Agent fired over anti-Trump text messages sues FBI

WASHINGTON (AP) — A veteran FBI agent who wrote derogatory text messages about Donald Trump filed a lawsuit Tuesday charging that the bureau caved to "unrelenting pressure" from the president when it fired him.

The suit from Peter Strzok also alleges he was unfairly punished for expressing his political opinions, and that the Justice Department violated his privacy when it shared hundreds of his text messages with reporters.

"The campaign to publicly vilify Special Agent Strzok contributed to the FBI's ultimate decision to unlawfully terminate him," the lawsuit says, "as well as to frequent incidents of public and online harassment and threats of violence to Strzok and his family that began when the texts were first disclosed to the media and continue to this day."

The complaint, which names as defendants Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Chris Wray, revisits a political drama that was seized on by conservative critics of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation as proof that the bureau was biased against Trump. Multiple investigations are underway examining whether the FBI acted properly during the Russia investigation, and Strzok remains a frequent target of Trump's scornful tweets.

Representatives of the FBI and Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The suit provides new details about the circumstances of Strzok's firing and amounts to the latest defense of his reputation, coming months after a fiery congressional hearing in which he insisted that his personal views never influenced his work.

Strzok, a veteran counterintelligence agent who helped lead FBI investigations into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server and ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, was removed from Mueller's team after the texts with FBI lawyer Lisa Page came to light. He was fired from the FBI last August.

Many of the texts, on FBI cell phones, were bitingly critical of Trump during his 2016 run for office. They were found by the Justice Department's inspector general during its investigation of the FBI's Clinton email probe.

The watchdog office criticized both Strzok and Page, with whom he was having an affair, for their judgment in sending the messages but did not find that the Clinton email investigation was compromised by political bias.

In the lawsuit, Strzok attorney Aitan Goelman says the FBI deputy director who fired him was responding to "unrelenting pressure from President Trump and his political allies in Congress and the media."

That deputy, David Bowdich, overruled the recommendation of a disciplinary official that he be merely demoted and suspended without pay and denied him the chance to appeal.

Bowdich said at the time that Strzok's "sustained pattern of bad judgment in the use of an FBI device" for texting called into question decisions made during the Clinton email investigation and the early stages of the Russia probe. And the FBI has said that Bowdich, as the FBI's No. 2 official, had the authority to overrule disciplinary findings.

The complaint says the campaign to fire Strzok included "constant tweets and other disparaging statements" from Trump, as well as the president's direct appeals to Wray and Barr's predecessor as attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to fire Strzok.

The lawsuit says the administration discriminated against his viewpoint by firing him even though other government officials who have supported Trump in the workplace have kept their job. It notes that the White House has not fired counselor Kellyanne Conway despite the determination that she violated the Hatch Act — a law that limits political activity by government workers — by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity.

"The Trump administration has consistently tolerated and even encouraged partisan political speech by federal employees, as long as this speech praises President Trump and attacks his political adversaries," the complaint contends.

The lawsuit also says the Justice Department set out to smear Strzok's reputation and humiliate him when it disclosed nearly 400 text messages he had sent or received.

In the complaint, Strzok also aims to explain some of the texts that have attracted the most negative attention, including one in which he told Page "we'll stop" a Trump presidency.

Conservatives interpreted the text as Strzok saying that he would work to prevent Trump from being elected, but the suit says the message was actually meant to reassure Page that the American people would not support a Trump candidacy.

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FBI Agent Peter Strzok testifies at House Judiciary Hearing
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FBI Agent Peter Strzok testifies at House Judiciary Hearing
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), speaks during a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, speaks as Representative Trey Gowdy, a Republican from South Carolina, left, listens during a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Peter Strzok, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), listens during a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The back of a poster, held by a staff member, reads 'Russia Meeting' during a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Peter Strzok, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), speaks during a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), speaks during a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
US Representative Elijah Cummings(D-MD) and US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform ranking member, speaks as posters of those who have plead guilty to charges stemming from the investigation of the 2016 election by Special Counsel Robert Mueller are displayed during a House Joint committee hearing with witness Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, July 12, 2018. - An FBI agent assailed as biased by Donald Trump after it emerged he railed against the president in private messages with his lover, said Thursday such attacks are bolstering Russia's Vladimir Putin and tearing the United States apart. Ahead of a congressional hearing on alleged anti-Trump bias in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Peter Strzok denied assertions that the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election was a politicized probe targeting the president. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US Representative Elijah Cummings(D-MD) and US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform ranking member, speaks as posters of those who have plead guilty to charges stemming from the investigation of the 2016 election by Special Counsel Robert Mueller are displayed during a House Joint committee hearing with witness Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, July 12, 2018. - An FBI agent assailed as biased by Donald Trump after it emerged he railed against the president in private messages with his lover, said Thursday such attacks are bolstering Russia's Vladimir Putin and tearing the United States apart. Ahead of a congressional hearing on alleged anti-Trump bias in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Peter Strzok denied assertions that the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election was a politicized probe targeting the president. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 12: A television displays a House Oversight Committee hearing with FBI Agent Peter Strzok as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks with reporters during her weekly press conference at the Capitol on July 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. While involved in the probe into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server in 2016, Strzok exchanged text messages with FBI attorney Lisa Page that were critical of Trump. (Photo by Alex Edelman/Getty Images)
Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, arrives to a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Peter Strzok, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Peter Strzok, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, right, talks to Representative Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina, before the start of a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Peter Strzok, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Trey Gowdy, a Republican from South Carolina, left, talks to Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, before the start of a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Peter Strzok, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok testifies on FBI and Department of Justice actions during the 2016 Presidential election during a House Joint committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, July 12, 2018. - An FBI agent assailed as biased by Donald Trump after it emerged he railed against the president in private messages with his lover, said Thursday such attacks are bolstering Russia's Vladimir Putin and tearing the United States apart. Ahead of a congressional hearing on alleged anti-Trump bias in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Peter Strzok denied assertions that the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election was a politicized probe targeting the president. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), center, arrives to a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), right, arrives to a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), swears in to a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Posters of people who have plead guilty in special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the U.S. elections are held by staff members during a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Peter Strzok, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), swears in to a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), swears in to a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), center, waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), center, waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok testifies on FBI and Department of Justice actions during the 2016 Presidential election during a House Joint committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, July 12, 2018. - An FBI agent assailed as biased by Donald Trump after it emerged he railed against the president in private messages with his lover, said Thursday such attacks are bolstering Russia's Vladimir Putin and tearing the United States apart. Ahead of a congressional hearing on alleged anti-Trump bias in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Peter Strzok denied assertions that the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election was a politicized probe targeting the president. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), center, arrives to a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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