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Peter Strzok, the FBI agent facing criticism following a series of anti-Trump text messages, walks to gives a deposition before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 27, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Congress grills FBI agent Strzok on bias, origins of Trump investigation

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WASHINGTON (Circa) — For hours, members of Congress deposed Peter Strzok, the disgraced FBI agent whose derogatory text messages about President Donald Trump raised serious questions about political bias in the organization.

Members of the House Judiciary and Government Oversight Committees were given a chance to hear directly from Strzok about his role in the investigations of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Trump and assess whether his personal political views influenced his professional work.

"Ultimately, you cannot have bias within the FBI and DOJ [Department of Justice] and expect justice to be meted out equally," Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told reporters. "So hopefully we'll rid the FBI of any inherent bias."

The Wednesday session took place behind closed doors and Strzok's testimony was confidential. Lawmakers are currently under a gag order and told Circa they are waiting for Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to authorize them to discuss the proceedings.

A number of Republicans went into the deposition prepared for a confrontation with Strzok who sent text messages referring to Trump as an "idiot" and suggested he would "stop" him from becoming president.

"A very biased individual will be asked a lot of tough questions and I look forward to it," Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told reporters ahead of the deposition.

For months, President Trump's allies on Capitol Hill have pointed to Strzok's text messages with his girlfriend and FBI lawyer, Lisa Page, as evidence of a Justice Department "witch hunt" against the president.

Strzok previously served as the chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's counterespionage section. In that capacity, he helped oversee the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server and alleged mishandling of classified information and the initial counterintelligence investigation into then-candidate Donald Trump's campaign.

Strzok was then tapped to join Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team of investigators to continue the probe of alleged ties between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government. In the summer of 2017, Strzok was dismissed from the investigation after the bureau discovered his anti-Trump text exchanges with Page.

It's been one year since Robert Mueller took over the Russia investigation

After hours of questioning, some lawmakers were still unsatisfied with Strzok's account of his involvement in the investigations of President Trump.

"I can't talk about what he actually said," Rep. Louis Gohmert of Texas told Circa. "I can say he's one of the smoothest liars I've seen in some time."

Rep. Meadows insisted there were "still a lot of unanswered questions" related to "the genesis of the Russia collusion investigation." Meadows said he wanted Strzok to clarify his role in the deploying a "human source" to gather intelligence on members of the Trump campaign. President Trump has referred to these allegations as evidence the FBI was "spying" on him.

Democrats, on the other hand, were largely frustrated with their Republican colleagues' pursuit of Strzok, which some said was an attempt to discredit the FBI and undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of President Trump.

"I think this is a colossal waste of time," Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., told Circa.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., downplayed Strzok's importance at the bureau, arguing he was one of roughly 20 investigators assigned to the matter. "The question is whether that would somehow railroad 20 people into making a certain political conclusion, and I just didn't see it," he told reporters.

Krishnamoorthi's assessment challenged the claims that Strzok was a central figure in both the Mueller probe and 2016 campaign investigation.

Though Republicans and Democrats largely disagreed on the significance of Peter Strzok in both the Clinton and Trump investigations, both sides had hoped to hold the hearing in public.

Earlier this week, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., sent a formal request to Chairman Goodlatte asking for a public hearing with Strzok. Goodlatte, who secured the closed deposition of Strzok only after threatening him with a subpoena, told Lieu and other committee members that he is working to schedule a public hearing soon.

President Trump weighed in on the matter earlier this week with a tweet demanding Strzok answer Congress' questions on live television.

Some lawmakers reported they had "hours" of questions prepared for Mr. Strzok and were pleased that the closed format gave them additional time to depose the witness.

For months, Republican members of the Judiciary and Oversight Committees have been working to bring Strzok before Congress. According to one congressman, part of the reason it took so long was because of the delayed release of the Department of Justice Inspector General's report, which detailed the FBI's handling of the investigations leading into the 2016 presidential election.

Some of the most damaging messages Strzok exchanged with Page were only made public earlier this month when the report was published. Among them was a text sent on August 8, 2016. Page texted Strzok seeking assurance that Trump would never become president. Strzok responded, "No. No he won't. We'll Stop it."

Inspector general report, Fri.

The text message was sent just one week after Strzok was assigned to the FBI's counterintelligence investigation of Trump campaign officials. Upon receiving his assignment, Strzok texted Page on July 31 writing, "This feels momentous." On another occasion he referred to an "insurance policy" in the event Trump won the election and after November 8, he openly mused about impeachment.

After reviewing more than 9,000 text messages, the inspector general reported Strzok's private communications expressed "not only a biased state of mind, but, even more seriously, [implied] a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects."

In spite of Strzok's personal conduct, and the political bias demonstrated by at least four other FBI employees, the inspector general determined that none of this impacted the conclusions reached in the Trump or Clinton probes.

The Wednesday hearing will not be the end of their investigation into political bias at the Department of Justice. According to one Republican, the committees are learning new information that was not included in the inspector general's report.

Peter Strzok is reportedly still working for the FBI.

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