An oversight hearing on FBI and DOJ actions ahead of the 2016 presidential election devolved into partisan bickering and political shouting matches on Capitol Hill yesterday. Testifying was FBI agent Peter Strzok.
Strzok, it was discovered in May of last year, exchanged thousands of text messages with a woman who was an FBI agent at the time, Lisa Page. Strzok, who is married, was a having an extramarital affair with Page. The texts were harshly critical of then-candidate Donald Trump, and dated as far back as 2015.
Messages between the two show Donald Trump being referred to as “an idiot,” and a “loathsome human,” among other things. In another text, Strzok writes that Hillary Clinton should win the election 100 million votes to zero. “I know,” Page responds.
The texts, which were discovered as part of internal reviews at the FBI and DOJ, have been the focus of ire from congressional Republicans as well as the President himself. They prove, Republicans say, that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling and possible cooperation in the effort from members of the Trump campaign is politically motivated.
Both Strzok and Page had served on Mueller’s team. Strzok was removed from the team by Mueller when revelations of his texts were made public and Page has since left the Bureau.
The hearing was contentious from the start.
House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy’s first question to Strzok was how many witnesses were interviewed in the opening days of Russia probe. Strzok, citing the ongoing investigation, declined to answer. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte threatened to hold Strzok in contempt for refusing to answer the question, and that sparked a long shouting match with Democrats on the Committee.
Things got especially heated when Strzok asked to confer with the FBI general counsel.
“Only with your own counsel,” Goodlatte responded, which elicited a boisterous response.
“Mr. Chairman, there’s no basis for that,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee Democrat. “He can consult with the FBI counsel, he’s an FBI employee.”
“The gentleman is not recognized,” Goodlatte answered.
“And the chairman is not being proper,” Nadler responded tersely.
Democrats showed their disapproval by trying to force a vote related to former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon who also infamously refused to answer questions from congressional committees on Russia. A procedural vote, along party lines, ended that effort.
Republicans focused on a text by Strzok in which he wrote, “we will stop it,” when referring to Donald Trump’s candidacy. Strzok claims he did not mean a specific effort on his part, or others at the FBI, but by the American people.
“In terms of the texts that ‘we will stop it,’ you need to understand 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, and my presumption, based on that horrible, disgusting behavior, [was] that the American population would not elect somebody demonstrating that behavior to be the President of the United States,” Strzok said.
Republicans were unconvinced.
“Oh, Agent Strzok, please! Are you kidding?” Gowdy said when Strzok said his texts did not betray anti-Trump motivation in his work.
“I am stating to you it is not my understanding that [Mueller] kicked me off because of any bias, that it was done based on the appearance,” Strzok said. “If you want to represent what you said accurately I am happy to answer that question, but I don’t appreciate what was originally said being changed.”
“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 during 2016.”
The President also tweeted about the Strzok ahead of his testimony.
“How can the Rigged Witch Hunt proceed when it was started, influenced and worked on, for an extended period of time, by former FBI Agent/Lover Peter Strzok? Read his hate filled and totally biased Emails and the answer is clear!” he wrote.
Lisa Page was subpoenaed to testify behind closed doors on Wednesday but would not honor the subpoena, saying she had not been given enough time to review the materials relating to her testimony. Her attorney said she would appear before the Committee in a closed-door session today.
Photo by C-SPAN