"They hold leverage over him that makes him incapable of placing the national interest, the national security ahead of his own," Strzok said.
"I think it is clear, I believed at the time in 2016 and I continue to believe that Donald Trump is compromised by the Russians. And when I say that I mean that they hold leverage over him that makes him incapable of placing the national interest, the national security ahead of his own … I think when you take a look at the Trump financial enterprise, particularly its relationship with Russian, with Russian monies and potentially those related to organized crime and other elements, that those interactions have placed him in a position where the Russians have leverage over him and are able to influence his actions."
CHUCK TODD: One person who's very familiar with Russian election shenanigans is former FBI counterintelligence officer Peter Strzok. He was in charge of the bureau's Russia investigation until he was removed over personal anti-Trump texts he sent to a colleague with whom he was having an affair. Strzok has just written a book, “Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump.” And Peter Strzok joins me now. Mr. Strzok, welcome to Meet the Press. And let me just start with your theory of the case of why you believe President Trump is compromised.
PETER STRZOK: Good morning, Chuck. It's great to be here. Look, I think it is clear, I believed at the time in 2016, and I continue to believe, that Donald Trump is compromised by the Russians. And when I say that, I mean that they hold leverage over him that makes him incapable of placing the national interests, the national security ahead of his own. That takes a variety of forms. I worked counterintelligence for over 20 years. And I recruited spies during that time and I defended against those people who were being recruited in our government. One of the largest ways that people, foreign governments, gain leverage, certainly in the case of the president, is through financial entanglements. And I think when you take a look at the Trump financial enterprise, particularly its relationship with Russian, with Russian monies and potentially those related to organized crime and other elements, that those interactions have placed him in a position where the Russians have leverage over him and are able to influence his actions.
CHUCK TODD: Is your job -- was your job then to figure out if the Russians were using that leverage, or simply to identify the leverage they could have?
PETER STRZOK: Well, both. I mean, so there are a couple of things I'd point out. When we opened the cases called, commonly known as Crossfire Hurricane in the summer and the fall of 2016, those were not looking at the president. They were not looking at his campaign. They were looking at a very discrete set of individuals based on an allegation we had received that Russia had offered to coordinate the release of information to help the Trump campaign. When we later then, after Director Comey was fired, opened a case onto the president himself, that was a very broad investigation. On the one hand, it incorporated a question of whether or not the president had committed obstruction. But it also had a counterintelligence element to that. And that's very broad in nature. It's looking first and foremost, what the Russians are trying to achieve and the way they're doing it. But that is very broad. And it certainly would include looking at the president's financial entanglements.
CHUCK TODD: You know one of the -- there've been multiple explanations about the president's behavior with Russia. One is, from him, is he wants to get along with them better. A second simply is, “Hey, people are conflating -- just because he has some views of the world that are similar to Putin, people conflate that.” And then the other argument they'll make is, "Hey, this administration has been tougher on Russia." They'll cite things like sending lethal defensive aid to Ukraine, taking action in Syria and so on. Did any of that give you pause during this opening of this investigation?
PETER STRZOK: Sure. Of course, it did. Look, the president is in charge of United States foreign policy. He sets the foreign policy agenda of the United States. He had campaigned on wanting to bring the U.S. and Russia closer together. That's not the issue. The issue is all the things that he left unsaid or outright lied about that the Russians knew. When he does those things, when he says things like that he has no financial relationship or dealings with Russia at the same moment his attorney is dealing, trying to make a deal for a Trump Tower Moscow, that lie is known to Vladimir Putin. Trump obviously knows he didn't tell the truth. So things like that. It's not the overt actions towards warming a relationship with Russia. It's the lies, that time and time again, that he tells that Russia also knows that they can use over leverage with him. So we certainly considered deeply, with just argument after argument and soul searching about whether or not we were doing the right thing. But conclusively, the concerns we had about Russia were merited and it was the appropriate thing to do to look into them.
