Tags: peter strzok | mueller | fbi | trump | clinton

Peter Strzok Revelations Damage Reputations of FBI, Mueller

Image: Peter Strzok Revelations Damage Reputations of FBI, Mueller
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, special counsel on the Russian investigation, leaves following a meeting with members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on June 21, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

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Wednesday, 06 Dec 2017 12:32 PM Current | Bio | Archive

News of potential political tainting in recent high-profile investigations has left the FBI battered, with the president on Sunday going so far as to tweet that its reputation was in “tatters” and the “worst in history.”

At the center of the storm, a once heralded counterintelligence agent, Peter Strzok, whose career had been ascendant and who served as the deputy assistant director in the counterintelligence division at FBI headquarters (FBIHQ). After only three months into being hand-picked to lead the Russia collusion probe, he was unceremoniously transferred over to the human resources division — FBIHQ’s equivalent of emplacement in purgatory — on advice of Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III.

Strzok, it appears, had placed his imprimatur on a rapid series of sensitive FBI case investigations, having overseen the Hillary Clinton personal email server case, in which he notoriously changed then FBI Director James B. Comey, Jr.’s view of Clinton’s actions as “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless.” This provided for her subsequent exoneration in Comey’s infamous July 5, 2016, press conference.

A distinction without a difference, some have argued about the textual rewrite. Except that the original verbiage is actually part of the federal statute related to the handling of classified information, which would have necessitated bringing charges against Mrs. Clinton.

And then, inexplicably, like the character Forrest Gump, Strzok served as a participant-witness in a succession of history-making FBI investigative events.

To wit, he was involved in the interviews of Mrs. Clinton and her top campaign aides, Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills, which served as the culmination of the email server investigation.

It has been widely reported that he may also have been involved in the potential “weaponizing” of U.S. intelligence information, vis-à-vis FISA applications he apparently signed off on to spy on Trump campaign advisers. The evidence to support the applications came in part from the infamous Trump dossier, which had been paid for by the Clinton campaign.

He was also present during and participated in the interview of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, which resulted in Flynn’s pleading guilty to a criminal information that charged that he “did willingly and knowingly make false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements and representations” — essentially lying to FBI agents (Strzok).

And then Strzok was tapped to head the investigative arm of the Mueller probe into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia. Mueller was a dubious choice for the special prosecutor position. He has been challenged on his decisions to stack his team with Democratic donors, including attorneys who gave campaign contributions to Mrs. Clinton.

Which is one reason he ostensibly moved with such alacrity to have Strzok reassigned even before the dust had settled from the Department of Justice’s OIG probe into Strzok’s ill-considered partisan texts and emails to a colleague at FBIHQ, Lisa Page. A lawyer for Deputy Director Andrew G. McCabe, Page had already been transferred off the Russia collusion case.

Strzok and Page apparently passed electronic communications between themselves that denigrated then-candidate Trump and heaped praise on his opponent, Mrs. Clinton.

Some have criticized Page’s former boss, McCabe — who she served as counsel — for his own potential violations of the Hatch Act and curious decision to not immediately recuse himself from the Clinton case, long after his wife Jill, a one-time candidate for a Virginia Senate seat had received campaign donations from a group with ties to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

So the timing of the damning revelations of Strzok’s partisan inclinations could not have come at a worse time for a proud agency trying to right itself after a series of highly publicized missteps.

Let it be known that the FBI is not a monolithic organization when it comes to political adherences. But it has always maintained a steadfast resolve to follow the evidence in its investigations and resist personal injection of partisanship by its investigators and supervisors.

For the record, both Comey and Mueller have been registered Republicans and were both originally appointed to their senior government appointments by Republican presidents.

Nothing precludes an FBI agent — or FBI director, for that matter — from having political opinions and participating in the political process, as long as it doesn’t violate Hatch Act provisions or occur on company time or prejudice a case they are assigned to investigate.

But Strzok’s “sins” are most related to a colossal lapse in judgment in that regard, and his transgressions, fairly or unfairly, now stain the entire bureau in the process.

Mueller’s culpability in this goes beyond the questions of his own potential conflictions in the Russia case. It was his implanted policy of “Up or Out” that forced FBI leaders in field divisions to endure tours of duty at FBIHQ in order to get promoted. Senior field leadership with institutional knowledge of local regions and crime were forced to go to headquarters or face demotions in the field. Many elected to accept the defrocking.

This left FBIHQ with a number of aggressive, ladder-climbing, insulated “blue flamers” who rotated back and forth between headquarters postings and positions within the Washington, D.C. office. The insularity is unhealthy. And it shapes decision-making at FBIHQ. The “Up or Out” program also resulted in a tremendous amount of lost talent, as the demotions and retirements saw a wealth of institutional knowledge head out the door.

Why also does FBIHQ allow senior executives like Strzok to conduct interviews of investigative targets? It doesn’t occur that way in FBI field divisions. Agents investigate. Supervisors supervise. When senior executives are allowed to immerse themselves in the granularity of an investigation, they lose the macro view. Their decisions become clouded by an attachment to and entrenchment in a case.

This is the reason that bureau bosses can’t handle criminal case cooperators, or informants or counterintelligence case foreign assets.

Many mistakes were made across the investigations into Clinton, Flynn, and the Trump team. The FBI has itself to blame for them. A formal policy should immediately be enacted that precludes senior management from micro case investigation. And no agent — or senior executive — no matter how talented or gifted they’re presumed to be, should be permitted to oversee and closely manage sequential high-profile investigations, as Strzok was.

The FBI has its work cut out for itself to restore the confidence of the American people whose faith has been shaken in the world’s premier law enforcement agency. Strzok’s egregious mistakes aren’t the disease, they’re merely a symptom.

At the FBI, a long, hard, immediate look in the mirror is necessary.

It can’t withstand any more self-inflicted wounds.

James A. Gagliano is a 1987 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Following his service as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army, he entered the FBI, serving in a myriad of positions in the investigative, tactical resolution (SWAT), undercover, diplomatic and executive management realms. He was a member of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and has posted to assignments in Afghanistan, Mexico City, and parts of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. He retired in December of 2015 from the FBI’s New York City Office. He currently serves as a Law Enforcement Analyst for CNN, provides Leadership consultation for corporate clients of the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, and instructs undergraduates at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, where he earned an M.P.S. in Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Leadership in 2016. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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JamesAGagliano
News of potential political tainting in recent high-profile investigations has left the FBI battered, with the president on Sunday going so far as to tweet that its reputation was in “tatters” and the “worst in history.”
peter strzok, mueller, fbi, trump, clinton
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2017-32-06
Wednesday, 06 Dec 2017 12:32 PM
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