok on social media, calling him a "sick loser" on Twitter.
"Why was the FBI’s sick loser, Peter Strzok, working on the totally discredited Mueller team of 13 Angry & Conflicted Democrats, when Strzok was giving Crooked Hillary a free pass yet telling his lover, lawyer Lisa Page, that 'we’ll stop' Trump from becoming President? Witch Hunt!" Trump tweeted earlier this year.
--Updated at 6:52 p.m.