In an appearance before two powerful committees in the House of Representatives, FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok was strident in defending himself and the agency he serves, garnering applause from Democrats during a contentious and strained hearing. Republicans have accused Strzok and elements of the FBI, including Strzok’s colleague and alleged paramour Lisa Page, of bias against then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016 while the agency investigated allegations of Russia election meddling.
Strzok told Republican members that accusations of bias “deeply corrodes what the FBI is in American society, the effectiveness of their mission, and it is deeply destructive.” Coming to the chamber under subpoena, Strzok said in reference to numerous text enchanges with Page: “At no time, in any of these texts, did those personal beliefs ever enter into the realm of any action I took.” Strzok added that “multiple layers” of agents above and below him at the FBI would not have allowed “improper behavior.”
“They would not tolerate any improper behavior in me anymore than I would tolerate it in them," he said. "That is who we are as the FBI, and the suggestion that I, in some dark chamber somewhere in the FBI, would somehow cast aside all of these procedures, all of these safeguards, and somehow be able to do this is astounding to me."
Steve Cohen just offered to give Peter Strzok--who was removed from the Mueller probe for his misconduct and criticized directly by Obama's Inspector General--a "purple heart."— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) July 12, 2018
“The proposition that that is going on and that might occur anywhere in the FBI deeply corrodes what the FBI is in American society, the effectiveness of their mission, and it is deeply destructive,” Strzok said.
It was during an investigation by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz that text messages were discovered that resulted in Strzok’s dismissal from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation team. Republicans have pointed to an exchange between Strzok and Page -- who is now a former FBI lawyer -- in which Strzok replied “We’ll stop it,” when he was asked, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”
Strzok forcefully rejected any suggestion that this was evidence of any official action on his part to block Trump’s eventual election. “That was written late at night, off the cuff and it was in response to a series of events that included then-candidate Trump insulting the immigrant family of a fallen war hero,” Strzok told House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). Referring to then-candidate Trump, Strzok said, “My presumption, based on that horrible, disgusting behavior, [was] that the American population would not elect somebody demonstrating that behavior to be president of the United States." Strzok added, "It was in no way, unequivocally, any suggestion that me, the FBI, would take any action whatsoever to improperly impact the electoral process for any candidate.”
“I take great offense and I take great disagreement to your assertion of what that was or wasn’t,” Strzok said.
During the hours-long hearing, tempers flared and Democrats tried to silence Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, who asked the “smirking” Strzok whether he was lying under oath to Congress in the way that he had “lied” to his wife during his romantic affair with FBI lawyer Lisa Page. "He is really good. He is lying. He knows we know he is lying, and he could probably pass a polygraph," Gohmert said about Strzok, to his face. "I've talked to FBI agents around the country, you've embarrassed them, you've embarrassed yourself, and I can't help but wonder when I see you sitting there with your little smirk. How many times did you look so innocent into your wife's eye and lie to her?"
Shouting over Democrats’ objections, Gohmert said, "The disgrace is what this man has done to our justice system.” Gohmert said, "I can't help but wonder, when I see you looking there with a little smirk, how many times did you look so innocent into your wife's eyes and lie to her about Lisa Page?"
Shouting objections, one Democrat said, "Mr. Chairman, this is intolerable harassment of the witness" while another called out, "You need your medication."
There were other tense moments during the hearing. When Strzok remained defiant and maintained that his text messages did not impact his official investigative actions, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., made Strzok read some the offending texts. Strzok read a messages in which he called Trump "disaster," and another calling him an "idiot."
House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., questioned "how many witnesses" Strzok interviewed in advance of an August 2016 text from Strzok to Page stating "we'll stop" Trump from becoming president. At the beginning of the hearing, Gowdy excoriated Strzok, and alleged that the agent had shown "textbook bias" on the job.
When Strzok claimed that he could not answer the question, based on instructions from FBI counsel, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., rejected the claim. "Mr. Strzok, you are under subpoena and required to answer the question," Goodlatte said.
(1) Someone asked me to do a thread on this.— Thomas Wictor (@ThomasWictor) July 12, 2018
What's there to talk about?
The man is utterly insane. pic.twitter.com/7GtlNpxlek
In response, Judiciary Ranking Member Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., initiated an intense debate and said that Goodlatte had put Strzok in an "impossible position," while Strzok claimed he was there voluntarily. Goodlatte added that Strzok could consult only with his own counsel but not the FBI's attorney.
In another exchange with Rep. Gowdy, Strzok said he was dismissed from Special Counsel Mueller’s Russia probe over an "appearance" issue and not because of "bias," and that he did not “appreciate” Gowdy saying otherwise. “I don’t give a damn what you appreciate, Agent Strzok,” Gowdy responded. “I don’t appreciate having an FBI agent with an unprecedented level of animus working on two major investigations in 2016.”
Gowdy argued that Strzok believed that Hillary Clinton would be "winning the White House" before he finished the investigation into the former Secretary of State’s use of a private email server for classified messages but had “impeached” then-candidate Trump before beginning an investigation into the Trump organization’s supposed ties to Russia. Referring to Strzok’s multiple derogatory statements about Trump, as revealed in text messages to paramour Lisa Page, Gowdy said, "Agent Strzok had Hillary Clinton winning the White House before he finished investigating her.,” Gowdy said, “Agent Strzok had Donald Trump impeached before he even started investigating him. That is bias. Agent Strzok may not see it but the rest of the country does, and it is not what we want, expect or deserve from any law enforcement officer much less the FBI.”
Some Congressional Democrats showed support for Strzok. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., suggested that Strzok, a former Army officer, deserved a Purple Heart for his service to the country.