Robert Mueller removed a top FBI counterintelligence agent from his investigation into Russia’s 2016 election meddling this past summer after the Justice Department’s inspector general started looking into text messages he and another agent on Mueller’s team may have sent expressing negative views about Donald Trump. The New York Times and Washington Post report that the agent, Peter Strzok, as the FBI’s deputy head of counterintelligence, played a major role in the investigations into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as well as the possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign.
According to the Post, the politically charged text messages were exchanged between Strzok and Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer who worked for Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, in the midst of an extramarital affair that took place during the Clinton investigation and last year’s presidential campaign. Page reportedly left Mueller’s team in July and no longer works with McCabe, while Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team in August and subsequently reassigned to the FBI’s HR department in an apparent demotion.
The texts came up during an investigation into how the FBI handled (or mishandled) the Clinton email inquiry, which is being led by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz. It is not clear what the messages said, only that they were apparently conversational responses to campaign news items and were anti-Trump and supportive of Clinton. A review of the texts is now underway to determine whether the two agents allowed political bias to influence their work, but regardless of what that investigation concludes, the story is sure to provide ammunition for those, like President Trump and his defenders, who have accused the Mueller investigation, FBI, and overall intelligence community of being driven by partisanship.