AS OTH­ERS SEE IT

Str­zok hear­ing has dam­aged our democ­racy

Pawtucket Times - - OPINION - This ap­peared in Fri­day’s Wash­ing­ton Post:

Tem­pers boiled over on Capi­tol Hill Thurs­day as Peter Str­zok, the FBI of­fi­cial at the cen­ter of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s at­tempts to dis­credit Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller, tes­ti­fied be­fore a joint meet­ing of two House over­sight com­mit­tees. With all its yelling and in­ter­rup­tions, the hear­ing was a fit­ting coda to the hy­per­par­ti­san farce of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that House Repub­li­cans have con­ducted into the FBI and Mueller’s Rus­sia probe.

Repub­li­cans spent hours pars­ing text mes­sages and wav­ing doc­u­ments in the air. But all of it, just like most of the broader House in­ves­ti­ga­tion, was a dis­trac­tion from this cen­tral point about the con­spir­acy nar­ra­tives the pres­i­dent and his de­fend­ers have been cook­ing up about the FBI: If the agency had been try­ing to harm Trump’s cam­paign, agents could have re­leased dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion on pro-Trump Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence be­fore Elec­tion Day – and they did not.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors cer­tainly had a lot they could have spilled. “In the sum­mer of 2016, I was one of a hand­ful of peo­ple who knew the details of Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence and its pos­si­ble con­nec­tions with mem­bers of the Trump cam­paign,” Str­zok said. “This in­for­ma­tion had the po­ten­tial to de­rail, and quite pos­si­bly, de­feat Trump. But the thought of ex­pos­ing that in­for­ma­tion never crossed my mind.”

Whether you be­lieve Str­zok’s ac­count of what he was think­ing, the fact is that the FBI said lit­tle about Rus­sian med­dling be­fore Elec­tion Day 2016. There sim­ply was no ef­fec­tu­ated plot to harm Trump’s elec­toral chances.

For his part, Str­zok could not ar­gue his way out of re­spon­si­bil­ity for his now-fa­mous 2015 and 2016 text mes­sages ex­press­ing strong anti-Trump views, as well as crit­i­cisms of other 2016 pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. Yet the mes­sages are not proof of any­thing other than Str­zok’s per­sonal feel­ings – and, in com­mit­ting them to writ­ing on com­pany equip­ment, his poor judg­ment. Repub­li­can ar­gu­ments pre­sumed that Str­zok’s opin­ions were tan­ta­mount to cor­rupt be­hav­ior. As Law­fare’s Su­san Hen­nessey, a for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency lawyer, put it, “What is ac­tu­ally on dis­play here is House GOP mem­bers demon­strat­ing that they can­not even con­ceive of the pos­si­bil­ity some­one could place duty and in­sti­tu­tional in­tegrity over base po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal in­ter­ests.”

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