House lawmakers are poised to question Peter Strzok on Thursday in what is sure to be a lengthy, tense standoff between Republicans and the FBI agent who once worked on special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE's investigation into Russia's election interference.
Strzok has been in Republicans' sights for several months after a Justice Department inspector general investigation revealed that he exchanged text messages before the 2016 election that were critical of Donald Trump with Lisa Page, a former FBI lawyer with whom he was having an affair at the time.
Mueller promptly removed Strzok from the Russia investigation when the messages were revealed, but Republicans have zeroed in on him as key to uncovering what they allege was systemic FBI bias against Trump during the election. Democrats, meanwhile, have cast the effort as a politically-driven charade.
Lawmakers questioned Strzok behind closed doors late last month — now, those on the House Oversight and Government Reform and Judiciary committees will have the opportunity to question him publicly.
Strzok is under subpoena to testify before the committees in the public hearing.
Goodlatte gavels out hearing after 10 hours
After 10 hours of questioning – the last few devoted to rehashing facts already known and old storylines – House Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteThe job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden MORE (R-Va.) gaveled out Thursday's hearing.
The chairman thanked Strzok for his testimony but said it was “extraordinarily frustrating” that Republicans were unable to get answers to key questions. Strzok’s refusal to respond to certain inquiries on advice of counsel and the FBI, Goodlatte charged, was unacceptable.
“This is not over, and you and future witnesses are on notice that fulsome answers are expected promptly,” Goodlatte said.
The GOP chairman also accused Democrats of attempting to “denigrate” the investigation.
Dem indicates he will release transcript of private Strzok interview
As the committees briefly recessed for votes, Rep. David CicillineDavid CicillineHillicon Valley —Apple is not a monopoly, judge rules Judge rules Apple is not 'illegal monopolist' in high-profile Epic case Democrats' Jan. 6 subpoena-palooza sets dangerous precedent MORE (D-R.I.) signaled on Twitter that he would move to release the full transcript of Strzok’s closed-door interview, which took place late last month.
During the hearing, Cicilline and other Democrats had threatened to release the transcript if Republican leaders did not present them with a rule that would prevent them from doing so.
“UPDATE: Republicans couldn’t find an excuse to stop us from releasing the Strzok transcript. Sending to DOJ for redactions and will release as soon as it’s available,” Cicilline tweeted.
Earlier, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said it would be up to him whether to release the transcript of last month's interview.
— Morgan Chalfant
Strzok: Steele dossier did not trigger FBI investigation into Russian interference
Strzok told lawmakers that the so-called Steele dossier containing salacious and unproven accusations about President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE’s links to Moscow was not part of the bureau’s decision to open the investigation into Russian interference in the election.
“Was the dossier a part of why you opened up the investigation?” asked Rep. Ron Desantis (R-Fla.)
“No,” Strzok said.
Fusion GPS contracted with Christopher Steele, and ex-British intelligence agent, to produce the dossier. It was leaked out in the media in early January 2017.
The FBI opened the Russia counterintelligence investigation in summer 2016.
— Morgan Chalfant
Democratic lawmaker lashes out at Gowdy: This is not Benghazi
A Democratic lawmaker interrupted Rep. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.) in the middle of his questioning, stating that the South Carolina Republican has been out of control ever since he became a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“You’ve been out of control since you’ve been on this committee. Why don't you leave it alone? This is not Benghazi,” Rep. Bonnie Watson ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanLawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection Biden administration criticized over report that it is not extending home confinement for prisoners Group launches first national ad campaign to celebrate America's 250th anniversary MORE (D-N.J.) told Gowdy loudly.
“If you can’t control yourself, how do you expect this committee to control itself,” she added.
The heated outburst came as Democrats began to vocally complain that Gowdy had gone over his allotted time in questioning Strzok.
A GOP colleague had yielded her time to Gowdy, presenting him with another opportunity to press the FBI agent on his text messages, particularly one that mentioned impeachment on the same day the special counsel was appointed as well as one where he allegedly said his “gut sense” was there was “no big there there.”
“Point of order, time is up,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) yelled out.
Strzok also continued to defended himself against such claims.
“I did not know what existed. I had pre-judged nothing. That was all to be determined," Strzok replied.
— Olivia Beavers
Rep. Gohmert asks Strzok: ‘How many times’ did you lie to your wife about Lisa Page?
GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert (Texas) tore into FBI agent Peter Strzok with deeply personal attacks on Thursday, questioning how many times he looked “innocently” into his wife's eyes as he carried out an extramarital affair with FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
“I can’t help but wonder when I see you looking there with a little smirk — how many times did you look so innocently into your wife’s eye and lie to her about Lisa Page,” Gohmert asked Strzok, leading the room to erupt in protests from the Democrats in attendance.
"The credibility of the witness is always an issue," Gohmert continued.
“You need your medication,” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J) shouted.
Other Democrats called out to House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), calling Gohmert's treatment of the witness "outrageous," "intolerable," and "harassing."
The jabbing remark also came after Gohmert, a fiery and vocal House Freedom Caucus member, called the controversial agent an embarrassment to the FBI and a liar to the investigative bureau.
— Olivia Beavers
Gowdy vs. Strzok — Round II
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) infuriated Democrats by allowing Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to ask a handful of questions out of order after Strzok was advised by FBI counsel that he could give an answer to Gowdy's previous question — how many interviews were conducted during the first week of the Russia probe.
Strzok's new answer — he did not recall and would need to check with case officers — did not satisfy Gowdy.
But the order of questioning did ignite another round of partisan bickering as Democrats protested the order of affairs.
Goodlatte said that he was following committee rules.
"Can you cite the rule?" Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) asked.
"No," Goodlatte said, flatly.
— Katie Bo Williams
Jordan, Strzok have fiery exchange
Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanAllies see rising prospect of Trump 2024 White House bid Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee Watchdog group seeks ethics probe over McCarthy's Jan. 6 comments MORE (R-Ohio) got into a heated exchange with Strzok as the FBI agent refused to answer his questions related to the controversial Trump-Russia dossier.
Jordan repeatedly pressed Strzok on his knowledge of the dossier compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele containing unproven claims about Trump’s links to Russia.
The salacious document, which Steele was hired to produce by consulting firm Fusion GPS, was leaked to BuzzFeed news last January. Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home 'The View' plans series of conservative women as temporary McCain replacements MORE (R-Ariz.) has confirmed that he alerted the FBI to the existence of the dossier at the end of 2016.
Jordan grilled Strzok on an email he sent to other FBI officials, including former deputy director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeAndrew McCabe says Nassar case represents 'worst dereliction of duty' he's seen at FBI Capitol Police warning of potential for violence during rally backing rioters: report McCabe says law enforcement should take upcoming right-wing rally 'very seriously' MORE, referencing the dossier. He repeatedly asked Strzok the identities of “Corn and Simpson” referenced in the email.
The email appears to be a reference to Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, and David Corn, a Mother Jones reporter who first reported on the existence of the dossier in October 2016.
But Strzok would not confirm that on Thursday, spurring frustration from Jordan.
Strzok would only confirm that he wrote the email and would not get into further details, indicating the FBI has advised him against commenting on ongoing investigative matters.
“To answer that question – and I would love to answer that question … and you know why I want to answer that question because you have this information – I cannot answer that question,” Strzok said.
“You wrote about it! It’s now public! Who is Corn? Who is Simpson?” Jordan doubled down.
“Based on direction by the FBI, sir, I am not able to answer questions about ongoing investigative matters,” Strzok said, apparently referencing the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the election.
According to Jordan, the email was headlined, “Buzzfeed is about to publish the dossier.”
“Comparing now, the set is only identical to what McCain had,” Jordan quoted the email as saying. “It has differences from what was given to us by Corn and Simpson.”
Jordan’s line of questioning appeared to be aimed at determining whether the FBI had contact with Fusion GPS on the dossier. Simpson told lawmakers behind closed doors last year that the FBI had no communications with anyone at Fusion GPS.
“I never had contact with Fusion, with Mr. Simpson, with Mr. Corn,” Strzok said Thursday.
— Morgan Chalfant
GOP rep ignores response to questions
As the hearing wears on, Strzok is given few questions to which to respond. In one episode, Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeBiden, Trump battle over who's to blame for Afghanistan Sunday shows preview: US grapples with rising COVID-19 cases Trump-era intelligence chief wants Beijing Olympics moved due COVID-19 'cover-up' MORE (R-Texas) closed his five minutes by announcing, "I'm done with this witness!"
Strzok was allowed to respond to his statements. During that time, Ratcliffe looked down and not at Strzok. He left the hearing room before Strzok had finished speaking.
— Katie Bo Williams
Goodlatte announces Lisa Page interview slated for Friday
In the midst of the fiery hearing, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) released a statement announcing that former FBI agent Lisa Page has agreed to an interview with the committees on Friday.
