The Slatest

If FBI Staffers Had Texted Each Other About Stopping Hillary, Would Democrats Think There Was a Conspiracy Against Them?

A metallic sign identifying the "J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building" against the building's stark concrete backdrop on a clear winter day.
FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.
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On Thursday, Department of Justice inspector general Michael Horowitz released a report about the FBI’s handling of the investigation into whether Hillary Clinton had committed any crimes by using a personal server for State Department business. Of all the words in the 568-page report, three have attracted particular attention: “We’ll stop it.” That’s what FBI deputy assistant director Peter Strzok texted about Donald Trump’s potential presidency to Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer with whom he was having an affair, during the 2016 campaign:

In a text message on August 8, 2016, Page stated, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok responded, “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”

Strzok and Page exchanged a number of other disparaging messages about Trump between 2015 and 2017, referring to him as “a loathsome human,” “an idiot,” “an enormous d*uche,” and “a disaster.” Strzok supervised both the Clinton email investigation and the Russia investigation for the FBI and was assigned to work for special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller removed Strzok from his job on July 28, 2017, one day after Mueller was informed by the inspector general about the texts. (Strzok and Page, per the report, said their texts amounted to blowing off steam and that their beliefs did not influence their work.)

Trump partisans, as you can imagine, are making hay of this. Friday morning, Trump said on Fox News that Strzok “should have been fired a long time ago” and that “the Mueller investigation has been totally discredited.” Trump lawyer and walking id extension Rudy Giuliani argued that Strzok should go to jail, I guess on felony charges of being rude. Democrats, meanwhile, have emphasized Horowitz’s conclusion that he did not find that any FBI officials’ political beliefs influenced the outcome of the Clinton email case and does not believe that FBI Director James Comey was motivated at any point by political bias. (Horowitz’s report does not draw any conclusions about the Russia case, which he is reportedly still investigating.)

Hypothetically, though, how upset would Democrats be if the shoe were on the other foot? The fact that Strzok and Page were involved in parallel investigations into both presidential candidates makes the situation easy to picture. Here’s what a mirror image of the current situation would have looked like:

• Strzok and Page, while investigating Hillary Clinton’s email-security practices, exchanged text messages that discussed her lack of fitness for office and the need to “stop” Clinton from becoming president.

• Strzok and Page praised another, less controversial Democrat running for the nomination, like Martin O’Malley (in reality, they discussed their positive views of Republican John Kasich) and disparaged a number of prominent Republicans, including let’s say Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions. (In reality, they disparaged Democrats such as Eric Holder and Bernie Sanders).

• The FBI kept the investigation into Clinton’s email as hidden as possible and even downplayed its seriousness to the press before the election.

• Clinton won the election.

• It then became apparent that her case was in fact serious and involved evidence that Strzok was not in a position to influence, resulting in a special counsel investigation led by let’s say Preet Bharara that yielded felony guilty pleas by Clinton’s national security adviser (let’s say it would have been Samantha Power, just to pick someone who’s as prominent as Michael Flynn) and to Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook going to jail for witness tampering after he was indicted for a number of seemingly well-documented email-related crimes that predated his work for Clinton. (In this scenario Bharara is the analogue to Mueller, a respected law enforcement official from the same party as the president.)

• Oh, and let’s say that Chelsea Clinton, Mook, and top Clinton aide Huma Abedin had met at Clinton’s house in June 2016 with a group of hackers who’d promised to provide advice on hiding evidence in criminal cases involving email servers. (Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met at Trump Tower in June 2016 with a group of Russians who had promised “dirt” on Hillary, a meeting that as it happens took place a month before Strzok was put in charge of investigating Trump’s links to Russia.)

In a situation like this, would a President Hillary Clinton, and Democrats in Congress, be insisting that the special counsel investigation into her campaign—which, let’s remember, is led in alternate-world by respected Democratic law enforcement figure Preet Bharara—was a discredited sham because an agent who appeared to otherwise hold middle-of-the-road political views had suggested, after a number of suspicious and potentially criminal Clinton-related events had already taken place, that she needed to be stopped?

You know what? I don’t think so!