FBI agent Peter Strzok met voluntarily with House Judiciary and Oversight Committee members behind closed doors Wednesday and told lawmakers the views he expressed in intimate text messages with fellow FBI agent Lisa Page never impacted his decision-making while working on the Hillary Clinton email investigation or the Russia probe.
Republicans did not believe him.
“I don’t know how you read the texts, I don’t know how any reasonable person reads the texts and suggests there was no bias,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a conservative member of the Judiciary Committee. “I’ve read the text messages, I’ve read emails, I’ve read other information . . . the total absence of bias in any decision-making process is not consistent with the facts that I’ve read.”
The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General report released earlier this month "slammed Strzok and others for showing bias" and a “willingness to take official action” to stop Trump from becoming president.
But it found no evidence that the FBI’s investigative decisions had been swayed by those biases — largely because Strzok never made those decisions alone. Strzok continues to be employed by the FBI, but the bureau has referred his case to the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility for a review.
Republicans and Democrats disagree on whether Strzok's appearance provided any new information.
Republican lawmakers on the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees insisted that they had learned more from Strzok’s testimony than was contained in the inspector general’s report — something Democrats disputed, accusing the GOP of rehashing ground already well-covered in the report. Strzok spoke to the committee for almost ten hours behind closed doors Wednesday, and was expected to continue in a classified session Wednesday night, that lawmakers said would focus more closely on his work during the FBI’s Russia probe. Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said Wednesday that the panel intends to have Strzok later testify in a public session as well.
Strzok sought on Wednesday to downplay the importance of his political views, stressing to lawmakers that members of the FBI have political opinions like anyone else, and that they do not earn or lose assignments based on those views, according to the judiciary panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Jerold Nadler (N.Y.). Strzok also urged lawmakers to view the text messages simply as banter between two people in a relationship, according to lawmakers present — but Republicans also found that rationale unsatisfying.
"He said the context was there were private emails, and these were certainly not any intent to act on anything," said Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. "They were private expressions of opinion to a woman he was having an affair with."
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat, described Wednesday's interview as a "feisty, tense exchange" at various points.
"I don't walk away with the impression that politics bias actually controlled the actions of FBI agents," Krishnamoorthi said.
Republicans argued that Strzok shouldn't be taken at face value.
"Of course, he's always said that," Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a leader of the House Freedom Caucus, said of Strzok's explanation.
Strzok also told committee members he had nothing to do with the Bureau's surveillance of Carter Page, reportedly to the disappointment of Republicans who have long speculated he may have played a role.
According to two sources familiar with his testimony, he told members that he was not involved in the drafting of an application for a warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Strzok said he provided no substantive input on the application—he didn’t supply any evidence for it and was not involved in presenting it to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for approval, according to these sources.