Former FBI Agent Says Trump Is 'Compromised' By Russia
The former FBI agent whom President Trump once accused of treason is out with a new book that claims Trump is a threat to national security.
Peter Strzok, former deputy of the FBI counterintelligence division, was at the heart of investigations into Hillary Clinton's email server and the 2016 Trump campaign's ties to Russia.
He was later kicked off special counsel Robert Mueller's team and fired from the FBI over disparaging texts he sent to FBI lawyer Lisa Page about Trump. And in his new book,“Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump," Strzok argues that Trump is compromised and doing Russia's bidding.
"I think particularly when you look at some of his financial entanglements and other things that he has actively sought to hide, that if you’re a foreign intelligence service, if you’re somebody like the Russian intelligence services or the Chinese or anybody else," he says, "that same information gives you tremendous leverage over being able to influence somebody."
Russia's influence over Trump explains some of the "inexplicable things" the president has done in regard to Russia, Strzok says, including his failure to call out Russians for placing bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan and his silence on the attempted assassination of Russian dissidentAlexei Navalny.
"Just time and time again, Trump is doing these things that are inexplicably not in America’s national security interests, but do benefit Russia," Strzok says. "And I think the compromise explains that."
Strzok says he felt compelled to write this book to set the record straight on those investigations into Trump and Hillary Clinton that so greatly influenced the 2016 presidential election and the political discourse to this day. While he doesn't think he will be able to change everyone's mind on Trump, Strzok says he thinks his book will make a difference.
"What we are facing is too critical," he says. "This is too challenging a time to stay silent, and so there is little question in my mind that I felt I needed to write the book."
On whether Trump has business dealings with Russia
"Well, I think the record is clear that he does. If you look going back to his campaign, there were a number of statements that, you know, before that one of his sons was talking about the disproportionate amount of the Trump Foundation and Trump group’s financial holdings that were held by Russia. If you look at the actions of his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, going around seeking a deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow — at the same time Cohen is doing that, Trump is on the campaign trail saying he has no ties to Russia. Well, that’s clearly a lie. That’s clearly false. At the time Vladimir Putin clearly knew that. Trump knew that. The FBI knew that. But the American public didn’t. So to keep that lie a secret gives — and gave — Russia leverage over him."
On why the president has not faced consequences despite evidence
"That’s a great question. I think you have to look at it two ways. The first is that Mueller’s investigation was very focused on a narrow set of criminal violations involving his interaction with the government of Russia at the time and period leading up to the election. If you step back, though, if you look at the bipartisan Senate intel report, it paints a broad picture of interactions between not only Trump but the entirety of his campaign and Russia. And from an intelligence perspective, it’s clear that that image is much broader and much deeper and far more concerning than the scope of what Mueller was tasked to do."
On whether investigations into Trump were consequential
"In my opinion, it did lead to something. You can’t measure results in terms of strictly charges and convictions. You have to look at and understand what is going on there. Now, I have a lot of concern that the broad counterintelligence look of the type that the Senate Intel Committee did was not ever fully explored by anybody in the executive branch. And I think it’s absolutely critical that that is done. And if it hasn’t been, that it is addressed in the future."
On how he would respond to accusations that he works to undermine Trump
"Well, I think that’s an absurd accusation. Look, the fact of the matter is that I and others on the team in the fall of 2016 had enormous knowledge, which was not publicly known, that had we disclosed it, would have absolutely torpedoed Trump’s candidacy. The fact of the matter is to this day, I and others know things that would be damaging to Trump that would hurt him right now. And yet none of us have spoken about it. So it’s clear that there wasn’t some attempt to undermine his candidacy or his presidency. Is this the idea of personal opinions? Every single FBI agent has a personal political opinion. I’m no different. But every day, my experience over 20 years is that people walk in the door and they do their job. Whether that’s in the FBI, whether that’s in the Secret Service, whether it’s in the CIA, the Department of State or anywhere else in the government, that is absolutely part of the way that the professional government employee carries out their duties on a day in, day out basis."
On the things he knows that could damage the president
"Well, I’m obviously not going to get into them. There are things that are still certainly classified. There are things that might be still under investigation. But the fact of the matter is that those things exist and they’re appropriately not discussed. And so with that in mind, it certainly refutes — and of those things that are now known — the cases on all the people that we had under investigation, all the reasons why we were looking at them, all the things that are contained in the Mueller report and in the Senate intel report, we knew many of those things throughout the fall of 2016, yet nobody said anything about them.
"All of them would have been immensely damaging to Trump. And yet they never came out. And that’s if anything, that’s direct evidence that we were not out to get Trump. And if anything, we’ve bent over backwards to make sure we didn’t harm him or his candidacy."
