Congressional hearings, even in recent months, have not reached the level of hostility or confrontation manifest in the latest joint committee hearing for FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok. As the former Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, Strzok was the Bureau’s central figure in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email use. He was also instrumental in the opening of the investigation into alleged collusion between the campaign team of then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian officials. On Thursday, July 12, Strzok was called to publicly testify on Capitol Hill. His answers and reactions to certain questions served only to fuel doubts about the very integrity of both the FBI and special counsel investigations related to Russia.
Following opening statements, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) began to question Strzok as several Democrats on the committee continuously interrupted with what they claimed were points of order. For a short time, the proceedings were brought to a standstill by a heated discussion over committee rules and the validity of these points of order.
Democrats Continue to Impede Oversight Efforts
As they have done with previous hearings related to both the Clinton investigation and the Russia investigation, Democrats appeared determined to disrupt the legitimate oversight duties of Congress. When one considers the apparent concern congressional Democrats show on the issue of obstruction of justice, their determination to obstruct Congress in its efforts to carry out its constitutionally authorized oversight of federal agencies seems somewhat curious.
In his questioning of Strzok, Rep. Gowdy did not disappoint with his ability to outmaneuver his subject. Most notably, the chairman provoked the FBI agent into insisting that one of his most damning statements – made in a text message to FBI counsel Lisa Page – was taken out of context. This was his now infamous assertion that “…we’ll stop it,” in answer to Page’s fear that Trump would become president.
Strzok Struggles Under Gowdy Questioning
Gowdy first elicited Strzok’s confirmation that the “it” indeed referred to Trump’s candidacy for president of the United States. He then challenged Strzok on who he had been referring to when he wrote: “we’ll stop it.” Stretching the bounds of credulity, the agent insisted that he had been referring to the American people, as though he had intended to assert that the voters would stop Trump becoming president by not voting for him. He, Strzok, went on to allege that he had believed Trump’s comments about immigrants to be so offensive and reprehensible that Americans would never elect him.
There appeared to be a farcical disconnect between Strzok and Gowdy on the definition of bias. The latter clearly – and accurately – defined bias as a prejudgment based on opinion or belief, rather than on facts. Strzok insisted that not only were the personal feelings toward Trump expressed in his text messages of no consequence to his professional decision-making, but that those feelings were not an indication of bias. Such an assertion stretches the very boundaries of rationality, regardless of one’s political position.
Peter Strzok admitted that like all Americans and, indeed, like all FBI employees, he had his own political opinions but was, in effect, denying the connection between bias and having an opinion. Yet Gowdy’s definition of bias – prejudgment – was manifest in Strzok’s messages; in his opening statement, Gowdy had pointed out that Strzok “even talked about impeachment [of Trump] the day the special counsel was appointed. That is prejudging guilt, prejudging punishment, and that is textbook bias.”
In another text message, clearly exhibiting prejudgment, Strzok had told Page “God Hillary should win 100,000,000-0.” This message was sent even before Clinton secured her party’s presidential nomination, and even though she was under investigation at the time – an investigation that Strzok himself was leading.
Robert Mueller’s Motives Questionable?
While answering questions about his removal from Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation, Strzok stated something that deserves far more attention than it may receive: Although it is known that the agent was reassigned back to the FBI after his incendiary text messages were discovered, Strzok himself claimed that, as he understood it, his clear hostility toward the very person he was investigating was of no concern to Mueller. He told the committee he was removed from the special counsel team because of the potential appearance of bias. According to Strzok himself, Mueller either did not view the content of the messages as politically biased or did not care that they were. He removed Strzok only to avoid the perception of bias.
If true, this is a very significant consideration. It speaks to the very nature of Mueller’s operation. The special counsel himself, appointed to investigate matters connected to a sitting president, is apparently unconcerned that the senior investigator on his team harbored such disdain for the man whose presidential campaign team is the focus of the investigation.
More Questions Than Answers – Again
Another important revelation was that Strzok admitted to having exchanged additional messages with Lisa Page on his personal phone. He confirmed that some of those messages were, likely, similar to the messages already made public and that no-one has examined his personal phone or read those messages.
Quite apart from the barely-concealed disgust that he was even compelled to answer to Congress, Strzok’s claims leave us with some eye-popping takeaways: He was not biased against Trump, he says; his texts have been taken out of context – deliberately so, he appeared to imply. He didn’t write some of the texts, or doesn’t recall writing them, and he was not removed from the special counsel investigation because of his obvious political loyalties but because Mueller was concerned about public perception. It seems an overused cliché, these days, but Peter Strzok’s testimony – rich in verbal gymnastics and hardly believable claims – produced more questions than it answered.
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