FBI agent clashes with GOP at Rus­sia probe hear­ing

Woonsocket Call - - VALLEY/NATION -

WASH­ING­TON (AP) — An em­bat­tled FBI agent whose anti-Trump text mes­sages ex­posed the Jus­tice De­part­ment to claims of in­sti­tu­tional bias vig­or­ously de­fended him­self Thurs­day at an ex­tra­or­di­nary con­gres­sional hear­ing that de­volved into shout­ing matches, fin­ger-point­ing and veiled ref­er­ences to per­sonal trans­gres­sions.

Peter Str­zok tes­ti­fied pub­licly for the first time since be­ing re­moved from spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s team fol­low­ing the dis­cov­ery of texts last year that were traded with an FBI lawyer in the run-up to the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

In a chaotic hear­ing that spanned 10 hours, he in­sisted he never al­lowed per­sonal opin­ions to af­fect his work, though he did ac­knowl­edge be­ing dis­mayed by Don­ald Trump’s be­hav­ior dur­ing the cam­paign. He also said he had never con­tem­plated leak­ing dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion he knew about the Trump cam­paign and called the hear­ing “just an­other vic­tory notch in Putin’s belt.”

“At no time, in any of those texts, did those per­sonal be­liefs ever en­ter into the realm of any ac­tion I took,” Str­zok told law­mak­ers.

In break­ing his si­lence, Str­zok came face-to-face with Repub­li­cans who ar­gued that the texts had tainted two hugely con­se­quen­tial FBI probes he had helped steer: in­quiries into Hil­lary Clin­ton’s email use and pos­si­ble co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the Trump cam­paign and Rus­sia.

“Agent Str­zok had Hil­lary Clin­ton win­ning the White House be­fore he fin­ished in­ves­ti­gat­ing her,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, Repub­li­can chair­man of the House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee. “Agent Str­zok had Don­ald Trump im­peached be­fore he even started in­ves­ti­gat­ing him. That is bias.”

Repub­li­can Rep. Dar­rell Issa made Str­zok read some of his texts aloud, in­clud­ing some with pro­fane lan­guage. House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Good­latte asked col­leagues to imag­ine be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by some­one who “hated you” and “dis­par­aged you in all man­ner of ways.”

“Would any­one sit­ting here to­day be­lieve that this was an ac­cept­able state of af­fairs, par­tic­u­larly at an agency whose motto is ‘Fidelity, Brav­ery and In­tegrity’? I think not,” Good­latte said.

Str­zok re­peat­edly in­sisted the texts, in­clud­ing ones in which he called Trump a “dis­as­ter” and said “We’ll stop” a Trump can­di­dacy, did not re­flect po­lit­i­cal bias and had not in­fected his work.

He said the Trump in­ves­ti­ga­tion orig­i­nated not out of per­sonal an­i­mus but rather from con­cern that Rus­sia was med­dling in the elec­tion, in­clud­ing what he said were al­le­ga­tions of “ex­tra­or­di­nary sig­nif­i­cance” of a Rus­sian of­fer of as­sis­tance to a Trump cam­paign mem­ber.

He made clear his ex­as­per­a­tion at be­ing the fo­cus of a hear­ing when Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence had suc­cess­fully sowed dis­cord in Amer­ica.

“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,” Str­zok said.

The hear­ing brought to the sur­face a lit­tle-dis­cussed re­al­ity of pub­lic ser­vice: Law en­force­ment agents and other gov­ern­ment work­ers are per­mit­ted to es­pouse po­lit­i­cal views but are ex­pected to keep them sep­a­rate from their work. Str­zok said he was not alone in hold­ing po­lit­i­cal opin­ions, not­ing that col­leagues in 2016 sup­ported both Clin­ton and Trump but did not re­flect those views on the job.

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