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GOP lawmakers threaten FBI agent Peter Strzok with contempt for refusing to answer questions on Mueller probe
Peter Strzok, the former lead agent on FBI investigations into
both Hillary Clinton and the Trump campaign, testifies publicly before
sparred with FBI agent Peter Strzok from the very first question at a
hearing Thursday over politically charged investigations, threatening
him with a contempt citation for refusing, at the direction of an FBI
lawyer, not to answer questions about the ongoing investigation into
Russian interference in the 2016 election.
who was the lead agent on FBI probes into Hillary Clinton and the Trump
campaign and is now the subject of an internal misconduct probe, was
asked by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the House Oversight and
Government Reform Committee, how many individuals he interviewed in the
first week of the Russia probe in the summer of 2016.
will not, based on direction of the FBI … answer that question, because
it goes to matters which are related to the ongoing investigations
being undertaken by the special counsel’s office,” Strzok replied, at a
joint hearing of the Judiciary and Oversight committees.
that point, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary
Committee, interjected, threatening Strzok with a contempt citation if
he did not answer the question.
“Mr. Strzok, you are under subpoena and are required to answer the question,” Goodlatte said.
immediately challenged Goodlatte, accusing him of treating Strzok
unfairly and seeking unsuccessfully to adjourn the hearing.
agent Peter Strzok arrives for a closed-door hearing on June 27, before
the House Judiciary Committee. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
opening the hearing, Goodlatte said Strzok and other senior FBI
officials “turned our system of justice on its head, and that’s why
we’re here, and why this matters.”
Democrat on the panel, Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), urged Republicans not to
use the Strzok hearing to attack special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
“I know that the majority wants a fight with Mr. Strzok today,” Nadler said. “Leave the special counsel alone to do his job.”
appearance at a joint hearing of the Judiciary and Oversight and
Government Reform committees was highly charged from the very first
question, as he faced off against GOP lawmakers who have long denounced
Strzok, a deputy assistant
director at the FBI who oversaw counterintelligence cases, was removed
from the Trump probe by Mueller n July 2017. At that time, investigators
for the Justice Department inspector general discovered text messages
between him and then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page in which they repeatedly
disparaged Trump and expressed a strong desire that he not win the
Strzok’s work at the FBI became the subject of intense political battles in Congress after The Washington Post reported in December he
and Page, who had been involved in a romantic relationship, were under
investigation by the inspector general over their texts. Page left the
FBI earlier this year; Strzok is the focus of an internal investigation
that could lead to his firing, but he is still technically an employee
of the bureau.
“I testify today with
significant regret, recognizing that my texts have created confusion and
caused pain for people I love,” Strzok said. “Certain private messages
of mine have provided ammunition for misguided attacks against the FBI,
an institution I love deeply and have served proudly for more than 20
Strzok denied his political opinions influenced the investigations.
once in my 26 years of defending my nation did my personal opinions
impact any official action I took,” Strzok said. “There is simply no
evidence of bias in my professional actions.”
also said Thursday’s hearing is “is just another victory notch in
[Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s belt and another milestone in our
enemies’ campaign to tear America apart,” calling it “profoundly painful
to watch and even worse to play a part in.”
one 2016 text exchange, Page wrote: “He’s not ever going to become
president, right? Right?!” — to which Strzok answered, “No. No he won’t.
We’ll stop it.”
The inspector general found no
evidence that investigative decisions were affected by the political
bias of Page, Strzok or others at the FBI, but issued a report that was nevertheless harshly critical of their conduct, saying the texts exhibited a willingness to take official action to prevent Trump from becoming president.
has already spoken at length to the House Judiciary Committee behind
closed doors; Democrats have demanded — without success — that the
Republican-controlled committee release the transcripts.
Wednesday, House Republicans signaled they may try to hold Page in
contempt of Congress unless she agrees to testify by Friday about her
role in the FBI’s probes.
Page served as the chief legal adviser to the FBI’s then-deputy director, Andrew McCabe.
and Strzok were both part of a small group of senior FBI officials who
handled both the Clinton and Trump probes. Within the FBI, those
officials were often referred to as the “skinny group” because then-FBI
Director James B. Comey and others sought to keep a tight grip on
details of those investigations.
supporters in Congress have accused Strzok and Page of steering the
Clinton probe away from criminal charges and pushing the FBI to
aggressively investigate Trump advisers through electronic surveillance
and confidential informants. They accuse FBI leadership of making
investigative decisions for political reasons and have long sought to
question Strzok and other FBI officials about how those cases were
Trump has repeatedly belittled Strzok
publicly. On Saturday, the president tweeted: “The Rigged Witch Hunt,
originally headed by FBI lover boy Peter S (for one year) & now, 13
Angry Democrats . . . It’s a Democrat Con Job!”
said Friday the committees had reached an agreement to question her
behind closed doors on Friday, following an angry back and forth with
Page’s lawyer Amy Jeffress over what she called “bullying tactics” by
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) charged that Page had made it “very difficult to even serve her with a subpoena.”
idea that she was willing to come voluntarily and this is all about
document review that she’s had the ability to review for seven months —
many of which she wrote, by the way — it just does not hold water,”
Meadows said, complaining that a U.S. Marshal had to deliver Page the
subpoena early in the morning.