Page, a close adviser to former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, is scheduled to appear for the interview on Friday at 1:30 p.m. Lawmakers will then be able to continue their questioning the following week on Monday, July 16, according to a committee press release.
“Lisa Page has finally agreed to appear before the House Judiciary and Oversight [and Government Reform] Committees for a transcribed interview tomorrow," Goodlatte said in a statement, calling the slated hearing "long overdue."
"As part of the Committees’ joint investigation into decisions made by the Justice Department in 2016, we have sought her testimony for seven months, ultimately resulting in a subpoena demanding her presence," Goodlatte's statement continues.
— Olivia Beavers
Dems threaten to release transcript of closed-door Strzok interview
Democrats pressed committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to release the transcript of a closed-door interview with Strzok that took place late last month, with some threatening to release it unless presented with a rule that prevents them from doing so.
Ranking member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) stressed the need for the transcript’s release, accusing Republicans of leaking “select” portions of the testimony to the media.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) then said he planned to release the transcript in full himself, asking Goodlatte whether there is a specific rule preventing him from doing so.
“The decision is made by the chairman of the committee,” Goodlatte said. He also described it as “very customary” not to release transcripts of private interviews until after an investigation is complete. Goodlatte later said there was an agreement the interview would be private and confidential.
His explanation did not satisfy Democrats.
“Is there a rule that precludes me from this afternoon releasing this transcript? If it’s just your preference I don’t, that’s not sufficient,” said Cicilline.
Reps. Cicilline and Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinGOP seeks to keep spotlight on Afghanistan as Dems advance Biden's .5T spending plan Raskin writing memoir about Jan. 6, son's suicide House Democrats demand details after Border Patrol agents accused of profiling Latinos in Michigan MORE (D-Md.) said they would release it at 5 p.m. unless presented with a rule precluding them from doing so.
— Morgan Chalfant
Dems seek to subpoena Bannon
Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails How lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation MORE (D-Calif.) broke in to make a motion that the committee subpoena Stephen Bannon, who months previous defied a subpoena from the House Intelligence Committee. Republicans at the time had threatened contempt, but never followed through — they say because he did eventually appear.
The two panels quickly voted along party lines to table Swalwell's bid.
— Katie Bo Williams
Strzok applauded by Dems for forceful backing of FBI
Strzok offered a robust and steady-voiced defense of the FBI amid Republican allegations of bias, gaining a round of applause from committee Democrats.
He called allegations of bias corrosive to the law enforcement agency’s mission.
The charge that the FBI was biased against President Trump, Strzok said, “deeply corrodes what the FBI is in American society, the effectiveness of their mission, and it is deeply destructive.”
“At no time, in any of these texts, did those personal beliefs ever enter into the realm of any action I took,” Strzok said, adding that “multiple layers” of agents above and below him at the bureau would not have tolerated any “improper behavior.”
GOP lawmakers have focused on one text exchange between Strzok and Lisa Page, a former FBI lawyer, in which Strzok replied, “We’ll stop it,” after he was asked, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”
Strzok rejected the suggestion that his sentiment is evidence that he took official action to somehow thwart Trump’s election.
“That was written late at night, off the cuff and it was in response to a series of events that included then-candidate Trump insulting the immigrant family of a fallen war hero,” Strzok said in response to questioning from Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).
“My presumption, based on that horrible, disgusting behavior, that the American population would not elect somebody demonstrating that behavior to be president of the United States. It was in no way, unequivocally, any suggestion that me, the FBI, would take any action whatsoever to improperly impact the electoral process for any candidate,” Strzok said.
“I take great offense and I take great disagreement to your assertion of what that was or wasn’t,” Strzok loudly stated, prompting Democrats in attendance to applaud the remarks.
— Morgan Chalfant
Strzok declines to answer Russia probe questions, gets heated with Gowdy
The hearing almost immediately devolved into rancorous partisan bickering. Strzok declined to answer Gowdy's first question — about how many people he interviewed in the first week of the federal Russia probe — on the instructions of the FBI general counsel.
"Based on that, I will not answer that question because it goes to matters related to the ongoing investigation," Strzok said.
Goodlatte almost immediately stepped in, threatening contempt proceedings: "Mr. Strzok. You are under subpoena and are required to answer the question."
Strzok disputed the notion that he was there under subpoena, arguing that he was there voluntarily.
