FBI agent Strzok defiant in face of Republican interrogation
Republicans exploded at FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok on Thursday, berating his assertions that his anti-Donald Trump sentiment — captured in text messages exposed by an internal watchdog — never affected his work on the Russia probe.
But a defiant Strzok hit back at GOP lawmakers, defending his professionalism and slamming the hearing as a “victory notch in Putin’s belt.” And he got backup from Democrats who accused Republicans of harassing Strzok and running roughshod over the committees.
Story Continued Below
“Let me be clear, unequivocally and under oath: not once in my 26 years of defending my nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took,” Strzok said in his opening statement to the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, his first public remarks on the matter.
Strzok instead cast his decision to help launch and lead the FBI investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election as an act of patriotism in defense of American democracy. And he took a swing at congressional Republicans for targeting him as the bad guy.
“I have the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role, but I truly believe that today’s hearing is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart,” he said.
Soon after, the hearing devolved into a partisan morass.
In his first question, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy pressed Strzok on how many witnesses he had interviewed in the first eight days of the Russia probe — from July 31, 2016, until Aug. 8, 2016 — and Strzok said FBI counsel instructed him not to discuss the ongoing probe.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Goodlatte quickly interjected and ordered Strzok to answer the question or risk contempt proceedings.
“You are under subpoena,” Goodlatte said.
“I do not believe I am here under subpoena,” Strzok replied.
Democrats repeatedly interrupted and demanded answers for how Goodlatte could instruct him to defy his employer, the FBI, to answer a question about an ongoing investigation.
The dispute resulted in bickering and shouting among members and an attempt by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the top Judiciary Committee Democrat, to adjourn the hearing.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) accused Gowdy of engaging in “harassment” of Strzok.
Trump and GOP allies have fixated on Strzok after a series of text messages revealed deep anti-Trump sentiment from Strzok and former FBI attorney Lisa Page.
The two shared critiques of figures on both sides of the aisle but saved their sharpest vitriol for Trump. Strzok indicated in one 2016 message that Trump wouldn’t become president because “we’ll stop it.”
Strzok played a central role in the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server and the Russia probe and even joined Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team briefly. Mueller removed Strzok after DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz uncovered Strzok’s messages.
Earlier, Strzok sat stone-faced while Goodlatte blasted his conduct and read aloud a litany of Strzok’s incendiary text messages, from saying “F— Trump” to “Trump is a disaster.” He sat similarly silent while lawmakers referenced his intimate relationship with Page.
“In fact, for those who think we are wasting time in this committee, suppose all of this had been said about candidate Obama before he was elected, or even more topical, about Hillary Clinton while she was running in the same election,” Goodlatte said. “Would we be where we are today? The only honest answer is an absolute affirmative, ‘yes.’”
In a sharp back-and-forth between Strzok and Gowdy, Strzok denied that he was removed from Mueller’s team because of his anti-Trump sentiment but rather for the “appearance” of bias. He accused Gowdy of misrepresenting his testimony on the matter and said he didn’t “appreciate” it.