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Peter Strzok

Yelling, chaos over FBI agent's anti-Trump texts

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Updated July 12, 2018 12:32 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — FBI special agent Peter Strzok says a text message saying "we'll stop" the election of Donald Trump was written in response to a series of events including Trump's "disgusting" insult of the family of a fallen American soldier.

Peter Strzok
FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok is seated before the the House Committees on the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform prior to a hearing on "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election," on Capitol Hill, Thursday, July 12, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Strzok says in congressional testimony that the text reflected his view that the American people would not elect someone "demonstrating that behavior." Strzok says the comment was in no way a suggestion that he or the FBI would take action to improperly sway the election.

Strzok made the comments in response to heated questioning by Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican. Strzok appeared to refer to derogatory statements Trump made about the family of U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004.

Updated July 12, 2018 12:32 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — A joint House hearing to question FBI agent Peter Strzok quickly devolved into chaos as Republicans demanded he answer questions about the Russia investigation.

Peter Strzok
FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok testifies before the House Committees on the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform during a hearing on "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election," on Capitol Hill, Thursday, July 12, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican and Democratic lawmakers openly yelled at one another as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte said Strzok needed to answer GOP questions and suggested they might recess the hearing and hold him in contempt.

Strzok said he could not answer a question about the early stages of the FBI investigation into Russian intervention because the probe is still ongoing and FBI counsel had instructed him not to. Democrats objected to Goodlatte's repeated attempts to get Strzok to answer.

At one point, Goodlatte told Strzok he could only consult with his own lawyer, not an FBI lawyer.

Goodlatte eventually let the hearing proceed without calling the panel into recess.

Updated July 12, 2018 12:32 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican chairman of the House oversight committee says FBI special agent Peter Strzok exhibited "textbook bias" as he investigated both Democrat Hillary Clinton and President Donald Trump's campaign.

Peter Strzok
FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok is sworn in before the the House Committees on the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform during a hearing on "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election," on Capitol Hill, Thursday, July 12, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina says Strzok in his mind had Clinton "winning the White House" before he finished her investigation but had Trump "impeached" before he began working on the probe of his campaign ties to Russia. Gowdy was citing derogatory comments Strzok made in text messages while working on the investigations.

Strzok is testifying publicly on Capitol Hill for the first time since the release of a Justice Department inspector general report that heavily criticized his comments. Strzok says he never allowed personal opinions to taint his work.

Updated July 12, 2018 12:32 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte is defending the Republican-led House investigation into the Justice Department as the committee opens a hearing to question former FBI agent Peter Strzok.

Bob Goodlatte
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., questions FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok during a hearing on "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election," on Capitol Hill, Thursday, July 12, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

He says the investigation "goes to the very heart of our system of justice, one that is supposed to be fair and treat everyone equally under the law."

The committee is questioning Strzok because he traded texts criticizing President Donald Trump with an FBI lawyer. Both worked on the FBI investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton's emails and later special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Democrats have said the investigation is an attempt to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. As the hearing began, Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings had staffers hold up large signs of people who have pleaded guilty in Mueller's probe.

WASHINGTON (AP) — An FBI agent whose anti-Trump text messages fueled suspicions of partisan bias will tell lawmakers Thursday that his work has never been tainted by politics and that the intense scrutiny he is facing represents "just another victory notch in Putin's belt," according to prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press.

Peter Strzok, who helped lead FBI investigations into Hillary Clinton's email use and potential coordination between Russia and Donald Trump's campaign, was testifying publicly for the first time since being removed from special counsel Robert Mueller's team following the discovery of the derogatory text messages last year.

Peter Strzok
FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, center, arrives before the House Committees on the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform hearing on "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election," on Capitol Hill, Thursday, July 12, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

He will say in his opening statement that he has never allowed personal opinions to infect his work, that he knew information during the campaign that had the potential to damage Trump but never contemplated leaking it and that the focus on him by Congress is misguided and plays into "our enemies' campaign to tear America apart."

FBI Agent Peter Strzok says personal opinions did not impact official business

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Republican members of the House judiciary and oversight committees were expected to grill Strzok for hours as they argue that the text messages with FBI lawyer Lisa Page color the outcome of the Clinton email investigation and undercut the FBI's ongoing investigation into Russian election interference. Trump himself has launched personal attacks against the two FBI officials, including a Wednesday evening tweet that asked "how can the Rigged Witch Hunt proceed when it was started, influenced and worked on, for an extended period of time" by Strzok. He described the texts as "hate filled and biased."

In the prepared remarks, Strzok acknowledges that while his text message criticism was "blunt," it was not directed at one person or political party and included jabs not only at Trump but also at Clinton as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders. He said there was "simply no evidence of bias in my professional actions."

"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," he will say.

He says that he was one of the few people during the 2016 election who knew the details of Russian election interference and its possible connections with people in the Trump orbit, and that that information could have derailed Trump's election chances. "But," he said, "the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind."

Although Strzok has said through his lawyer that he was eager to tell his side of the story, he makes clear his exasperation at being the focal point of a congressional hearing at a time when Russian election interference has been successfully "sowing discord in our nation and shaking faith in our institutions."

Peter Strzok
FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, center, arrives to a hearing of the House Committees on the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform on "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election," on Capitol Hill, Thursday, July 12, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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"I have the utmost respect for Congress's oversight role, 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," Strzok will say, according to the remarks. "As someone who loves this country and cherishes its ideals, it is profoundly painful to watch and even worse to play a part in."

He also flatly rejected the president's characterizations of Mueller's work and the threat of Russian election interference, saying, "This investigation is not politically motivated, it is not a witch hunt, it is not a hoax."

The sharp tone of Strzok's statement sets the stage for a contentious hearing following hours of closed-door questioning last week. It also reflected an effort to shift attention away from the content of Strzok's texts and onto what he says is the more pressing issue: the Russians' "grave attack" on American democracy and continuing efforts to divide the country.

But that's unlikely to be the focus of Thursday's hearing. Republicans eager for ways to discredit Mueller's investigation have for months held up the texts from Strzok and Page to support allegations of anti-Trump bias within federal law enforcement. One message that has received particular attention, and is likely to be discussed at the hearing, is an Aug. 8, 2016 text in which Strzok, discussing with Page the prospect of a Trump win, says, "No. No he won't. We'll stop it."

The Justice Department's inspector general has criticized Strzok and Page for creating the appearance of impropriety through the texts. But the report said it found no evidence of political bias in the FBI's decision to not pursue criminal charges against Clinton. And many Democrats say actions taken by law enforcement during the campaign season — including announcing a reopening of the investigation into Clinton just days before the election — actually wound up harming the Democratic candidate and aiding the Republican candidate, Trump.

FBI Director Chris Wray says the FBI has referred to internal disciplinary officials employees who were singled out for criticism in the inspector general's report. Strzok's lawyer has said he was escorted from the FBI building last month as the disciplinary process winds its way through the system.

Page left the bureau in May. House lawmakers have subpoenaed her to appear for a private interview and warned her that they would begin the process of holding her in contempt if she does not show this week. Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, told CNN that Page had agreed to appear for the interview on Friday.

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