President Trump hasn’t let a jam-packed European trip distract him from what’s really important: Discrediting the Russia investigation. Since touching down in Brussels on Tuesday, Trump has continued to tweet about the “Rigged Witch Hunt,” focusing his ire on FBI agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, the “lovers” who were revealed to have exchanged texts critical of Trump during the 2016 campaign. The president has long cited the texts as proof that the investigation, which Strzok played a pivotal role in, was politically motivated.
Ex-FBI LAYER Lisa Page today defied a House of Representatives issued Subpoena to testify before Congress! 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2018
Though Page defied a subpoena to testify on Wednesday, she will meet with Congress behind closed doors Friday and Monday. Strzok did so publicly on Thursday, fielding questions under oath from a gaggle of congressmen frothing at the mouth to tear the law enforcement veteran a new one. Reality wasn’t on their side, unfortunately.
“In the summer of 2016, we had an urgent need to protect the integrity of an American presidential election from a hostile foreign power determined to weaken and divide the United States of America,” Strzok said in his opening statement. “This investigation is not politically motivated. It is not a witch hunt. It is not a hoax.”
Strzok explained that because he is still an employee of the FBI, there are certain issues pertaining to the investigation that he is not at liberty to discuss. “If I were permitted to answer, I would, and the answers would doubtless be disappointing to the questioners and undermine the conspiracy narrative being told about the Russia investigation,” he said.
Despite the disclaimer, Strzok’s inability to answer questions relating to the investigation dominated the proceedings early on, with Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) threatening to hold Strzok in contempt of court for not complying. What followed was an unhinged 10 minutes of arguing between several lawmakers, primarily Goodlatte and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who repeatedly objected to the former’s insistence that Strzok risk compromising the investigation. Here’s the full exchange. This is what a broken government looks like.
Watch. Chairman Goodlatte threatens to hold Strzok in contempt almost, as soon as the hearing begins, for declining to answer questions about the Russia probe. Dems protest. This is a nearly 10-minute vid and it doesn't cover all of the chaos. (via ABC) pic.twitter.com/wMW5f3HwVU
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) July 12, 2018
Strzok’s appearance before Congress follows the June release of a 500-page report by the Justice Department inspector general reviewing the FBI’s conduct while investigating both Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016. Though the report featured a trove of anti-Trump text messages between Strzok and Page, it concluded that their personal views regarding the eventual president did not influence their actions relating to the case. Strzok maintained as much on Thursday. “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,” he said.
This wasn’t good enough for Republican lawmakers, who badgered Strzok repeatedly about the texts. When Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) asked him about texting “we will stop it” in reference to Trump winning the election, Strzok delivered a heated rebuke, noting that the text was sent in response to Trump insulting the Khans, a Gold Star family, following their speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Strzok clarified that by “we,” he meant the American people, whom he argued “would not elect someone demonstrating that behavior president of the United States.”
“It was in no way, unequivocally, any suggestion that me or the FBI would take any action whatsoever to improperly impact the electoral process, for any candidate,” he continued. “I take great offense and I take great disagreement to your assertion of what that was or wasn’t.”
Peter Strzok: "'We will stop it.' You need to understand that that was written late at night off the cuff and it was in response to a series of events that included then-candidate Trump insulting the immigrant family of a fallen war hero." pic.twitter.com/sF9fSDaKDt
— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 12, 2018
Strzok went on to explain that it would have been impossible for him to tamper with the investigation, and that it is irresponsible to even suggest that he could have conspired to bring down Trump:
“This isn’t just me sitting here telling you. You don’t have to take my word for it. At every step, at every investigative decision, there were multiple layers of people above me – the assistant director, executive assistant director, deputy director and director of the FBI – and multiple layers of people below me – section chiefs, supervisors, unit chiefs, case agents and analysts – all of whom were involved in all of these decisions. They would not tolerate any improper behavior in me any more than I would tolerate it in them. That is who we are as the FBI. The suggestion that I in some dark chamber somewhere in the FBI would somehow cast aside all of these procedures and all of these safeguards and somehow be able to do this is astounding to me. It simply couldn’t happen. The proposition that that is going on, that it might occur anywhere in the FBI, deeply corrodes what the FBI is in American society, the effectiveness of their mission and it is deeply destructive.”
In the end, very little was revealed as Republican lawmakers tried desperately to chisel out of Strzok any morsel of reality to corroborate Trump’s feverish delusion that the FBI is out to get him. The testimony, which felt less like a search for truth and more like a platform to “own the libs,” only served to highlight the absurdity of the effort to discredit the Russia investigation. When Strzok denied an allegation from Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) that changing the language used to describe Clinton’s handling of her emails amounted to a “get out of jail free card,” Sensenbrenner replied that “she got a get-out-of-the-White-House-free card when the voters cast their votes.” Rep. Goodlatte at one point tried to trap Strzok into equating Trump supporters with “hillbillies.” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) made a despicable reference to Strzok’s personal life.
Wow. Congressman Gohmert went there. pic.twitter.com/RWjayDOn7J
— Scott Whitlock (@ScottJW) July 12, 2018
All that was made clear on Thursday was that the president has successfully corrupted his Republican allies to the point that lawmakers consider the FBI to be conspiring against the state, while an adversary like Russia launching a cyberwar on America is an afterthought. Trump isn’t concerned, so neither are Republicans, who now use the president’s Twitter account as a North Star for where to direct their attention and, apparently, how to behave.
“I understand we are living in a political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity,” Strzok said in his opening statement. “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.”