The FBI’s Peter Strzok said anti-Trump text messages he sent his lover and FBI colleague were sparked by the President’s behavior, including his “disgusting” insult aimed at the family of a fallen U.S. soldier.
The special agent on Thursday addressed the inflammatory messages for the first time in his testimony before a joint session of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees Thursday morning.
The digital exchange with former FBI lawyer Lisa Page has made him a focus of Republicans and conservatives critical of the Russia collusion probe. They’ve specifically honed in on one text from the FBI employee, saying “we’ll stop” the election of President Trump.
But Strzok emphasized the late-night message “in no way suggested that I or the FBI would take any action” to intervene in the democratic process. Instead, the text offers a window into his “personal opinions” in wake of several of the President’s controversial public appearances. He seemed to specifically reference comments Trump made about the family of U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004.
His remarks were in response to Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), whose line of questioning sparked a fiery debate between lawmakers before Strozk had the opportunity to answer a single question.
When asked how many people he questioned in the early days of the Russia probe, Strzok declined to respond.
“I understand your questions and would like to answer. As you know the counsel of the FBI have directed me not to answer any questions about ongoing investigations,” Strzok responded, which sparked bickering between Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and House Judiciary Committee chair Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).
Goodlatte, raising his voice over grumbles and shouts from fellow lawmakers, repeatedly told Strzok he did not provide “good legal reason not to answer” the query.
He at one point even threatened agent with a contempt citation while Rep. Bonnie Watson (D-N.J.) accused her colleagues across the aisle of engaging in harassment.
Trump and his allies have long raged about the series of texts, claiming that it proves Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe is rooted in bias and ultimately compromised — claims Strzok has continued to reject.
“The investigation is not politically motivated, it is not a witch hunt, it is not a hoax,” he said.
Strzok added that while his criticisms of Trump have been “blunt,” there has been “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 said, going on to dub the hearing “another victory notch in Putin’s belt.”
Strzok played a primary role in the federal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server and was also a member of Mueller’s team until Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz uncovered his string of Trump-bashing texts.
"The moment special counsel Bob Mueller found out about Peter Strzok's texts and emails he kicked him off of the investigation," Gowdy said.
"But that was a year and a half too late. The text and emails may have been discovered in May of 2017 but the bias existed and was manifested a year and a half before that. All the way back to late 2015 and early 2016. So it wasn't the discovery of texts that got him fired, it was the bias manifest in those texts that made him unfit to objectively and dispassionately investigate."
Strzok said it was not his bias, but the “appearance” of bias that got him booted from the collusion investigation and reassigned to the FBI’s office of human resources. He continued on to accuse Gowdy of misrepresenting his testimony, noting that he did not “appreciate it.”
“I don’t give a damn what you appreciate,” Gowdy fired back.
Goodlatte, referring to another well-known text message — “Just went a southern Virginia Walmart,” he wrote. “I could SMELL the Trump support.” — further pressed Strzok on his perceived biased.
“What does Trump support smell like?” he asked.
Strzok said he intended to express “the extraordinary difference in the expression of political opinion” in the text, which he dubbed “flippant.”
In his report, Horowitz described misconduct in some of the top FBI officials behind the Clinton investigation. He specifically singled out Strzok, but found no evidence his personal perspectives affected the email probe.
The inspector general is still investigating whether he influenced the Russia probe.
The tension-filled hearing comes a day after Page was slated to testify behind closed doors on Wednesday. The former FBI lawyer opted to defy a congressional subpoena, with her lawyers citing “bullying tactics” and a lack of time for preparation.
GOP lawmakers have vowed to hold her in contempt if she does not appear before Congress by Friday morning.
Trump, who arrived to protesters in the UK Thursday, tweeted furiously about Strzok and Page.
“Ex-FBI LAYER Lisa Page today defied a House of Representative issued Subpoena to testify before Congress! Wow, but is anybody surprised! Together with her lover, FBI Agent Peter Strzok, she worked on the rigged Witch Hunt, perhaps the most tainted and corrupt case ever!” the President wrote Wednesday.
“How can the Rigged Witch Hunt proceed when it was started, influenced and worked on, for an extended period of time, by former FBI Agent/Lover Peter Strzok. Read his hate-filled and totally biased Emails and the answer is clear!”