“I have the utmost respect for Congress’s 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. As someone who loves this country and cherishes its ideals, it is profoundly painful to watch and even worse to play a part in.”
That was FBI counterintelligence boss Peter Strzok, the key player in the investigation of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, in his opening statement Thursday to a joint session of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees. This was the same man who said in texts to his FBI girlfriend Lisa Page: “Fuck Trump,” “Trump is a disaster,” “I could SMELL the Trump support,” and that Trump supporters were “ignorant hillbillies.”
For Peter Strzok, Hillary Clinton would win “100 million to zero” and when Page raised the possibility of a Trump win, Strzok responded, “No, no he’s not. We’ll stop it.” The FBI man also alluded to an “insurance policy,” in the event that candidate Trump did prevail. The man who said all that, and much more, told the committee Thursday:
“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.” And agent Strzok was dead certain it was Russian election interference was “sowing discord in our nation and shaking faith in our institutions.” Democrats loved it, and Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat, wanted to recommend Strzok for a Purple Heart. For their part, Republicans weren’t buying it.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, a former prosecutor, said Strzok showed “textbook bias,” that got him booted off the Mueller probe. Strzok said that was only a “perception,” and did not “appreciate” Gowdy’s questioning. “I don’t give a damn what you appreciate,” said Gowdy, “I don't appreciate having an FBI agent with an unprecedented level of animus working on two major investigations in 2016.”
Gowdy was curious about Strzok’s boast that “we’ll stop it.” Strzok said that text was written late at night, “in shorthand” and “in response to a series of events that included then-candidate Trump insulting the immigrant family of a fallen war hero,” Humayun Khan.
Strzok had showed little interest in revealing information about Russia’s use of social media, Gowdy noted, but was very eager to mention “impeachment” in connection with President Trump. Strzok offered no clear answer but could not deny he never used “impeachment” in connection with Secretary Clinton.
Gowdy wanted to know how many witnesses Strzok interviewed between July 31 and the August 8, 2016 “Stop” Trump text. Strzok declined to answer on instructions from the FBI. The names Corn and Simpson came up but Strzok would not identify these people in response to Gowdy’s question.
Rep. Steven King asked agent Strzok who was in the room in the July 2, 2016, meeting in regard to Hillary Clinton. Strzok, who is under subpoena, declined to identify those who were the room. He was also evasive on the change of “gross negligence” to “extremely careless,” which cleared Hillary Clinton from criminal charges.
Rep. Ron DeSantis asked Strzok when he knew that the Steele dossier was funded by the Democratic National Committee. “I would love to answer,” said Strzok, with his trademark smirk, but the FBI advised against it.
If all those texts did not indicate bias, Rep. Raul Labrador wanted to know what would indicate bias on the part of the FBI man. Strzok said destroying evidence, not interviewing a witness would indicate bias, but did not follow up on his failure to interview the Clinton cronies who destroyed evidence.
Asked about previous Russian interference, Strzok cited disinformation campaigns back in the 1960s and 1970s but said nothing about the Communist candidates the Russians ran in U.S. presidential elections. Former CIA boss John Brennan voted for one, Gus Hall, in 1976.
Rep. Labrador mentioned President Obama’s comment to Russian president Dimitry Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” with Russia after the election as an example of collusion. Agent Strzok did not recall his own interest in Russian collusion during the 2012 election.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan pressed the case about the Steele dossier, used to justify spying on the Trump campaign. Strzok said he had talked to DOJ official Bruce Ohr but would not answer if he knew that Ohr’s wife Nellie worked for Fusion GPS. Jordan also asked if Bruce Ohr gave Strzok any documents. The FBI directed him not to answer, the same response to Jordan’s question whether he had collected evidence.
Jordan said the committee would be seeking answers from the FBI, and Strzok suddenly changed course. The FBI would allow him to say that the FBI, not agent Strzok himself, received documents from Bruce Ohr, but Strzok didn’t identify the documents.
Strzok said former FBI boss Robert Mueller never asked him if he was biased against Trump and never asked about “any text message” Strzok sent to Page. Strzok would not say what Russia-Trump collusion he had discovered but said his texts showed there “might be nothing going on here.”
Beyond the issues the FBI told him not to answer, Strzok’s own evasions did little to dispel the perception that key players in the FBI and DOJ conspired to clear Hillary Clinton and frame Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, if Strzok’s defiant girlfriend Lisa Page fails to testify on Friday the committee plans to hold her in contempt.