Dem walks back 'Purple Heart' defense of Strzok

Dem walks back 'Purple Heart' defense of Strzok
© Greg Nash

Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenOvernight Defense: Mattis downplays Afghanistan papers | 'We probably weren't that good at' nation building | Judiciary panel approves two impeachment articles | Stage set for House vote next week Democrats approve two articles of impeachment against Trump in Judiciary vote Democrat suggests Republicans took acting classes based on ability to 'suspend disbelief' MORE (D-Tenn.) on Friday walked back remarks he’d made a day earlier comparing an embattled FBI agent to a wounded war veteran. 

Cohen said his “Purple Heart” offer to Peter Strzok, the FBI official who’s faced a barrage of Republican accusations that he’s biased against President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed MORE, was figurative and not intended to disparage the military.

Cohen expressed “regret” for employing the term, and hailed the members of the Armed Forces — along with the FBI — for keeping the country safe.

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"My intent was to speak metaphorically to make a broader point about attacks against the FBI and Special Counsel [Robert] Mueller's investigation into a Russian attack on our country,” Cohen said in a statement.

"I have nothing but the highest respect for members of the Armed Forces, especially those who have been awarded Purple Hearts, as well as the hard working men and women at the FBI. We are safe because of their service and sacrifice.”

Cohen’s initial “Purple Heart” reference came during Thursday’s marathon, 10-hour joint hearing of the House Judiciary and  House Oversight and Government Reform committees to examine Strzok’s role in the Justice Department’s (DOJ) investigation into Russia's election meddling, which Strzok had initially overseen. 

The veteran counterintelligence agent has come under fire from conservatives for two-year-old messages sent between him and a former senior FBI lawyer, Lisa Page, suggesting a desire to prevent then-candidate Trump’s ascension to the White House. 

Republicans have pounced, citing those messages in an attempt to discredit the entire Russia probe, which is being conducted by Mueller. Republicans have also attacked Strzok on a more personal level, eagerly highlighting his alleged extramarital affair with Page in an effort to raise deeper questions about his morality.

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Thursday’s hearing quickly devolved into a partisan shouting match, with Republicans lobbing accusations of political bias against Strzok and Democrats rushing to the defense of the nation’s law enforcement institutions and the ongoing probe into Moscow’s reported election interference. 

"If I could give you a Purple Heart, I would," Cohen told Strzok in the midst of the debate. 

"This has been an attack on you and a way to attack Mr. Mueller and the investigation that is to get at Russian collusion involved in our election."

The Russia investigation took a notable step forward on Friday with the DOJ's announcement that Mueller has indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers surrounding the 2016 infiltration of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) — a hacking effort designed to help Trump win the White House, according to the intelligence community.

Cohen on Friday was quick to underline the new development as evidence that the Republican criticisms of the Russia probe pose a risk to future elections. 

"As today's indictments underscore, the Russians are out to attack our nation's democratic institutions,” he said. “We need to let Special Prosecutor Mueller and the FBI continue their work to protect us."