House lawmakers are poised to question Peter Strzok on Thursday in what is sure to be a lengthy, tense standoff between Republicans and the FBI agent who once worked on special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE ‘s investigation into Russia’s election interference.
Strzok has been in Republicans’ sights for several months after a Justice Department inspector general investigation revealed that he exchanged text messages before the 2016 election that were critical of Donald Trump with Lisa Page, a former FBI lawyer with whom he was having an affair at the time.
Mueller promptly removed Strzok from the Russia investigation when the messages were revealed, but Republicans have zeroed in on him as key to uncovering what they allege was systemic FBI bias against Trump during the election. Democrats, meanwhile, have cast the effort as a politically-driven charade.
Lawmakers questioned Strzok behind closed doors late last month – now, those on the House Oversight and Government Reform and Judiciary committees will have the opportunity to question him publicly.
Strzok is under subpoena to testify before the committees in the public hearing.
Dems threaten to release transcript of closed-door Strzok interview
Ranking member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) stressed the need for the transcript’s release, accusing Republicans of leaking “select” portions of the testimony to the media.
“The decision is made by the chairman of the committee,” Goodlatte said. He also described it as “very customary” not to release transcripts of private interviews until after an investigation is complete. Goodlatte later said there was an agreement the interview would be private and confidential.
His explanation did not satisfy Democrats.
“Is there a rule that precludes me from this afternoon releasing this transcript? If it’s just your preference I don’t, that’s not sufficient,” said Cicilline.
– Morgan Chalfant Dems seek to subpoena Bannon
The two panels quickly voted along party lines to table Swalwell’s bid.
– Katie Bo Williams Strzok applauded by Dems for forceful backing of FBI
Strzok offered a robust and steady-voiced defense of the FBI amid Republican allegations of bias, gaining a round of applause from committee Democrats.
He called allegations of bias corrosive to the law enforcement agency’s mission.
“At no time, in any of these texts, did those personal beliefs ever enter into the realm of any action I took,” Strzok said, adding that “multiple layers” of agents above and below him at the bureau would not have tolerated any “improper behavior.”
GOP lawmakers have focused on one text exchange between Strzok and Lisa Page, a former FBI lawyer, in which Strzok replied, “We’ll stop it,” after he was asked, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”
Strzok rejected the suggestion that his sentiment is evidence that he took official action to somehow thwart Trump’s election.
“My presumption, based on that horrible, disgusting behavior, that the American population would not elect somebody demonstrating that behavior to be president of the United States. It was in no way, unequivocally, any suggestion that me, the FBI, would take any action whatsoever to improperly impact the electoral process for any candidate,” Strzok said.
“I take great offense and I take great disagreement to your assertion of what that was or wasn’t,” Strzok loudly stated, prompting Democrats in attendance to applaud the remarks.
– Morgan Chalfant Strzok declines to answer Russia probe questions, gets heated with Gowdy
The hearing almost immediately devolved into rancorous partisan bickering. Strzok declined to answer Gowdy’s first question – about how many people he interviewed in the first week of the federal Russia probe – on the instructions of the FBI general counsel.
“Based on that, I will not answer that question because it goes to matters related to the ongoing investigation,” Strzok said.
Goodlatte almost immediately stepped in, threatening contempt proceedings: “Mr. Strzok. You are under subpoena and are required to answer the question.”
Strzok disputed the notion that he was there under subpoena, arguing that he was there voluntarily.
“You have not stated a valid legal basis for not responding to a question from a member of the House of Representatives,” Goodlatte.
Nadler tried to step in, but Goodlatte batted down his objections as “not valid” and “not well taken.”
Democrats continued to raise objections to Goodlatte, whose refusal to entertain them drew outraged disbelief and laughter from the other side.
An exchange between Gowdy and Strzok became particularly heated.
Strzok claimed Gowdy had twisted his words upon answering a question about Mueller’s decision to remove him from the team overseeing the Russia probe, stating that he does not “appreciate” what he originally said being “changed.”
“I don’t give a damn what you appreciate, Agent Strozk,” Gowdy replied. “I don’t appreciate having an FBI agent with an unprecedented level of animus working on two major investigations during 2016.”
– Kaite Bo Williams and Olivia Beavers Cummings lays out Mueller pleas
“Cite the rule,” Democrats insisted as Republicans voiced their objections – and Goodlatte ultimately allowed Cummings to proceed.
Republicans are now objecting to Cummings’ use of these visual aides. Calls of “point of order” weren’t given any satisfaction-Goodlatte permits him to proceed. pic.twitter.com/X54bD7tiA3
– Katie Bo Williams (@KatieBoWill) July 12, 2018
– Katie Bo Williams
Gowdy hammers home ‘bias’ accusations
Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) spent several minutes rehashing details of Strzok’s text messages revealed by the inspector general, accusing Strzok of exhibiting “textbook bias.”
Gowdy’s opening remarks set the tone for GOP questioning during what promises to be a highly tense hearing.
– Morgan Chalfant Nadler blasts Republicans for questioning Strzok about Mueller probe
Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, blasted his Republican colleagues for their treatment of Strzok, claiming that they will try to question him on Mueller’s probe even though they know the FBI will not permit him to answer questions about ongoing investigations.
“I know that the majority wants a public fight with Mr. Strzok today,” Nadler said in his opening remarks.
“I expect that you will ask him questions about the special counsel’s investigation that you know the FBI will not permit him to answer – as you did more than 200 times in our last meeting with Mr. Strzok – so that his decision not to answer can be played out on cable news again and again.”
Nadler highlighted how Strzok has agreed to appear before Congress voluntarily twice, and when he did so, he was asked a series of questions that are unrelated to their probe.
“You don’t have to like him, but you have to treat him – and any witness before this committee – with respect. Questions like ‘do you love Lisa Page’ and ‘who did you vote for in the last election’ – questions that Republicans posed in his interview – are not relevant to any aspect of our official business,” the top Democrat said.
“Can we not be decent to our witnesses, Mr. Chairman? Must Republicans descend to the president’s level, even in his defense?” Nadler added.
– Olivia Beavers Goodlatte alleges probe has revealed ‘potential crimes’
Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) gaveled in just after 10:15 a.m., using his opening remarks to fire a shot at Democrats for casting GOP efforts to investigate alleged bias at the FBI as a political charade.
He said the committee’s efforts have uncovered “potential crimes,” casting the investigation as legitimate and not one generated by “conspiracy theory.”
“For those who think we are wasting time in this committee, suppose all of this had been said about candidate Obama before he was elected, or even more topical, about Hillary Clinton while she was running in the same election,” Goodlatte said.
“Would we be where we are today? The only honest answer is an absolute affirmative, ‘Yes,'” Goodlatte charged. “So please stop saying this doesn’t matter and is only the product of conspiracy theory.”
– Morgan Chalfant
Strzok took his seat shortly before 10 a.m. amidst a sea of clattering shutter frames.
The hearing room is packed wall-to-wall with staff and press as lawmakers continue to trickle in.
– Katie Bo Williams Strzok plans to call scrutiny ‘another notch in Putin’s belt’
Strzok reportedly plans to tell lawmakers that the focus on his anti-Trump text messages is aiding Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In prepared remarks Strzok is expected to deliver, the FBI agent will defend himself against the intense scrutiny from GOP lawmakers by saying his work has been free of political bias.
“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,” Strzok will say.
He is expected to tell lawmakers that Congress’s focus on his actions and text messages “is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”
– Brett Samuels