An FBI agent whose anti-Trump text messages signaled partisan bias will claim in front of congressional investigators Thursday that his work has never been tainted by politics and that the intense scrutiny he is facing represents “just another victory notch in Putin’s belt,” according to reports.
Peter Strzok, who helped lead the FBI investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email use and potential coordination between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign, will testify publicly for the first time since being terminated from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team following the discovery of the derogatory text messages last year.
He will allege in his opening statement that he has never allowed personal opinions to infect his work, that he knew information during the campaign that had the potential to damage Trump but never contemplated leaking it, and that the focus on him by Congress is misguided and plays into “our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”
Republican members of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees are expected to grill Strzok for hours as they argue that the text messages with FBI lawyer Lisa Page color the outcome of the Clinton email investigation and undercut the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russian election interference. President Trump himself has rightly called out the two FBI officials, including a Wednesday evening tweet that asked, “How can the Rigged Witch Hunt proceed when it was started, influenced and worked on, for an extended period of time” by Strzok. He described the texts as “hate filled and biased”:
In the prepared remarks, Strzok will admit that while his text message criticism was “blunt,” it was not directed at one person or political party and included jabs not only at Donald Trump, but also at Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). He will allege to House members that there is “simply no evidence of bias in [his] 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,” the disgraced FBI agent will say.
Although Strzok has said through his lawyer that he was eager to tell his side of the story, he will express his exasperation at being the focal point of a congressional hearing and urge lawmakers to focus on Russian election interference instead.
“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 will say, according to the remarks. “As someone who loves this country and cherishes its ideals, it is profoundly painful to watch and even worse to play a part in.”
He will also hit back at President Trump’s characterizations of Mueller’s work and the threat of Russian election interference, saying, “This investigation is not politically motivated. It is not a witch hunt. It is not a hoax.”
The sharp tone of Strzok’s statement sets the stage for a contentious hearing following hours of closed-door questioning last week. It also reflects an effort to shift attention from the content of Strzok’s texts and onto what he says is the more pressing issue: the Russians’ “grave attack” on American democracy and continuing efforts to divide the country.
The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, has criticized Strzok and Page for creating the appearance of impropriety through the texts. Yet the report strangely said it found no evidence of political bias in the FBI’s decision not to pursue criminal charges against Hillary Clinton.
FBI Director Christopher Wray says the FBI has referred to internal disciplinary officials employees who were singled out for criticism in the inspector general’s report. Strzok’s lawyer has said he was escorted from the FBI building last month as the disciplinary process winds its way through the system.
Page left the bureau in May. House lawmakers have subpoenaed her for a private interview and warned her they would begin the process of holding her in contempt if she does not show up this week. Her lawyer claimed Page had offered to voluntarily appear before the committees later this month but needed more clarification about what the lawmakers would be asking.
Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), warned Amy Jeffress, Page’s attorney, that the House will begin with contempt proceedings unless her client complies with their subpoena by 10:00 am Eastern Friday:
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) echoed Goodlatte’s ultimatum during a press conference Thursday. “If she wants to come plead the Fifth, that’s her choice,” said Ryan, adding, “I stand behind chairman Goodlatte a hundred percent on this”:
Freedom Caucus chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), says Page is being untruthful in saying she did not receive FBI documents needed to prepare for her testimony. “Contrary to what her attorneys are telling the media, we just learned Lisa Page actually DID review documents at the FBI yesterday,” tweeted Rep. Meadows. “Her failure to appear before Congress this morning had little to do with ‘preparation’–and everything to do with avoiding accountability”:
President Trump took time out of his busy European trip to blast Page for failing to comply with the subpoena. “Ex-FBI LAYER [sic] Lisa Page today defied a House of Representatives issued Subpoena to testify before Congress!” President Trump tweeted amid meeting with NATO members in Brussels. “Wow, but is anybody really surprised! Together with her lover, FBI Agent Peter Strzok, she worked on the Rigged Witch Hunt, perhaps the most tainted and corrupt case EVER!”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.