New filing against the Justice Department from Peter Strzok uses Trump's own words against the administration
Peter Strzok, the former FBI agent who was fired after texts showing his deep dislike for President Donald Trump were revealed, accused the government of violating his rights to privacy and free speech in a new court filing. The allegations, which are part of his lawsuit challenging his termination, used Trump's own words against the Justice Department, arguing that the president's claims undermine the administration's argument in the case.
Strzok alleges that he was terminated because of his personal opposition to Trump, which is protected by the First Amendment. He has also argued, as has former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, that the release of his texts with Page constituted a violation of privacy. However, the Justice Department contends that its actions were within bounds because Page and Strzok's communications occurred over their work phones and they discussed FBI business.
Page and Strzok's extramarital affair was exposed in the publication of the texts, a fact which Trump has exploited in his effort to demonize the pair as part of a supposed "deep state" conspiracy against him. They also both worked on the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the Russia investigation, two highly politicized probes.
Trump's campaign of demonization against the pair appears to be hurting the Justice Department's defense in the lawsuit.
The administration claims that Strzok was fired from the FBI for violating its policies. But Strzok maintains that it was his anti-Trump opinions that led to his termination — and he cites Trump's public campaign against him personally as evidence of this fact.
The new filing opens with a recent quote from Trump claiming direct credit for his termination.
“These were dirty people. These were bad people," Trump said to reporters about the people ousted from the FBI, including Strzok. "These were evil people, and I hope that someday I’m going to consider it my greatest, or one of my greatest achievements, getting rid of them.”
Strzok's lawyers wrote that such comments show the FBI agent's termination was "a politically-motivated achievement of President Trump and his political allies tied to a politically-motivated effort to use Mr. Strzok’s text messages to discredit investigations of the President and his campaign." Strzok has already accepted a demotion and suspension for his conduct, they argued, but the termination seems to be a direct result of Trump's personal urging.
The filing noted that the Justice Department's recent motion to dismiss the lawsuit didn't include any comment from FBI Deputy Director Bowdich, who made the ultimate decision to fire Strzok. And it is still not known publicly who in the department authorized releasing Page and Strzok's texts to the media — that's something the lawsuit seeks to uncover.
Since Strzok was a high-ranking official, the department has contended that the standards on his speech are much stricter, so he cannot claim First Amendment protection for his anti-Trump comments. It is important that the FBI maintain a perception of fairness and impartiality, and since his comments undermine this perception, they are relevant to his job performance.
But Strzok's lawyers countered that it was the Justice Department that decided to leak his texts to the media in the first place. After breaching his privacy in this way, they argued, the department can't then use the public distrust the breach on its part may have caused to justify terminating Strzok. The filing also pointed out that the DOJ inspector general uncovered evidence that members of the FBI had sent pro-Trump, anti-Hillary Clinton texts during their work — but these employees remain unidentified and, apparently, unpunished. This, the lawsuit says, further supports the view that Strzok was punished for his political views.
Brad Heath, a Reuters reporter, noted how extraordinary it is for the president's word to be used against him to undermine his administration's legal positions, though this is actually something of a trend in the Trump administration.
"There's a pretty remarkable pattern at this point of the Justice Department contradicting President Trump in court filings," he said on Twitter. "And an even weirder pattern of DOJ expressly arguing the president doesn't always know what he's talking about."
The fact that Trump is a well-known boaster and liar may actually help his administration in the legal context, though; judges may conclude that his statements cannot be treated as reliable guides to the facts of a matter. While this may protect him somewhat legally, it would be a pretty devastating indictment of his character as president.