Lock Him Up? | Crooked Media
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August 04, 2022
Positively Dreadful
Lock Him Up?

In This Episode

Former FBI investigator Peter Strzok joins to talk about how the Trump accountability story isn’t fully written. The January 6 hearings, and earlier investigations, have revealed more Trump crimes than we could have imagined six years ago, yet he hasn’t faced criminal charges and our institutions haven’t been bolstered to protect future threats he poses to the Constitution. Is the justice system failing? Or are we making a mistake by putting so much stock into legal accountability in the first place?

 

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Brian Beutler: Hi and welcome to Positively Dreadful, with me, your host, Brian Beutler. This is our first August episode. We’re well into summer. The news usually tends to quiet down a bit around now. But before we take the opportunity to look a bit afield from the news of the day, we wanted to bore deeply into a big elephant in the room in America right now, which surrounds the question of investigating, indicting and trying a former president of the United States. Early on in the Trump era. The Trump opposition was, I think it’s fair to say, a little unhealthily fixated on the law as a tool of accountability and the sort of daydream that men of rectitude would catch Trump red handed in one crime or another and bring him down. And in everyone’s defense, it was a weird time. It’s hard to believe looking back, but the big Senate Russia investigation began under a Republican majority. Republicans in Congress supported the Republican attorney general, recusing himself from the Russia investigation, and supported the deputy attorney general appointing Robert Mueller to be special counsel after Trump fired Jim Comey. But once that was done, everyone kind of let Mueller assume the full burden of what really should have been a more political public facing form of accountability. Fast forward for most of the past year and a half or so, I think it’s pretty fair to say that something like the opposite mindset has taken over where the people who most want Trump to face justice have begun to assume that the law isn’t coming for him. That Attorney General Merrick Garland is too meek or ambivalent about the social consequences of treating Trump like a criminal to allow federal investigators to get too close. And their suspicions have been fed by what seems to include leaks out of the White House and DOJ and the world of former DOJ officials. The, Garland, kind of dropped the ball on investigating all facets of Trump’s attempted coup that he didn’t pursue aggressive avenues of inquiry. And maybe he even let the clock run out on the brief window to hold Trump accountable. And all of that happened at a time when the law is basically the final tool of accountability left. But then, more recently, the criminal investigation has shown real signs of life. It’s reached the upper echelons of the Trump White House, and the prosecutors running it are reportedly peppering these very senior witnesses with questions about Trump himself. So to me, this raises a few big picture questions. First, how do we square the accounts of Garland plodding along with more recent indications that Trump is, by all appearances, a serious subject of a serious criminal investigation? Were the naysayers just wrong? Zooming out even further, though. Are we making the same mistake by putting so much stock into legal accountability in the first place? Are the institutions of American law really equipped to protect the Constitution from the specific, unique threat Trump poses to it? I’ve had Pete Strzok in mind as a person. I wanted to talk about all this with for several weeks. He was, you probably know, one of the leaders of the FBI’s Russia investigation, which became the Mueller investigation. So he understands at a granular level how DOJ tackles these once in a lifetime cases. But he’s also watched up close as the same institutions can fail and be failed. One of the lessons I drew from his book, Compromised, is the norms binding what we might think of as checks on Donald Trump’s corruption routinely create incentives not to confront him. Up to and including when Trump put a target on his back and drove him out of the FBI while the bureau stood by and said nothing. So I want to know how that experience shapes his sense of whether there’s even a cavalry out there to ride to the rescue. So, Peter Strzok, welcome to Positively Dreadful.

 

Peter Strzok: Brian, thank you. It’s great to be with you.

 

Brian Beutler: So I’ll let people read your book for specific details about how counterintelligence works. But just generally speaking, how realistic was the Americans?

 

Peter Strzok: I think, you know. So a confession. I have yet to watch it.

 

Brian Beutler: Oh, no!

 

Peter Strzok: Surprising is that may be I know I’ve had any number of people tell me. It’s like the reason I don’t is I think you it is too close to what I worked. And my concern is that watching, I would be less drawn in to the storyline and the storytelling and too fixated on nit picking things that are or are not accurate. [laughing] And I’ve had a lot of people, very good, critical people say, don’t worry about that. It’s just really great storytelling. You’ll enjoy it, whether or not it’s completely accurate, somewhat accurate. So I need to watch it. I haven’t, [laugh] but I can’t I can’t answer your question—

 

Brian Beutler: Okay.

 

Peter Strzok: —other than to say a lot a lot of people that I like and respect have recommended it to me. And I will at some point, if we probably if we all get hit with the 15th round of the pandemic and go into lockdown yet again, [laughter] I’ll binge it then.

 

Brian Beutler: I recently rewatched it because I like it so much. But I assume you’re right. Like I have just imagined that somebody who actually worked in that line of work would be throwing their popcorn or whatever at the screen because I’m guessing it doesn’t stand withstand that kind of scrutiny. But in any case, I take it from your book that you continue to put a fair amount of stock in the country’s governing and justice institutions. And yet the institution you work for kind of got turned into a weapon against you. And I’d just be curious to hear you talk about how you reconcile those two things.

 

Peter Strzok: Yeah, it’s a great question. And I really you raised a number of really interesting points in your in your introduction. I think there is a tendency, you know, I spent my career in the FBI and the FBI’s job to investigate whether that’s violations of criminal law or, in my case, the conduct of counterintelligence investigations, which are not always criminal in nature. Some of it is just to understand what countries like Russia, China, Iran, Cuba and others are doing in the United States. And those may or may not be violations of law. They very much are intelligence related activities. So those things are a little bit different. But it’s interesting to me in the context of what the FBI does, what an investigation is, and Jim Baker, the former general counsel of the FBI, thought about investigations and describe them in a way that I feel I find very compelling. That’s an investigation is a question. You open an investigation not because you know the answer to something, not because you know that something has gone on, not because you’re going to go out and charge somebody with a crime. You open an investigation because there’s a question there, did something occur? And in most cases, certainly in the counterintelligence context, but also in a criminal one, the majority of cases that are opened don’t result in prosecutions. And so I think when a lot of people think about, well, so-and-so should be prosecuted or shouldn’t be prosecuted, that confuses the question of whether or not an investigation should be opened, because that’s a much lower threshold. That is the kind of thing that the FBI and other investigative bodies exist to do. And so I think that, you know, what concerns me, what I saw certainly during the Trump administration, in many ways, Trump’s Trump is such a sui generis president that all the norms and behaviors that had built up through law and regulation over time, everything that the FBI and Department of Justice had gone through during the sixties and the seventies and the abuse, and both in looking at the civil rights movement and really intrusive activity into a lot of Americans’ lives, those things that came out of that kind of constraining the FBI’s activities and creating regulations ran into in Trump this presidency that was completely at odds with anything that had come before it. And on the one hand, you know, I don’t think we saw a complete collapse of the FBI’s independence, the Department of Justice’s independence. But I do think on the one hand, we saw them stress in a way that it never occurred before. And we saw cracks certainly at the end with Bill Barr. And I do think in other institutions that maybe don’t have the same long standing traditions, you know, the Department of Homeland Security leaps to mind, is a very new organization. We did see, you know, wholesale perversions of some agencies and people towards political motives. You know, everything from the governmental response to the summer 2020, the Black Lives Matter protests and folks that were brought in to sort of enforce laws and regulations that they had never done before. Certainly a lot of the stuff that is coming to light with the Secret Service right now and the lack of record keeping or, you know, whether or not people were appointed to political positions out of career federal law enforcement positions. But what seems now to be a very clear sort of across the board attack on the independence of various organizations, and particularly concerning to me are the people with the guns, right? The people in the federal government who have, you know, the course of power of the state, you know, the fancy political science way to say that. But, you know, on the far end D.O.D., with everything from nuclear weapons on down, but also all those federal law enforcement agencies, the FBI, the Secret Service, various, you know, components of DHS who have the ability to arrest people, to imprison people. Those are the things, at the end of the day, really caused me great concern because, you know, it’s one thing if you’re undermining, you know, environmental laws, you know, long term, that’s horrible. But in a much more immediate sense, if there are agencies who have that ability, again, to arrest and detain you, that to me is kind of the top of the concern list. And so I think there was very much a concerted effort by Trump to bring those into his control. They weren’t entirely successful about it. And I’m very concerned that they understand that. They understand that, you know, to do what they wanted to do to up in the vote at the end of 2020 and early 2021, you saw these discussions about what we’re going to mobilize the National Guard and we’ll get DHS to go out and seize voting machines. They understood they needed that coercive power and they didn’t have it. And I think that lesson has been learned. And I think certainly the prospect of a future Trump administration. I’m extraordinarily worried about who you see being put in charge of D.O.D., Department of Justice, the FBI, DHS, all these folks who have that. So that’s a very long winded answer to your question. [laughter] But I think I’m not I’m not reassured right now that we are at a place where these things where the guardrails have been beefed up and reestablished.

