Peter Strzok hearing chaos: House chair threatens to hold FBI agent in contempt

A House Judiciary Committee hearing quickly spiraled into chaos on Thursday when FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok said he couldn’t answer a question related to the Russia investigation because the FBI’s lawyers had instructed him not to, leading the committee’s chairman, Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to threaten to hold Strzok in contempt.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., asked Strzok — whose anti-Trump text messages led to his removal from the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller — how many interviews he conducted in the first week of the probe.

“Congressman, as you know, counsel for the FBI, based on the special counsel’s equities, has instructed me not to answer questions about the ongoing investigation into Russian attempts to interfere,” Strzok replied.

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FBI Agent Peter Strzok testifies at House Judiciary Hearing
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FBI Agent Peter Strzok testifies at House Judiciary Hearing
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), speaks during a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, speaks as Representative Trey Gowdy, a Republican from South Carolina, left, listens during a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Peter Strzok, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), listens during a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The back of a poster, held by a staff member, reads 'Russia Meeting' during a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Peter Strzok, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), speaks during a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), speaks during a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
US Representative Elijah Cummings(D-MD) and US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform ranking member, speaks as posters of those who have plead guilty to charges stemming from the investigation of the 2016 election by Special Counsel Robert Mueller are displayed during a House Joint committee hearing with witness Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, July 12, 2018. - An FBI agent assailed as biased by Donald Trump after it emerged he railed against the president in private messages with his lover, said Thursday such attacks are bolstering Russia's Vladimir Putin and tearing the United States apart. Ahead of a congressional hearing on alleged anti-Trump bias in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Peter Strzok denied assertions that the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election was a politicized probe targeting the president. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US Representative Elijah Cummings(D-MD) and US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform ranking member, speaks as posters of those who have plead guilty to charges stemming from the investigation of the 2016 election by Special Counsel Robert Mueller are displayed during a House Joint committee hearing with witness Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, July 12, 2018. - An FBI agent assailed as biased by Donald Trump after it emerged he railed against the president in private messages with his lover, said Thursday such attacks are bolstering Russia's Vladimir Putin and tearing the United States apart. Ahead of a congressional hearing on alleged anti-Trump bias in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Peter Strzok denied assertions that the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election was a politicized probe targeting the president. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 12: A television displays a House Oversight Committee hearing with FBI Agent Peter Strzok as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks with reporters during her weekly press conference at the Capitol on July 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. While involved in the probe into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server in 2016, Strzok exchanged text messages with FBI attorney Lisa Page that were critical of Trump. (Photo by Alex Edelman/Getty Images)
Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, arrives to a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Peter Strzok, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Peter Strzok, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, right, talks to Representative Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina, before the start of a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Peter Strzok, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Trey Gowdy, a Republican from South Carolina, left, talks to Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, before the start of a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Peter Strzok, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok testifies on FBI and Department of Justice actions during the 2016 Presidential election during a House Joint committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, July 12, 2018. - An FBI agent assailed as biased by Donald Trump after it emerged he railed against the president in private messages with his lover, said Thursday such attacks are bolstering Russia's Vladimir Putin and tearing the United States apart. Ahead of a congressional hearing on alleged anti-Trump bias in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Peter Strzok denied assertions that the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election was a politicized probe targeting the president. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), center, arrives to a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), right, arrives to a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), swears in to a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Posters of people who have plead guilty in special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the U.S. elections are held by staff members during a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Peter Strzok, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), swears in to a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), swears in to a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), center, waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), center, waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), waits to begin a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok testifies on FBI and Department of Justice actions during the 2016 Presidential election during a House Joint committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, July 12, 2018. - An FBI agent assailed as biased by Donald Trump after it emerged he railed against the president in private messages with his lover, said Thursday such attacks are bolstering Russia's Vladimir Putin and tearing the United States apart. Ahead of a congressional hearing on alleged anti-Trump bias in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Peter Strzok denied assertions that the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election was a politicized probe targeting the president. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Peter Strzok, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), center, arrives to a joint House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform Committees hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Strzok, the FBI agent who exchanged anti-Trump texts with a bureau lawyer, denied he did anything improper, as he faced a hearing called by Republican lawmakers who say he personifies bias that tainted the agency's Russia investigation early on. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Gowdy repeated his question and Strzok repeated his answer, infuriating Goodlatte.

