WASHINGTON: Like any caring lover, Peter Strzok was there with reassurances when girlfriend Lisa Page confessed deep fears about the future under a Donald Trump presidency in a late-night text message in August 2016.
“He’s not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Page wrote.
“No. No, he won’t. We’ll stop it,” Strzok replied.
But, as Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, the two weren’t just any lovers.
That exchange is now the focus of a Republican campaign to discredit the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation that threatens Trump.
Both appear this week before Congressional panels where Republicans aim to show that their political biases distorted the two most sensitive Justice Department probes in the past three years: into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified documents, and into alleged collusion between Trump’s 2016 election campaign and the Russians.
If they can demonstrate the investigators themselves were deeply prejudiced against Trump, Republicans hope they can quash obstruction allegations against the president and a potential impeachment move.
Strzok was already hauled before a joint hearing of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees two weeks ago for an 11-hour closed-door grilling.
This week he appears in an open session of the same two committees on Thursday, while Page was subpoenaed to appear before them in a closed session on Wednesday.
Strzok, a veteran FBI counterintelligence officer, exchanged tens of thousands of text messages with bureau lawyer Page during their extramarital affair between 2015 and 2017.
That period overlapped with their involvement in both the Clinton and Trump investigations.
With any lurid and intimate communications deleted, the messages are a blend of office gossip, worries about press reports and leaks, and political rants in which Trump, during the 2016 campaign, is called “loathsome” and a “menace” – alongside more vulgar slurs.
During one campaign debate Strzok texted that Trump was an “idiot.”
“Putin is on Trump’s team,” he said at another point, referring to the Russian president.
In August 2016 an admiring Page tells Strzok: “Maybe you’re meant to stay where you are because you’re meant to protect the country from that menace.”
When Trump defeats Clinton in the November 8 election, both are deeply upset. Strzok laments, “OMG I am so depressed.”
“I don’t know if I can eat. I am very nauseous,” Page replies.
“FBI LOVER BOY”
Republicans say the messages are clear evidence of FBI bias. Beginning late last year, Trump has focused his counterattack against Mueller and the bureau on “the incompetent & corrupt FBI lovers.”
“Public opinion has turned strongly against the Rigged Witch Hunt and the ‘Special’ Counsel because the public understands that there was no Collusion with Russia (so ridiculous), that the two FBI lovers were a fraud against our Nation & that the only Collusion was with the Dems!” Trump tweeted Saturday.
“The Rigged Witch Hunt, originally headed by FBI lover boy Peter S,” Trump wrote, “is a Democratic Con Job!”
Yet when they are examined as a whole — as the Justice Department’s independent inspector general did — the pair’s text messages show a more complex picture. They are deeply critical of Clinton and are scathing about her Democratic primary rival Bernie Sanders.
They also reveal that Strzok and Page wanted a more aggressive probe into Clinton, and that Strzok originally balked at joining the Mueller team because he did not think there was real evidence of collusion.
In June the inspector general found no link between their political views and the direction of the two investigations.
“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative decisions,” it concluded.
END OF THE AFFAIR
Strzok and Page’s affair appeared to end, without forewarning or explanation, in late June 2017, just as the Mueller probe was getting underway. Page says in an abrupt message “Please don’t ever text me again.”
But with their texts now made public for anyone to read, their careers are in shambles. When Mueller learned of the affair and texts, in mid-2017, he quickly cut Strzok from his team.
Having once being responsible for chasing down Russian and Chinese spies, Strzok has now lost his security clearance and been sidelined into the personnel office.
Page left the Mueller team early on as well, and then early this year quit the bureau altogether.
Asked by the inspector general why two seasoned agents put so much revealing information on their FBI-issued phones, she explained: “Because we were trying to keep our affair a secret from our spouses.”