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Peter Strzok on why he believes Trump is ‘compromised’ by Russia

Former FBI official Peter Strzok has been a target of President Trump's ire for his role in investigations of Hillary Clinton’s emails and the 2016 Trump campaign’s connections with Russia -- as well as his extramarital affair. Now Strzok is speaking out about why he believes Trump is dangerous. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss "Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump."

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Few people have been as frequent a target of the president's ire as Peter Strzok.

    The former FBI official with decades working in counterintelligence, focusing on threats to U.S. national security from Russia and other countries, is often at the center of a Twitter firestorm. The attacks are professional, given his key role in the investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mails and the Trump campaign's connections with Russia.

    And they are personal, centering on his then extramarital affair with co-worker Lisa Page and the text messages they exchanged disparaging Mr. Trump.

    Strzok was fired in 2018 after an inspector general exposed their correspondence.

    He discusses all of this and more in his new book, "Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump."

    And he joins us now.

    Peter Strzok, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    You have been the target of the president's ire, as we said, for many months now. He's called you everything in the book, including accusing you of treason. He's talked about your personal life.

    My question is, why not slip quietly away? Why write a book which re-raises all this and subjects you to these questions all over again?

  • Peter Strzok:

    Because the president's relationship to Russia is too important to ignore.

    I think, when you look at what he has with his relationship with Russia, the way that he has exposed himself to being compromised and is compromised, in opinion — in my opinion, that is too important an issue for the American public to not understand how we thought about that in the FBI in 2016, up to and through today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the book, you write, Peter Strzok, about what you call the president's lies about his business dealings with the Russians.

    How did that compromise him?

  • Peter Strzok:

    Well, I think it's pretty straightforward.

    And I will give you an example. If you look during the campaign trail in 2016, at one campaign speech, President Trump makes a comment to the crowd that: I have no financial dealings with Russia, no relationship whatsoever in any financial way.

    At the exact same moment, his personal attorney Michael Cohen is making a deal or trying to make a deal for Trump Tower Moscow, which continued throughout the campaign and at least later into the summer.

    The issue with that is, when he says that, it's a lie. Vladimir Putin knows that it's a lie. Certainly, President Trump knew it was a lie. And, at the time, the FBI knew it was a lie. So, what that does, though, is that, in order to maintain that lie, those parties have to be complicit in it.

    And so President Trump, the moment he says that, knows that Russia can out that lie anytime they want. And that gives them leverage over him and the ability to influence his behavior.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, when the president and his allies come after you relentlessly for these text messages that you exchanged where you were — you were criticizing the president, they say this shows personal bias against the president.

    At one point, you wrote, "We will stop it," when — the question of whether the president could be elected or not back in 2016. Why shouldn't someone look at this and say, this is someone who can't be trusted, who had a personal view, a personal bias going into this investigation?

  • Peter Strzok:

    Sure.

    So, here's the bottom- line truth. Throughout 2016, I knew things about Trump and his campaign that absolutely would have killed his electoral chances. All of us working on the team knew things that, had we gone to the media, had we go to — gone to Congress, it would have destroyed, potentially irreparably, his campaign for president.

    As we stand now, going into 2020, I and others still no material that would be damaging. But the fact of the matter is, none of us have ever disclosed that.

    So, the idea that somehow we wanted to do that flies in the face of common sense. And, furthermore, there have been exhaustive investigations. There have been two inspector general investigations. There have been multiple looks by various U.S. attorneys. There have been investigations by both the House and the Senate.

    And all of these, all of these have universally found that there was no investigative action that was ever taken based on improper political considerations.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Peter Strzok, you also write in the book about — you say the Russians are coming at the United States elections in 2020 with a vengeance.

    Based on what you know, what are the Russians up to right now?

  • Peter Strzok:

    Well, so, a lot of that is certainly classified and remains classified and I can't talk about.

    What I can tell you is, we know some of the things that they did in 2016, everything from exploiting schisms in American society on social media, to trying to, and successfully in some cases, infiltrate state electoral boards and voting systems, to all the traditional things that intelligence services do to recruit people.

    I think it is very safe to say, and what I was able to say in the book, is we thought that the Russians would do some things in 2016 that they didn't.

    My belief is that they returned some of those techniques back to their quiver, and spent the last four years honing those sorts of attacks and techniques that they're using now, and that are only going to pick up steam as we approach the election, and actually continue well past the election, as we sort out what occurs at the beginning of November.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, can you be any more specific?

    And let me ask it this way. The Trump intelligence community, folks at the top, are saying right now that China and Iran are every bit as big a threat to these 2020 elections as are the Russians.

    How do you react to that?

  • Peter Strzok:

    My experience, again, over two decades is that it's absolutely false.

    When you look at the nature and the depth of what Russia is doing, they are engaging in the American electoral process in a fundamentally greater and more complex and more intrusive way than any other nation on the face of the Earth.

    Russia is getting into our domestic politics, into our domestic schisms. They're fomenting tensions between various elements of American society in a way that simply, the Chinese, the Iranians and others are not doing.

    And for the administration to suggest otherwise is deeply misleading and inaccurate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Different subject, but something you write about in the book at length, and that is the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's e-mails.

    And you went on in that connection to write that former FBI Director James Comey made decisions around that investigation that you say ultimately hurt Hillary Clinton's chances in that election, helped President Trump.

    And you went on. You said: "As much as it pains me to admit it, the Russians weren't the only ones who pushed the needle toward Trump. The bureau did too."

    That's quite an acknowledgment.

  • Peter Strzok:

    Well, it is.

    I think there's been a lot of introspection by all of us who were in that executive team and decision-making team who were advising Director Comey.

    But hindsight is 20/20. And it's a really unfair perspective to look back. But when you had an election that FiveThirtyEight said that the number of swing voters between Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania could fit in one football stadium for one game, that's a razor-thin margin. And it takes just a tiny bit of influence to move that one way or the other.

    And so I do, looking back, certainly, in retrospect — because what ultimately happened when we were forced and then Director Comey announced the reopening of the investigation in October, that was all set into motion by the decision to make the speech in July.

    And looking back, I — and I know others have said similar — had similar thoughts — in retrospect, I certainly would have advocated more forcefully not to have made the speech in July.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Final question.

    You had a successful two-decade career at the FBI. It ended in a way that embarrassed you, left you humiliated.

    Do you acknowledge, though, that your own actions, in their way, frankly, add up to the American people having less confidence in the FBI because of what they saw here?

  • Peter Strzok:

    Yes, look, I deeply regret the way my actions were used to harm the FBI, were certainly used to attack and harm my family, the things, all the things that I love the most in the world.

    But what I would tell you is this. The American people should understand that all of our work, all of my work was done in an objective, apolitical way.

    And that is exactly the way that everybody else in the FBI did their work. Those are the standards that we hold ourselves to. Every agent has a political opinion. I have a personal opinion. And each and every one of us, when I was working at the FBI, when you walk in the door, you set that aside, and you do your job objectively.

    And the work of partisans to try and undermine that fundamental understanding of how the FBI works has been really damaging. And I regret the entire experience and the way that it's unfolded and the way people have used that to attack the bureau.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Peter Strzok.

    The book is "Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump."

    Thank you very much for talking with us.

  • Peter Strzok:

    Thank you for having me.

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