WASHINGTON – FBI Agent Peter Strzok, who exchanged anti-Trump text messages with his co-worker girlfriend, said Thursday that his political beliefs never affected his work on the Russia or Hillary Clinton investigations.
"Let me be clear, unequivocally and under oath: Not once in my 26 years of defending our nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took," Strzok testified before two House committees.
"This is true for the Clinton email investigation, for the investigation into Russian interference and for every other investigation I’ve worked on," Strzok said in a chamber packed with a standing-room-only crowd. "It is not who I am, and it is not something I would ever do. Period."
Strzok helped lead the investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election and into Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. He was removed from the Russia inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller last summer when Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz discovered texts between Strzok and former FBI attorney Lisa Page disparaging then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016.
Republicans used Thursday's hearing to underscore their charges of bias by the FBI and Department of Justice against Trump and in favor of Clinton. Strzok denied that he was part of any conspiracy to go after Trump, and Democrats backed him.
Democrats charged that Republicans were trying to undermine Mueller's investigation of possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. Republicans want Mueller's inquiry to end before the midterm elections in November. Democrats say Mueller should not be pressured to end his investigation prematurely.
Strzok said he never revealed information about the Russia investigation that could have damaged Trump's campaign.
"There is ... one extraordinarily important piece of evidence supporting my integrity, the integrity of the FBI and our lack of bias," Strzok said. "In the summer of 2016, I was one of a handful of people who knew the details of Russian election interference and its possible connections with members of the Trump 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."'
Strzok faced hostile Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who pointed to his text messages with Page in 2015 and 2016 as evidence of bias in the Russia and Clinton investigations. Strzok and Page were having an extramarital affair at the time they were texting.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, brought up the affair during one of the most heated parts of the hearing, asking Strzok whether he gave his wife the same "innocent" look he was giving Congress members.
Democrats shouted Gohmert down as Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., yelled "you need your medication."
Strzok angrily replied that Gohmert's question "goes more to a discussion about your character."
"The fact that you would question whether or not that was the sort of look I would engage with at a family member that I have acknowledged hurting goes more to a discussion about your character and what you stand for and what is going on inside you," Strzok said.
Strzok said he criticized Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and others in the text messages as well as Trump. In response to a question from Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, Strzok conceded that it was "fair to say" that he and Page detested Trump and supported Clinton.
He acknowledged that his testimony was unlikely to satisfy his critics.
"After all, Americans are skeptical of anything coming out of Washington," Strzok said. "But the fact is, after months of investigations, there is simply no evidence of bias in my professional actions."
Strzok was subpoenaed last week by the House Judiciary Committee to testify publicly about the text messages he exchanged with Page.
In a report to Congress released last month, Horowitz said Page wrote to Strzok in a text message, "(Trump's) not ever going to become president, right?" In response, Strzok wrote, "No. No he's not. We'll stop it."
Angry about Khan treatment
Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., pressed Strzok to explain that exchange Thursday.
Strzok said he wrote the text "late at night, off the cuff." He said he was angry that candidate Trump "insulted" the family of Humayun Khan, a Muslim American soldier killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq.
Khan's father, Khizr, criticized Trump's proposed ban on Muslim immigrants at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. Trump responded by questioning whether Khizr Khan’s wife, Ghazala, was allowed to speak on stage as a Muslim woman.
Strzok said he thought Trump's behavior was "horrible and disgusting" and he believed Americans would reject the candidate because of it.
"It was in no way that me or the FBI would take any action to improperly impact the electoral process for any candidate," Strzok said of his text message.
In his report, Horowitz found no evidence that the FBI or DOJ were motivated by political bias in deciding not to prosecute Clinton for using a private email server to send and receive sensitive information. The report said Strzok repeatedly pushed for more aggressive action in the Clinton investigation.
Page has left the bureau. Strzok is still employed with the FBI but was escorted from FBI headquarters in June, so his personnel case could be reviewed. He is the FBI's deputy assistant director in the Human Relations Department. He previously served as deputy assistant director of the counterintelligence division.
Page agrees to testify
The same committees questioning Strzok subpoenaed Page and threatened her with contempt of Congress when she declined to testify in a closed hearing Wednesday.
After Thursday's hearing began, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., announced that the committee had reached an agreement with Page for her to be interviewed by lawmakers Friday and Monday in closed sessions. There will be a transcript of her testimony, but Goodlatte did not say whether that transcript would be made public.
Strzok answered 11 hours of questions from committee members during a closed hearing late last month, and he was angered by selective leaks of his testimony by lawmakers.
Strzok was on Trump's mind Wednesday night while the president was in Brussels for a NATO meeting.
"How can the Rigged Witch Hunt proceed when it was started, influenced and worked on, for an extended period of time, by former FBI Agent/Lover Peter Strzok?" Trump tweeted. "Read his hate filled and totally biased Emails and the answer is clear!"
Strzok said Russian interference in the 2016 election "was a grave attack on our democracy" and not a "witch hunt" as Trump has repeatedly alleged.
"Most disturbingly, it has been wildly successful – sowing discord in our nation and shaking faith in our institutions," Strzok said."I have the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role, but I truly believe that today’s hearing is just another victory notch in (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart."
He said it is "profoundly painful to watch and even worse to play a part in."