A story of high tragedy is buried deep in the inspector general’s (IG) report published Thursday. Like Oedipus before him, FBI staffer Peter Strzok feared a terrible future and fought to prevent it. Ironically, his very efforts to stop Donald Trump from becoming president may have sealed that very fate.
Lisa Page, Strzok’s co-worker and lover, breathlessly texted him, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” To this, Strzok replied, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”
Page and Strzok have become notorious for the anti-Trump texts they sent to one another. The IG report cited these texts as evidence that Strzok’s decisions may not have been free of bias.
One decision in particular stood out. Strzok seems to have been instrumental in delaying a key lead in the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails. In September 2016, the FBI discovered Clinton emails on the laptop of former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.). Rather than pursuing this lead in the Clinton investigation, the FBI — and Strzok specifically — sat on it.
The IG report attacked the FBI for not acting quickly on this lead. Strzok and others argued that the Russia investigation was a “higher priority” at the time. “We found this explanation unpersuasive and concerning,” the report noted.
The laptop sat there from September 29 until October 27. The IG report explained that only “people outside the FBI” — namely a U.S. attorney — finally prompted the FBI to act on the evidence.
“The FBI had all the information it needed on September 29 to obtain the search warrant that it did not seek until more than a month later,” the IG report stated. “The FBI’s neglect had potentially far-reaching consequences.”
On October 28 — a mere eleven days before the presidential election — Comey sent his infamous letter to Congress announcing the discovery of Clinton emails on the Weiner laptop. The FBI obtained a search warrant to review the emails two days later, on October 30. Finally, on November 6, two days before the election, Comey sent a final letter to Congress stating that the review of the emails on the laptop had not changed the FBI’s conclusions on Clinton.
“Comey told the OIG that, had he known about the laptop in the beginning of October and thought the email review could have been completed before the election, it may have affected his decision to notify Congress,” the IG report said.
Before President Trump fired Comey, Democrats were furious at the FBI director, essentially blaming him for Trump’s victory and Clinton’s loss in the election. In their book “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign,” Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes emphasized Comey’s October 28 message to Congress as potentially decisive in the 2016 election.
Had Comey requested the search warrant in early October, the FBI may have come to the ultimate conclusion that the emails on Weiner’s laptop did not prove Clinton wrongdoing with a great deal more time before Election Day. Ultimately, it is impossible to predict whether this scenario might have resulted in a Clinton win, but it was only during the last week before the election that Clinton finally became more unpopular than Trump in national polls.
In wake of this potentially outside impact, Strzok’s decision to put Weiner’s laptop on the back burner seems particularly noteworthy. The IG report also suggested why Strzok made this decision.
“Under these circumstances, we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over follow up on the [Clinton] investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias,” the report stated. Talk about an understatement!
CNN’s Jake Tapper unleashed a tweet storm on Thursday, nothing the tragic irony of Strzok’s pro-Clinton bias perhaps costing Clinton the election.
“IG suspects Strzok was biased against Trump, and that may have influenced the decision to sit on the Weiner laptop for a month. Which might have ultimately set a course of events in motion that cost Clinton, his preferred candidate, the presidency,” Tapper tweeted.
15/ In other words, IG suspects Strzok was biased against Trump, and that may have influenced the decision to sit on the Weiner laptop for a month. Which might have ultimately set a course of events in motion that cost Clinton, his preferred candidate, the presidency.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) June 14, 2018
In Sophocles’ classic tragedy, Oedipus Rex hears a terrifying prophecy that he would murder his father and marry his mother. Determined to prevent this, he left the couple he thought were his parents, only leading him to run across his real father on the road and kill him. He later married his own mother, fulfilling the prophecy while vehemently attempting to avoid it.
Similarly, Strzok revealed his contempt for Trump and his desire to make sure Trump never became president. He prioritized the Russia investigation over the Weiner laptop, perhaps hoping that any new information in the Clinton scandal would not come out until after the election.
Tragically, this very decision altered the timing of the investigation, leading Comey to issue his infamous memo to Congress on the eve of the election, and perhaps delivering the killing blow to Clinton’s campaign.
Strzok told his lover that Trump would never become president. “We’ll stop it.” That very attempt to “stop” Trump’s victory may have ensured it came to pass.