 

Brian Beutler: Right? Yeah. So I guess I kind of want to stress test that what Jim Baker’s how he defined an investigation in a second. But your answer, I mean it you know, you said it bent, but it didn’t break. I mean it you have this cabinet level department, well, with all these immense powers. And for that reason, it’s subject to substantial checks. But, you know, Trump didn’t come into office knowing how to take it apart. It took him a few years to kind of get the hang of how to corrupt government agencies. And if it only takes one single corrupt president learning kind of on the fly how to accomplish what he wants to accomplish, you know? And his goal seems to be that he wants to turn DOJ into a private vigilante force. Doesn’t it sort of suggests that, like, the institution needs to be retrofitted in a major way because it’s clearly vulnerable?

 

Peter Strzok: I think so. And I mean, I think, you know, there are two ways that you can two primary ways if you want to corruptly use the Department of Justice. One is to protect you and your friends. The other is to go after your enemies. And I think we saw Trump doing both. In my in my mind, the former is much easier than the latter. It is easier to go out, and upend prosecutions. We saw that happening with Roger Stone at sentencing. We saw that when DOJ walked away from a Flynn, you know, plea, you know, he pled guilty to lying and DOJ walked that back. And so in some ways, doing that requires a lot, far fewer number of people. You can get a small number of people in the Department of Justice to do that. And certainly Trump and Bill Barr did. It is a harder proposition to go out and start targeting your enemies, although there’s clearly, you know, that went on as well. We saw, you know, U.S. attorney after U.S. attorney being appointed to investigate the investigators and going, you know, John Durham is still you know, it’s what, August of 2022 and he’s yet to wrap up. So we saw, you know, and also there’s this reporting in New York Times that both, you know, Jim Comey and Andy McCabe who had both been fired by Trump, had these, you know, extraordinarily intrusive IRS audits of their taxes, you know, randomly that, you know, 4000 people out of 300 million plus get chosen for these. And it just so happens that these two people who headed the FBI at one point in time who were fired by Trump get randomly selected for these audits. So there are, you know, these concerns that this sort of affirmative offensive use of DOJ was going on. And again, that that isn’t something that a political player who’s malevolent is going to be inclined to do it. And then it falls to the bureaucracy. And I say that in a positive way. But, you know, people who aren’t political appointees, people who are still career civil servants, people who are, you know, come up through organizations subject to regulations, but also sort of a culture of normative behavior. It falls to them to hold that line. And, you know, part of the problem that, you know, Trump tried at the very end of his presidency to, like, greatly expand within the civil service people who were subject to being politically appointed. And there’s an Axios article probably two or three weeks ago talking about—.

 

Brian Beutler: Mm hmm.

 

Peter Strzok: —a future Trump presidency to try and just completely open up the career civil service, removing protections from being randomly fired to make it very easy for him to install loyalists, not just at the top organizations, but, you know, going down four or five levels—

 

Brian Beutler: Yup.

 

Peter Strzok: —which would, you know, create just a horribly corrupt system. So, you know, to your point of, you know, not only are we a question of whether or not we’re sufficiently reinforcing this sort of protection, the other side is giving every indication, you know, telegraphing what they intend to do to—

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah.

 

Peter Strzok: —absolutely dismantle that.

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah. I mean so the circumstances have pit a bureaucracy that is norm bound against this former president who is the opposite. Right? And it’s it feels like like a mug’s game to expect, you know, the former. Whether that’s, you know, line prosecutors or political appointees at the Justice Department or the president or anyone else to remain hidebound to every single norm that prevailed before Trump, while he reassesses and and fires back, adhering to none of the norms. Right. And I don’t mean that that means that Democrats or the people who run these agencies ought to just abandon norms altogether. Right. Like if you have, you know, Trump, who has embraced industrial scale lying, it doesn’t mean that you should just throw truth out the window. But if in the example you raise, Republicans are prepared to abandon all of the norms around staffing the government, and they make clear that they’re going to dismantle the bureaucracies and hand jobs to insiders. What good is done by the opposition saying in essence, we will remain handcuffed? Right. And and I mean, I think you’re sort of seeing it now. The inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security seems to have just dropped the ball entirely, declined to alert Congress to what may be a cover up of Secret Service communications on January 5th and 6th. And, you know, tables turned Trump would just fire that guy. But I think in reality, what happened is he fired the last guy and installed this guy. And when there’s this mismatch, it does seem like at some point it’s incumbent on people who respect norms to stop, reevaluate which ones are actually serving us well and which ones do we need to rethink in in the face of these new and unanticipated challenges?

 

