It’s been widely reported over the past months that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has built a sizable all-star team of prosecutors to assist him in his investigation into Donald Trump’s Russia scandal and his assorted other crimes. But Mueller has relied on existing FBI agents for the investigative side – and now one of those investigators has left his team. Among the anti-Trump resistance, the development has set off reactions ranging from confusion to panic.
Here’s the thing: we don’t know precisely why Peter Strzok has left the Special Counsel team to take a job with the FBI’s human resources division instead, as ABC News is now reporting (link). But there are only a few possible reasons for a move like this, and none of them are cause for panic. The key detail to understand here is that Robert Mueller has full control over this investigation, including personnel. So you can do away with the paranoid fear that the Trump administration somehow managed to take this guy away from Mueller. Instead, here are the possible scenarios for what might have really happened.
Scenario 1: Strzok found himself on Robert Mueller’s bad side. Mueller has been running a tight ship with generally no leaks, except for the major leak about the FBI raiding Paul Manafort’s house. If Mueller found out Strzok was behind that leak, he might have booted him from the team for it. To be clear, there is no evidence pointing to where that leak came from; this is merely a hypothetical.
Scenario 2: Strzok, who has been working on the Trump-Russia investigation since even before Mueller was appointed, may have simply burned out and decided to transfer to a more by-the-book job in human resources. You might burn out too, after a year of investigating something like this nonstop.
Scenario 3, and this is probably the most likely one: Mueller has been hiring a boatload of prosecutors for a reason. He expects to begin prosecuting Trump’s associates and underlings in short order, so as to get some of them to flip on Trump himself. The departure of an FBI investigator like Strzok from the team may be a sign that things have now progressed to the point that it’s not so much about investigating, and instead mostly about prosecuting.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report