GOP set to grill agent who vowed to stop Trump

GOP set to grill agent who vowed to stop Trump
© Greg Nash

Peter Strzok, the FBI counterintelligence agent who texted a bureau lawyer that “we’ll stop” then-candidate Donald Trump from becoming president, is slated to appear behind closed doors before two House committees on Wednesday.

The interview, with House Judiciary Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigators, is one of the most hotly anticipated testimonies in the political fight over the FBI’s handling of the twin investigations into both 2016 presidential candidates. 

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Strzok held a key position in both probes and, since his anti-Trump texts became public, Trump allies on Capitol Hill have been howling for him to testify. President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal Rove warns Senate GOP: Don't put only focus on base Ann Coulter blasts Trump shutdown compromise: ‘We voted for Trump and got Jeb!’ MORE has tweeted that Strzok is at the center of a “dangerous” conspiracy against him. 

Now, weeks after the release of a highly critical inspector general report damning Strzok for unprofessional conduct, conservative lawmakers will get their first crack at the man they see as the key to proving bias has irreparably tainted the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.

Strzok is appearing voluntarily — as he has for weeks offered to do — after House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteHouse GOP probe into FBI, DOJ comes to an end Murkowski to reintroduce bill to help abused Native American women FBI hits GOP chairman over push to clear sensitive transcripts by Christmas Eve MORE (R-Va.) tabled a subpoena he issued last week to compel a deposition. 

Through a lawyer, Strzok has fiercely defended himself, denying that his views of Trump tainted his investigative objectivity. 

“While Special Agent Strzok openly admitted that he believed that the Russia investigation was far more important to American national security than the Clinton email investigation, this conclusion is evidence of Special Agent Strzok’s lucidity, not his bias,” his lawyer, Aitan Goelman, said when the report was released.

Strzok was removed from Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation after the inspector general alerted the special counsel to the existence of the text messages earlier this year, and although he is still technically an employee of the FBI, he was recently escorted from the bureau in what is believed to be a precursor to dismissal. 

Even critics of the president acknowledge that Strzok’s conduct, laid out by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz in a 500-page report earlier this month, is deeply problematic.

The inspector general found that his texts with FBI lawyer Lisa Page suggested he “might be willing” to take official action to hurt Trump’s electoral prospects.

In perhaps the most explosive new revelation from the report, Strzok told Page “We’ll stop it,” after being asked, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”

That text, the report said, was “indicative of a biased state of mind” — and suggested that Strzok may have intentionally slow-rolled the review of emails connected to the investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonConservatives pound BuzzFeed, media over Cohen report BuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president Trump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier MORE discovered after the probe was closed, which were on a laptop belonging to former New York congressman Anthony Weiner (D).

Strzok, as the No. 2 official in the Clinton investigation, was one of several people who was made aware of the existence of the emails when they were initially uncovered.

But the so-called Midyear team — the investigative unit that had handled the Clinton investigation — did not move to review them until just days before the election, almost a month after FBI officials in New York found them.

Strzok told investigators at the time that he was prioritizing the investigation into Trump’s campaign’s ties to Russia.

“Under these circumstances, we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on [a] Midyear-related investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias,” the inspector general said.

Horowitz’s team found no evidence that anyone else on the Midyear team “deliberately placed [the Weiner laptop] on the back burner” — but he nevertheless faulted the delay, arguing that all explanations he was given for not acting sooner were “unpersuasive.”

Then-FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyDems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell Dem calls for Cohen to testify before Senate panel over explosive report The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Day 27 of the shutdown | Cohen reportedly paid company to rig online polls, boost his own image | Atlantic publishes ‘Impeach Donald Trump’ cover story MORE eventually ordered a review of the emails and informed Congress of their discovery, lighting a media firestorm just days before the election that Clinton and her allies believe cost her the presidency.

Investigators did not find any evidence that political bias or improper influence impacted any decisions made in the Clinton case prior to Comey’s announcement that he was closing the case — a finding that Strzok’s lawyer has emphasized.

Despite the “cloud” that the text exchanges between Strzok and Page cast on the investigation, Strzok was not the sole decisionmaker in any of the investigations the inspector general examined. And in some instances prior to the July announcement, the report notes, Strzok and Page “advocated for more aggressive investigative measures in the Midyear investigation, such as the use of grand jury subpoenas and search warrants to obtain evidence.”

But House GOP members have zeroed in on Strzok’s role in both investigations as evidence that both probes were infected by anti-Trump bias. 

In a recent joint hearing on the report before the same two committees that Strzok will face Wednesday, lawmakers tore into Horowitz’s conclusion that none of the decisions made in the Clinton probe were the result of anti-Trump bias and suggested that Strzok is Exhibit A proving similar bias on the Mueller probe. 

“So, you’ve got Peter Strzok who goes from the Hillary Clinton email investigation, to the FBI Trump-Russia investigation, to the Mueller probe. You’ve got Lisa Page, who goes from the Hillary Clinton email investigation to the FBI Russia investigation, to the Mueller probe,” Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzMaduro starts new term in Venezuela facing US sanctions, lack of legitimacy abroad Rick Scott threw party at Florida governor’s mansion after DeSantis and family had moved in: report Native American lawmaker: Haven't heard back from GOP rep who called Warren 'Sacagawea' MORE (R-Fla.) said.

“It seems like a very bizarre coincidence that the way people tended to end up on the Mueller probe was some association with Hillary Clinton.”

Hinting at the attention the issue has gotten on Pennsylvania Avenue, Trump has called for Strzok’s appearance to be broadcast “on live television.” 

“The hearing of Peter Strzok and the other hating frauds at the FBI & DOJ should be shown to the public on live television, not a closed door hearing that nobody will see,” he tweeted Monday morning. 

“We should expose these people for what they are — there should be total transparency!”