Special counsel Robert Mueller removed one of the FBI’s top Russian counterintelligence investigators from his team after an internal probe found he sent messages that showed possible bias for Hillary Clinton and against President Trump.
Peter Strzok, who led the investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s email server in 2016, left the special counsel’s team last summer. He sent the text messages to Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer who also left the Mueller investigation this past summer.
“Immediately upon learning of the allegations, the special counsel’s office removed Peter Strzok from the investigation,” said Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office. “Lisa Page completed her brief detail and had returned to the FBI weeks before our office was aware of the allegations.”
The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General has been reviewing both the FBI’s and the DOJ’s handling of the Clinton probe, which cleared the Mrs. Clinton of criminal wrongdoing. The messages from Mr. Strzok were discovered in the course of that internal review.
Sources told The New York Times that the messages sent during the 2016 campaign appeared to be making fun of then-candidate Mr. Trump, and raised concerns that they could be seen as being pro-Clinton.
The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General said in a statement Saturday that it has been “reviewing allegations involving communications between certain individuals, and will report its findings regarding those allegations promptly upon completion of the review of them.”
The OIG said it had earlier commented that its review of the Clinton matter “would, among other things, consider whether certain underlying investigative decisions were based on improper considerations and that we also would include issues that might arise during the course of the review.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Saturday that if proven true, the allegations “would raise serious questions of public trust.”
He requested that the inspector general’s office complete the report as soon as possible and in the meantime, has directed FBI Director Chris Wray to review the matter “and promptly make any necessary changes to his management and investigative teams consistent with the highest professional standards.”
The inspector general’s wide-ranging investigation, announced in January, is reviewing several sets of accusations: that FBI policies were not followed when former FBI Director James B. Comey made a series of disclosures about the Clinton email investigation, that at least two agency officials should have recused themselves from involvement in the case because of close Clinton ties, and that department employees may have leaked information.
The investigation won’t reopen the issue of whether Mrs. Clinton should be prosecuted over her email server and the resulting mishandling of classified information.
But the OIG said that as previously announced, its review of the Clinton matter “would, among other things, consider whether certain underlying investigative decisions were based on improper considerations and that we also would include issues that might arise during the course of the review.”
In a statement issued by the FBI on the inspector general’s investigation, the bureau said it “holds all of its employees to the highest standards of integrity, independence and professionalism, as the American public rightly expects.”
“The FBI has clearly defined policies and procedures regarding appropriate employee conduct, including communications,” the statement said. “When the FBI first learned of the allegations, the employees involved were immediately reassigned, consistent with practices involving employee matters.”
• Andrea Noble contributed to this report.
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