As a deputy assistant director of the FBI’s counter-intelligence division, Peter Strzok led the bureau’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. His criticisms of Donald Trump, sent via a government-issued phone, were leaked together with his affair with Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer.
Strzok became a target for presidential tweets and conservative ire. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, removed him from his investigation. In August 2018, Strzok was fired from the FBI. Adding insult to injury, the justice department inspector general criticized Strzok in a published report. At present, Strzok is litigating his termination. He has an axe to grind, and his book makes compelling reading.
He offers a window into FBI counter-intelligence work, a defense of his conduct, and a scathing indictment of the president and his administration. Compromised is a significant contribution to the library of Trump tell-alls. It is not dull.
Under the subtitle “Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J Trump”, Compromised offers a firsthand account by a career FBI agent and former soldier, delivered in the aftermath of the Russia report issued by the Senate intelligence committee, Bob Woodward’s Rage, and Michael Schmidt’s Donald Trump v the United States.
The Senate committee reported that Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, worked hand-in-glove with a Russian intelligence officer. Schmidt lets us know that former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein killed a counter-intelligence investigation into Trump’s relationship with Moscow. Woodward quotes Dan Coats, former director of national intelligence, musing that Vladimir Putin must have something over the president.
Investigations revealed Trump’s willingness to further the malign interests of one of our most formidable adversariesPeter Strzok
Together, they paint a disturbing portrait. Compromised goes a step further, and accuses Trump of betraying the US.
“Our investigations revealed Donald Trump’s willingness to further the malign interests of one of our most formidable adversaries, apparently for his own personal gain,” Strzok writes.
According to Strzok, investigators also demonstrated Trump’s apparent “willingness to accept political assistance from an opponent like Russia – and it follows, his willingness to subvert everything that America stands for.”
Strong stuff, but it echoes credibly.
In case anyone forgot, John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, advised that he would no longer personally brief members of Congress on election security and foreign interference. Ratcliffe has since reversed course, communicating his willingness to brief members of the intelligence committees, but in the same spirit the Department of Homeland Security withheld an intelligence bulletin warning about a Russian misinformation attack on Joe Biden’s mental health.
The president and his minions have gone out of their way to push that story – so far with little success.
As described by Alexander Vindman, a national security aide drummed out of the White House and the military: “In the army we call this ‘free chicken’, something you don’t have to work for. It just comes to you. This is what the Russians have in Trump: free chicken.”
Strzok also discusses the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails. He is not disturbed by James Comey’s recommendation against prosecuting Clinton. “The investigation was conducted by an extraordinary team that their peers and the American people should be proud of,” he writes.
At the same time, he voices displeasure with the stance of some of Clinton’s legal team, particularly with regard to Clinton’s laptops. Strzok recalls that requests to interview Jake Sullivan, a senior Clinton adviser, “met with stonewalling”, and only the “threat of a grand jury subpoena broke the logjam”. These days, Sullivan advises the Biden campaign.
Strzok also discusses his interview at the White House with Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser. Strzok remains puzzled. On the one hand, Compromised describes Flynn as cooperative in demeanor but “repeatedly and inexplicably” lying about things “he knew we knew had the answers to”. Even as Flynn “baldly” lied about his conversations with the then Russian ambassador, “he didn’t exhibit any of the ‘tells’ of people who are lying”.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI but his fate remains up in the air. Bill Barr’s justice department continues to fight for the dismissal of the charges, as the attorney general himself denigrates the department’s career attorneys.
Unfortunately, Compromised omits crucial facts and gets small things wrong. In more than 380 pages, Strzok does not discuss his affair with Page, attempting to gloss over things by referring to his family’s expectation of privacy. Investigators recovered 20,000 messages between the two. One, sent by Strzok on 21 July 2016, opined: “Trump is a disaster. I have no idea how destabilizing his presidency would be.” Three days earlier, Page contended: “Donald Trump is an enormous douche.”
Strzok was an FBI agent, not a pundit.
Elsewhere, Compromised refers to Trump being interviewed by “CBS anchor Lester Holt”, famously admitting that the FBI Russia investigation was a driving force in his dismissal of Comey: “I said to myself – I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”
Holt anchors the news for NBC.
Compromised is not just about Trump. Portions of it are a vivid reminder that the cold war between the US and USSR was replaced by rivalry between the US and Russia.
The book begins in 2001, with Strzok and a team of FBI agents legally breaking into a bank deposit box to obtain information pertaining to a husband-wife Russian spy team posing as a Canadian couple. The husband attended Harvard’s Kennedy School.
The visit yielded a photo-negative that eventually helped blow the couple’s cover. But arrests did not immediately follow. Nearly a decade passed, the case dubbed “Operation Ghost Stories” by the FBI. The couple were grabbed in 2010, together with other Russian assets.
In the end, Compromised is a reminder that law enforcement and politics are a bad mix. Whether anyone will respect that divide in the future is an open and unfortunate question.