Peter Strzok: Yeah, that’s an excellent point. And it’s a question I struggle with and have struggled with for some time. I don’t. I tend to admire Institutionalists more than the side of kind of taking on and, you know, in the moment assessing whether or not we need to be bound by tradition and normative behavior, because institutionalists, in my mind, tend to be it’s a much more logical approach to the moment and easier to defend. But I, I have questioned and struggled with this, going back to, you know, working for Director Comey and then Director Mueller. I mean, they were very different. They’re very different men, certainly. But, you know, Director Mueller is absolutely you know, when I think about institutionalists in my mind, you know, Director Mueller is one of the people at the top of that list. He looks at procedures. He feels bound by whatever the, you know, his appointment orders, the special counsel. That was absolutely what drove him in the context of what he could or couldn’t do and provided the boundaries. Whereas, Director Comey, you know, for better or worse, and certainly faced a tremendous amount of criticism for his decision that, you know, the extraordinary uniqueness of the moment, first, in terms of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, but later into the Russia investigations sort of broke with a lot of norms in the context of saying, well, this is an extraordinary moment. This is not a typical moment. And so, you know, starting then and all of this, you know, comes about primarily because of Trump. I mean, if if Trump were not the opponent in 2016 and all the things he was saying and calling out the FBI for leading a corrupt investigation, again, this is before the general election. I think you get a different response out of a bunch of people. But, you know, to your point, there is in my mind, I struggle with whether it is appropriate to ever say the norms, the regulations would dictate this. But this is such an extraordinary moment. We’re going to do something different because who are you in the moment? It always seems like it’s an extraordinary moment. As you sit in the middle of that storm, it is hard to sit there and say this is not, this is the time that we should break from tradition and precedent because this is so extraordinary. You know, this is a thousand year flood and then removed from the situation. You might look back and say, well, it was extraordinary, but maybe not that extraordinary. You know what what Jim Comey and I don’t want to speak for him, but were in many discussions with him about what to do at that moment of the summer of 16. It seemed like a once in a lifetime sort of investigative environment that, you know, five, six years removed, it was extraordinary, but does it feel as extraordinary as it did at the time? So I don’t know what. But to your, I think it is fair to say, you know, we are facing now a challenge to our democratic system of governance that we haven’t seen, certainly, in my opinion, since the Civil War.

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah.

 

Peter Strzok: And I don’t think most objective observers, most historians, I think most would agree with that. So, you know, to your point now would seem to be a moment to say, well, you know, to the, you know, kind of fast forwarding ahead to the question of whether or not if there is evidence to support charging Trump with you become the first administration to charge a former president in our nation’s history. I think the answer is yeah, because his his behavior was such an outlier, his, you know, future intent is such a threat to our democracy. Not that that should drive whether or not a case exists, but certainly that sort of political decision about whether or not to charge him. I, I think that exists. But anyway, it’s it’s a it’s a great I could, you know, talk to you all podcast or, you know, all day at a, you know, lunch or dinner or something about that balance between when to adhere to institutional norms versus when to break them. It’s a hard it’s a hard call.

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah. I mean, in your book, you one of the examples you raise is like the sort of paralysis of the of the Obama White House in the face of what was possibly a criminal threat. But but definitely like a national security threat and a and a major threat of public interest. And they didn’t want to be perceived as partisan. And so they dialed back some of their ideas for alerting the public to what was happening in that election. And I think in hindsight, that decision wears pretty badly. But, you know, fast forward to summer 2022 and it kind of feels like we’re all a bunch of of boiled frogs, like after the after the Biden administration takes over, in my mind, you have this opportunity to, you know, not throw out constitutional protections and norms surrounding White House involvement in Justice Department investigations or whatever. But the Justice Department could have sought to treat Trump the way we imagine the government went after Capone. Al Capone, right. Like find, you know, you know, he committed a bunch of crimes. It’s like find the one that you can pin to him, too, because, you know, we need to neutralize this threat, not just to the Justice Department, but to the whole system of government. Or you could be as careful as possible, dot every i across every t, amass as much evidence as you possibly can for the most far reaching crimes so that you avoid some sort of disaster in court. And it feels like. The administration pursued the latter course, and I have a hard time understanding why with all that, those six years of hindsight, you wouldn’t have a harder charging approach. Like why not go right for the Raffensperger call? You know, to to to to go back to what Jim Baker said. Is it always the case that an investigation is a question like sometimes you have, you know, something happened and you have all the evidence that happened right there. I think that’s a good example of it. You could you know, you could imagine DOJ going aggressively after that and, you know, justifying it by saying, hey, that’s a crime. And B, separately, Trump is sort of like a live torpedo aimed at us, aimed at the institutions of American government. And so we should cut the most direct path we can to holding him accountable for something and then, you know, maybe maybe add on to that in the future. And that decision seems to have been made in that way. And isn’t it like, meanwhile, Trump is is still aiming directly for the institution. So it feels like there’s a mismatch between what he’s willing to do to subvert justice and what the institutions of justice are willing to do to hold him accountable.

 

Peter Strzok: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. I mean, I think that a critical point here that folks a lot of people are combining. And I think a lot of it is because the people and the pundits, the people, you know, former prosecutors are approaching it from their perspective is mis-equating the decision whether or not to charge Trump with Trump with a crime, with opening an investigation to gather information about whether or not conduct occurred that would produce evidence of a crime and that somehow the decision whether or not we’re going to charge Trump kind of means the decision whether or not we’re going to investigate him. And those are not the same. And I think, one, you know, the endpoint as an investigator, the endpoint is the decision whether or not to charge. And then you go off and DOJ makes the case. But I have been concerned and increasingly concerned exactly to your point that that sort of the run up to the decision of whether or not to charge a crime about the pace and the resourcing of that. And I have been concerned, you know, in The New York Times, I think a couple of weeks ago had an article talking about how DOJ and the FBI’s investigation into the fake elector scheme had not begun as of the early fall of 2021. And I don’t understand why that is the case. I don’t understand why, to your point, the call to Raffensperger has DOJ simply said, we’re going to leave that to the Georgia authorities and we’re not going to do anything unrelated to the election. This New York state investigation over Trump’s financial tax fraud allegedly. Why, that seems to have been left to the state. I’ve seen no evidence that there’s any sort of federal investigation of that. So, again, the question is, isn’t, you know, whether or not we’re at a point to charge that. The question is where is the FBI in particular in opening these investigations? Because. It doesn’t necessarily hurt to make, wait to make the decision about whether or not to charge. Because you. Absolutely. I take you know, Attorney General Garland made a great point. These have to be right. If we’re going to bring charges, they have to be supported by evidence that is going to obtain and sustain a conviction. That’s going to be clear to the American people that this was a clear violation of law and that he violated it. But that’s not the decision we’re facing now that can that can wait and occur in 2023 or 2024. But as far as investigations go, people’s memories fade, data gets destroyed, evidence is lost. You don’t have that luxury of saying, well, we’re going to build up and we’re going to get all the 1,200 people and 15 to 2,000 people on the ground. And then we’re going to move up six months later and get these guys and then this closer tier immediately around Trump. In a year, year and a half, we’re going to open investigations. By the time you do that, you’re opening an investigation. Two years down the line, and that’s not supportable. And part of what I really worry about is how much if the FBI were slow to open investigations, how much of that was influenced by a president who fired an FBI director, then fired his replacement, then got rid of a bunch of people who had worked on investigations about people surrounding him and his connections and instilled a reticence and hesitation to do anything investigative lay out at or around Trump that would anger him at the institution of the FBI, which trickled down in a form that the FBI was completely caught flat footed on January six about what the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers and others were doing. That reticence appears potentially to have extended into being curious and looking at these allegations of criminal wrongdoing, and that rather than being out in front and taking evidence to DOJ to say, look what we’ve found where you prosecute, it appears to be the other way around that you get. You know, Tom Windom comes in as a sort of a lead prosecutor, DOJ then prompting potentially the FBI to look at it. It’s kind of backwards. And so, there, I have a lot of worry. I don’t I don’t worry that the FBI and the DOJ will eventually get there. I have extraordinary worries about the pace of how that’s happening.

