The FBI had "the power, but not the right" to fire now-former agent Peter Strzok for his anti-President Donald Trump texts, his attorney Aitan Goelman said Monday.
Speaking to Chris Cuomo on CNN's "Cuomo Prime Time," Goelman said that Strzok's firing was contrary to what the FBI had told them would happen.
"We had an agreement with the FBI's Office for Professional Responsibility (OPR), which is the main caretaker for internal discipline, that (Strzok) would get a 60-day suspension and a demotion," Goelman described. "At the last minute, that was countermanded by (FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich) and he was fired -- so yeah, we were surprised."
Countermanding such decisions "doesn't happen very often," Goelman continued, but "in this case, it is hard to reach any conclusion other than that the decision to reverse the OPR's decision was motivated at least largely by politics."
Goelman added, "We think that they had the power, but not the right to do it. ... There is a normal process that is followed for disciplining civil servants and fed employees. That process was followed here, but in form only and not in substance, and that's what our big objection is."
Strzok became known in December 2017 when reports showed special counsel Robert Mueller removed the counterintelligence expert from his team after an internal investigation revealed anti-Trump texts between him and FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Strzok was removed from Mueller's team some time in the summer of 2017.
Those texts were later released to the public and showed Strzok and Page engaging in anti-Trump talk throughout the end of the 2016 campaign.
Facing accusations of bias, Strzok later defended a specific text exchange during a July 2018 congressional hearing, saying it was "in response to a series of events that included then-candidate Trump insulting the immigrant family of a fallen war hero."
Goelman announced Strzok's termination from the FBI earlier Monday, writing in a statement that "the decision to fire Special Agent Strzok is not only a departure from typical Bureau practice, but also contradicts (FBI) Director (Christopher) Wray's testimony to Congress and his assurances that the FBI intended to follow its regular process in this and all personnel matters."
According to Goelman on "Cuomo Prime Time," it remains in question whether Strzok will attempt to appeal this decision.
"That's a question, does he fight, and the sub-question is how he fights," he said. "The letter from (Bowdich) said that this is the end of the road, and there are no more administrative appeals."
Goelman stressed that in spite of everything, Strzok "did want to stay. He loved the bureau, he loved his job, he was very committed to protecting the country and he was a great counterintelligence agent."
"I don't think (Strzok) would have necessarily wanted to work on the next high-profile political investigation, but in terms of going after spies from our adversaries who are undermining American national security, that's what motivated him, that's what he was good at, and that's what he wanted to continue doing," Goelman said.
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