Defiant Strzok testifies anti-Trump texts rooted in ‘deep patriotism,’ Republicans blast ‘textbook bias’
Strzok said in his prepared opening statement that he has never allowed personal opinions to affect his work, that he knew information during the campaign that had the potential to damage then-candidate Trump but never contemplated leaking it to the press, and that recent congressional focus on him is misguided and plays into “our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”
“Like many people, I had and expressed personal political opinions during an extraordinary presidential election. Many contained expressions of concern for the security of our country,” Strzok said in his opening statement, adding that those opinions were expressed “out of deep patriotism.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy earlier tore into Strzok at the opening of Thursday’s high-profile hearing with the anti-Trump former investigator, saying he showed “textbook bias” on the job.
Gowdy and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte both rattled off a slew of Strzok text messages in which he blasted then-candidate Donald Trump and pined for a Hillary Clinton victory in 2016.
As Strzok observed opening statements from the witness table, Gowdy expressed disbelief that he didn’t view such statements as bias.
In Strzok’s first public hearing, Goodlatte also challenged Democrats to replace Trump’s name in those texts with their own.
“To my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, please replace President Trump’s name with your own name in a small sample of things Mr. Strzok has said,” Goodlatte said. “Envision how you would feel if you found out that the chief agent investigating you as a Member of Congress was making these comments: ‘F Trump,’ ‘Trump is a disaster,’ ‘Just went to a southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support’ – or, perhaps most alarmingly and revealingly, ‘We’ll stop it’ – referring directly to Mr. Trump’s candidacy for President.”
Democrats, in opening statements, blasted their GOP colleagues. Rep. Elijah Cummings highlighted that several Trump-tied figures have already been snagged in the Russia probe.
“These are not allegations, these are admissions,” he said.
Strzok has been in political crosshairs for months over revelations of anti-Trump text messages exchanged with his lover, and former bureau colleague, Lisa Page.
Strzok’s messages were first revealed by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz. The latest text, which was revealed in the inspector general’s report on the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation, showed Strzok vowing to “stop” Trump from becoming president.
GOP leaders are expected to grill Strzok over the slew of Trump-bashing texts he exchanged on his FBI phone while he worked on bureau investigations into Russian election meddling and Hillary Clinton’s email sever. Lawmakers are also expected to press Strzok on the impact of his political bias on any investigative decisions, though Horowitz ultimately found that despite the politically charged messages, there was no evidence that the bias had an impact on any prosecutorial decisions in the Clinton probe.
Strzok was on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team until the text messages were discovered. He was then reassigned to the FBI’s office of human resources. Just last month, Strzok was escorted from the bureau and lost his security clearance.
In his opening statement though, Strzok maintained that while his criticisms of Trump were “blunt,” there is “simply no evidence of bias in my professional actions.”
“Let me be clear, unequivocally and under oath: not once in my 26 years of defending my nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took,” Strzok said Thursday adding that Russian election interference has been successfully “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 said. “As someone who loves this country and cherishes its ideals, it is profoundly painful to watch and even worse to play a part in.”
Strzok also rejected President Trump’s characterization of the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt.”
“This investigation is not politically motivated, it is not a witch hunt, it is not a hoax,” Strzok said.