One of the old traditions of going back to school is the book report — what did you read during the summer?
A book came out at the beginning of the summer that it took me quite a while to read, but it was worth going through the more than 500 pages. There are star-crossed lovers. There is intrigue amid intense rivalries. There is the Deep State. There is a grandiose, self-important parody of a main character.
Granted, the book has an unwieldy title, the publisher isn’t exactly known for blockbusters and the author isn’t anyone you would recognize and there’s a lot of detail. But trust me, “A Review of Various Actions by the FBI & DOJ in Advance of the 2016 Election,” the report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, has all of the elements of a great novel or a great movie. The prose isn’t great, but once you get into it, you will be hooked.
Let’s start with the star-crossed lovers, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. He was a lawyer for the FBI until he got unceremoniously fired. She was a lawyer for the Justice Department until she unceremoniously quit. They worked closely together on high-pressure cases, including the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email, an investigation that never should have happened, but that’s another story.
If you saw the TV version of events, that is the paroxysms of hypocritical outrage from Congressional Republicans, or the online version, Donald Trump’s tweets, you would think that, based on two words, “we’ll stop [Trump]” that these two were at the heart of a conspiracy that had the power to fix and election, bring down the government and corrupt both of their institutions, so powerful was their animus against the Republican candidate.
The book tells a much different story. Strzok and Page didn’t limit critical comments to Donald Trump. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is “a douche.” They hoped “Paul Ryan fails and crashes in a blaze of glory.” Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) was “the only sensible man up there” during a primary debate. When they saw their former boss, Eric Holder, on TV, they texted “turn if off!!!!”
Strzok and Page wanted to be tougher on Hillary Clinton and her staff than did others involved in the investigation. They wanted to have a grand jury subpoena some witnesses and use formal search warrants to obtain evidence, rather than rely on cooperation from Clinton and her staff.
Strzok and Page weren’t the only staffers fooling around. The report mentioned two others, named only as Agent 1 and Agent 5, who were also having a relationship. They were also texting political thoughts (“I’m with her..”) but they weren’t chastised as Strzok and Page. Perhaps because they later got married, they got a pass.
There’s also a certain Romeo and Juliet aspect to the Strzok and Page affair. He worked for the FBI. She worked for the Justice Department (DoJ). Officially, the FBI is part of DoJ, but the report exposes the deep undercurrents of rivalry and suspicion that each agency had for the other. FBI agents accused the DoJ prosecutors of being too soft. DoJ prosecutors accused the agents of being gung-ho gun slingers with no regard for legal restrictions or sophisticated legal strategy. The FBI in particular comes off as an organization more interested in covering its own ass than in making progress with a task. That Strzok and Page managed a romance in this atmosphere makes the affair that much more poignant.
One of the book’s major flaws is that Strzok and Page are treated very badly. About 90 percent of what it had to say about Strzok and Page is then contradicted at the end by another 10 percent. The two are seen as dedicated and hard-charging members of the investigating team, and their work is praised at every turn. Indeed, the book concludes there was no evidence any of their personal politics influenced anything substantive they did.
And yet, they are reproached for text messages that looked bad and reflected poorly on their agencies. Strozk’s decision not to get too excited about new email messages on Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s computer is well justified in the analysis, but at the end he is damned for making that call. It’s as if someone different wrote the conclusion from those who wrote most of the book.
The report also revealed how the FBI considered itself an empire unto itself and forced others to submit to the will of the director, James Comey.
Comey comes off in the book as domineering and arrogant. He intimidates Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. The book methodically describes the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, finding nothing amiss. Yet Comey took it upon himself to announce the end of the investigation while chastising Clinton for “extremely careless” use of classified material, even though nothing in the report indicated that such a judgment was justified. His “supervisors” decided they couldn’t do anything to curb him.
Finally, there is the Deep State. Here, the Deep State is the rogue New York field office of the FBI. That office had such a reputation for being anti-Clinton and for leaking information that Comey felt forced to issue the October letter “re-opening” the Clinton investigation that many say sealed Clinton’s doom.
There you have it. Sex, intrigue and colorful characters. It’s a great book and will make an even better movie. Think about all of this when the Mueller report comes out.