Republicans lashed out at FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok for roughly nine hours on Thursday, berating his assertions that his anti-Donald Trump sentiment – captured in texts exposed by an indoor watchdog – never affected his operate on the Russia probe.
But a defiant Strzok hit back at GOP lawmakers, defending his professionalism and slamming the hearing as being a “victory notch in Putin’s belt.” And that he got backup from Democrats who accused Republicans of harassing Strzok and running roughshod covering the committees.
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“Let me be clear, unequivocally and under oath: Not once within my 26 years of defending my nation did my very own opinions impact any official action I took,” Strzok said in his opening statement to the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, his first public remarks about the matter.
Strzok instead cast his decision to help you launch and lead the FBI investigation of Russian interference from the 2016 election as a possible act of patriotism in defense of American democracy. And the man took a swing at congressional Republicans for targeting him as being the bad guy.
“I possess the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role, but I honestly think that today’s hearing is definitely another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in this enemies’ campaign to tear America apart,” he was quoted saying.
Soon after, the hearing degenerated to a partisan morass.
In his first question, House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy pressed Strzok on how many witnesses he or she interviewed in the first eight days of the Russia probe – from July 31, 2016, to Aug. 8, 2016 – and Strzok said FBI counsel instructed him never to discuss the ongoing probe.
House Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte quickly interjected and ordered Strzok to answer the issue or risk contempt proceedings.
“You are under subpoena,” Goodlatte said.
“I do not believe We’re here under subpoena,” Strzok replied.
Democrats repeatedly interrupted and demanded answers for the way Goodlatte could instruct him to disregard his employer, the FBI, to respond an issue a good ongoing investigation.
The dispute generated bickering and shouting among members along with an attempt by Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top part Judiciary Committee Democrat, to adjourn the hearing.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) accused Gowdy of participating in “harassment” of Strzok.
Trump and GOP allies have fixated on Strzok after a combination of texting revealed deep anti-Trump sentiment from Strzok and former FBI attorney Lisa Page.
The two shared critiques of figures on both sides of your aisle but saved their most intense vitriol for Trump. Strzok suggested for one 2016 message that Trump wouldn’t become president because “we’ll stop it.”
Strzok expressed regret in the hearing for his actions as well as the collateral damage it did.
“I am sorry,” he explained. “I am sorry for such texts and ways in which and may used, for that harm and hurt they’ve caused my family, for that thought of people in everyone. I am sorry and deeply regretful to the.”
Strzok played a central role from the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server additionally, the Russia probe and briefly joined special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Mueller removed Strzok after DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz uncovered Strzok’s messages.
Earlier, Strzok sat stone-faced while Goodlatte blasted his conduct and focus aloud a litany of Strzok’s incendiary texts, from saying “F— Trump” to “Trump is really a disaster.” He sat similarly silent while lawmakers referenced his relationship with Page.
“In fact, those of you that think we’re putting things off in this particular committee, suppose pretty much everything ended up being said about candidate Obama before he was elected, and up topical, about Hillary Clinton while she was running during the same election,” Goodlatte said. “Would we be where we’re today? Really the only honest option would be an utter affirmative, ‘yes.'”
In a clear, crisp back-and-forth between Strzok and Gowdy, Strzok denied they was stripped away from Mueller’s team owing to his anti-Trump sentiment but alternatively for the “appearance” of bias. He accused Gowdy of misrepresenting his testimony within the matter and said he didn’t “appreciate” it.
“I don’t make a damn anything you appreciate,” Gowdy shot back.
Strzok’s voice rose since he defended himself against charges of bias.
He said his text suggesting “we’ll stop” Trump became a hitting the ground with American voters. He said the comment came after Trump criticized family members on the fallen soldier that appeared at the Democratic National Convention. He was quoted saying Trump had displayed “horrible, disgusting behavior” and therefore was the sentiment behind his text.
“It is in not a chance any suggestion that me, the FBI would take any action,” he said.
Strzok later said he was sure after Trump insulted the Gold Star Family that “there was no manner in which the American population was going to elect this man.” He said his text to Page, saying “we’ll stop” Trump was an “off the cuff, ‘hey don’t worry about it’ almost comment.”
Strzok also offered context and explanations for many that is controversial texts touted by Republicans as evidence bias within the Russia investigation.
In one of those texts, Strzok compared the Russia probe a great “insurance policy inside the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.” Republicans have interpreted that text for a sign that he viewed the Russia investigation to be a safeguard against a Trump presidency.
But Strzok provided reveal alternative explanation. He was quoted saying the words reflected an indoor FBI debate precisely aggressively to pursue the Russia probe because performing on it may compromise “an extraordinarily sensitive source and method.”
“If you practice action in it, you put it at stake. You will find a tension there,” he explained.
