WASHINGTON — Former FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was fired after a succession of text messages intensely critical of then-candidate Donald Trump, filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging his removal and claiming it was a result of a “pressure” campaign waged by the president.
In the lawsuit, Strzok said top bureau officials initially decided on a lesser punishment for the texts, but that he was fired instead because of “unrelenting pressure from President Trump and political allies in Congress and the media.”
Strzok, then a top counter-intelligence agent, was part of the team of FBI agents investigating Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor. He became a punching bag for the president after the department’s internal watchdog revealed that he had exchanged messages with an FBI lawyer, with whom he was having an affair, deriding Trump during the campaign as an “idiot” and worse.
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The trove of text messages were disclosed in late 2017, nearly a year into Trump’s presidency, prompting a wave of recriminations from the president and his Republican allies in Congress, who raised questions about the integrity of the Russia investigation, which was then probing whether the president had sought to derail the inquiry led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Mueller removed Strzok from the Russia investigation in the summer of 2017 after he was alerted to the communications.
Strzok, in his legal challenge Tuesday, said the public disclosure of the text messages was “unlawful” and part of an effort by the administration to “disparage” him and force his dismissal.
“The lawsuit shows that, in bowing to the president’s desires, FBI 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,” said Aitan Goelman, the agent’s attorney. “Today, Pete Strzok is fighting back, and sending a message that the administration’s purposeful disregard for constitutional rights must not be tolerated.”
The Justice Department declined to comment.