FBI agent bristles at GOP grilling
The FBI agent who oversaw the opening of the Russia investigation gave a personal defense Thursday, rejecting accusations that he let his private political views bias his official actions
and labeling Republican 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 attacks by Republicans, whose accusations drifted from personal animus toward President Donald Trump to blatant lying and moral misconduct with a senior FBI lawyer, Lisa Page.
In his first public comments since volumes of private text messages between Strzok and Page were disclosed, 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 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. Republicans were intent on painting Strzok as seething with contempt for Trump and his supporters — and by implication, painting the agency’s investigation of the president as motivated by animus.
“He thinks calling someone destabilizing isn’t bias,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, referencing texts sent by Strzok. “He thinks protecting the country from someone he hasn’t even begun to investigate isn’t bias. He thinks promising to ‘stop’ someone he is supposed to be fairly investigating from ever becoming president isn’t bias.”
Gowdy dismissed Strzok’s defenses, saying that the agent has a “most unusual and largely self-serving definition of bias” that had undermined the fair administration of justice.
To a surprising extent, Strzok appeared just as intent on defending the FBI’s actions, the integrity of the Russia investigation that continues under Robert Mueller and his own behavior.
“At every step, at every investigative decision, there were multiple layers of people above me, assistant director, deputy director, director of the FBI, and multiple layers of people below me, section chiefs, unit chiefs and analysts, all of whom were involved in all of these decisions,” he told Gowdy after the chairman pressed him. “They would not tolerate any improper behavior in me any more than I would tolerate it in them.”
“The suggestion that I, in some dark chamber in the FBI, would somehow cast aside all of these procedures, all of these safeguards and do this is astounding to me,” he said. “It couldn’t happen.”
For their part, Democrats tried to run interference for Strzok, using parliamentary points of order and other tactics to protect him from Republican prying. One Democrat, Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, said Strzok deserved a Purple Heart.
“All of these inquiries about your political opinions as revealed by these text messages are irrelevant and wrong, unless it can be shown — as it has not been shown, as was found definitively not to be the case in the Hillary investigation and has not been shown in the Russia investigation — that they affected any decisions in the investigation,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, told Strzok.
Strzok has come under intense scrutiny since the Justice Department’s inspector general discovered thousands of text messages that he exchanged with a senior FBI lawyer, Lisa Page, colorfully disparaging Trump. The two FBI officials were in a romantic relationship when the messages were sent on their government devices.
FBI agent Peter Strzok is sworn in before a joint committee hearing of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees Thursday on Capitol Hill in Washington.