On the conflict at the FBI surrounding public statements about Clinton and Trump's campaigns
"I think it was, hopefully, a historic and only time we ever have investigations involving both of the candidates for the presidency. But they’re very different investigations. And if you want to understand the difference in the way they were handled, the investigation that involved Secretary of State Clinton was a criminal matter that had been largely known to the public and was concluded in July. That was in a very different place in terms of being in the public dialog, being subject to oversight and document requests and visibility with Congress as opposed to the investigations we had on those people around the Trump campaign, which were counterintelligence in nature. They certainly had some criminal aspects. They were all classified. They were all ongoing. They weren’t yet closed. And they’re all very, very sensitive. So I understand people look at those two cases and say, 'Wow, these had a really different, very disparate impact on each of the candidates.' But that was appropriate given where those cases were. And again, I’d point out the way that those cases, [whether] the FBI either did or did not comment on them, universally across the board tended to hurt candidate Clinton and help candidate Trump."
On how Russia changed the outcome of the election
"I think after a lot of retrospective thought, when you look at the election where the number of swing voters, according to FiveThirtyEight, in the states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, needed to change the Electoral College outcome could fit in one football stadium and one game. You don’t need a lot to move that needle. And unfortunately, I think, as I look back, as I’ve heard others look back, I think with the benefit of hindsight — which is an impossible standard — but when I look at that, I think I certainly would have advocated more strongly to not make that speech in July.
"As to the Russians, absolutely. I think they had an impact and changed the outcome of the election. What they did in such a comprehensive way in social media, in the things that they were doing to attack our voting infrastructure and casting doubt on any number of social issues, absolutely was effective enough to sway such a small number of voters that were needed to change the outcome."
On if the Russians are interfering in the 2020 election
"They are. They’re doing it now, and they’re going to continue to do it up through and past our election. Looking at all the issues that are going to be under debate, whether those are social tension points between Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter or Antifa or the efficacy of mail-in voting, but certainly afterward, questioning whether or not the results of the vote were legitimate, and I expect that they are now and will be actively involved in trying to turn up the heat and encourage dissent within the American public."
On whether the FBI and other agencies are ready for Russian election interference this time around
"I think the FBI is much better. I think after 2016, I know that a fusion cell of sorts, that a group taking all these disparate counterintelligence and cyber and organized crime groups and putting them all together to look at this issue was created. That helps. That’s going to improve things.
"What I worry deeply about is there is not a comprehensive, coordinated whole of government approach to tackling this issue. You think back to, you know, public reporting that when former Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen tried to bring up the topic at the White House of getting the government together to talk about this issue, she was essentially cautioned not to mention that in front of President Trump because he would become furious. So if that’s the tone that’s coming from the top, the only way you can coordinate this response effectively is from the White House through the [National Security Council]. I’m confident that didn’t occur, and I’m confident that America is weaker because of it."
On whether he thinks his book will change people's minds about Trump
"I think it will make a difference. I mean, clearly, there are people who are already set in their opinions, but there are people who are open-minded. There are people who are still trying to make up their mind what they think, and beyond just the vote, beyond simply the election that’s coming up, I wanted to write a story that gave a factual, accurate recounting not only of everything that we did through the course of the Clinton email investigation, what we did in 2016 with regard to Trump, but to give people an understanding of how the Russians work from the perspective of a counterintelligence expert who spent more than 20 years working this, to convey the idea and the way that a CIA person would think about what is going on now and think about how to understand what Russia is and will continue to do."
On whether his downfall was justified by his text messages to Lisa Page
"Yeah, I understand that perspective. And look, I deeply regret the way that some actions have been used to attack the things I love the most — my job, the FBI, my family, first and foremost — but at the same time, I think that when you look at the way that this was turned into a weapon, the way that the personal nature of some of these attacks have been done in a way that we haven’t seen before in our history. And it’s not just me. I mean, look at the way that anybody who has come out with weaknesses or not, from Col. [Alexander] Vindman to Ambassador [Marie] Yovanovitch to the unnamed whistleblower, time and time again, people who are doing nothing other than telling the truth at a lower level, doing their duty, are being attacked in a personal way by this administration, in a way that we’ve never seen before. So, you know, it deeply troubles me that, you know, I serve as an example of some of the just outrageous behavior by this administration. But I think we need to look at the cause of what’s behind that."
