For seven months, FBI agent Peter Strzok has been the target of harsh criticism from President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans over his role in investigations into Russian election meddling.
On Thursday, Strzok got a chance to speak publicly for the first time, defending himself forcefully and harshly criticizing his own investigators.
Testifying publicly in a House Oversight Committee hearing, Strzok argued that Trump’s regular insinuations that he was part of a “deep state” effort to harm his candidacy are wrong, noting that there are procedures in place to prevent any single agent from affecting an investigation.
“The suggestion that I’m in some dark chamber somewhere in the FBI would somehow cast aside all of these procedures, all of these safeguards, and somehow be able to do this is astounding to me — it simply couldn’t happen,” he said.
Here’s what you need to know about Strzok and the hearing.
Who is Peter Strzok?
Strzok was a lead agent on both the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server and served on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Mueller removed Strzok from the investigation after the Justice Department’s inspector general began investigating whether he had sent text messages on a work phone criticizing then-candidate Trump to fellow FBI agent Lisa Page, with whom he was having an affair. Strzok was later reassigned to a job in the FBI’s human resources division.
What did the Inspector General report say about Strzok?
Published on June 14, the Inspector General’s report was a review of the FBI’s probe into Hillary Clinton’s private email server under former director James Comey — and it included discussions of the text messages between Strzok and Page.
During the course of their affair, they texted about their disdain of Trump and, at times, his supporters on their FBI-issued phones. The “predominant reason that we communicated on our work phones was because we were trying to keep our affair a secret from our spouses,” Page told investigators.
The report noted that these messages damaged the “FBI’s reputation for neutral fact finding and political independence.” However, it ultimately concluded that these displays of bias did not impact the FBI investigations. “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed,” the report concludes.
What did the text messages say?
Over 400,000 texts were reviewed in the report. The exchanges included: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” sent by Page, to which Strzok replied “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.” Strzok also sent messages saying “God trump is a loathsome human” and “Just went to a southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support…,”. And, in additional texts, he called Trump a “disaster,” “abysmal,” and an “idiot.”
Both Strzok and Page were interviewed about these exchanges. Strzok told the OIG that the text messages reflected his “personal opinion talking to a friend,” and his political opinions “never transited into the official realm. Not in any way. Not in discussions, not in acts.”
“I testify today with significant regret, recognizing that my texts have created confusion and caused pain for people I love,” Strzok said in his opening statement to Congress Thursday. “Certain private messages of mine have provided ammunition for misguided attacks against the FBI, an institution I love deeply and have served proudly for more than 20 years.”
What did Strzok say during his testimony?
During his first public testimony before two House committees on Thursday, Strzok maintained that his political thoughts did not affect his role in the investigation. “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 in an opening statement.
Furthermore, Strzok claimed to have had intel that could have thwarted Trump’s campaign. “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,” he said.
What has Trump said about him?
Trump has regularly taken to Twitter to blast Strzok and Page. On one occasion, Trump called them “incompetent & corrupt.” On another, he said the “IG Report totally destroys James Comey and all of his minions including the great lovers, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.”