WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump on Friday seized upon aspects of a Justice Department inspector general report that uncovered some FBI employees’ private animus toward his candidacy, claiming that the FBI had “total bias” toward him during the 2016 election.
While the report accused former FBI Director James Comey of improperly taking actions that hurt Hillary Clinton, it also uncovered anti-Trump instant messages and texts from FBI employees involved with the Clinton investigation, the Russia probe, and the special counsel investigation.
Five FBI employees involved in the Clinton email investigation sent either text messages or instant messages that were hostile toward Trump, according to the report. Many of the anti-Trump messages were sent through FBINet’s instant message feature ― think of it as the bureau’s equivalent of Slack ― and the employees thought of the discussions as “private” and didn’t realize that those messages were being saved, though Inspector General Michael Horowitz says they should have.
Most of the text messages between two of the FBI employees ― former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and FBI deputy assistant director Peter Strzok ― were previously made public. One newly revealed message showed Strzok saying they’d “stop” Trump’s election, which the IG said “implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.”
Other instant messages showed FBI employees referring to Trump as “Drumpf,” calling Trump supporters “retarded” and “lazy POS,” writing “screw you trump” and “fuck trump,” joking about Trump’s election signaling the fall of the Republic, and writing “Viva le resistance.”
The IG found the five FBI employees’ texts and messages “cast a cloud” over the Clinton investigation, caused damage to “the FBI’s reputation for neutral factfinding and political independence,” and that the employees “demonstrated extremely poor judgment and a gross lack of professionalism.”
In an appearance on “Fox and Friends” on Friday, Trump said that the “real FBI” supported him, other than the “scum” and “thieves” at the top of the bureau.
“What they did during the election was a disgrace,” Trump said. “There was total bias.” He called Comey’s acts “criminal” and said the former FBI director was the “ringleader” of a “den of thieves.” Trump later said the report showed “bias against me and millions and tens of millions of my followers.”
Most of the comments are watercooler commentary on political matters that the FBI employees didn’t suspect would ever see the light of day. Instead, Trump supporters seeking to undermine the special counsel investigation being run by Robert Mueller will likely focus on the anti-Trump messages going forward and suggest that the federal inquiry into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election is hopelessly tainted.
Strzok and Page were having an affair when the text messages were sent. Two of the other FBI employees ― identified as Agent 1 and Agent 5 ― were in a relationship at the time the messages were sent and are now married. Agent 1 was one of two FBI agents who interviewed Clinton in July 2016, and was one of four agents responsible for the day-to-day activities of the Clinton investigation. Agent 5 was a part of the “filter team” and was supposed to filter out privileged communications from the material obtained by the FBI.
The couple referred to Trump as “Drumpf” ― a reference to Trump’s ancestral name that became popular with Trump opponents following a February 2016 John Oliver segment ― and wrote that Trump supporters were sad, pathetic, and dumb.
Here’s an exchange they had on Election Day:
Both said that they didn’t realize that instant messages were retained, and didn’t use caution in the forum as a result. Agent 1 said he used instant messaging “like it was my home” and as a forum “to relieve stress, as a way to be jocular, as a way to exaggerate, as a way to blow off steam.” He said he did not believe his personal beliefs impacted his professional behavior. Agent 5 said that politics didn’t interfere with how they did their jobs. “I think all of these are very personal, off-the-cuff ... these are personal, private messages,” the agent said. “I would say in, in no way has it ever or would it ever affect the way I, I handle any investigation.”
Messages sent by FBI Attorney 2 might give Trump supporters even more ammunition, as the attorney worked on Mueller’s special counsel team up until late February 2018, after the IG told the special counsel team about some of the uncovered messages. FBI Attorney 2 was also assigned to the Clinton case and was the primary FBI attorney on the Russian interference investigation before Mueller’s appointment.
FBI Attorney 2 described himself as “a bit of a news junkie,” but said he never interjected his politics into his professional work. The attorney chatted with a number of other FBI employees about their views on Trump. After Comey sent a letter to Congress days before the 2016 election that essentially announced the reopening of the Clinton investigation, Attorney 2 sent messages to several colleagues joking that they “never really liked the Republic anyway.”
The attorney told the IG that they were surprised that the bureau was “essentially walking into a landmine in terms of injecting itself [into the election] at that late in the process.” The attorney said they were frustrated that the Russia investigation and the Clinton matter weren’t being handled in the same manner.
After the election, the future member of Mueller’s special counsel team wrote that they were “devastated” by Trump’s election and couldn’t wait to “shut off the world” when they left work. FBI Attorney 2 worried about the “systematic disassembly of the progress we made over the last eight years,” expressing worry about future of Obamacare, Trump’s immigration policies, and gun issues.
“This is the tea party on steroids. And the GOP is going to be lost, they have to deal with an incumbent in 4 years. We have to fight this again. Also Pence is stupid,” FBI Attorney 2 wrote, adding that it was “hard not to feel like the FBI caused some of this.”
Another FBI employee who was not involved in the Clinton investigation wrote to FBI Attorney 2 that Trump supporters were “uneducated, lazy POS” ― or pieces of shit ― who thought Trump would “magically grant them jobs for doing nothing.”
A few weeks after the election, FBI Attorney 2 chatted with another FBI attorney about the amount of money a Trump campaign official had been making. When the other FBI attorney asked if the Trump campaign official’s salary made him reconsider his commitment to the Trump administration, FBI Attorney 2 replied “Hell no. Viva le resistance.”
The “Viva le resistance” line didn’t reference any official action, FBI Attorney 2 told investigators. The other FBI attorney ― who was also working on the Russia investigation ― said she thought it was “a joke obviously,” and that nothing about the exchange affected her Russia investigation work.
The FBI employees now have regrets about how they communicated. FBI Agent 1 said he was “embarrassed” by the messages he sent to his now-wife in what he thought of as “water cooler” talk. Agent 5 said that the “rants” were meant to help them smile and get through tough days, and also expressed embarrassment. FBI Attorney 2 said he regretted his use of instant message, which he also called “water cooler type talk.” Strzok said it was “dumb” to write about political views “on a government device.” Page said the primary reason she talked with Strzok on a work phone “was because we were trying to keep our affair a secret from our spouses.”
The IG said that none of this looks good for the bureau, and that while all of the employees said they believed their communications were private, that they should have known better.
“The employees exchanging text messages and instant messages are trained law enforcement agents or attorneys, and should have known that these messages were potentially subject to release in response to FOIA requests, subject to disclosure in civil litigation, or discoverable as impeachment evidence even in the absence of the OIG investigation,” the IG report said.
“At a minimum, we found that the employees’ use of FBI systems and devices to send the identified messages demonstrated extremely poor judgment and a gross lack of professionalism,” the IG found.
FBI Director Chris Wray, in his first major press conference since he took over the bureau, told reporters on Thursday that the FBI “won’t hesitate to hold people accountable for their actions” once the disciplinary process took place. He emphasized the need for FBI employees to understand the importance of “avoiding even the appearance” of political bias as well as following policies on the use of FBI communications systems.
Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’s senior justice reporter, covering the Justice Department, federal law enforcement, criminal justice and legal affairs. Have a tip? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Signal at 202-527-9261.