FBI agent removed from Mueller probe for anti-Trump messages
A veteran FBI counterintelligence agent was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating Russian election meddling after the discovery of an exchange of text messages seen as potentially anti-President Donald Trump, a person familiar with the matter said Saturday.
The removal of the agent, who also had worked on the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, occurred this summer. The person who discussed the matter with The Associated Press was not authorized to speak about it publicly by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, said Mueller removed the agent, Peter Strzok, from the team “immediately upon learning of the allegations.” He would not elaborate on the nature of the accusations.
The swift removal almost certainly reflected a desire to insulate the investigators from any claims of political bias or favoritism. Trump and many of his supporters have at times sought to discredit the investigation, in part by claiming a close relationship between Mueller and fired FBI Director James Comey and by pointing to political contributions to Democratic candidates made by some lawyers on the team.
The existence of the text messages was brought to the attention of Mueller’s office by the Justice Department inspector general’s office, which has been conducting a wide-ranging investigation of the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email case.
Mueller has been investigating whether Trump campaign associates coordinated with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, and Strzok’s background in counterintelligence would have been seen as particularly valuable for a secretive FBI probe examining foreign contacts.