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah, I mean. I can recall a number of investigations that were compromised or at least put at risk by the very fact of Trump’s allies having power in Congress like they will use their subpoena authority. The fact that the Biden administration will adhere to norms surrounding oversight to try to penetrate. Anything DOJ might be doing to to investigate the insurrection. And so, you know, apart from the, you know, memories fading and evidence getting lost or destroyed. I think you also you only have so much runway to do this given. What people have shown they’ll do on Trump’s behalf. And we’re 100 days [laugh] away from the election or 98, I guess, today.

 

Peter Strzok: Yeah, no doubt. And we saw that in 2016, like immediately after Director Comey made his speech. Even before that, you had just an extraordinary pressure from Congress to turn over documents, investigative material that tied up any number of us. And it was coordinated. It came from the top. I mean, Jason Chaffetz led the charge, but there were parallel efforts in the Senate to get to the bottom of that. They started holding hearings. And I hope certainly that DOJ is aware and taking finding somebody who went through that in the past to talk about if in the event one or both chambers flip. In the next session. Everything that you know, what happens when they successfully impeach Merrick Garland? How does that impact what DOJ is doing? What happens if they start having hearings on a nearly daily basis where they’re calling in witnesses, immunizing witnesses, having them provide testimony, doing everything in their power to muck up the ongoing congressional or criminal investigations? I think everybody’s focused like, yeah, January 6th may go away, come, you know, beginning of next year. But I hope people are paying attention and thinking carefully about how a Republican Congress might. Actively interfere and try and gum up the work of all the criminal investigations because they can they can do it. I mean, the administration has the ability to push back in some ways, but it isn’t just a that doesn’t matter to us. It will have a real impact. And I agree with you. I have, based on past behavior, every expectation they will do everything in their power to try and undermine the criminal investigations. My hope would be that somebody in DOJ and certainly at the White House, maybe in the White House counsel’s office are sitting there, red teaming, are thinking through all the horrific ways an unbound Congress could seek to interfere with the ongoing criminal prosecutions investigations the DOJ is doing. And keeping in mind that it’s, you know, thinking outside the box in the context of like, well, this is what they’ve done in the past, I don’t think there’s any that would provide any limitation for doing more. And so what that looks like, you know, the good news, I think a lot of the folks inclined to do that on the Republican side aren’t particularly that bright, [laughter] but they have bright people who will advise them. And so some notion, I certainly hope that DOJ is not thinking as if, well, you know, we have at a minimum until the end of January of 2025 to do this. And I’m sure if you were to ask the attorney general, he’d say the timetable doesn’t matter to us. We’re going to do this as we always do it. Follow the facts, prosecute as merited. The time horizon doesn’t matter. But if he’s not thinking what might be done if Trump regains office in January 2025, I think that would be foolish. And again, to that point that the political reality of what might happen with a Republican Congress, I think, is something that somebody DOJ better be considering, because I have every expectation, if it flips, that we’ll see it, whatever it is.

 

Brian Beutler: Here’s here’s like I think a great example of of on the one hand, norms that normally you would think of as pretty important coming into conflict with the exigencies of the moment. Right. That if if Garland thinks that he has until November 2024, January 2025 to get through all of this. And the reality is that anything he’s investigating is vulnerable to being penetrated by Trump allies in Congress starting in four months or five months. Then the norm that you don’t do take overt investigative steps in the few months before, the few weeks before an election suddenly is possibly fatal to what your objectives are and what your responsibilities are. And, you know, how would how would you think through what to do about that in in these circumstances where obviously, if there were an indictment of Trump or even, you know, forget Trump, Mark Meadows or somebody in the chain that leads up to Trump. Obviously, Republicans would howl about how this was a politically motivated October surprise. And they were you know, they just indicted him to affect the election. Meanwhile, I think the reality is that if you if you wait until after the election and and it goes poorly, you might never get there because your investigation is about to be kneecapped.

 

Peter Strzok: Yes. I mean, I think that there will be I’m sure that, you know, kind of blackout around the election that even somebody, you know, Meadows is not part of. He’s not running for office. But I think something like if you’re imminently on the at the point of indicting Meadows but also, you know, potentially senior people know, you know, Roger Stone and Mike Flynn. Yeah. You know, Rudy Giuliani that I can certainly envision and I would support DOJ saying these are so politically inflammatory that starting whenever it is near the 90 days or I forget the exact time period, but, you know, a certain time period leading up to the election, we are not going to announce or take any sort of overt step like that and then waiting until, you know, December, January. I don’t think it is fatal to a criminal charge that, you know, if you do that and then in December and January, you announce, you know, or you go and get the indictment of any number of these folks, I don’t think an incoming Republican Congress is going to, you know, cause that to be withdrawn is going to fatally make it impossible to obtain a conviction of any potential charge. But I do think it’ll be harder. I do. You know, again, it’s what I worry about again is that urgency. There are some things you can’t rush, but it’s frustrating and hard to explain is, you know, some people want instant justice. And, you know, we can talk a little bit about. People, what people want, what they’re hoping to achieve with Trump, and whether or not it’s reasonable to find that in the criminal justice system. And we can come back to that later if you want.

 

Brian Beutler: Mm hmm.

 

Peter Strzok: But I do think as investigator, there are things you can’t rush, right? I cannot. No matter how hard I try cause a bank or Verizon or any outside entity to respond quicker to something I cannot in the process of investigating, let’s say Mark Meadows, and I hope they get to this place. There are some things I cannot rush to get to a point where I’ve built a criminal case against him, where I can talk to his or DOJ can talk to his attorneys and say he has exposure here, here, here. Why don’t we make a deal? Why don’t we have? Why doesn’t he cooperate and we’ll agree to charge him with a much lower set of criminal violations? There are things like that you can’t rush. However, there are things that you can. There are, you know, as an investigator, when you walk into a room, when you walk into a squad or an office and you see everybody busy. It is. Sometimes you say, Oh, while they’re all busy, that’s fine, great keeping busy. But if you ask the question and say, okay, well, what does that look like? Have we you know, how many additional resources have you brought on or are you working two shifts? In other words, you know, are people working around the clock on this or working at least extended hours to process through all this information? And what I become concerned about is, you know, to her credit, Lisa Monaco, the deputy attorney general, went to Congress and asked for additional attorneys to work on this. Congress declined to provide the additional resources. So I don’t based on them saying no to giving DOJ more prosecutors, I don’t want to hear another word of Congress [laugh] asking why DOJ is taking so long. You know, put your money where your mouth is, but you can’t. I mean, good luck. Congress does this repeatedly, but it was somewhat aggravating to me that this Democratic Congress pushing for, you know, aggressive DOJ action at the same time would not agree to give DOJ additional prosecutors. But I haven’t seen the FBI. Go to Congress and say we have an extraordinary backlog. Just a video evidence we’re facing judges in the district of the District of Columbia threatening to throw out cases unless we meet discovery deadlines. We need more people. We can’t just hire them and put them to work the next day. They have to get a security clearance. They have to get training. I don’t see that additional ask that I would have hoped to have seen a year ago. So, again, I’m not worried that people will eventually get there. I do worry that this underlying sort of, you know, after having lived through in the FBI after 9/11, there was a sense of a war footing—

 

Brian Beutler: Mm hmm.

