A former FBI agent at the center of the Trump-Russia investigation said in a new court filing that the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ) violated his rights as he tried to convince a court not to dismiss his suit against the agencies.
Peter Strzok, a key figure in the FBI’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia, filed the document on Dec. 30.
The DOJ made a motion to dismiss a lawsuit Strzok filed in August that challenged his firing. Strzok was fired after exchanging thousands of messages with Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer with whom he was having an affair. Both sent the messages to each other on government-issued devices.
Strzok’s lawyer, Aitan Goelman, tried in a new court filing to rebut the DOJ’s allegation that Strzok’s role in multiple high-profile probes meant he was held to a higher standard when it came to speech.
“The government’s argument would leave thousands of career federal government employees without protections from discipline over the content of their political speech,” the filing said (pdf).
“Nearly every aspect of a modern workplace, and for that matter nearly every non-workplace aspect of employees’ lives, can be monitored,” it added. “The fact that a workplace conversation can be discovered does not render it unprotected.”
Strzok’s legal team said that their client entered a binding agreement to be demoted and suspended but was instead fired, pointing out Trump recently said that he hopes what will be one of his “greatest achievements” will be “getting rid” of “evil” FBI officials.
Strzok’s firing was a “politically motivated achievement of President Trump and his political allies,” the filing stated.
Strzok’s suit, filed in August, claimed that the FBI violated his rights to express protected political speech and that the DOJ violated his privacy.
The DOJ filed a response last month to Stzok’s lawsuit that included a 2018 letter from the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility that admonished Strzok for failing to investigate evidence in the Hillary Clinton investigation found on the laptop of former Rep. Anthony Weiner.
The department said that the firing of Strzok didn’t infringe on his rights.
“It is because of those text messages, and the paramount importance of preserving the FBI’s ability to function as a trusted, nonpartisan institution, that Plaintiff was removed from his position, and not because of any alleged disagreement with Plaintiff’s viewpoints on political issues or Tweets from the President,” DOJ lawyers said in a filing.
Page, who was having an affair with Strzok while they were both involved in the Crossfire Hurricane counterintelligence investigation of the Trump 2016 presidential campaign, sued the DOJ and FBI this month, alleging the institutions violated her privacy by releasing the texts.
In her complaint, the former FBI lawyer said she had suffered, among other damages, “permanent loss of earning capacity due to reputational damage,” and “the cost of therapy to cope with unwanted national media exposure and harassment.”
The lawsuit alleged that “DOJ and/or FBI officials” leaked the messages “for multiple improper reasons, including to elevate the DOJ’s standing with the president.”
Petr Svab and Janita Kan contributed to this report.