Peter Strzok spent his FBI career hunting down Russian and Chinese spies, but after news of derogatory text messages about President Donald Trump was published, he felt he was the one being hunted.
There were threatening phone calls and messages from strangers and fearful looks from the shutters before his family would leave the house. FBI security experts advised him on best practices: walk around your car before entering and watch out for unfamiliar vehicles in your neighborhood.
"It is terrible to be exposed to outrageous attacks, right down to the president himself, which are full of lies and misrepresentations and just gross and cruel," Strzok said in an interview with The Associated Press. "There's no way around it."
A new book by Strzok traces his arc from the seasoned counterintelligence agent to the man who embodied Trump's public contempt for the FBI and his characterization of his Russia investigation as a "witch hunt". The lyrics cost Strzok his job and pulled Vitriol from Trump. But even among Trump critics, Strzok is not a hero. His anti-Trump texts on a government phone to an FBI attorney gave Trump and his supporters an important opportunity to undermine the bureau's right to credibility as it conducted one of the most momentous investigations in its history.
Trump's attacks continued, although two general reports from the inspector found no evidence that Strzok's work in the investigation was marred by political prejudice and several probes confirmed the validity of the Russian probe. For his part, Strzok expresses his measured regret for the texts in "Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump," which are due out Tuesday.
"I deeply regret having made casual comments on the things I saw in the headlines and behind the scenes, and I regret how effectively my words have been used to harm the office and absurd conspiracy theories about our vital work underpin ", writes Strzok.
Before Strzok became a virtual household name, he worked for the FBI for two decades, working on sensational espionage cases in relative anonymity. He helped uncover Russian sleepers in the United States, worked on the Edward Snowden case, and led the investigation into whether Hillary Clinton mishandled classified information. (She did it, he writes, but not in a way that deserves prosecution).
After the Clinton case closed in July 2016, Strzok launched an investigation into whether her Republican opponent's campaign was coordinated with Russia and codenamed the "Crossfire Hurricane," which he called forward-looking.
In the interview, Strzok said he wanted his book to provide insight into the Clinton probe, meddling in the Russian elections, and most importantly, the counterintelligence threat that I see in Donald Trump. "
"To do that," he added, "I wanted to show the reader what happened, but also why they should believe me."
In the course of the investigation, Strzok viewed the actions of the Trump administration in relation to Russia as "highly suspicious" and the president as compromised by Russia, also because of financial deals in Moscow about which Strzok lied repeatedly, according to Trump.
Those concerns deepened after Trump fired James Comey as FBI director and bragged to a Russian diplomat that "a lot of pressure" had been removed. The FBI began investigating whether Trump himself was under Russia's influence and found "too much smoke" not to look for fire, writes Strzok.
"And the closer we got to the Oval Office, the stronger the smell seemed to get," he said.
Special Envoy Robert Mueller's investigation found significant contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, but found insufficient evidence of a criminal conspiracy.
Strzok documents crucial moments during the investigation, for example how the then National Security Advisor Michael Flynn "baldly lied" to him and another agent about his Russian contacts, even though Flynn had not shown the usual signs that fraudsters are trained according to which they are should search.
Though Trump supporters claim the interview was meant to make Flynn lie, Strzok says the FBI actually gave him multiple calls to refresh his memory. And while Attorney General William Barr said the interview was conducted for no legitimate purpose, Strzok said there was a need to break Trump's orbit links with Russia and Flynn's own "covert negotiations with a foreign power that had just attacked our elections," to understand better.
Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Barr's motion to dismiss the case is pending.
On another episode, he said then-Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had asked him to stay behind after a meeting and was skeptical about an investigation into the perjury of Attorney General Jeff Sessions for testimony at his hearing. Meetings were never billed. Rosenstein declined to comment.
Strzok's stint on Müller's team was short-lived and was weighed down in the summer of 2017 by the Inspector General's discovery of anti-Trump text messages exchanged during the election campaign with an FBI attorney with whom he had an extramarital relationship.
He was called to meet with Müller, who told Strzok in a "low voice" that he would be removed.
Deputy Director David Bowdich, who was reassigned to the more bureaucratic HR department, assured him that the situation could be worse if Trump had picked up the texts.
This is exactly what happened two months later when news of the texts came and the Justice Department brought them to reporters. According to Strzok, Trump has attacked him more than 100 times in tweets since then.
The SMS leak is part of a lawsuit by Strzok, which also conveys dissatisfaction with the end of his career.
After Trump accused Strzok of treason, he appealed to the FBI to condemn the statements, but received none. The FBI tried to block his access to categories of classified information so that Director Chris Wray could inform lawmakers the next day. And senior management overturned a lower-level decision when they fired him.
Today, Strzok is teaching at Georgetown University, looking for outside interference from Russia that he warns had information that was not used in 2016.
"I can't go into great detail about this," he added, "but I think they put those arrows back in their quiver and made them better for this year."