On Thursday morning, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) published a transcript of a June 2018 interview FBI Agent Peter Strzok gave to members of Congress before he was fired in August 2018 over anti-Trump texts between him and his lover, Lisa Page. Strzok had worked on three important investigations: the FBI probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails, the FBI investigation into possible Trump-Russia collusion, and the Trump-Russia probe headed by special counsel Robert Mueller.
After the anti-Trump texts came to light, Mueller booted Strzok from the special counsel probe, but according to the FBI agent’s testimony, Mueller’s team never asked him whether the anti-Trump bias revealed in his text messages impacted his investigation of alleged collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.
In the June 2018 hearing, Strzok repeated over and over that Mueller’s team never asked him about the anti-Trump bias in the texts or whether that bias impacted his work. This news seems particularly damning since it suggests the special counsel’s team did not care whether Strzok’s work was colored by anti-Trump bias.
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) asked the FBI agent a long series of questions about the Mueller probe. Strzok told him that the FBI investigation began in late July of 2016, that he was “one of the senior leaders” on that team, and that he joined the special counsel investigation “within a month” after its inception in May 2017.
The FBI agent discussed “the existence of the text messages” in an August 2017 discussion with Mueller and another lawyer, he said.
“There was a sense that special counsel Mueller absolutely wanted to run an investigation that was not only independent but also presented the appearance of independence, and the concern that these texts might be construed otherwise,” Strzok said.
Ratcliffe pressed him, “Do you think it’s fair, as these texts have been characterized, do you think it’s fair to say that they were hateful texts with respect to Donald Trump?”
“I wouldn’t call them hateful. I would call them an expression of personal belief in an individual conversation with a close associate,” the FBI agent responded.
Whether or not the texts were “hateful,” they demonstrated a fear and loathing of Donald Trump and seemed to suggest that Strzok and Page were attempting to prevent Trump’s election from within the FBI. Even if the texts did not reveal any such conspiracy — as Strzok and Page have insisted they did not — they certainly reveal an animus against the then-Republican candidate for president.
For this reason, it would be incumbent on the special counsel’s team to probe whether or not that bias affected the FBI agent’s work. According to his testimony, they did not.
“Did special counsel Mueller or the other attorney in the room ask you whether or not your expression of personal belief about Donald Trump influenced any of the actions or decisions that you had taken or any of the evidence or information that you had gathered?” Ratcliffe asked.
Strzok replied, “No.”
“In looking at the specific texts, on August 6th of 2016, one of the texts that you sent to Ms. Page, you said, ‘F Trump.’ Do you recall that?” Ratcliffe asked. The FBI agent said he recalled reading it.
“So did special counsel Mueller or anyone with the special counsel investigative team make any inquiry as to whether or not any bias or prejudice reflected in that text that I just referred to impacted any actions or decisions or the manner in which the evidence you gathered, that information was affected?” the congressman pressed.
“No,” Strzok again replied.
Ratcliffe continued, in “August 6th of 2016, you sent a text message that said, I can protect the country at many levels. … Did special counsel Mueller or anyone with the special counsel investigative team make any inquiry to you as to what you meant by that?”
“Did they make any inquiry as to whether or not, when you said I can protect the country at many levels, that reflected any bias or prejudice against Donald Trump?” the congressman asked.
“Did special counsel Mueller or anyone on the investigative team ask you whether or not what you stated in that text message in any way impacted the actions or decisions that you took or the manner in which you collected evidence or information?” Ratcliffe pressed.
“No,” Strzok again replied.
The Congressman asked again, “On August 8th of 2016, in response to a text message from Lisa Page making inquiry as to whether or not Donald Trump would become president, you responded, ‘No. No, he’s not. We’ll stop it.’ Correct?”
“Yes,” the FBI agent said.
“Did special counsel Mueller or anyone with the special counsel investigative team make any inquiry as to whether or not what is reflected in that text impacted your actions or decisions or the manner in which you collected evidence either as part of the Russia investigation or during your involvement with the special counsel team?”
“No,” Strzok again replied.
“On August 15th of 2016, you sent a text message to Ms. Page saying, ‘I want to believe the path that you set forth in Andy [McCabe]’s office but feel we can’t take that risk.’ Do you remember saying that?” Ratcliffe asked.
The FBI agent defended himself, arguing that his reference to an “insurance policy” had to do more with protecting America from Russian influence than preventing Trump from becoming president.
“We’re the FBI. We need to investigate. The country deserves this. If there is a problem within the membership of the Trump campaign, that, if they are elected, that those people might be named to senior national security positions, and that is something, certainly, that the American people deserve and, indeed, candidate Trump might want to know,” the FBI agent reasoned.
“So my use of the phrase ‘insurance policy’ was simply to say, while the polls or people might think it is less likely that then-candidate Trump would be elected, that should not influence — that should not get in the way of us doing our job responsibly to protect the national security,” he claimed. Lisa Page told the same story this week, so it is their official narrative.
Given the other texts, it seems likely that this cop-out response is a flat-out lie. Even if it were true, special counsel Mueller seemed uninterested in it.
Asking Strzok about Mueller, Ratcliffe asked, “So he didn’t even make an inquiry?” The FBI agent confirmed, “With me, he did not ask.”
“Special counsel Mueller and no one on his investigative team just heard the explanation that you gave for what that text message meant because they didn’t ask about it, right?” Ratcliffe asked again.
“They did not ask about it of me,” Strzok again replied.
Turning to a text about impeachment, the congressman asked, “Did special counsel Mueller or anyone on the special counsel investigative team make an inquiry to you as to whether or not your reference to impeachment related to Donald Trump?”
Strzok again replied, “No.”
While it is admirable that Robert Mueller aimed to maintain the “independence” and the “appearance of independence” of the special counsel probe, his team’s decision not to question this FBI agent about the anti-Trump bias in his texts and whether or not that bias impacted his investigation seems extremely suspect.
Does special counsel Mueller really not care if his investigation is clouded by anti-Trump bias? If Strzok is telling the truth, Mueller has a great deal to answer for.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.