Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With
I’m struck by the kerfuffle over text messages sent by FBI agent Peter Strzok to Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer with whom he was apparently having an affair. The messages bash Trump and seem to favor Clinton—for example, Strzok wrote, “God Hillary should win 100,000,000 - 0”—at a time when Strzok was directing the investigation of Clinton’s email server.
That’s very troubling, as is the fact that both participants moved to Robert Mueller’s staff to investigate the president. As Justice Scalia noted in his dissent in Morrison v. Olsen, there’s great risk that the people most eager to join a special prosecutor’s staff are those who are burning to take down the person under investigation. These texts certainly raise that concern.
But the president’s defenders are off base when they try read conspiracy into Peter Strzok’s “insurance policy” message. Talking about Trump’s chances in August 2016, here’s what Strzok wrote:
I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office [Andrew McCabe is the FBI deputy director and married to a Democratic Virginia State Senate candidate] for that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40 …
Lots of folks on the right are suggesting that “insurance policy” is some opaque and sinister Deep State code for black ops in the event of a Trump victory. A few exemplary headlines:
- Daily Caller: “‘We Can’t Take That Risk’ — FBI Officials Discussed ‘Insurance Policy’ Against Trump Presidency”
- National Review “Why Did Two FBI Officials Discuss an ‘Insurance Policy’ In Case of Trump’s Election?”
- Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire: “Texts From Anti-Trump FBI Agent Suggest Possible Plot To Take Down Trump Before Election”
- Byron York: “After mysterious 'insurance policy' text, will Justice Department reveal more on FBI agent bounced from Mueller probe?”
Give me a break. Read the text again.
Strzok was reacting to the argument that there was no point getting worked up because Trump was bound to lose. He argued in response that the odds against a Trump victory offered no reason to be complacent and gave an example: The odds are also very much against you dying before the age of 40, but you probably bought insurance at that age because dying with a young family would be such a disaster; the expense is reasonable even if the event is unlikely. For the same reason, in Strzok’s view, horror at the prospect of a Trump presidency is reasonable even though the prospect is remote.
Could he have written it more gracefully to avoid ambiguity? Sure. But if that is what you want to argue, I hope you’ll publish all the 2 a.m. texts you’ve sent to your lovers so we have a model of the clarity that’s possible.
In the meantime, chill. The texts say a lot, none of it good, about the FBI’s culture and Bob Mueller’s staffing choices. They say nothing about a grand plot by the Deep State.