FBI agent bris­tles at GOP grilling

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick

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.

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