Former FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok was heatedly questioned during a hearing Thursday about his hesitance to join an investigation that might not lead to the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) brought up two sets of text messages Strzok sent about Trump. He said in the first text message Gowdy cited that “they would be lucky if he resigned.” He later said that he was hesitating to join an investigation targeting the president because he didn’t think there was anything there.
In one of the messages, sent a day after special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe was launched in May 2017, Strzok said, “For me, and this case, I personally have a sense of unfinished business.”
In the second text, sent the same day, Strzok said, “You and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.”
Gowdy argued Strzok’s texts indicated he was reluctant to join the Mueller probe because he doubted it would go anywhere against Trump.
“So, in addition to disappointing the hell out my Democratic colleagues, that someone who was investigating Russian collusion didn’t think there was any ‘there there,’ why would you be concerned?” Gowdy said. “Why wouldn’t you be ecstatic that there was no Russian collusion? Why the word ‘concern’?”
Strzok countered that he was drawing contradictory assertions, that he wanted to impeach the president and thought there wasn’t anything there. Strzok argued that he was actually looking at everything with an open mind and keeping both possibilities.
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“The reality is, and you know full well, I said both,” Strzok said. “And you know why I said both, why I said that, and what I am telling you under oath is that I did not know what existed. I had prejudged nothing. That was to be determined, and that was a logical way [for] investigators and attorneys to approach an investigation.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller has been leading the investigation, which is looking into whether the president or his associates colluded with Russian interests during the 2016 presidential campaign. Strzok did end up joining the investigation but was removed in August 2017 after his texts attacking the president were revealed internally.
Strzok previously managed the FBI’s 2016 investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct official business while she was secretary of state. Congressional Republicans have scrutinized how the bureau handled the investigation as part of their review.
Strzok became a focus of the congressional investigations for sending out the politically charged text messages before and while he was investigating the president. He was asked during the hearing why he didn’t recuse himself, given his opposition to the president. Strzok was texting with former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, with whom he was having an affair.
The House Judiciary Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee launched the joint investigation last year into decisions made by the Department of Justice and FBI in 2016. Congressional Republicans have been fighting with the agencies for documents related to the special counsel probe and the email investigation.
Strzok refused to answer numerous questions throughout the hearing by citing FBI counsel advice that he not talk about ongoing investigations. Gowdy, for instance, asked him whether he was drawing conclusions in investigations before interviewing witnesses and gathering all the facts — which he refused to answer.
“The gentleman has not raised the attorney-client privilege,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said during a heated exchange with Democrats. “He has said that he has been instructed by the FBI not to answer the question. Now he knows the advice I have just given him — if you’d like, I’ll restate it, but knowing this, will you answer the committees’ question as directed, or do you refuse?”
Goodlatte also threatened Strzok with contempt proceedings if he continued to refuse to cooperate. Goodlatte and Gowdy said the same thing in a letter to Page the day prior, after she refused to comply with a subpoena. Amy Jeffress, her lawyer, claimed they needed more time to prepare. Page left the bureau in May 2017.
Strzok already testified during two closed-door hearings that went late into the night on June 27. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and other Republicans said their concerns about bias weren’t satisfied, while Democrats dismissed the hearing as yet another example of House Republicans trying to undermine the special counsel investigation.
Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a review of the email investigation on June 7. The report cited the text messages as a sign there was bias against the president, but concluded there was no evidence the bias played a role in the decision-making process.