WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An FBI agent who criticized then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in textual content messages in the course of the 2016 election marketing campaign vigorously defended himself at a raucous listening to on Thursday, describing Republican lawmakers’ assaults on him as serving to America’s enemies.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers shouted and swapped insults within the U.S. House of Representatives listening to as agent Peter Strzok stated his private political beliefs had by no means affected his official work.
In the listening to, Republicans attacked the FBI, as President Trump himself has achieved, at a time when Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian meddling within the election and doable collusion between Trump marketing campaign aides and Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who meets with Trump in Helsinki on Monday, has repeatedly denied U.S. intelligence company conclusions that Moscow interfered and tried to assist Trump.
The U.S. president has described Mueller’s investigation into doable collusion between Trump marketing campaign aides and Russia as a political witch hunt.
Strzok labored on the Russia investigation, which the FBI began and was taken over by Mueller, appointed by a prime Justice Department official following Trump’s dismissal in May 2017 of FBI Director James Comey.
Strzok was reassigned from that investigation. He additionally as soon as labored on an FBI investigation into Trump’s marketing campaign opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, on her dealing with of labeled info whereas she was Secretary of State.
He and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page had been having an extramarital affair in the course of the marketing campaign and exchanged 1000’s of politically charged texts. Some criticized Trump and a few criticized Clinton.
In one textual content, Page requested Strzok if Trump was going to be president. Strzok replied: “No, he’s not. We’ll stop it.”
Strzok stated on Thursday that the “we” within the textual content referred to the American individuals as a result of he believed Trump wouldn’t win the election after criticizing households whose kinfolk have been killed whereas serving within the U.S. army.
He additionally stated within the listening to, convened by two Republican-controlled House of Representatives committees:
“Today’s hearing is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”
He stated he had “expressed personal political opinions during an extraordinary presidential election” and that at occasions his “criticism was blunt,” however that it was not restricted to Trump.
“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,” Strzok instructed the committees.
Republican lawmakers requested Strzok to learn aloud a lot of his texts. His makes an attempt to clarify them had been usually halted by the Republican lawmakers, who insisted he learn them verbatim with out offering extra particulars.
Lawmakers regularly interrupted Strzok and each other with shouts and insults.
“Okay, Kremlin, another good day for you,” Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez stated of the listening to when it was his flip to query Strzok. “Congratulations Kremlin, and congratulations to everyone who is helping them.”
Strzok declined to reply a query from Republican Representative Trey Gowdy, head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, about interviews he carried out in the course of the FBI’s Russia probe, saying the company had directed him to not focus on ongoing investigations.
Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte, who heads the House Judiciary Committee, threatened to carry Strzok in contempt on the finish of the listening to if he didn’t reply Gowdy’s query.
The seldom-enforced cost of contempt of Congress will be introduced in opposition to somebody for obstructing investigations. It is probably punishable by imprisonment and a positive however requires a number of procedural steps.
Strzok appeared earlier than lawmakers in Congress final month for a closed-door interview. Page will attend a closed-door interview on Friday with the committees.
Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Frances Kerry and Grant McCool