On Thursday, a congressional hearing on the Russia probe rose to theatrical heights as FBI agent Peter Strzok took the stand. From the outset, Republican members of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees attacked the 26-year law enforcement and counter-intelligence veteran, threatening to hold him in contempt for his refusal to answer the very first question of the day.
Basing their line of questioning, in part, on personal mails and text messages retrieved during an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General which concluded bias on Strzok’s part could not be ruled out, GOP lawmakers were unyielding in their insistence they proved bias and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI.
“The moment special counsel Bob Mueller found out about Peter Strzok’s text and emails he kicked him off of the investigation,” said Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy. “But that was a year and a half too late. The text and emails may have been discovered in May of 2017, but the bias existed and was manifest a year and a half before that. All the way back to late 2015 and early 2016. So it wasn’t the discovery of texts that got him fired, it was the bias manifest in those texts that made him unfit to objectively and dispassionately investigate.”
During the nearly 10-hour hearing, shouting matches broke out between Republican and Democratic congresssmen, attacks became personal and impassioned statements by seemingly incensed representatives sought to impugn Strzok’s integrity and that of the agency her serves.
In response to one such vociferous attack by Chairman Gowdy (R-S.C.), Mr. Strzok responded indignantly:
“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. 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.”
At times, it seemed Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) had lost all control of the proceedings as he shot down objection after objection from Democrats. At one point, he even refused to allow Agent Strzok to consult with counsel before answering a question, which drew a swift rebuke from the assembly.
During his allotted time, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) characterized the Republican attack by saying:
“There is a criminal investigation into the Trump campaign and possible crimes related to the 2016 presidential election involving collusion with Russian spies to sell out our democracy and hijack the presidency. My colleagues in the cover-up caucus don’t like that criminal investigation, and therefore, they need to identify a villain. Mr. Strzok, tag, you’re it.”
With wall-to-wall coverage on all of the major news outlets, there was no shortage of opinions on either side of the aisle.
It’s shameful that Democrats are trying to distract Americans from the fact that the person leading the investigation into President Trump’s campaign was a Hillary Clinton supporter who promised his colleague they would stop Trump from becoming President. https://t.co/0FArzssPCn
— Rep. Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) July 12, 2018
In my 20+ years in politics and 7 years on Capitol Hill, I don’t recall a Judiciary Committee hearing as chaotic as the one happening right now w/ FBI agent #PeterStrzok
What is Chairman Goodlatte doing? Completely out of control. https://t.co/R1mAuEzgem
— Tara Setmayer (@TaraSetmayer) July 12, 2018
I have zero sympathy for Peter Strzok. His texts were harmful to the perception of the investigation, unprofessional and an embarrassment to the FBI. That said, this hearing is a screaming spectacle, unprofessional and an embarrassment to the Institution of Congress.
— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) July 12, 2018
A lot of colliding interests here: Republicans, who don’t feel like they are getting answers; Democrats, who are tired of the nonsense; & Strzok, who is tired of being smeared.
I just can’t tell whether this hearing is serving as a pressure release valve, or partisan combustion.
— Josh Campbell (@joshscampbell) July 12, 2018
The #StrzokHearing hearing, like the Nunes memo, was a disaster for GOP. So what are they going to do? They are basically going to do it again! Tomorrow we interview agent Lisa Page in closed session. Which means GOP will later have another open hearing into … Hillary's emails. https://t.co/RTdu6GDyH3
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) July 13, 2018
Following Thursday’s hearing, President Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, also took to Twitter with a different take:
Peter Strzok’s testimony was a disgrace. It taints the entire Mueller witchunt. President Trump is being investigated by people who possess pathological hatred for him. All the results of the investigation are “fruit of the poison tree” and should be dismissed.
— Mayor Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) July 13, 2018
Meanwhile, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced Friday 12 indictments of Russian GRU agents in the special counsel’s probe of election interference in 2016. All 12 are charged with a sustained email hacking campaign against then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The indictment just days before President Trump is scheduled to meet with Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Lawmakers from both parties have called for Trump to cancel the meeting.
[CNN] [New York Times] [Washington Post] [AP] [Photo courtesy CSPAN via Mother Jones]