Significantly, Strzok noted that he was one of a very small number of people with knowledge of the fact that the FBI had launched a counterintelligence investigation in July 2016, one that included questions of whether any Trump campaign officials were working with the Kremlin to undermine Clinton’s campaign.
“This information had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump. But the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind,” he said.
Strzok made clear at the start of questioning that he would be unable to answer many questions from lawmakers if they relate to the ongoing Russia probe. That immediately triggered fierce bickering among Republicans and Democrats about whether that was a valid justification, with the committees’ GOP leaders raising the possibility of holding Strzok in contempt of Congress.
The more than 40,000 text messages exchanged between Strzok and FBI counsel Lisa Page, with whom he was engaged in an extramarital affair, have been held up by Republicans as a prime example of political bias that infected the Justice Department and reflected animus against the Republican candidate. Trump has often tweeted about Strzok and Page as an example of what he has called a “witch hunt” against him.
In one example, Page wrote to Strzok in August of 2016: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok replied: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”
In his opening statement, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., accused Strzok of “turn[ing] our system of justice on its head.”
“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,” he said. “The American people hope you will understand that this investigation goes to the very heart of our system of justice, one that is supposed to be fair and treat everyone equally under the law.”
Strzok already appeared in June for a closed, 11-hour interview with the same congressional committees. In his opening statement Thursday, Strzok vowed to cooperate as much as possible with the inquiry but also decried what he called a “political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity.”
“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,” he said.
The Strzok-Page messages were uncovered as part of an investigation by the Justice Department watchdog into how the FBI handled the Clinton email probe. In an extensive report released last month, FBI Inspector General Michael Horowitz wrote that he was “deeply troubled” by the messages, which “potentially indicated or created the appearance that investigative decisions were impacted by bias or improper considerations.”
“Although we found no documentary or testimonial evidence directly connecting the political views these employees expressed in their text messages and instant messages to the specific [Clinton email] investigative decisions we reviewed … the messages cast a cloud over the FBI investigations to which these employees were assigned,” he concluded.
Strzok was removed as a member of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team one day after Horowitz team disclosed to him the existence of Strzok’s anti-Trump texts.
Page, who initially defied a subpoena from the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees to appear for a closed interview Wednesday, is now expected to appear before lawmakers Friday.