 

Peter Strzok: —within the bureau with the way Bob Mueller drove the organization, paralleled everything we saw the military doing in Afghanistan and overseas. And it was it felt like we were at war and all the stops were pulled. This sort of round the clock urgency, looking at 9/11 as an existential threat was absolutely permeated the entire organization. But I am curious to know whether that exists today in the same way. Because I do feel now, knowing what we know, January 6th was a greater threat to our nation than 9/11 ever was. I mean, there was, yes. A loss of life that was far greater. But in terms of a threat to sort of undermine American democracy, al-Qaeda wasn’t going to destroy the nation. Al-Qaeda wasn’t going to bring down our democracy. Never capable of that killing a lot of people, sadly yet. And we needed to go after them, no doubt. But when you think about existential threats to the Constitution, January 6th, by far and away is unquestionably greater.

 

Brian Beutler: So given given the uniqueness of the that crime, the whole universe of crimes that went into January 6th, you could at least make a case that this like this a specific 90 day before the election rule at DOJ about about taking overt investigative steps or charging people is you know that why does that rule exist it’s it’s exist to keep the federal criminal law out of politics, to avoid effecting elections with and with criminal investigations. It just seems like it’s a mismatch to apply that norm, which is meant to protect those. Ideals. When the when the sort of thing you’re investigating is an existential threat to the to the whole system. And not somebody had $10,000 in their freezer and we need we need to hold off until after the election before we indict them.

 

Peter Strzok: Yeah, it’s I think it’s a tough question. I mean, it doesn’t stop the investigation. It doesn’t preclude people from being charged in the future. It doesn’t preclude, you know, all the nonpublic investigative things to continue through that period. And, you know, the biggest point here is you write rules for the worst case scenario. You don’t write rules for the garlands of the world. You write rules for the Bill Barr and Donald Trumps of the world. You want guidelines? I’m not worried about what people do who are acting in good faith. I worry about these horrible, bad faith actors and what those regulations look like as applied to them. So people, you know, yeah, we need why aren’t we charging people more quickly? Why aren’t we charging ahead with, you know, cases which may or may not be up to the same standard that we might want? Well, because all of these cries for what people want and the speed they want, things done, take that and transfer that now to 2026 with Attorney General Rudy Giuliani, who is rounding up [both speaking] members of the fake media like you, [laugh] members of the Deep State like me and all this you know, this is an existential threat by all these horrible actors. We need to, you know, round them up and put them in jail. So you write the rules for the worst case, or you should be, rather than the normal, average best case scenario. So I always think. You know, take for every call, for action, for every argument to do something. Ask that same question in the context of a second Trump administration, given those powers and those arguments that they might make in their interests how that looks. And that’s, you know, to me, one of the strongest reasons to argue  for the adherence to norms? Now, whether or not that matters, whether or not they’re going to tear it up if there is another Trump administration. You know, my sense is, of course, they will, but at least try and, you know, build those up and firm those up as best as we can. And that includes Congress. You know, the, you know, Electoral College Act Reform has to happen at a minimum. But there are a lot of other things legislatively that Congress could do to help in this regard.

 

Brian Beutler: So it sounds to me like you share the concerns of people like Andrew Weissmann, who wrote that fairly extraordinary op ed a couple of weeks ago in The New York Times about how Garland has approached this. I’m curious how you square that with the more recent revelations that prosecutors really do seem to have taken a keen interest in Donald Trump’s conduct, including peppering witnesses like Marc Short in grand jury proceedings with questions about what Trump was doing, who he was talking to, what he was saying. Do you think that Andrew just didn’t have enough visibility into what was happening and and got it wrong? Or do you think that it’s that his criticism and what we’ve learned since are compatible in some ways?

 

Peter Strzok: I think a little bit of both. I mean, I think the last comments that Attorney General Garland made publicly, I mean, Trevor Noah made a joke that it was as close as you’re going to see him come to Samuel L. Jackson like mother f-er did I stutter? [laughter] You know, when he was asked, like, oh, does that include the president? So it was clear that, you know, listening to Garland’s answer and kind of parsing it out, it seemed clear that, if not specifically Andrew’s column, the general idea that it should be the hub and spoke rather than a bottom up hierarchical approach. He had heard that criticism because he kind of he did specifically say, well, there are a lot of assumptions in that question that may or may not be accurate and that, you know, we’re being very aggressive. So it told me that, one, he was aware of the criticism. And, two, that there are elements of it that he did not agree were accurate in the sort of underlying assumption that they were not looking at this in a different way. Having said that, you know, I think Andrew’s absolutely right that there were I mean, there’s repeated. Reporting. At the early stages immediately after January six, that a lot of investigators and prosecutors said, hey, we want to look broadly at this range of activity and that at the time DOJ said no. Start with the people on the ground and start building up and see where that leads. So, again, I don’t. That probably wasn’t the right call at the beginning. We’re all speculating from the position of being on the outside. But I absolutely agree with Andrew that, you see, I mean, he’s done as a prosecutor. I’ve done as investigator. There are try as you might to keep things out of the public eye and you should. DOJ and FBI should not be talking about this. There are inevitably things you do when you subpoena records, when you bring witnesses before the grand jury. You see exactly the things that we have seen recently, folks coming out of the grand jury in either they or their attorneys talking to the media because they’re trying to spin what their role is, put themselves in the best possible light, advance a certain narrative. These activities sort of trickle out in the fact that it’s taken until the summer of 2022 to see that. I honestly would have hoped to have sort of seen that at the end of last year, and we didn’t. And again, it goes to the pacing of things. I just I have some concern that that urgency isn’t there hasn’t been there.

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah.

 

Peter Strzok: January 6th committee, I think, has done a great job of sort of lighting a fire in the context of public sentiment that is both pulled DOJ in and also given them, frankly, political cover to say public sentiment is there for us to do something.

 

Brian Beutler: So I you know, I sort of take your point that whether they screwed this up at the outset or not is sort of water under the bridge at this point. And at some point there will be a look back and will I answer those questions with the benefit of hindsight? But one thing that Andrew Weissmann said not in his column, but on a on a TV interview about his column that made me. Put a lot of stock into into his criticism was that he had heard from his former DOJ colleagues, people who are currently in Justice Department and people who have left recently since, you know, after he wrote it, providing feedback to him. And the reason that stuck out to me is significant is that he didn’t change his assessment, that he heard from people and either they told him he was right or anything that they tried to do to dissuade him of his concerns didn’t work. But I’m wondering if, you know, if you like he have heard from people in the Justice Department, in the FBI, who have said these concerns are legit or not. If it’s not just your sense looking at news reports, but if people you trust are telling you, yeah, that that’s a that this is the real deal.

