Donald Trump accused FBI agent Peter Strzok of “treason” in a Wall Street Journal interview published Thursday. Strzok was pulled from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in December, following the discovery of text messages where Strzok called Trump an “idiot” in an exchange with FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
“A man is tweeting to his lover that if [Hillary Clinton] loses, we’ll essentially do the insurance policy. We’ll go to phase two and we’ll get this guy out of office,” Trump told the newspaper, presenting his version of Strzok’s text messages.
“This is the FBI we’re talking about — that is treason,” the president said. “That is a treasonous act. What he tweeted to his lover is a treasonous act.”
In a 2016 text, Strzok wrote to Page: “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration ... that there’s no way he gets elected. But I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”
The Wall Street Journal reported in December that Strzok’s “insurance policy” likely referred to an aggressive investigation into possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign. His intention, the paper said, was to respond to a colleague who believed the agency could relax its investigation since it seemed inevitable that Clinton would win.
Strzok’s lawyer Aitan Goelman told the newspaper that it is “beyond reckless for the president of the United States to accuse Pete Strzok, a man who has devoted his entire adult life to defending this country, of treason. It should surprise no one that the president has both the facts and the law wrong.”
The crime of “treason” is defined in the Constitution as “levying war” against the nation or aiding enemies to hurt the U.S.; criticizing a presidential candidate falls outside these parameters. As David A. Graham of The Atlantic pointed out in December, “While the Justice Department has a clear code of ethics, it does not preclude employees from holding political views or expressing them to acquaintances in their private lives.”
Strzok was also the lead in the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. His texts have been used by Trump and supporters to make a case that the Mueller investigation hasn’t been objective.
Mueller’s office has said that Strzok was removed from the team as soon as the texts surfaced, and that Page had already moved on. Strzok was reassigned within the FBI.