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FBI's Peter Strzok testifies on anti-Trump bias before House panel -- live updates
July 12, 2018
FBI official Peter Strzok is testifying before a joint session before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees on Thursday in what is sure to be a fiery day of questions from lawmakers. Strzok's anti-Trump text messages fueled suspicions of partisan bias over the course of the 2016 election and Hillary Clinton email investigation.
The hearing comes as congressional investigators continue to probe into Department of Justice and FBI oversight after an internal inspector general report criticized leadership at the top levels during the Clinton investigation. While the report ultimately found political bias did not affect the final conclusion of the investigation, it raised serious questions about the FBI's integrity during the contentious election.
In revelations from the report, Strzok exchanged troubling communications with a fellow FBI colleague Lisa Page in which he appeared adamant that they would "stop" then-candidate Trump from ever becoming president.
Page and Strzok both worked on the FBI investigation into Clinton's emails and, later, on special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
The texts, in addition to previously released exchanges, have since given ammunition to the claim from conservatives that Strzok and others in the FBI were actively working against Mr. Trump.
Strzok says the "doesn't recall" writing text suggesting he'd stop Trump
Strzok says a text message suggesting that he would stop then-candidate Trump from being president was written late at night, and "in no way suggested that I or the FBI would take any action" to intervene in Trump's election. He said he also didn't recall writing it but that it was off the cuff and based on Mr. Trump's comments about the Khan family and needs to be understood in the context of the political climate at the time.
"Any suggestion that me, the FBI, would taken any action improperly impact the electoral process I take great offense and disagreement about what it was or wasn't," said Strzok.
He added, "at no time, in any text did those personal beliefs enter into the realm of any action I took." A round of applause is heard in the hearing chamber as Strzok's impassioned defense of his actions ends.
Members break into argument over Strzok's refusal to answer question
Strzok objects to questions related to Russian interference as Gowdy continues to press the agent on specifics on the FBI's probe into possible collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
"I understand your question and would like to answer. As you know, the counsel of the FBI have directed me not to answer any questions about any questions about ongoing investigations," Strzok replies.
Chairman Goodlatte and Nadler then broke out into a sparring match over points of order of the hearing and the agent's refusal to answer the question.
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 12: Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok waits to testify before a joint committee hearing of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill July 12, 2018 in Washington, DC.
MARK WILSON / GETTY IMAGES
"I believe I am here voluntarily. I will not, based on direction by the FBI to me, based on that I will not answer that question because it goes to matters related to ongoing investigations taken by the special counsel," Strzok tells Chairman Goodlatte.
"You haven't given a good legal reason to not answer. Your testimony is critical to this investigation. I am specifically directing you to answer the question to not answer. Your testimony is critical to this investigation. I am specifically directing you to answer the question," Goodlatte demanded.
Goodlatte then threatened that Strzok could be held in contempt for not answering questions. The chairman also refused for Strzok to confer with FBI counsel during the hearing.
Cummings causes stir in hearing with photos
CBS News' Olivia Gazis says that Rep. Elijah Cummings caused a momentary stir as signs of those who have pleaded guilty to date in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe are raised during his opening remarks.
Strzok expresses "significant regret"
Strzok expresses "significant regret" that his text messages caused confusion and pain for the people he loves in his opening remarks.
"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 years," he said.
Trey Gowdy says Strzok struggles to define bias
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, says Strzok has a "self-serving definition of bias" and had struggled to define bias during his 10-hour deposition behind closed doors some two weeks ago. He said that Strzok had Clinton winning the White House even before the election took place.
"We're a 100 percent country when it comes to having law enforcement that doesn't pre-judge guilt and punishment before an investigation begins," said Gowdy.
He added, "A fair, bias-free investigation is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it's an American issue -- or at least it used to be."
Nadler says Strzok, Page affair "not relevant"
Ranking Member Jerry Nadler tells committee members that Strzok's alleged relationship with Lisa Page is not relevant to the committee's hearing on Thursday, saying "I hope I can expect better behavior from my colleagues" than that of President Trump who has repeatedly tweeted about the two colleagues alleged affair.
"You don't have to like him but you have to treat him and any witness before us with respect," Nadler added.
Chairman Goodlatte impores Dems to imagine the shoe on the other foot
Chairman Bob Goodlatte urges Democrats to stop saying today's hearing "doesn't matter", saying to imagine if instead of President Trump, Strzok was saying disparaging comments about President Obama or Hillary Clinton.