 

Peter Strzok: I think it is reasonable. Based on things I’ve heard that the concern and criticism about being slow to investigate things is a real concern. It bothers me, you know, whether that’s a lack of curiosity, whether that’s political fear, whatever the motivation is, is is troubling regardless of the cause. And I do I mean, there’s you know, there’s plenty there is public reporting. I mean, I think it was Katie Benner in The New York Times had this discussion about Tom Windom, the prosecutor. I think it’s Tom, but Windom is his last name prosecutor, I think, out of Baltimore, brought in to oversee a lot of these. His frustration at the inability to kind of talk about Trump and and in the halls of justice. And it was Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony that, you know, the scales fell from everybody’s eyes at the, you know, the seventh floor DOJ. And they were suddenly willing to talk about Trump like, you know, he’s no longer Voldemort or something where we don’t mention his name. [laugh] That it I don’t understand why that should be the case, why there would be a reticence or hesitation to acknowledge what is clear to everybody about the central role that he appears to have played and in a minimum known about in this broad range of activity. And it’s not in my mind as an investigator, it isn’t great to also see reporting that Cassidy Hutchinson’s like they’re all watching, glued to the January 6th hearings and Casey Hutchinson’s testimony caught them by surprise. Well, how as an investigator on the one I am. I would much rather have heard that from Cassie Hutchinson before it became public. And here’s the reason why everybody that she came into contact with now knows what she has to say. Mark Meadows knows what she has to say if they knew or not, knows what she has to say. The head of Trump’s protective detail knows what she has to say. Anybody else at the White House who eventually investigators are going to want to talk to know what she has to say. So I would much rather go into an interview of any of those people. With him not knowing at all what I know, because I can approach you. And they’re not. None of these folks are voluntarily going to just open their heart and tell you everything they know. There’s going to be a strong reticence, if not outright hostility, to cooperatively provide information. So you’re going to have to force that out and tease that out. And the more that opposing side knows which you know as an investigator, the fewer tools you have in your toolbox in the conduct of that investigation in an interview. So, again, it’s a it’s a pacing issue for me. It is an urgency issue for me. It is a I think there is a 6 to 12 month delay in here that I would have liked to have seen things happening sooner.

 

Brian Beutler: At the risk of backseat driving Lester Holt when when we watched that interview, my first thought was if I was him, I would have asked Merrick Garland, Had you ever heard of Cassidy Hutchinson before you saw her at the January 6th hearings? I get the sense that from the reporting that not only was her testimony surprising to them, but her existence as a person [laugh] might have you know, they might have been unaware. And I don’t know, it left me feeling the same way you feel about the urgency thing. Okay. For a while, mostly before the January 6th hearings got under way and sort of answered this question for us, the legal establishment seemed pretty hung up on the question of whether Trump believed his own nonsense about election fraud. And I remain puzzled by why that question was in the air at all. Can you lay out for us why anyone, including prosecutors at DOJ, should give a shit whether [laugh] Trump earnestly believed the election had been stolen from him?

 

Peter Strzok: Yeah, because a lot I mean, most crimes have the element of intent that you have to prove that somebody not only violated the law, but they understood that they were acting corruptly, that they were breaking the law. And it isn’t sufficient. A lot of people point to this judge, I don’t if he was in California, that said, hey, the preponderance of the evidence shows that, you know, Trump was engaged in this activity. There’s a huge difference between that standard, which is more likely than not. Right. 50.01% versus 49.99%. There’s a huge difference between that and what you need to convict somebody, which is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Not only one person’s one person’s reasonable doubt, but an entire jury. So to get to the point where you can persuade that entire jury that there’s proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump you know, Trump is I’m willing to bet going to say, well, you know, I did believe the election had been stolen from me. I had all these things brought to me that I thought was true. I had attorneys telling me that it was okay to do this and the government is going to have to say yeah. But on the other hand, you have all these people telling you that it and you made statements that you knew that you had lost. You had so many, you know, repeated elements of fact coming at you that it isn’t reasonable or believable for you to say that. But you’re going to have to do that in a way that, you know, again, it’s that beyond a reasonable doubt standard for that entire jury, because one person who doesn’t agree that you don’t get that conviction. So but but this all goes to I think, you know, we you and I tweeted back and forth a little bit about this. We certainly talked about it. One of the hardest lessons that I learned as an FBI agent and had come up time and time again is getting to the point in the investigation where you knew somebody had done something wrong and you knew you were not probably ever going to be able to prove that in a way that a prosecutor is going to be able to go into a courtroom and convict him. And so to the extent that people look to DOJ and the criminal justice system as a vindication of or a path to vindication of a moral thing, that’s not what DOJ exists to do. Our laws certainly do set out sort of the expectations of how we’re going to function as members of society and the rules that we’re going to follow. But there are plenty of things that people do. Against the spirit of those laws and in fact, sometimes directly in the letter of those laws. That you’re not going to be able to prove. And so people want this righting of wrong. And the you know, first, Jim Comey is going to be that hero who’s going to do it, and then Bob Mueller is going to be the hero that does that. And then now Merrick Garland is going to be the hero that does that. I don’t think they’re going to be the people who investigate the law to tell you whether or not we can build a crime. But what people want, I think, is slightly different than that. And looking to DOJ is the mechanism that’s going to. Achieve that for them, I think is, you know, do that at your own peril because—

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah.

 

Peter Strzok: —I think it’s quite likely that a lot of the folks that have done things that I think a good American citizen could look at and say, this is abhorrent behavior. It is abhorrent behavior and it probably isn’t ever going to be charged criminally. And I don’t mean that, I do think Trump will be charged, but I think it is quite likely that there are these host of people and behaviors that are likely not to. And that doesn’t excuse it.

 

Brian Beutler: Interesting that you think that at this point that it looks more likely than not that you think he’ll be charged?

 

Peter Strzok: I do. I do. There’s just too much I and I don’t you know that that includes the prospect of something coming out of Georgia through Georgia State.

 

Brian Beutler: Mm hmm.

 

Peter Strzok: That includes, you know, all these various activities. You know, there’s just so much.

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah.

 

Peter Strzok: Criming. [laughter] Yeah, I don’t. And it seems increasingly clear that I think he not only that he did, but that he did it in a way that DOJ can bring and sustain a charge and conviction.

 

Brian Beutler: So. So the point you made about Trump saying, oh, the lawyers told me this was all fine. That actually makes some sense to me. And if you had a circumstance where investigators looked at everything that happened leading up to January six, if at every turn Trump asked his lawyers, Can I do this? And they said yes, and then he did it. And then those things turned out to be illegal. Then he could go to the prosecutors and say, I, I honestly thought everything that I was doing was legal and didn’t, you know, intend to commit any crime. I mean, I don’t think that the record shows that at all. I’m just saying, in theory, I understand why a circumstance like that would fall below the threshold of the intent standard in the law. The separate question, though, is that you can’t even imagine that Trump was this had this record for being a pristinely, ethical, honest person and that, you know, nobody had gone to him to say that his voter fraud accusations were bullshit and he really, truly felt that the election had been stolen from him. That I don’t how can that that can’t give him carte blanche to just engage in a vigilante crime spree or a fraud spree to set right what he believed in his head was an injustice. Right. Like that’s Batman. [laughter] Not not the law. And and so when people who I trust and respect say we need to make sure we can prove he knew he lost the election, it seems like a get out of jail free card for him to me. Does that make sense? Or I worry that if that’s the standard we’re going to set where like there’s going to be no case unless we have evidence that Trump knew he lost. And then we’re, A, we’re never going to get him and, B, we’re going to raise you know, we’re we’re going to allow people in similar levels of power to go around committing whatever political crimes they want and just say that they thought that they were in the national interest. And so they can’t be illegal.

 

Peter Strzok: Yeah, well, it certainly is. It’s a defense and it’s overcomable. Well, I mean, and that’s what you know, that’s the challenge facing DOJ and investigators right now is to go and find all those statements that he made about his knowledge that the true results of the election, all the people that told him, hey, despite what Eastman told you, it’s wrong, it’s illegal, it’s bad, you can’t do it. And just to catalog all that so that, again, you can overcome it, it just is a hurdle. It is a challenge—

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah.

