NOEL KING, HOST:
An agent who has been fiercely criticized by President Trump has now been fired by the FBI. Peter Strzok was part of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of an email server. He was also on the Russia investigation, but then he was pulled when texts emerged that were critical of then-candidate Trump. NPR's national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is with me.
Good morning, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: All right. So Peter Strzok was a source of great frustration for President Trump. Remind us what the issue was there.
JOHNSON: Yeah. Peter Strzok came under fire from the Justice Department inspector general who was looking into how the FBI and Justice Department handled the investigation of Hillary Clinton's private email server when she was secretary of state. In the course of that probe, the inspector general uncovered text messages that Peter Strzok exchanged with an FBI lawyer named Lisa Page. They were having an affair at the time, and they were speaking quite openly and disdainfully about a number of political candidates and the whole political process. In one text, one of them called Trump an idiot, and Donald Trump, now the president of the United States, did not take well to that and has been beating up on Peter Strzok ever since.
KING: All right. So why was Peter Strzok fired?
JOHNSON: Well, we know from his lawyer that Strzok was fired late Friday and that Strzok was fired by the deputy director of the FBI, David Bowdich. Strzok's lawyer tells us that that actually overruled a recommendation for a lesser punishment of a 60-day suspension and a demotion. So this was extraordinary for the FBI to let go this agent who had occupied a very, very high-level role in the counterintelligence unit for something like well over 10 years. He'd been in the bureau about 20 years and previously had some kind of military experience, as well. This is a guy who was at the elite of the FBI. He's now gone.
KING: OK, so what has Strzok's response been? Is he allowed to say anything at this point, or is his lawyer mostly speaking for him?
JOHNSON: His lawyer, Aitan Goelman, has come out and said that this decision is deeply troubling. He said that there is no evidence that Peter Strzok's personal political views infected in any of his work on the Clinton investigation or the Russia investigation before he was pulled by Robert Mueller off that case. He says the decision to terminate Peter Strzok was taken in response to political pressure and is a violation of Peter Strzok's First Amendment rights. He says that it is very unusual for the FBI to operate in this way, and he's raising some big questions about how this all went down.
KING: OK, so some of that remains to be seen. I mean, Carrie, I guess one of the big questions here is - you know, President Trump has been trying to make the case that the Russian investigation is compromised. What does this move do for what the president has been saying, for his case?
JOHNSON: Well, remember, Noel, just yesterday, Donald Trump, during a very rainy day in New Jersey during which he could not go golfing, was tweeting about Peter Strzok and his former lover, Lisa Page, saying that the FBI needs to recover its once-stellar reputation which has been so badly damaged. Remember; Peter Strzok is just the latest person at the FBI to leave. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was ousted, and Jim Comey, the former director, was fired by Donald Trump last year. So this is a number of high-level casualties at the highest levels of the FBI, which is very unsettling for this agency which has been under attack from the president for over a year now.
KING: NPR's national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thank you so much.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
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