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Peter Strzok Sues F.B.I., Saying His Firing Was Politically Motivated

WASHINGTON — Peter Strzok, the F.B.I. senior counterintelligence agent in the Hillary Clinton email and Russia investigations who made inflammatory comments about President Trump in text messages, sued the Justice Department and the F.B.I. on Tuesday for firing him.

The F.B.I. said last summer that it had terminated Mr. Strzok for violating bureau policies, but he said in his lawsuit that he was fired because of political pressure from Mr. Trump, who has made a frequent target of Mr. Strzok in his public statements.

“The F.B.I. fired Special Agent Strzok because of his protected political speech in violation of his rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,” the lawsuit said. Mr. Strzok said his termination also violated his due process rights.

The Justice Department declined to comment, and the F.B.I. said it does not comment on pending litigation.

Mr. Strzok, who is seeking reinstatement to his job and a monetary award, was removed from the Russia investigation after it emerged that he had sent disparaging text messages about Mr. Trump to Lisa Page, an F.B.I. lawyer at the time who also worked on both investigations.

Those messages, sent during the heat of the 2016 presidential election as the F.B.I. was investigating both candidates, were uncovered during an inquiry by the Justice Department inspector general into the handling of the Clinton email investigation.

In their messages to each other, Ms. Page and Mr. Strzok said they did not want Mr. Trump to become president. In one exchange, Ms. Page asks: Mr. Trump is “not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Mr. Strzok responds: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”

Mr. Trump and his allies seized on the messages as evidence that the investigation into potential ties between his campaign and Russia was politically biased. The president discussed Mr. Strzok on Twitter dozens of times last year, criticizing his conduct.

Mr. Strzok testified before Congress last summer that he had not let his political opinions interfere with the Clinton and Russia investigations.

The inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, said the messages were “not only indicative of a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.” Nevertheless, Mr. Horowitz also said he had found no evidence that Mr. Strzok’s political views had influenced his investigative decisions.

In response to the investigation’s critical findings, the F.B.I. moved to discipline Mr. Strzok, who had worked at the bureau for 20 years and become one of its most experienced counterintelligence agents.

The bureau recommended firing Mr. Strzok in June 2018, but the Office of Professional Responsibility recommended that August that he be demoted and suspended for 60 days without pay, according to Mr. Strzok’s lawsuit. Mr. Strzok said in his filing that he agreed to that recommendation.

But the next day, the bureau fired Mr. Strzok, effective immediately.

Days before Mr. Strzok was fired, Mr. Trump said on Twitter that Mr. Strzok “should have recused himself on day one,” and that he had improperly tried to influence the election.

Mr. Strzok contends in his lawsuit that the firing “was the result of unrelenting pressure from President Trump and his political allies in Congress and the media.” He said the campaign to fire him included “constant tweets and other disparaging statements by the president,” as well as direct appeals by Mr. Trump to Jeff Sessions, the attorney general at the time, and the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray.

Mr. Strzok also said in his complaint that the Justice Department’s decision to disclose his private text messages to the news media violated his rights under the Privacy Act, which governs federal records and protects against unwarranted disclosure of personal information.

“While many in law enforcement have faced attacks by this president, Pete Strzok has been a constant target for two years,” Aitan D. Goelman, a partner with Zuckerman Spaeder and one of Mr. Strzok’s lawyers, said in a statement.

“The lawsuit shows that, in bowing to the president’s desires, F.B.I. leaders trampled Pete’s free speech and due process rights in ways that should be deeply troubling to all in government, and indeed, to all Americans,” Mr. Goelman said.

In addition to reinstatement, Mr. Strzok is asking for back pay and damages for violations of the Privacy Act.


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