 

Peter Strzok: —the DOJ is going to have to face again as they’re talking to all those jurors and Trump’s attorneys lay out potentially all the things that he thought. Which were bullshit likely, but at least overcoming that presumption that they might have been accurate to lay out all the evidence of, you know, he never took notes. He flushed notes, he destroyed any records, the things all the people around him did the same thing. People were telling he can’t do it. Pat Cipollone, he said he couldn’t do it all. But, you know, to rebut this notion that, oh, I thought it was stolen, I thought it was okay. No, you didn’t. You know, you knew or you should have known because of all these things—

 

Brian Beutler: Mm hmm.

 

Peter Strzok: —that that isn’t true, that that advice was inaccurate, that it was illegal. So you can do it. It just is a challenge. It is not. And I guess my point to folks listening would be when you say, oh, it’s clear Trump broke the law, it may feel that way, but that isn’t the question in front of DOJ. The question in front of DOJ is, can we look at the facts and evidence that we have in the face of the defenses that he is going to put up and persuade a unanimous jury beyond each of their individual reasonable doubt that he violated these elements of the crime. And that’s a very different question than. Why can’t DOJ just say he broke the law? Those are those are that they don’t. DOJ doesn’t think that way. DOJ thinks in terms of if we’re going to charge, here’s the standard by which we make that decision. And it’s not easy. And that’s the frustrating part. People look at all this horrible behavior like, you just didn’t do this. A, he clearly did all these things wrong, likely illegal. It can’t be the case that for him or anybody in the future that he gets carte blanche to do it. But the reality is, within our system of justice, there is that standard before we can bring charges.

 

Brian Beutler: I don’t know if I’m correct, but I sort of detect a you have a little bit of two minds. On the one hand, you think Trump is likely to be charged and obviously that would have enormous ramifications, particularly if he got convicted for his political future for America. All to the better in my mind. And separately, whether we’re looking to the wrong place for that kind of absolution. And I wonder if you think our justice system and our political system are actually equipped to mete out accountability to someone with Trump’s mix of wealth and political support, given what his objectives are? You know, they’re not just getting a hotel built off the books or whatever, but they’re there really to just bring the whole thing down.

 

Peter Strzok: Not so far, in my opinion. I mean, clearly, he was impeached twice, convicted neither time, didn’t even get a trial with witnesses either time. DOJ has not as of yet brought any charges. You know, again, do I think they get they’re more likely than not? I do, but they haven’t yet. All the stuff, you know, and we’re talking just January 6th. Let’s expand that and look at all the other alleged crime from, you know, whether or not, you know, first and foremost in my mind is this, you know, the tax investigation that New York State did. If there is sufficient reason for New York State to look at tax fraud, in my mind, there’s absolutely sufficient reason for the federal tax authorities to be investigating whether or not that’s criminal behavior and certainly have a greater set of tools at their disposal to dive into that. And so, you know, in case after case after case where Trump, you know, potentially engaged in illegal activity. Is there. Anything that’s going to come out of DOJ is a, you know, kind of up in the air question. So the short answer your question is, I don’t know that to date our political or justice system has sufficient tools to address this behavior. I do think. January 6th committee has done far more good. I mean, that’s a very value laden statement, but than I ever anticipated they would. I think the story they have told, I think the impact on what looks like polling about people’s perception of Trump and his role has been far more effective than I certainly anticipated. I hope it’s you know, the Republicans know there’s a reason we had, you know, Benghazi hearing after Benghazi hearing after Benghazi hearing, you know, it was full of crap. But simply the act of repetition does move the needle in this case. January 6th committee has legitimate, bona fide data and information they’re throwing out. And guess what? Repetition makes a difference, and I hope Democrats take that to heart. It sure seems like they are by, you know, expanding the number of hearings they had, expanding and having future hearings in the fall. It matters and it works. So again, does that at the end of the day take Trump off the table is still the frontrunner for the Republican candidate for the president in the next election. I don’t know that it does. And so, you know, we’ll see. We’ll see what DOJ does. And the problem is, you know, we’re all having to put our faith in this, you know, Garland and everybody saying, hey, have faith in the process and. That’s a that’s a big bet.

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah, it’s a big ask after after the past six years. And, you know, I feel very much the same way. Right. That that on the political side, you have a concrete, theoretical form of accountability in the form of impeachment. And then, you know, the the Congress has power to bar people who have been impeached from seeking federal office. Right. And so that, you know, Congress, Republicans, whoever you want to put the blame on, they whiffed that and that that seems to be off the table now. Separately, you have the criminal law and the possibility that still extent but under threat that he could just be indicted, arrested, tried, convicted and sent to prison. And then that takes him off the map in that way. And then in between, you have this sort of diffuse public opinion, public accountability role that the committee is playing. And I agree that the committee’s done a great job. But the way it works, if that’s the only tool available, is that it convinces maybe Republican primary voters that he isn’t worth nominating because he’ll lose the election and it changes how many what percentage of Americans say they think Trump is responsible for January 6th and what the consequences should be? But that’s not you almost can’t measure that. It’s not really something that like the committee knows that if it just like leans into a little harder, presses the gas a little harder, they’ll neutralize the the threat that Trump poses at the same time. You know, while we wait for DOJ to do what it’s going to do. I just sort of got to thinking about the application of criminal law to this crime, this family of crimes. And it just occurred to me that my late sense of of why we have criminal law is not to be the sort of perfect dragnet that sweeps up every criminal. It’s meant to punish bad people and in doing so, create disincentives to other people to commit crimes. And that is a really good model when most crimes, when they’re committed while bad, are not socially corrosive or existential. But it’s a model that doesn’t fit this unique situation where if they get it wrong this one time, if the guy gets away with it, that’s the end of the whole system, right? Like in this family of crimes, the justice system has to work perfectly 100% of the time, or else by definition, the the person who gets away with it topples the whole system. And I don’t know what you do about that. I mean, you almost need a whole separate body of law and institutions aimed at people who are trying to overthrow the government. And and everything around January six should be subject to wholly different processes, but those processes don’t exist.

 

Peter Strzok: Right. And we’re seeing the knock on effects of that now. All these folks, you know, the candidates for secretaries of state and other offices, particularly on the Arizona and Nevada, but increasingly, you know, also in Pennsylvania, a lot of the swing states who are saying, you know, building their candidacy around the idea of the big lie, saying, you know, not only are they going, they reject the results of the 2020 election, but they are setting themselves up and saying, you know, if anybody other than Trump wins, we’re going to not honor that vote. The prospect of voting, fraud and illegal activity surrounding the vote in the midterms and certainly in the next presidential election, it’s already apparent that that is you know, people are saying, this is my platform. I am going to break the law if it doesn’t comport with who I think should win. Well, there are likely federal violations there that will need to be investigated. You have a system that apparently is already sort of resource strapped trying to deal with January 6th. But because of, to your point, these sorts of behaviors, the lack of a deterrent effect on others is encouraging ongoing and future bad behavior that is going to likely, in many cases, violate the law. That is going to have to be investigated by FBI agents and prosecuted by the Department of Justice. This isn’t a path where we’re coming to a point and a conclusion. This is set something in motion where we are looking at future potential illegal activity, which is increasing, which is greater, which is going to be need to be addressed and so are not a year. That is daunting, to say the least. When I think about that, I don’t know what it looks like when you know somebody in the state rejects. What should be their electoral group and says, nope, you know, the population of, say, Pennsylvania, their electors should all be going for Biden’s reelection. But we’re going to send in a slate. We’re voting for Trump. And when you get a, you know, an apparent violation potentially of federal law. I don’t know what that investigation looks like. I don’t know the impact and ramifications of that investigation, let alone that prosecution. Again, that’s all hypothetical. But you’ve got it’s not going to be hypothetical given this huge swath of people you have making that part of their platform, running for office in these various states, saying, I’m going to do this. It’s not a hypothetical. It’s going to come to pass.

