Peter Strzok, the erstwhile FBI agent who became a popular scapegoat among President Donald Trump's supporters, was fired from his job at the bureau, according to a report on Monday.
"This isn’t the normal process in any way more than name. This decision should be deeply troubling to all Americans," Aitan Goelman, Strzok's lawyer, told The Washington Post, which first broke the news. Goelman also said that Strzok's firing had been ordered by David L. Bowdich, the deputy director of the FBI, who he claims acted independently of the decision by the FBI office that normally oversees employee discipline. That office had forced Strzok to receive a demotion and a 60-day suspension but stopped short of termination, and Goelman claims that the FBI repeatedly reassured Strzok that his disciplinary process would not be handled differently than that of other bureau employees.
Indeed, according to Goelman, Strzok's fate was left in the hands of Candice M. Will, the head of the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility. The agent made a pitch to Will on July 24th, roughly one month after he was escorted out of the FBI building and effectively relieved of all work-related responsibilities, even though he technically remained an employee of the FBI. Goelman claims that while Will decided the demotion and suspension would be adequate punishment so long as Strzok was held to a "last chance agreement" (meaning he would have minimal margin for error in the future), Bowdich decided that Strzok should be fired regardless of Will's decision.
Not surprisingly, President Trump took to Twitter to gloat about Strzok's dismissal and point to it as a sign that the FBI's larger investigation into his campaign's alleged collusion with Russia needs to be brought to an end.
"Agent Peter Strzok was just fired from the FBI - finally. The list of bad players in the FBI & DOJ gets longer & longer. Based on the fact that Strzok was in charge of the Witch Hunt, will it be dropped? It is a total Hoax. No Collusion, No Obstruction - I just fight back!" Trump wrote on Twitter.
He later added, "Just fired Agent Strzok, formerly of the FBI, was in charge of the Crooked Hillary Clinton sham investigation. It was a total fraud on the American public and should be properly redone!"
On Saturday, before the news of Strzok's firing was known to the public, Trump posted another tweet attempting to discredit the FBI.
"Will the FBI ever recover it’s once stellar reputation, so badly damaged by Comey, McCabe, Peter S and his lover, the lovely Lisa Page, and other top officials now dismissed or fired? So many of the great men and women of the FBI have been hurt by these clowns and losers!" Trump tweeted.
It is worth noting here that Strzok never used his job to undermine Trump's presidential campaign but was merely revealed to have expressed privately unfavorable views about the then-candidate to someone who was effectively his colleague. As the Post itself reported:
Strzok, who was a deputy assistant director for counterintelligence at the bureau, has apologized for sending the messages and said they reflected personal views that did not affect his work. His lawyer has said that had Strzok wanted to prevent Trump’s election, he could have leaked that Trump’s campaign was under investigation for possibly coordinating with Russia — a revelation that might have upended his bid to become president.
Last month Strzok testified before the House of Representatives, where Republican congressmen grilled him in an attempt to at least partially salvage Trump's reputation by casting aspersion on those investigating him.
"I understand we are living in a political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity," Strzok declared in his opening statement. "I have the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role, but I truly believe that today’s hearing is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart."
When he was challenged for having sent anti-Trump texts privately to a lawyer employed by the FBI with whom he was having an affair, Lisa Page, Strzok insisted that the accusations were absurd at face-value.
"At no time in any of these texts did those personal beliefs ever enter into the realm of any action I took. The suggestion that I'm in some dark chamber somewhere in the FBI would somehow cast aside all of these procedures, all of these safeguards, and somehow be able to do this is astounding to me — it simply couldn't happen," Strzok told his congressional inquisitors.
Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Elijah Cummings, D-Md., argued that the investigation was a ridiculous distraction
"This investigation is a political charade — a platform to elevate far-right conspiracy theories and undermine the special counsel's ongoing criminal investigation of the President and his campaign aides," Nadler and Cummings said in a statement.
By contrast, Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee and a staunch Trump supporter, used the Strzok hearing as an opportunity to blast the agent.
"The moment special counsel Bob Mueller found out about Peter Strzok's text and emails he kicked him off of the investigation. But that was a year and a half too late. The text and emails may have been discovered in May of 2017, but the bias existed and was manifest a year and a half before that. All the way back to late 2015 and early 2016. So it wasn't the discovery of texts that got him fired, it was the bias manifest in those texts that made him unfit to objectively and dispassionately investigate," Gowdy declared.
It is unclear if Strzok has any further options left for appealing the decision to terminate him . . . or, for that matter, whether Republicans will trot him out again as a scapegoat when things again seem hairy for their president.