FBI agent de­fends ac­tions in bristly House tes­ti­mony

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Ni­cholas Fandos

WASH­ING­TON — The em­bat­tled FBI agent who over­saw the open­ing of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion mounted an ag­gres­sive de­fense of him­self and the FBI on Thurs­day, re­ject­ing ac­cu­sa­tions that he let his pri­vate po­lit­i­cal views bias his of­fi­cial ac­tions and la­bel­ing Repub­li­cans’ pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with him “an­other vic­tory notch in Putin’s belt.”

“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,” the agent, Peter Str­zok, told House law­mak­ers in­ves­ti­gat­ing what Repub­li­cans say is ev­i­dence of ram­pant bias at the top lev­els of the FBI.

But in de­fend­ing him­self and his agency, Str­zok had to

weather hours of blis­ter­ing at­tacks by Repub­li­cans, who ac­cused him not only of an­i­mus to­ward Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump but also of bla­tant ly­ing and moral mis­con­duct with a se­nior FBI lawyer, Lisa Page.

It was a re­mark­able day of shout­ing matches and per­sonal at­tacks that show­cased the deep par­ti­san di­vide over the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether the Trump cam­paign col­luded with Rus­sia to in­flu­ence the out­come of the 2016 elec­tion. The per­for­mance by Repub­li­cans, echo­ing Trump’s own lines of at­tack, demon­strated just how far many in the party have moved since the days when they were seen as the party of law en­force­ment, def­er­en­tial to its power and pre­rog­a­tives.

Democrats, on the other side of the now-gap­ing di­vide over the FBI and Jus­tice De­part­ment, said Repub­li­cans, by launch­ing their own po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the in­ves­ti­ga­tors in an at­tempt to bol­ster Trump, were ig­nor­ing an at­tack by a hos­tile for­eign power on Amer­i­can democ­racy.

In his first pub­lic com­ments since vol­umes of pri­vate text mes­sages be­tween Str­zok and Page were dis­closed by the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral, the agent con­cluded open­ing re­marks with a pointed broad­side against his an­tag­o­niz­ers.

“I un­der­stand we are liv­ing in a po­lit­i­cal era in which in­sults and in­sin­u­a­tion of­ten drown out hon­esty and in­tegrity,” Str­zok said, con­tin­u­ing: “I have the ut­most re­spect for Con­gress’ 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 con­cluded: “As some­one who loves this coun­try and cher­ishes its ideals, it is pro­foundly painful to watch and even worse to play a part in.”

The fiery hear­ing, con­vened by House Ju­di­ciary and Over­sight com­mit­tees, de­volved into a spec­ta­cle al­most as soon as it be­gan, as pent-up rage be­tween House Repub­li­cans and the FBI broke into the open in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion, in­clud­ing with an al­most im­me­di­ate threat to hold Str­zok in con­tempt of Con­gress af­ter he said the FBI had barred him from an­swer­ing cer­tain ques­tions.

As the hear­ing stretched deep into the af­ter­noon, it broke into pan­de­mo­nium when Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, in­voked Str­zok’s ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair with Page to ques­tion his char­ac­ter.

“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 eye and lie to her?” he said.

Democrats shouted that the state­ment was “in­tol­er­a­ble wit­ness ha­rass­ment.” Rep. Bon­nie Wat­son Cole­man, D-N.J., de­manded, “Do you need your med­i­ca­tion?”

Str­zok, vis­i­bly irked, in­sisted that he had “al­ways told the truth” and shot back that Gohmert’s in­vo­ca­tion of “a fam­ily mem­ber who I have ac­knowl­edged hurt­ing goes more to a dis­cus­sion about your char­ac­ter and what you stand for.”

Peter Str­zok

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