U.S. judge orders Trump deposed in lawsuits by former FBI officials

FILE PHOTO: Pre-election rally held in support of Republican candidates in Dayton

By Andrew Goudsward

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday ordered former President Donald Trump to be questioned in a pair of lawsuits against the Justice Department and FBI by two former agency officials who allege they were the targets of an improper political pressure campaign by his White House.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson decided that FBI Director Christopher Wray also must sit for a deposition by attorneys for the pair, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who were among a group of FBI employees who exchanged text messages critical of Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The judge in a brief order said that Trump should submit to two hours of questions on a "narrow set" of topics and that Wray should be questioned under the same limited parameters. Jackson gave President Joe Biden until March 24 to decide whether to invoke executive privilege to limit the scope of the questioning in the depositions.

Strzok and Page factored prominently in Trump's contention that the FBI was politically biased against him.

Strzok, an FBI special agent who worked on investigations into Trump's ties to Russia and Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of state, sued in 2019, alleging that his 2018 firing was the result of political pressure from Trump. His lawsuit claims wrongful termination.

Page, who resigned her position as a senior FBI lawyer, sued over alleged privacy violations stemming from the leak of the messages.

The Justice Department has argued that Strzok was fired for violating FBI policies and undermining trust in the bureau.

Both Trump and Wray had resisted subpoenas to appear for depositions, arguing that Strzok had not cleared the high bar to depose senior government officials by showing that Trump and Wray had information relevant to the case.

Jackson held a hearing under seal on Thursday to hear arguments on those issues.

Strzok's lawsuit claims that he was fired for speech protected under the U.S. Constitution and is seeking reinstatement, back pay and unspecified monetary damages. Page is seeking at least $1,000 in damages.

Representatives for Trump and the U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A lawyer for Strzok did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A lawyer for Page declined to comment.

Trump has resisted sitting for depositions in civil cases, but has been ordered to sit for questioning in lawsuits by writer E. Jean Carroll, who accused him of sexual assault, and New York state Attorney General Letitia James's investigation into his family business.

In the latter case, Trump declined to answer questions, invoking his right against self-incrimination under the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment more than 400 times.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)