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Embattled FBI agent to appear before Congress
Peter Strzok, the former lead agent on FBI investigations into both Hillary Clinton and the Trump campaign, is set to testify publicly before Congress Thursday morning, facing off against Republicans who have pilloried him for political bias and accused him of misconduct.
Strzok’s appearance at a joint hearing of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees is expected to be a highly charged confrontation, in which GOP lawmakers, who have long been critical of the FBI’s handling of politically sensitive cases, will have an opportunity to grill him about his personal and professional behavior.
Strzok, a deputy assistant director at the FBI who oversaw counterintelligence cases, was the lead agent in both the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state and the first year of the investigation into whether any Trump associates conspired with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election.
In his prepared testimony, Strzok denies that his political opinions influenced his investigations.
“Not once in my 26 years of defending my nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took,” Strzok says in his prepared remarks. “There is simply no evidence of bias in my professional actions.”
Strzok also plans to say that while he respects Congress, Thursday’s hearing is “is just another victory notch in 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.”
Strzok was removed from the Trump probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in July 2017. At that time, investigators for the Justice Department inspector general discovered 2016 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 election.
Strzok’s work at the FBI became the subject of intense political battles in Congress after The Washington Post reported in December that 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.
In one 2016 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.
Strzok 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.
On 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.
Page 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.
Trump’s 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 handled.
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!”
Strzok’s lawyer has said his client is eager to explain himself publicly and defend the FBI.
The Republican chairmen of the two committees, Reps. Bob Goodlatte (Va.) and Trey Gowdy (S.C.), said in a letter to Page’s lawyer Wednesday that if she doesn’t speak to them by Friday morning, they will initiate contempt proceedings against Page, saying they have been attempting to interview her for six months.
Page’s lawyer, Amy Jeffress, said in a statement that Page needed “clarification of the scope of the Committee’s interest in interviewing her and access to relevant documents” before she sat for an interview with the panels.
Jeffress accused the panels of using unnecessary “bullying tactics” to push Page into an interview immediately, especially when “she has offered to voluntarily appear before the committees later this month.”
“There is no basis for claims that Lisa has anything to hide or is unwilling to testify. The record shows otherwise,” Jeffress said in the statement, stressing that Page had already cooperated with the inspector general’s probe and one other congressional panel. “We expect them to agree to another date so that Lisa can appear before the Committees in the near future.”
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), charged that Page had made it “very difficult to even serve her with a subpoena.”
“The 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.
The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), suggested Wednesday that “the real reason” Republicans were weighing contempt measures against Page was to “set up a dramatic thing” before Strzok’s public interview Thursday.
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