“Mr. Strzok, you are under subpoena and are required to answer the question,” Goodlatte said. “Are you objecting to the question?”

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., interjected.

“Mr. Chairman, I object,” Nadler said. “This demand puts Mr. Strzok in an impossible position. He is still an employee of the FBI, and FBI’s counsel has instructed him not to answer the gentleman’s question. If we have a problem with this policy we should take it up with the FBI, not badger Mr. Strzok.”

“The point of order is not taken,” Goodlatte said.

“It’s right on point,” Nadler replied.

“Are you just going to make up rules as we go along?” Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., asked Goodlatte.

Strzok pointed out that he was not under subpoena and appearing before the committee voluntarily, which appeared to infuriate Goodlatte even more.

“You have not stated a valid, legal basis for not responding to a question directed to you by a member of the United States House of Representatives,” the chairman said, threatening to hold Strzok in contempt.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., countered the suggestion by noting that former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon had also refused to answer questions from the committee.

“Will the committee also consider contempt for Mr. Bannon?” Swalwell asked.

Goodlatte said Swalwell was out of order.

Related: Democrat deftly defends Peter Strzok on the question of anti-Trump bias

Democrats eventually forced a roll-call vote on a motion to overturn the chair’s decision not to recall Bannon for further testimony. Republicans ultimately prevailed, and the motion was defeated.

President Trump and his allies have repeatedly touted text messages between and Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page during the 2016 campaign as proof of bias by Mueller’s probe. Strzok said the disparaging comments were merely political commentary between colleagues during a remarkably heated election.

In one contentious exchange with Gowdy, Strzok said he didn’t “appreciate” the chairman’s interpretation of his text messages.

“I don’t give a damn what you appreciate,” Gowdy replied. “I don’t appreciate having an FBI agent with an unprecedented level of animus working on two major investigations in 2016.”

Strzok said one of the text messages — which read “we will stop it” — was an emotional response to Trump’s treatment of a Gold Star father on the campaign trail.

“That was written late at night, off the cuff,” Strzok told the panel. “And it was in response to a series of events that included then-candidate Trump insulting the immigrant family of a fallen war hero, and my presumption based on that horrible, disgusting behavior that the American population would not elect somebody demonstrating that behavior to be president of the United States.”

In another tense exchange, Strzok said his texts in no way influenced the FBI’s investigation.

“I take great offense and I take great disagreement to your assertion,” Strzok told Gowdy. “Furthermore, this isn’t just me sitting here telling you — you don’t have to take my word for it. At every step, at every investigative decision, there were multiple layers of people above me — the assistant director, the deputy assistant director, deputy director and director of the FBI. And multiple layers of people below me — section chiefs, supervisors, unit chiefs, case agents and analysts — all of whom were involved in all of these decisions. They would not tolerate any improper behavior in me any more than I would tolerate it in them.”

“That is who we are as the FBI,” Strzok said. “And the suggestion that I in some dark chamber somewhere would somehow cast aside all of these procedures, all of these safeguards, and somehow be able to do this is astounding to me. It simply couldn’t happen.”

The fireworks weren’t done.

During the afternoon session, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, accused Strzok of lying to lawmakers during his closed-door testimony last month when Strzok testified for more than 11 hours before the committee in a private setting.

“I told some of the other guys, ‘He is really good,’” Gohmert said. “’He’s lying. He knows we know he’s lying. And he could probably pass a polygraph.’”

Cicilline demanded that Gohmert withdraw his allegation and called Gohmert’s comments a “disgrace.”

“No, the disgrace is what this man has done to our justice system!” Gohmert cried out, before turning back to Strzok. “I can’t help but wonder when I see you looking there with a little smirk, how many times did you look so innocent into your wife’s eyes and lie to her about Lisa Page?”

Democrats on the panel erupted.

“This is insane!” one shouted.

“Do you need your medication?” shouted another.

Strzok was eventually allowed to respond: “The fact that you would question whether or not that was the sort of look I would engage with a family member I have acknowledged hurting goes more to a discussion about your character and what you stand and what is going on inside you for than it does me.”

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