"You have not stated a valid legal basis for not responding to a question from a member of the House of Representatives," Goodlatte.
Nadler tried to step in, but Goodlatte batted down his objections as "not valid" and "not well taken."
Democrats continued to raise objections to Goodlatte, whose refusal to entertain them drew outraged disbelief and laughter from the other side.
An exchange between Gowdy and Strzok became particularly heated.
Strzok claimed Gowdy had twisted his words upon answering a question about Mueller’s decision to remove him from the team overseeing the Russia probe, stating that he does not “appreciate” what he originally said being “changed.”
"I don’t give a damn what you appreciate, Agent Strozk," Gowdy replied. “I don't appreciate having an FBI agent with an unprecedented level of animus working on two major investigations during 2016.”
— Kaite Bo Williams and Olivia Beavers
Cummings lays out Mueller pleas
Republicans briefly objected to visual aids used by Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking member Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer GOP congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik suing Candace Owens for defamation Former Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee MORE (D-Md.) — a series of poster boards detailing guilty pleas obtained by Mueller.
"Cite the rule," Democrats insisted as Republicans voiced their objections — and Goodlatte ultimately allowed Cummings to proceed.
Republicans are now objecting to Cummings’ use of these visual aides. Calls of “point of order” weren’t given any satisfaction—Goodlatte permits him to proceed. pic.twitter.com/X54bD7tiA3— Katie Bo Williams (@KatieBoWill) July 12, 2018
— Katie Bo Williams
Gowdy hammers home ‘bias’ accusations
Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) spent several minutes rehashing details of Strzok’s text messages revealed by the inspector general, accusing Strzok of exhibiting “textbook bias.”
Gowdy’s opening remarks set the tone for GOP questioning during what promises to be a highly tense hearing.
“Agent Strzok had Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAttorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation Durham seeking indictment of lawyer with ties to Democrats: reports Paul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book MORE winning the White House before he finished investigating her. Agent Strzok had Donald Trump impeached before he even started investigating him. That is bias,” Gowdy charged. “Agent Strzok might not see it, but the rest of the country does.”
— Morgan Chalfant
Nadler blasts Republicans for questioning Strzok about Mueller probe
Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, blasted his Republican colleagues for their treatment of Strzok, claiming that they will try to question him on Mueller’s probe even though they know the FBI will not permit him to answer questions about ongoing investigations.
“I know that the majority wants a public fight with Mr. Strzok today,” Nadler said in his opening remarks.
“I expect that you will ask him questions about the special counsel’s investigation that you know the FBI will not permit him to answer — as you did more than 200 times in our last meeting with Mr. Strzok — so that his decision not to answer can be played out on cable news again and again.”
Nadler highlighted how Strzok has agreed to appear before Congress voluntarily twice, and when he did so, he was asked a series of questions that are unrelated to their probe.
“You don’t have to like him, but you have to treat him — and any witness before this committee — with respect. Questions like 'do you love Lisa Page' and 'who did you vote for in the last election' — questions that Republicans posed in his interview — are not relevant to any aspect of our official business,” the top Democrat said.
“Can we not be decent to our witnesses, Mr. Chairman? Must Republicans descend to the president’s level, even in his defense?” Nadler added.
— Olivia Beavers
Goodlatte alleges probe has revealed ‘potential crimes’
Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) gaveled in just after 10:15 a.m., using his opening remarks to fire a shot at Democrats for casting GOP efforts to investigate alleged bias at the FBI as a political charade.
He said the committee’s efforts have uncovered “potential crimes,” casting the investigation as legitimate and not one generated by “conspiracy theory.”
“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,” Goodlatte said.
“Would we be where we are today? The only honest answer is an absolute affirmative, ‘Yes,’” Goodlatte charged. “So please stop saying this doesn’t matter and is only the product of conspiracy theory.”
— Morgan Chalfant
Strzok took his seat shortly before 10 a.m. amidst a sea of clattering shutter frames.
The hearing room is packed wall-to-wall with staff and press as lawmakers continue to trickle in.
— Katie Bo Williams
Strzok plans to call scrutiny ‘another notch in Putin’s belt’
Strzok reportedly plans to tell lawmakers that the focus on his anti-Trump text messages is aiding Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In prepared remarks Strzok is expected to deliver, the FBI agent will defend himself against the intense scrutiny from GOP lawmakers by saying his work has been free of political bias.
“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 will say.
He is expected to tell lawmakers that Congress’s focus on his actions and text messages “is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”
— Brett Samuels