I watched the entire Congressional hearing with FBI Agent Peter Strzok on July 12, 2018. Factually there was nothing new. We the public were already aware of the series of unprofessional, inappropriate text messages between Agent Strzok and Lisa Page expressing negative views of then candidate Donald Trump. The Inspector General Report was old news. It concluded that while the text messages were improper and deserving of disciplinary action, there was no evidence whatsoever that there was any bias in the investigation or acts related thereto. There were layers of review for any of Strzok’s actions or decision. Robert Mueller’s Investigation was continuing at breakneck speed, already having produced over 20 indictments, guilty-pleas by 4 defendants connected to the Trump campaign and Russia, and Paul Manafort’s trial on the verge of commencing. Mueller fired Strzok over a year ago immediately upon learning of the texts, thus preserving the integrity of the investigation against the appearance of any bias.
The hearing was held before a joint session of the House Judiciary and House Oversight Committees, chaired by Bob Goodlatte and Trey Gowdy respectively. The purpose of the hearing soon became clear. The Trump cover-up effort was determined to have another circus in Congress to continue to denigrate the FBI and attempt to discredit the investigation in anticipation and abject fear of ultimate proof surfacing against President Trump and his team. The Committee Chairs already knew about the additional indictments Mueller was about the file days later against 12 Russian intelligence officials for their hacking and election conspiracy efforts. They knew it was only a matter of time before Americans, at least some associated with Trump (including Roger Stone), would start being indicted for these crimes. Goodlatte and Gowdy, along with their Freedom Caucus partners, were determined to do everything possible to undermine the Mueller investigation, protect President Trump, and deny much needed protection to U.S. electoral systems so as not to admit Russian interference.
Prior to Strzok’s testimony, Chairs Goodlatte and Gowdy met with representatives of the FBI and agreed to the terms by which Agent Strzok could appear and testify. Strzok clearly wanted to testify without any constraints, but the FBI rightfully insisted on maintaining the critical, longstanding rules protecting information related to ongoing criminal investigations. Astonishingly, at the very outset, Goodlatte and Gowdy immediately asked Strzok questions concerning areas they knew the FBI prohibited him from discussing and badgered him about his inability to answer. Clearly, they just wanted to discredit Strzok and the FBI with little interest in the truth or what Strzok had to say. Their intent was more apparent when throughout the hearing Republicans attempted to prevent Strzok from answering their questions or addressing the serious allegations they raised.
In his opening statement, Strzok admitted the wrongfulness of the texts, stated he regretted his actions, and apologized for the consequences. He was adamant that at no time did he allow his personal political beliefs to affect any official actions he took on the investigation. The independent IG Investigation determined that in fact Strzok’s personal political beliefs, despite the wrongfulness of the texts, had absolutely no impact on the investigation. As Strzok and the IG both separately stated, there were sufficient layers of supervision and review to prevent improper motivation from influencing the investigation. Republicans stubbornly ignore this fact, as it disproves their narrative about bias. Impassioned at times while attempting to address the barrage of allegations, Strzok was overall unflappable, performing above any expectations. At the end of the day, it maters little what his beliefs and motivations were. Expressing such strong political beliefs in the texts was clearly wrong and deserving of the sanction coming his way.
Freedom Caucus members Jordan, Gohmert, et al, joined Goodlatte and Gowdy in the often-vicious attempt to suggest that Strzok’s texts invalidated the entire Mueller investigation and that Strzok should have recused himself because of his views. Strzok was never going to admit he acted with bias in the investigation and there was no evidence that any of his official actions were improper. He had limited involvement with the investigation before Mueller fired him over a year ago immediately upon learning of the texts. Mueller fired Strzok because he was wrong to text and Mueller needed to remove even the appearance of any bias. There were no improper actions relative to the actual investigation itself and Republicans had no evidence of any to offer in support of their outrageous assertions. Even if Strzok had attempted impropriety in his work, his fellow agents and multiple layers of review would have prevented it, a fact Republican ignored in their inquisition.
Republicans were clearly flustered by Strzok’s ability hold his own and withstand their brutal attacks. Rep Gohmert sunk so low at one point that he despicably brought Strzok’s wife into things. That’s a line never to cross. Republicans were completely disinterested in the fact that Strzok also criticized Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and several other politicians, not just Trump or Republicans. They also refused to address the fact that Strzok could easily have released information pertaining to the Trump investigation prior to the election, thus likely damaging the campaign, but made no effort to do so. These are critical acts when examining his actions in this matter, yet Republicans tried to bury them. The Freedom Caucus cover-up effort failed so badly that Fox News opted to cut away from live coverage and focus on unrelated stories rather than show the humiliating and unprofessional display by Republican members. Even Fox could not spin this into a valid search for truth.
As this was the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, Devin Nunes, the lead Trump cover-up agent, was not present. However, Goodlatte, Gowdy, Jordan, Gohmert, and the rest of the Trump cover-up cabal sufficiently embarrassed themselves and Congress without him. The Freedom/Russia Caucus continued to work against the interests of the United States and the American people. They lost their composure, engaged in endless character attacks, tried to block Strzok from even speaking, and clearly evidenced an organized plan focused on covering up the Trump Russia connection and ignoring the continuing peril of ongoing Russian interference in elections.
Freedom/Russia Caucus efforts directly support Vladimir Putin and Russia’s ongoing efforts to undermine our democracy. They are desperate to preserve power at any cost and that cost is high. They are sacrificing the integrity of our elections, denigrating the FBI and rule of law, and preventing Russia from being held accountable for hostile acts against the U.S. The Russia Caucus has been working to support Putin’s interests and against the interests of the American people. They foment discord amongst the American people to create distrust of our institutions aimed at preventing any action from being taken against President Trump or any member of his team for actions in concert with Russia related to the 2016 election. It is extremely shameful, a violation of their oath and responsibility, and certainly raises questions about their own obstruction of justice.
President Trump’s response continues to be ridiculous claims of a witch hunt. Rather than try and focus attention on Russia’s clearly proven, extremely dangerous actions and away from allegations pertaining to he and his campaign, Trump tries to dismiss the entire matter. As there is ample evidence of Russia’s actions, overwhelming consensus from the intelligence agencies, and across the board acceptance by even his own cabinet (Pompeo, Mattis, Coats), Trump he forfeits all credibility and abdicates his leadership responsibilities by these false assertions. It is long time for accountability – for all.