"For those who think we are wasting time in this committee, suppose all of this had been said about candidate Obama before he was elected, or even more topical, about Hillary Clinton while she was running in the same election. Would we be where we are today? The only honest answer is an absolute affirmative, "YES"! Of course we would be here because every single Democrat would be protesting bias and discrimination against their preferred candidates by an out-of-control FBI and DOJ. So please stop saying this doesn't matter and is only the product of conspiracy theory," Goodlatte told the committee.
Strzok calls hearing a "notch in Putin's belt"
"I understand we are living in a political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity. But the honest truth is that Russian interference in our elections constitutes a grave attack on our democracy. Most disturbingly, it has been wildly successful - sowing discord in our nation and shaking faith in our institutions. I have the utmost respect for Congress's oversight role, but I truly believe that today's hearing is just another victory notch in Putin's belt and another milestone in our enemies' campaign to tear America apart," Strzok says in prepared remarks of Thursday's hearing.
He adds that it's "profoundly painful to watch and even worse to play a part in."
Strzok claims to have had damaging info in 2016 on Trump campaign
In prepared remarks, Strzok says he had information in the summer of 2016 about efforts to interfere with the U.S. elections and connections between foreign governments and the Trump campaign that could have derailed the campaign.
"In the summer of 2016, I was one of a handful of people who knew the details of Russian election interference and its possible connections with members of the Trump campaign. This information had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump. But the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind," Strzok says in prepared remarks of his testimony.
He adds, "In the summer of 2016, we had an urgent need to protect the integrity of an American Presidential election from a hostile foreign power determined to weaken and divide the United States of America. This investigation is not politically motivated, it is not a witch hunt, it is not a hoax."
Strzok defends texts in prepared remarks
In excerpts of prepared remarks, Strzok claims that his opinions in questionable text messages were "expressed out of deep patriotism and an unyielding belief in our great American democracy."
"At times my criticism was blunt, but despite how it's been characterized, it was not limited to one person or one party - I criticized various countries and politicians, including Secretary Clinton, Senator Sanders, then-candidate Trump and others," Strzok is prepared to tell lawmakers.
Strzok also reiterates the DOJ IG's findings that at no point did his political and personal opinions "impact any official action I took."
"After months of investigations, there is simply no evidence of bias in my professional actions," Strzok says in prepared remarks.
What did the IG report find?
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz told lawmakers last month that as a result of the report's findings, the FBI found two additional FBI agents beyond Strzok and Page as well as one attorney that exposed political bias during the investigation. While employees have a right to a political opinion, "their job is to check them at the door" Horowitz said.
"The one thing I thought we all understood, you're entitled to be and should be part of the public, government, democracy we live in, when you get in the office you leave your views outside when you walk in the door," the IG said.
Horowitz explained that the most troubling aspect of Strzok and Page's exchanges was the fact that they thought their messages were private when they weren't.
"They were using their FBI devices, sometimes at work, sometimes not at work, to speak about individuals that they were investigating. They weren't just speaking about a generic election," he said, adding that Page and Strzok had "tied their discussions to their investigate work and that's what's concerning."
"My view of this was that this was extremely serious, completely antithetical to the core values of the department," Horowitz said of the largely anti-Trump and politically biased messages exchanged. Horowitz reiterated, however, that through the investigation, "we didn't find or see evidence prosecutors were impacted by that bias."
Horowitz said that Strzok "exhibited" some form of bias but that decisions made by others during the Clinton investigation "were not infected by that bias."
What about those texts?
The content of Strzok's text messages are expected to be raised in detail during Thursday's hearing. The FBI employee disparaged Mr. Trump in communications with Page throughout the course of the campaign, including referring to then-candidate Trump as an "idiot" and making fun of Trump supporters.
During the campaign, Strzok led the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private server while she was secretary of state. The texts sent between Page and Strzok are dated between August 2015 and December 2016, the duration of the campaign. They raised concerns about Strzok's impartiality and will likely prompt more questions about the investigation into Clinton's server.
Strzok, who was assigned to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling and ties to Trump associates, was ultimately dismissed from the team over the exchanges. Page
For conservatives who are going to be surprised and the even worse centrists who don't think a massive arrest is coming.
Rep Cicilline says they are going to release the transcripts
They are talking about releasing the closed door session the Republicans are terrified the public will see
Separate names with a comma.