Washington, DC - One of the FBI's top Russian counterintelligence experts was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible Russian collusion with the 2016 presidential election.
Peter Strzok left Mueller's team this past summer after an internal investigation found he had sent messages to another FBI agent that could be interpreted as showing bias for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and against now-President Trump, according to CNN. Speculation about the reason for his removal had been rampant for months.
Strzok had previously led the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server, and is the second highest-ranking official in the FBI's counterintelligence division.
Investigators from the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) have been reviewing both the FBI's and the DOJ's handling of the Clinton investigation, which cleared Clinton from criminal wrongdoing, according to sources.
The messages from Strzok to Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer assigned to Mueller's team, were discovered during that internal investigation. The messages were sent during the 2016 presidential campaign, and their wording appeared to be making fun of then-candidate Trump, according to CNN.
Concerns were also voiced about the messages as being pro-Clinton. Page returned to the FBI earlier this summer.
President Trump tweeted out on Sunday, "Report: “ANTI-TRUMP FBI AGENT LED CLINTON EMAIL PROBE” Now it all starts to make sense!" He also said that Clinton money was going to the wife of another FBI agent in charge.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller's office, said "Immediately upon learning of the allegations, the Special Counsel's Office removed Peter Strzok from the investigation. Lisa Page completed her brief detail and had returned to the FBI weeks before our office was aware of the allegations."
CNN reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement on Saturday night that the allegations about the messages uncovered by the OIG "if proven to be true, would raise serious questions of public trust."
"I look forward to receiving the Inspector General's report. We will ensure that anyone who works on any investigation in the Department of Justice does so objectively and free from bias or favoritism. My job is to restore confidence in the Department of Justice in all aspects of our work and I intend to do so. As such, I have directed that the FBI Director review the information available on this and other matters and promptly make any necessary changes to his management and investigative teams consistent with the highest professional standards."
The Justice Department has agreed for Strzok to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.
In a statement issued on Saturday, the FBI said that "it has clearly defined policies and procedures on appropriate employee conduct including communications."
The FBI statement read, "When the FBI first learned of the allegations, the employees involved were immediately reassigned, consistent with practices involving employee matters."
An OIG statement released on Saturday reads:
"The January 2017 statement issued by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) announcing its review of allegations regarding various actions of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in advance of the 2016 election stated that the OIG review 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. The OIG 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."
Strzok's return to a post in the FBI's human resources division is controversial, with some sources saying it was a promotion, and others saying it was a demotion, according to CNN.
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