FBI official Peter Strzok’s first public hearing tumbled into a rancorous and heated political fracas on Thursday, as Republicans clashed with Democrats as well as the former investigator over his anti-Trump texts — and even threatened contempt for initially refusing to answer questions on the Russia probe.
Strzok, throughout it all, remained defiant and maintained he did not show bias in those infamous messages with former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
Republicans sharply disputed that assessment, with Rep. Darrell Issa later making Strzok read examples of those texts aloud. Among them, Strzok read one message where he called Trump a “disaster,” and another calling him an “idiot.”
The initial contempt threat surfaced after House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) questioned “how many witnesses” Strzok interviewed before an August 2016 text from Strzok to Page stating “we’ll stop” then-candidate Trump from becoming president.
Strzok said he was not able to answer the question based on instructions from FBI counsel. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) rejected Strzok’s claim.
“Mr. Strzok, you are under subpoena and required to answer the question,” Goodlatte said.
This touched off a heated dispute. Judiciary Ranking Member Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) blasted Goodlatte for putting Strzok in an “impossible position,” while Strzok claimed he was there voluntarily. Goodlatte said Strzok could only consult with his own attorney, not the FBI’s. Several other committee members chimed in, blasting top Republicans on the committee, with Nadler even motioning to adjourn the hearing all together.
Goodlatte, instead, said that at the conclusion of the hearing, Strzok would be subject to “recall to allow the committee to consider proceeding with a contempt citation.”
However, hours later after a break in the hearing, Strzok returned to say that he was advised by FBI counsel that he could in fact answer Gowdy’s earlier question.
But after Gowdy asked it again, Strzok replied only: “I don’t recall. I’d have to check the case file.”
“That’s eerily similar to what you said a couple of hours ago. I’m looking for a number,” Gowdy said. “You don’t recall interviews conducted in the first week of an investigation you originated?”
Strzok maintained that he did not remember, which touched off another heated exchange with Gowdy.
It was one of many throughout the hours-long hearing, which began with Strzok asserting that his political opinions were rooted in “deep patriotism.”
Strzok said in his prepared opening statement that …