A veteran investigator in the Robert Mueller-led probe into possible ties between President Donald Trump‘s campaign and Russia is accused of sending disparaging text messages regarding Trump.
The New York Times and The Washington Post both reported December 2 that Peter Strzok, a senior counterintelligence investigator at the F.B.I., was removed from the probe because several disparaging text messages indicated he wasn’t a fan of Trump and was possibly a Hillary Clinton supporter.
The news comes a few months after his unexpected removal from the probe was announced in August. Strzok engaged in the text conversations with another F.B.I. official, Lisa Page, with whom he reportedly had an affair, The Post reported. In addition, Strzok was one of the officials who interviewed Hillary Clinton in the investigation into her private email server, which led to no charges being filed.
Here’s what you need to know about Strzok and Page:
1. Strzok Reportedly Had an Affair With an F.B.I. Lawyer, to Whom He Often Texted Anti-Trump & Pro-Clinton Messages
While details surrounding his departure from the investigation hadn’t been revealed for months, The Post reported December 2 that Strzok was taken off the investigation for engaging in multiple text conversations that were deemed disparaging to Trump and supportive of Clinton.
It was also revealed that Strzok was having an affair with F.B.I. lawyer Lisa Page that was deemed “problematic.” But the text conversations that Strzok and Page exchanged during the Clinton investigation and 2016 presidential campaign were deemed far worse, The Post, citing multiple officials familiar with the matter, reported.
Further details of the text conversations the two engaged in weren’t disclosed, except for sources telling the news outlets that they would often react to the latest political news during the campaign.
2. Strzok Was Removed From the Investigation in August & Page Was 1 Month Later
In August, ABC News reported that Strzok was removed from the investigation. The news came one week after agents executed a search warrant on the Virginia home of Trump’s now-indicted former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
The reason he was taken off the probe was unknown at the time, as he was well-respected in the industry as a law enforcement officer working counterintelligence cases. He was deemed to be one of the top investigators in the probe. ABC News reported that Strzok was taken off the Russia investigation and was sent to work in the F.B.I.’s human resource office, deemed a demotion within the agency.
A little over one month after Strzok’s departure, ABC News reported that F.B.I. lawyer Lisa Page also left the special Russia investigation. Page was known by various reports as being deeply experienced in “money laundering and organized crime cases,” and was part of what Wired magazine referred to as his “investigator’s dream team.”
While the departure of the two officials was well reported, they weren’t ever linked until now. A spokesman for Mueller’s office told The Post that Strzok was removed from his position “immediately upon learning of the allegations.” He added that Page left the investigative team two weeks prior to learning of the allegations.
3. Strzok Took Part in the Clinton Email Investigation & Reportedly Altered the Language of the Findings
Strzok helped oversee the F.B.I.’s investigation into the use of a private email server by Clinton when she was secretary of state under President Barack Obama. She was accused of using her family’s private email server for her official communications, including over 100 emails which contained classified information. Strzok was one of multiple agents who interviewed Clinton in the probe during her testimony, which lasted well over three hours. Heavily-redacted court documents also show that Strzok took part in interviewing multiple others as part of the probe, and served as the No. 2 official in the probe into the email server.
The Department of Justice and Director James Comey eventually ruled that Clinton was “extremely careless” in handling her email communications, but recommended that no charges be filed. CNN reported that it was Strzok who edited the description of Clinton’s actions in Comey’s official statement. An unnamed source told the news outlet that Strzok changed the phrase “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless” in the statement. Someone who mishandles classified information can be prosecuted under federal law if they were “grossly negligent” in doing so.
“Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” Comey said in his statement on the results of the investigation.
Upon receiving documents from the F.B.I. in November, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) questioned why the change was made, but the person responsible was never named.
Because of his previous ties to the Clinton investigation, some were taken by surprise when it was announced July 13 that Strzok was joining the team of over 25 people, including FBI employees and support staff, in Mueller’s exclusive probe.
Special counsel spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment on much of the announcement, other than saying Strzok oversaw “the beginnings of the Russia probe last summer,” CNN reported.
The team of investigators moved into offices in southwest Washington D.C., near the Department of Justice headquarters.
Officials from the F.B.I. said they were further reviewing communications between Strzok and Page to see if there was any political bias in their work.
The Department of Justice’s inspector general’s office said in a statement to The Post that investigators were “reviewing allegations involving communications between certain individuals, and will report its findings regarding those allegations promptly upon completion of the review of them.”
Neither Strzok nor Page responded to the news outlets for comment. If evidence of a political bias is found in their work, it could result in a public report being filed.
Some on social media, including ex-White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, have called for the text conversations between Strzok and Page to be released as a matter of public record.
Trump also commented on Strzok and the incident in the Mueller-led investigation via Twitter.
4. Strzok Graduated From Georgetown University & His Wife Works at the SEC
An obituary shows that Strzok is married to Melissa Hodgman, who was named the associate director of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in October 2016, a news release said. Hodgman started working in the enforcement division at the SEC in 2008 as a staff attorney and was promoted to assistant director in 2012. She investigated numerous cases of fraud and earned a $229,968 salary in 2016, FederalPay.org reported.
“I am honored by this appointment and look forward to continuing our tradition of pursuing tough but fair enforcement actions in complex and cutting-edge cases, especially matters involving cross-border issues and efforts to hold gatekeepers accountable for breaches of their professional standards,” Hodgman said in the news release.
Both Hodgman and Strzok graduated from Georgetown University, a list of donors to the university showed. Strzok earned his master’s degree from the school in 2013, the list indicated. In 2012, the couple donated between $2,500-4,999 to their alma mater.
Hodgman and Strzok also donated between $250-499 to the Shakespeare Theatre Company, a 2007-08 annual report said. The couple live in the Fairfax, Virginia area and purchased a home for $520,000 in June 2003, according to public real estate records.
5. Strzok Was Named in a Lawsuit Against the F.B.I. For Its Use of Polygraphs When Interviewing Applicants
There isn’t much information publicly available regarding Strzok, other than he worked for years as an intelligence research specialist for some time before joining the F.B.I., where he’s worked since at least the late 1990s.
In a 2000 lawsuit filed by multiple plaintiffs against the F.B.I. in regard to polygraph tests, Strzok was named as being part of the interview process. It stated that one of the plaintiffs, Eric Croddy, worked as a researcher in the private sector and was applying for a job at the agency. He was subsequently interviewed by a special agent, Kathy Muller and various others. He also took a written examination and a polygraph, which he accused Muller of calling a “line in the sand,” saying he was being deceptive.
One of the other officials Croddy interviewed with was Strzok, the lawsuit said. It noted that Strzok, at the time, was part of an F.B.I. unit that specifically dealt with “chemical and biological terrorism incidents.”