WASHINGTON — A veteran FBI agent who wrote derogatory text messages about Donald Trump filed a lawsuit Tuesday charging that the bureau caved to “unrelenting pressure” from the president when it fired him.
The suit from Peter Strzok also alleges he was unfairly punished for expressing his political opinions, and that the Justice Department violated his privacy when it shared hundreds of his text messages with reporters.
“The campaign to publicly vilify Special Agent Strzok contributed to the FBI’s ultimate decision to unlawfully terminate him,” the lawsuit says, “as well as to frequent incidents of public and online harassment and threats of violence to Strzok and his family that began when the texts were first disclosed to the media and continue to this day.”
The complaint, which names as defendants Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Chris Wray, revisits a political drama that was seized on by conservative critics of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation as proof that the bureau was biased against Trump. Multiple investigations are underway examining whether the FBI acted properly during the Russia investigation, and Strzok remains a frequent target of Trump’s scornful tweets.
The lawsuit seeks reinstatement to the FBI, back pay and a declaration that the government violated his rights.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment, and representatives of the FBI did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.
Strzok, a veteran counterintelligence agent who helped lead FBI investigations into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, was removed from Mueller’s team after the texts with FBI lawyer Lisa Page came to light. He was fired from the FBI last August.
Many of the texts, on FBI cell phones, were bitingly critical of Trump during his 2016 run for office. They were found by the Justice Department’s inspector general during its investigation of the FBI’s Clinton email probe.
The watchdog office criticized both Strzok and Page, with whom he was having an affair, for their judgment in sending the messages but did not find that the Clinton email investigation was compromised by political bias.
In the lawsuit, Strzok attorney Aitan Goelman says the FBI deputy director who fired him was responding to “unrelenting pressure from President Trump and his political allies in Congress and the media.”
That deputy, David Bowdich, overruled the recommendation of a disciplinary official that he be merely demoted and suspended without pay and denied him the chance to appeal.
Bowdich said at the time that Strzok’s “sustained pattern of bad judgment in the use of an FBI device” for texting called into question decisions made during the Clinton email investigation and the early stages of the Russia probe. And the FBI has said that Bowdich, as the FBI’s No. 2 official, had the authority to overrule disciplinary findings.
The complaint says the campaign to fire Strzok included “constant tweets and other disparaging statements” from Trump, as well as the president’s direct appeals to Wray and Barr’s predecessor as attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to fire Strzok.