WASHINGTON (CN) – Nearly a year to the day after the FBI gave him the boot over private messages in which he disparaged President Donald Trump, the bureau’s former assistant deputy director Peter Strzok claims in a federal complaint that the dismissal violated his First Amendment rights.
Strzok brought the lawsuit Tuesday in Washington, accusing the Justice Department of bending to pressure from a president intent on discrediting the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election that put him in office.
“The campaign to fire Strzok included constant tweets and other disparaging statements by the president, as well as direct appeals from the president to then Attorney General Jefferson Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire Strzok, which were chronicled in the press,” the complaint states.
In addition to describing Trump’s various tweets about him as “venomous,” Strzok says the government’s disclosure of his anti-Trump text messages — sent while he was investigating Trump for special counsel Robert Mueller — was “deliberate and unlawful.”
One Trump tweet quoted in the complaint says: “FBI Agent Peter Strzok (on the Mueller team) should have recused himself on day one. He was out to STOP THE ELECTION OF DONALD TRUMP. He needed an insurance policy. Those are illegal, improper goals, trying to influence the Election.”
He says the agency dismissed him without allowing the agent to appeal the decision to the Disciplinary Review Board. He seeks reinstatement and back pay.
Republican members have repeatedly echoed the president’s claim that text messages between Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page subverted the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
In the texts, Strzok warns a Trump presidency would be “destabilizing” and writes him off as “awful” and an “idiot.”
In a message responding to Page asking if he thought Trump was “ever going to become president,” Strzok said, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”
During Robert Mueller’s testimony to Congress in July, Republicans questioned the political motives of agents working on the two-year investigation, including Strzok.
But Mueller defended the integrity of his team.
“I’ve been in this business for almost 25 years. In those 25 years, I have not had occasion once to ask somebody’s political affiliation,” Mueller said. “It is not done.”
In 2018, Strzok also testified before Congress and said his “hate-filled and biased” messages did not support Trump’s claims that the investigation was a politically motivated “hoax.”
“Let me be clear, unequivocally and under oath: not once in my 26 years of defending my nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took,” Strzok testified.
Calling out the Trump administration for failing to fire White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, the complaint filed Tuesday accuses Trump of applying a double standard to partisan political speech from federal employees.
“During the Trump administration this viewpoint discrimination has infected the FBI as well,” Strzok claims in the lawsuit.
“While Special Agent Strzok and others who expressed negative opinions of President Trump have been subject to administrative punishments of various degrees of severity, no actions have been taken against agents who expressed harsh criticism of Secretary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, or those in the New York Field Office who leaked negative information about Secretary Clinton to the Trump campaign in the weeks before the election.”
Strzok is represented in the case by Aitan Goelman of Zuckerman and Spaeder and by Richard Salzman.
In a statement Tuesday, Goelman said his client has faced unprecedented attacks from the president over the last two years.
“The lawsuit shows that, in bowing to the president’s desires, FBI leaders trampled Pete’s free speech and due process rights in ways that should be deeply troubling to all in government, and indeed, to all Americans,” Goelman stated. “Today, Pete Strzok is fighting back, and sending a message that the Administration’s purposeful disregard for constitutional rights must not be tolerated.”
Representatives for the Department of Justice did not respond immediately to a request for comment.