Former FBI director James Comey conceded Thursday night that former FBI agent Peter Strzok and his mistress, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, damaged the Bureau’s reputation through their political partisanship.
Strzok and Page have been publicly excoriated by Republicans and allies of President Trump ever since the release of anti-Trump text messages they exchanged while they were working on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
“Considering the high standards that we set for law enforcement, what do you think should have been the consequences for Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Andrew McCabe?” an audience member asked Comey during a CNN townhall Thursday night.
“I think, given the standards that we have — especially we in the FBI have — there should have been, and was, severe discipline around their behavior,” said Comey. “As [CNN host] Anderson [Cooper] said, very different episodes of behavior. Everyone has opinions — about political issues, about religious issues, and sports issues. You can’t bring them to work and have them affect your work. There have to be severe consequences. FBI employees must tell the truth, always. And if they don’t, I don’t care what it’s about, it’s going to be investigated and there’s going to be severe consequences.”
Comey went on to explain that he was unaware of the bias exhibited by Strzok and Page at the time Strzok was serving as the lead investigator of Russian interference in the election, but admitted that the revelations about Strzok and Page’s hostility toward Trump damaged the FBI’s credibility.
“So, do you acknowledge that this whole episode with Strzok and Page, that it damaged the reputation of the FBI and that it perhaps tarnished the investigation?” asked Cooper.
“Definitely,” said Comey. “Yeah. Very painful. It was important that it be investigated, and important that there be discipline that follows it. But yeah, it made us all look bad.”
Republicans have focused specifically on one text exchange in which Strzok and Page discuss deploying an “insurance policy” in the event that Trump wins the election. Page confirmed in a House Judiciary Committee hearing in July 2018 that the “insurance policy” referred to the counterintelligence investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, which Strzok was overseeing.
Comey, who has forcefully defended the intelligence community’s decision to investigate the Trump campaign, concluded by praising Strzok as a “very talented agent.”
Attorney General William Barr told lawmakers last month that he is investigating whether the counterintelligence investigation, which Strzok approved, was motivated by political bias — an allegation that Comey and others involved in the process have strenuously denied.