Peter Strzok, the FBI agent whose anti-Trump texts cost him his job on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, is getting grilled by House Republicans Thursday as he testifies for the first time in public at a joint hearing before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees.
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In his opening remarks, Strzok told lawmakers that his texts “have created confusion and caused pain for people I love” and “have provided ammunition for misguided attacks against the FBI, an institution I love deeply and have served proudly for more than 20 years.”
As he concluded his remarks, he took a shot at Republicans who have harshly criticized him, saying they were helping Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I understand we are living in a political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity,” Strzok said.
“I have the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role, but I strongly 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 said.
The committees are looking at the actions of the FBI and Justice Department during the 2016 presidential campaign.
President Donald Trump and his supporters have cited Strzok’s texts with his former FBI colleague Lisa Page, with whom Strzok was having an extramarital affair, as evidence of political bias within the FBI during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Strzok’s appearance comes as House Republicans have demanded testimony from Page after she did not comply with a subpoena to appear before the committee for a closed-door interview on Wednesday. Strzok, who led the Hillary Clinton email investigation, spoke to the committee behind closed doors last month for almost 11 hours.
Follow along for live updates.
11:00 A.M. – Committee chairman threatens to hold Strzok in contempt of Congress
Within minutes of the start of questioning, a highly contentious exchange between Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and Strzok ended with Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., saying that the panel will consider whether to find Strzok in contempt of Congress.
Strzok, asked by Rep. Gowdy how many people he interviewed as part of the FBI’s Russia probe, refused to answer, citing FBI counsel advising him not to comment an ongoing investigation. After a back and forth, Rep. Goodlatte warned Strzok that he had two choices: answer the question, or refuse to answer and be “at risk of a contempt citation and potential criminal liability.”
Rep. Nadler, D-N.Y., the ranking Democrat on the panel, then read from U.S. Attorney’s manual and cited FBI policy telling DOJ personnel not to answer questions about ongoing investigations. “The question being directed at the witness is out of order,” Nadler insisted.
After an even more animated back and forth involving Goodlatte, Gowdy, Strzok, and a chorus of Democrats, Goodlatte insisted that Strzok answer Gowdy’s question.
After convening briefly with his attorney, Strzok maintained that he could not answer the question, to which Goodlatte asserted, “at the conclusion of the day we will be recessing the hearing and you will be subject to recall, to allow the committee to consider proceeding with a contempt citation.”
10:55 AM – Strzok: Today’s hearing a ‘victory notch in Putin’s belt’
In his opening statement to the committee, Peter Strzok conceded that text messages he sent during the campaign contained characterizations of Donald Trump that were “not always expressed in terms I am proud of,” but stood by the FBI’s work in conducting its investigation into Russian meddling.
“This investigation is not politically motivated. It is not a witch hunt, it is not a hoax,” Strzok said. “I’m proud of our work on the Russian interference investigation.”
Strzok, who says he was one of only a handful of people aware of Russia’s alleged actions in 2016, warned that the Russian operations during the election were “a grave attack on our democracy” that Americans “should be alarmed by.”
“I have the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role,” Strzok said, “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.”
The FBI agent defended his investigative record and insisted his personal opinions did not influence his work at the FBI.
“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 said.
10:25AM – Committee chairman tears into Strzok texts in opening statement
In his opening statement, Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., ripped both Strzok and others at the FBI, claiming they compromised the public’s faith in the nation’s top law enforcement agency.
“Mr. Strzok and others inside the FBI and DOJ turned our system of justice on its head,” Goodlatte said. “That is why we’re here and why this matters.”
Goodlatte encouraged Democrats on the joint panel to “replace President Trump’s name with your own name in a small sample of things Mr. Strzok has said,” before reading off a list of some of Strzok’s most controversial texts.
“’F Trump,’ ‘Trump is a disaster,’ ‘Just went to a southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support’ – or, perhaps most alarmingly and revealingly, ‘We’ll stop it’ – referring directly to Mr. Trump’s candidacy for President,” Goodlatte said.
The ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., shot back at Goodlatte, arguing that the committee should be spending its time focused on what he says are “other emergencies” the nation faces.
“We ought to be holding hearings” on families separated at U.S. border, Nadler said. “It’s of more immediate concern than this hearing, certainly.”