One camp argued to “roll slow” because polls showed Trump unlikely to win the election and consequently it would not be worth potentially burning an origin. But Strzok said he urged a very aggressive approach. “What I advocated for is, ‘Look, we are the FBI. We should instead do our responsibility. We have to go investigate.'”
Under questioning from Nadler, Strzok said he was aware of FBI personnel who are either pro- or anti-Trump. But he said he previously no knowledge that the officials’ personal beliefs bled in just work at the bureau.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked Strzok to learn to read, perhaps even repeat, some of his harshest scrolls in which he criticized Trump, including one calling his potential presidency “destabilizing.”
Strzok, offered time to reply to Issa’s request, said the context of the text was significant: It came around the heels of your campaign speech by which Trump had cast doubt about whether he’d continue the U.S. persistence for the NATO alliance. Trump has harshly criticized NATO and threatened to drag out of your military alliance in Brussels on Thursday unless European leaders spent more for mutual defense.
Strzok also repeatedly said he couldn’t address questions associated with a dossier composed by former British spy Christopher Steele, mainly because they impinged by using an ongoing investigation. Steele’s dossier described a fancy and multi-year effort by Russia to cultivate Trump and ultimately help him win the presidency. It later emerged that Steele’s work was funded by research firm Fusion GPS, that was hired via the Clinton campaign plus the Democratic Party.
Under questioning from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Strzok said he never had communication with Mother Jones reporter David Corn, who had previously been one of the primary reporters to show the actual existence of Steele’s work. He also said he never had experience Glenn Simpson, among the list of founders of Fusion GPS. Nor, he stated, did he possess any experience Nellie Ohr, a Fusion employee whose spouse, Bruce Ohr, was really a senior Justice Department official.
Strzok recalled having interactions with Bruce Ohr about “investigative matters” but said he was incapable of confirm whether or not included the Russia investigation as the FBI has instructed him to never discuss ongoing matters.
Strzok later said "no" when asked should the dossier was element of his decision that can help open the FBI’s Russia investigation in 2016, though he was quoted saying he was not able to elaborate further.
Horowitz’s recent report describing misjudgments and misconduct by some top FBI officials while in the Clinton investigation designated Strzok for casting a cloud above the bureau but also found no evidence that Strzok’s personal views affected the outcome in the Clinton probe. He’s still reviewing Strzok’s role while in the handling from the Russia probe.
Strzok defended himself as well as FBI against charges that were there pre-cooked your analysis of Clinton’s email server to exonerate her. He was quoted saying a pre-drafted statement read for a news conference by FBI Director James Comey in July 2016 – wherein he recommended no charges against Clinton – was based on their idea of evidence and wasn’t finalized until ahead of Comey delivered it.
He said a significant team of career Justice Department officials and FBI leaders had reviewed “mountains of evidence” and conducted “tons of interviews” and “saw numerous very fatal places where aspects of the crime were lacking.”
Page was most likely to testify behind closed doors on Wednesday but defied a congressional subpoena after her lawyer accused the committees of “bullying tactics” and failing to give her the chance to prepare. GOP lawmakers threatened to hold her in contempt of Congress. On Thursday, Goodlatte announced Page had opted for take interviews Friday and Monday with all the House Judiciary and Oversight committees.
Strzok’s testimony raises the stakes for Page, with Republicans surely trying to find daylight between their recollections that may raise doubts about their sort of events.
Trump has spent months attacking Strzok and Page on Twitter – routinely calling them “lovers” (a mention of their reported affair) and suggesting the Mueller probe is illegitimate as a result of Strzok’s brief role inside. He accused the two of ducking congressional testimony, though Strzok has now testified for 11 hours privately into the two House committees and Page’s lawyer Amy Jeffress indicated she had already given testimony to another committee.
“As I leave to a vital NATO meeting, I see that FBI Lover/Agent Lisa Page is dodging a Subpoena & is refusing to show up and testify,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning from Brussels. “What can she possibly say about her statements and lies.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) provoked a furor in the hearing while he swiped at Strzok’s “smirk” then wondered, “How often did you look so innocent within the wife’s eyes,” a hitting the ground with Strzok’s affair with Page.
Democrats erupted. “It’s just like an insane asylum,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) exclaimed. Another Democrat was heard shouting “You need your medication!”
When your room quieted, Strzok lit into Gohmert and his awesome decision to improve an individual matter the place where a relative was “hurting.”
It “goes more into a discussion of your respective character,” Strzok said.
Democrats meanwhile repeatedly turned the main focus onto their GOP colleagues, asserting how the entire hearing would be a “circus” or possibly a “ruse” to undermine Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference within the 2016 election and potential collusion between Moscow as well as the Trump campaign.
"This hearing is often a kangaroo court. This can be a three-ring circus," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). "It is really not even meritorious associated with an investigation by Ace Ventura, Pet Detective really wants to 75 members of the United State Congress."