After FBI agent removed from Russia probe, lawmakers debate what comes next
Two FBI officials who would later be assigned to the special counsel's investigation into Donald Trump's presidential campaign described him with insults like "idiot" and "loathsome human" in a series of text messages last year, according to copies of the messages released Tuesday.
One of the officials said in an election night text that the prospect of a Trump victory was "terrifying."
Peter Strzok, a veteran FBI counterintelligence agent, was removed over the summer from special counsel Robert Mueller's team following the discovery of text messages exchanged with Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer who was also detailed this year to the group of agents and prosecutors investigating potential coordination between Russia and Trump's Republican campaign.
Hundreds of the messages, which surfaced in a Justice Department inspector general investigation of the FBI's inquiry into Democrat Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, were being provided to congressional committees, which had requested copies, and were reviewed by The Associated Press on Tuesday night.
The existence of the text messages, disclosed in news reports earlier this month, provided a line of attack for Trump, who used the revelation to disparage FBI leadership as politically tainted. Republicans have also seized on the exchange of texts between two officials who worked for Mueller to suggest that the team is biased against Trump and its conclusions can't be trusted.
The issue is likely to be a focus of a congressional hearing Wednesday involving Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel in May and oversees his team's work.
A spokesman for Mueller has said Strzok was removed from the Mueller team as soon as the allegations were brought to the office's attention, and that Page had already concluded her detail by that time anyway and returned to the FBI. Strzok has been reassigned within the FBI.
Working telephone numbers for Strzok and Page could not immediately be found.
Strzok had been deeply involved in the Clinton inquiry and was in the room when she was interviewed by the FBI. He later helped investigate whether the Trump campaign worked with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
The texts seen by the AP began in the summer of 2015, soon after the FBI launched its email server investigation, and continued over the next year and a half as the presidential race was in full swing and as Trump and Clinton were looking to defeat their primary challengers and head toward the general election.
The messages — 375 were released Tuesday evening — cover a broad range of political topics and include an exchange of news articles about the race, often alongside their own commentaries.
There are some derogatory comments about Democratic officials, including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and former Attorney General Eric Holder, but some of the harshest comments are reserved for Trump.
In a March 4, 2016, back-and-forth provided to Congress, Page refers to Trump as a "loathsome human" and Strzok responds, "Yet he may win." After Strzok asks whether she thinks Trump would be a worse president than fellow Republican Ted Cruz, Page says, "Yes, I think so."
The two then use words like "idiot" and "awful" to characterize Trump, with Strzok saying, "America will get what the voting public deserves."
In another exchange, on Oct. 18, 2016, Strzok writes to Page and says: "I am riled up. Trump is an (expletive) idiot, is unable to provide a coherent answer. I CAN'T PULL AWAY. WHAT THE (expletive) HAPPENED TO OUR COUNTRY??!?!"
Weeks later, on election day, as it seemed to become clearer that Trump could defeat Clinton, he says, "OMG THIS IS (expletive) TERRIFYING: A victory by Mr. Trump remains possible..."
Page replies, "Yeah, that's not good."
In August 2016, Strzok responded to a New York Times story that carried the headline of "Donald Trump is Making America Meaner" by saying, "I am worried about what Trump is encouraging in our behavior."
But he also adds, "I'm worried about what happens if HRC is elected," using the initials for Hillary Rodham Clinton.