WASHINGTON — New texts released Thursday by the Justice Department’s inspector general show that the F.B.I. agent overseeing the investigation into President Trump’s campaign pledged to stop Mr. Trump from becoming president.
“[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right?” asked a top F.B.I. lawyer, Lisa Page, in one text. “Right?!”
Peter Strzok, the agent overseeing the F.B.I.’s investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia, answered, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”
The exchange, in August 2016, came shortly after the investigation into Russian tampering with the election began.
The Justice Department inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, said that the texts raise significant questions about the F.B.I.’s credibility during a politically delicate investigation, but he said that he found no evidence that the agents’ political views affected the inquiry.
Nevertheless, Mr. Trump’s allies seized on the texts to further their contention that a “Deep State” embedded in the federal government had started the investigation into links between the president’s campaign and Russia to take him down.
“The report shows how the F.B.I. became infected with politics and continuously disregarded rules and procedures to the detriment of Donald Trump and benefit of Hillary Clinton,” said Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California.
Along with overseeing the Trump investigation, Mr. Strzok had been the lead agent on the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s email account. The texts were included in the report by the Justice Department’s inspector general into how the F.B.I. handled the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email account during the election. The report said that many of the texts that expressed political views were related to the investigation of Mr. Trump, not of Mrs. Clinton.
“The implication in some of these text messages,” Mr. Horowitz wrote, “was that Strzok might be willing to take official action to impact a presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.”
But, he concluded, the inspector general’s office “found no evidence in emails, text messages, instant messages, or documents that suggested an improper purpose” in the direction that Mr. Strzok took the investigation.
Mr. Strzok’s lawyer, Aitan Goelman, said that Mr. Horowitz’s conclusion about whether Mr. Strzok may have had political bias was “critically flawed” and “bizarre.”
Mr. Goelman said that while pundits and politicians had used Mr. Strzok as a way to advance their political agenda, “the truth about Special Agent Strzok’s character and professionalism is found in the fact that every witness asked by” the inspector general’s office “said that Strzok’s work was never influenced by political views.”
But those politicians kept at it. “It’s a very damning indictment on Peter Strzok,” said Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina and a close ally of the president’s. “I don’t see any way that he can continue to serve with the confidence of D.O.J. and F.B.I. officials.”
Part of the report focuses on how Mr. Strzok handled the Clinton email investigation in the weeks before the election. In September 2016, senior F.B.I. officials in Washington — including Mr. Strzok — learned that the bureau had obtained a laptop from former Representative Anthony D. Weiner, the estranged husband of Huma Abedin, Mrs. Clinton’s longtime aide. The officials were told there may be emails on the laptop from Mrs. Clinton’s personal account.
Mr. Horowitz said the F.B.I. did not move quickly enough to look into what was on the laptop. That ensured that when Mr. Comey informed Congress that he had reopened the investigation Mrs. Clinton’s email account, it came only 11 days before the election.
Mr. Horowitz said that Mr. Strzok’s text about stopping Mr. Trump from becoming president showed that he may be willing to take an official action to affect the election. He said that Mr. Strzok had prioritized the Trump investigation over the Clinton one, and that had raised questions about the bureau’s delay on looking into the laptop.
“Under these circumstances, we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on” investigative leads related to the Clinton investigation, Mr. Horowitz said.
Mr. Goelman strongly disagreed.
“In fact, all facts contained in the report led to the conclusion that the delay was caused by a variety of factors and miscommunications that had nothing to do with Special Agent Strzok’s political views,” he said. “The report itself provides indisputable evidence that, when informed that Weiner’s laptop contained Clinton emails, Strzok immediately had the matter pursued by two of his most qualified and aggressive investigators.”
He continued: “While Special Agent Strzok openly admitted that he believed that the Russia investigation was far more important to American national security than the Clinton email investigation, this conclusion is evidence of Special Agent Strzok’s lucidity, not his bias.”
The texts released Thursday were recently discovered by the inspector general’s office. It had been revealed in December that Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page had exchanged anti-Trump texts. Shortly after that disclosure, the Department of Justice provided hundreds of them to Congress, which made them public.
The texts set off a stream of criticism against the F.B.I. from Mr. Trump, his allies and conservative news media outlets. Since then, the Trump camp has demonized Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page, saying that the texts are evidence the investigation is truly a “witch hunt.”
Mr. Horowitz said that “the damage caused by these employees’ actions extends far beyond the scope” of the Clinton investigation and goes “to the heart of the F.B.I.’s reputation for neutral fact finding and political independence.”
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