On whether the Trump administration is obstructing investigations into its behavior
"I think the administration’s behavior right now is clearly having a chilling impact on what is being investigated and what is not being investigated or looked into or having intelligence gathered across the U.S. government. There is no way, when you have the attorney general saying that the investigations in 2016 were entirely without merit, that anybody is going to stick their neck out and feel that they can go aggressively and with some risk, look into acts that occurred with Trump and the Russians or anywhere else. It absolutely is chilling. That’s the intent and that’s the goal. And so I do worry [about] that and I’m very curious that, whether it’s in, you know, five months or 53 months, whatever the next administration does, to look back and try and understand what happened. I think it’s critical that we do that because there is an extraordinary amount of concerning behavior here that we owe it to ourselves as a nation to get to the bottom of and understand."
Book Excerpt: ‘Compromised’
By Peter Strzok
EARLY IN 2017, shortly after the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States, the top leadership of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division filed into a small room on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building. A weak midwinter light shone through the wide plate-glass windows over- looking Pennsylvania Avenue. The room, tucked away off a corner of the Bureau's counterintelligence front office, was reserved for high-level briefings and especially sensitive debates. Meetings like the one that was about to start.
I took a seat opposite the door, facing a long whiteboard, about eight feet wide and four feet high, which occupied one side of the room. Across the broad surface, names were carefully written in erasable marker. At the top, I read the initials "DJT" written in small blue letters. Below that were names familiar to all of us in the room, some of which soon would become known to the American public. Paul Manafort. George Papadopoulos. Mike Flynn. Carter Page.
All the names on the whiteboard belonged to people inside the Trump administration or connected to it. All had something in common: we had received credible counterintelligence allegations against each individual. We had already opened investigations into some of them. There were other names on the board as well, belonging to people for whom we didn't have open cases, although by regulation we had more than enough evidence to do so. Opening those cases was the subject of ongoing debate — a back- and-forth that sometimes grew heated.
It was a very difficult time, and we still had many more questions than answers. On that day we grappled with an especially troubling question, one that none of us could have anticipated in our wildest imaginations: whether to open a counterintelligence case against the president himself.
Over the course of the previous year's presidential campaign, and in the aftermath of the 2016 election, concerns within the FBI's Counterintelligence Division about Trump and his advisers had grown steadily into outright alarm. In late December 2016, the director of national intelligence published a report confirming intelligence we had been receiving through- out the presidential campaign: that Vladimir Putin and the Russian government were interfering with our electoral system to undermine faith in the election, hurt Hillary Clinton's prospects, and help Trump get elected.
Those of us gathered in the room at FBI headquarters that day also knew that the Russians had pulled some of their punches; we had credible intelligence that Russia possessed the means to have done even more damage to our electoral system in 2016 but had held back. The knowledge that they had something in reserve to potentially use against us in the run-up to our next presidential election only made the atmosphere in the small conference room that much tenser.
The stress and uncertainty of the past several months weighed heavily on all of us. I was proud of how our team had responded to the pressure. We maintained our professionalism and confidentiality, keeping a quiet discipline as we went about the unprecedented task at hand. Still, a grim stoicism hung over our work. There was little levity; this was nothing to joke about. We never discussed how it affected us personally, but we shared an unspoken sense of taut apprehension over the enormity of the events before us. There was a silent acknowledgment: I know, I feel it too. Let's keep driving forward.
For many months before this moment, I had also been immersed in an- other politically delicate case. Since August 2015, I had supervised the FBI investigation into whether Hillary Clinton had mishandled classified email during her tenure as secretary of state. Toward the end of that investigation — which culminated in a weekend interview with Secretary Clinton just before July 4, 2016 — I sat with the core group of our team to review our findings. One by one, I asked each member if he or she thought there were any remaining investigative threads that might change our fundamental understanding of the case. And then I asked them, one by one, whether they were comfortable with the decision not to recommend criminal charges. The answer was unanimous and unequivocal: we had done a complete and exhaustive investigation, and the facts did not support bringing charges over the email.
But Trump was a totally different matter.
By the time Trump was sworn in, the FBI had been investigating Russian election interference for almost six months — and what the Bureau knew about the cases was far different from what the public did. The public knew that the FBI had investigated Clinton, but even within the Bureau very few people were aware of our investigations into Russian interference. And if the American people had known what we did at the time of the election, they would have been appalled.
For starters, we knew that one of Trump's foreign policy advisers, Papadopoulos, had boasted about his knowledge that Russia had information damaging to Hillary Clinton and Moscow had offered to assist the Trump campaign by releasing the material. A week after the inauguration, the Bureau interviewed Papadopoulos, and he lied to us. Despite telling us during a second interview a few weeks later that he'd cooperate, he left the interview and deactivated a Facebook account that he had used to communicate directly with Russians.
Excerpted from COMPROMISED: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump by Peter Strzok. Copyright © 2020 by Peter Strzok. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.