CHUCK TODD: I'm curious, if you were still in your job today and you look at -- I'm going to issue two sets of facts. Four years ago, the president's personal lawyer was working with the Russians, it turned out in secret, on Trump Tower Moscow. Four years later, the president's personal lawyer -- it's a different individual this time -- Rudy Giuliani, he's been working with folks in, in Ukraine, trying to drum up information that might harm Joe Biden, and it turns out he ends up working with a known Russian operative that ends up being sanctioned by the U.S. government. What do those two facts tell you about the president?
PETER STRZOK: It tells me that he is surrounded by people who have a pervasive pattern of contact with the Russians. And not only contact, but contact that they're hiding. Broaden it from that, Chuck. Look at 2016. His campaign manager, who pled guilty and was dealing with people affiliated with the Russian intelligence services. One of his foreign policy advisors, who lied to us about his connection to the Russians and pled guilty. His former national security advisor, who didn't tell the truth to me and who pled guilty twice to not telling the truth about his contact with the Russians. If -- and now obviously with Rudy Giuliani, dealing with somebody that the Department of Treasury recently said this last week had been an agent of the government of Russia in their intelligence services for over ten years. And look at that pervasive pattern of contact. It is not without exaggeration that there is no president in modern history who has the same broad and deep connections to any foreign intel service, let alone a hostile government like Russia.
CHUCK TODD: When you read the Mueller Report, did you conclude no collusion?
PETER STRZOK: Absolutely not. Look, I concluded the opposite.
CHUCK TODD: And what --
PETER STRZOK: So my sense was, when you look at it, I mean, Mueller was focusing on violations of the law. And the standard to be able to establish in a courtroom that something occurred is very, very different from the standard that a counterintelligence expert or intelligence person would look at and judge whether or not that caused them concern. When I read the Mueller Report, and certainly when I looked at the recent bipartisan Senate Intel Committee report, almost 1,000 pages laying out all of these areas of intelligence connections between the Trump and his administration and his campaign and Russia, that's extraordinarily concerning from a counterintelligence perspective because a relationship of counterintelligence concern is a completely different matter from proving something in a court of law.
CHUCK TODD: Given what happened to you in this episode, do you look at what happened and say to yourself, "I put myself in a compromising position. I shouldn't have done that. And that's on me"? Or do you believe you were unfairly singled out?
PETER STRZOK: Well, Chuck, I understand that, you know, people would ask that question. I certainly regret sending the text messages that were absolutely weaponized and used to bludgeon the work of the FBI, the work of the special counsel. I'll always regret that. But at the same time, the way that those were weaponized was unprecedented. And it is certainly part of a pattern of activity where this administration has gone to lengths that no other administration has ever done. That anybody who dares speak the truth or speak out -- whether it is in the impeachment hearings with regard to Ukraine, the whistleblower or anybody in any number of federal government agencies -- if somebody dares speak the truth about this administration, this administration has shown no boundaries in going after people in ways that, frankly, is shocking, are shocking and are inappropriate.
CHUCK TODD: And are you still confident the FBI's immune from this? That you're not, you’re not used as this, that basically, "Okay, we sent the message. Back off"?
PETER STRZOK: I think the women and men that I know in the FBI, they are brave and they're fearless and they're dedicated to doing the job and getting to the bottom of whatever lies in front of them. I can't help though that think under an attorney general who is sitting there day after day saying that there was no basis to launch these investigations in 2016, which is clearly demonstrably ludicrous, there's no way that doesn't have a chilling effect on not only the FBI, but all the branches and departments of the executive branch of the government. I think the FBI, the people that I know and knew, are holding. I am deeply concerned though what another four years of President Trump will do to destroy the traditional independence and objectivity of our government.
CHUCK TODD: Peter Strzok, I have to admit, I have a ton more questions. Thankfully, I have a podcast. I plan on inviting you on to get lengthier. The book is “Compromised.” And by the way, it was very -- it was an easy read as well.
PETER STRZOK: Good.
CHUCK TODD: And kudos to your writing abilities. So congratulations on the book. And thank you for coming on and sharing your perspective.