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah.

 

Peter Strzok: Because that’s what they’re telegraphing. They’re saying in plain, plain language exactly what they’re going to do.

 

Brian Beutler: And the legal the legal violation that they’re contemplating is one where if they get, you know, it, I forget what the date is in December, where the election is supposed to be certified through January 6th. Like, that’s your window. If they go ahead with what would be like an illegal usurpation of the results of the election in their states. You have like three weeks, right, to to to investigate and and indict before supposedly Congress says actually, you know what you said goes and now the guy who lost the election is the winner.

 

Peter Strzok: Right. And how and at what point, you know, states. Absolutely. There is. And as you may well know, you know, there isn’t a federal. The States determine how they create and certify their electors. That isn’t a federal process. And so to the extent that there is a violation of law, it isn’t clear to me what that is or isn’t from a federal perspective. Certainly the role of the courts and if you elevate this in a very quick manner up to the Supreme Court, what they’re going to say and what side they’re going to fall on. I mean, there’s just a lot of 2024, really, really worries me. And I I’m not going to sugarcoat it. As a as an investigator, it worries me. As a citizen. It worries me. I just and I don’t think we are. Certainly from a legislative perspective, approaching that with the gravity that it deserves.

 

Brian Beutler: Okay, final question. On the one hand, like I was actually surprised to hear you say, you think that more likely than not, Trump will be charged with with crime or crimes surrounding January 6th stuff, separately I think we share the sort of fears about the Justice Department’s process here and whether it’s even the right institution to mete out accountability for Trump. Given those somewhat conflicting outlooks. Do you believe that if Trump and his crew, you know, his family and his closest aides are out there trying to recruit corrupt foreign powers to manipulate this coming election or the next one that our government will, A, notice or B, do anything about it.

 

Peter Strzok: I certainly hope they’d notice. I don’t you know, a lot of that falls into a whole bunch of different agencies, whether that’s the FBI, whether it’s the CIA, NSA or other members of the intelligence community to develop that information. I think in the question of what you do about it, I have some hope. If it were Bill Barr that the Department of Justice and Trump in the White House, I don’t think they would do anything about it. I have some hope that we have an administration and a current executive that understands that, you know, foreign interference in our domestic elections is one of the most reprehensible and potentially damaging things [laugh] to our democracy that exists. And I would hope and expect they would do something, whether that’s something that publicly how public that would be, I don’t know. But I don’t think, you know, to your earlier point, I think there was a reticence within the Obama administration to call out the Russians for what they’re doing. I think in large part because like everybody else, they looked at the polls and assumed that Clinton was going to be a runaway winner and they, while bad and while a threat A, it didn’t really matter. And B, they didn’t want to create a political issue where they didn’t need to. I don’t think Biden harbors any such illusions at this point. So I do think they’d do something again. I also have every expectation. Trump welcomed the assistance of Russia. He asked Xi, china’s help, for Biden obviously did for Ukraine and Zelensky. I have every expectation that, you know, he will is and will continue to do so if offered.

 

Brian Beutler: Yes. Same, [laugh] in fact, that, you know, some of the some of the reporting about Kushner and his investment funds and and how he sells them and who he sells them to, makes me wonder if it’s just not happening kind of out in the open already, essentially like that. They left office with a bunch of very rich, powerful, bad guys in other countries who want them back in power and will devote resources to achieving that. You know, it’s, they seem like they have figured out that they can just do it and not even really apologize for it. Just kind of do what Trump said to John Karl or whoever it was. Yeah. You know, if if they’ve got information, I’d like to hear it. And once you say that, no one’s going to. No one’s going to do anything about it.

 

Peter Strzok: Yeah. And it is I mean, this this last weekend, I mean, at his course in Bedminster, I mean, they had, you know, the Bonesaw Invitational where the you know, the Saudi the Saudi knockoff Golf League is paying Trump. God knows how much money they. Somebody asked Trump and he’s like, oh, you know the money. It’s not about the money. It’s more about, you know, the prestige of this event. And of course, it’s about the money. And to have a a golf tournament sponsored by the government of Saudi Arabia in the shadow of where the Twin Towers stood, you know, across the across the river is is so shocking. That is so out in the open and so blatant and it gets a couple of mentions and it really, again, you know, where’s the outrage compared to, you know, how how much did we hear about Anthony Weiner’s f-ing laptop back? You know, and yet Trump is. Cozying up to the Saudis, sponsoring this tournament, saying, well, it’s never been proven. What their role was in 911, ain’t been pretty conclusively proven what their role was. And you had four years in the presidency to declassify a lot of stuff that would shore up that proof. And you didn’t. And then, you know, by the way, what they’re paying you, what they’ve given Jared, what others are, you’re absolutely right. And it’s not hidden. I mean, probably there are some things and there are some things that are hidden, but it’s the stuff out in the open is bad enough.

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah. Okay, well, how about this? If and when Justice Department indicts Trump for anything, we’ll reach out to you again. Also, we’ll reach out to you again once you’ve binge watched the Americans. [laughter]

 

Peter Strzok: Fair enough. [laughter]

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah, we can do a we can do a rewatchables or something about it, not talk about Trump at all. Peter Strzok, thank you so much for joining us.

 

Peter Strzok: Thank you. [music break]

 

Brian Beutler: All right, so here are my two cents after talking to Pete. Mainly it’s that the Trump accountability story isn’t fully written. I think it’s promising that someone like Peter Strzok thinks Trump is more likely than not to be indicted. And I think it’s worth taking seriously his sense that the government and Joe Biden and the people around Biden learn from their experience in 2016 and wouldn’t just let Trump cheat his way to another victory in 2024. It’s hard to think of an election with Donald Trump on the ballot that could ever be truly free and fair. The man is just simply incapable of ethical conduct. But we’re lucky that if he runs again, he won’t have the powers of the presidency on his side. That’s different from what happens after people vote, which remains the big open question. First, will Congress pass legislation that meaningfully stands in the way of Trump and his loyalists stealing the next election after the fact? Second, will a jury get to Trump before voters do? We don’t know the answer to those questions, but we should expect that either, A, Trump will face an indictment before the next election or, B, something will happen to prevent it. And whether that’s Garland deciding not to go there or House Republicans spoiling the investigation or whatever else, it’ll be a decision we can demand people answer for. Given all we know, our expectation, not our prediction, but the standard we set for our leaders should be that Trump faces the charges any other person would face for doing what he did, and that the public gets a full accounting of any contrary outcome. [music break] Positively Dreadful is a Crooked Media production. Our executive producer is Michael Martinez and our associate editor is Olivia Martinez. Veronica Simonetti mixes and edits the show each week. Our theme music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.