Everything one needs to know about the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees’ joint questioning Thursday of the FBI agent who oversaw the outset of the Russia investigation came within the first minutes of the hearing’s combative Q and A.
In his opening statement, FBI agent Peter Strzok delivered the most salient piece of information to any suggestion that he exhibited anti-Trump bias while leading the nascent investigation.
“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,” Strzok stated. “This information had the potential to derail and quite possibly defeat Mr. Trump, but the thought of expressing that or exposing that information never crossed my mind.”
That’s a provably true statement since American voters were routinely updated by former FBI Director James Comey on the Hillary Clinton email investigation while they simultaneously remained totally in the dark about Team Trump’s potential conspiracy with Russia to hijack the election.
Next came the fireworks when GOP Rep. Trey Growdy of South Carolina insisted on knowing exactly how many people Strzok interviewed for the investigation during an eight-day window from July 31 to August 8.
Strzok responded that he had been “directed” by FBI lawyers “not to answer any questions about the ongoing investigation.”
That’s when all hell broke loose. The Republican chair of the Judiciary panel, Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, put Strzok in an impossible bind, ordering him to answer the question or face being “at risk of a contempt citation and potential criminal liability.” As Goodlatte pressed Strzok, the ranking Democratic member on the Judiciary panel, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, repeatedly interjected with points of order, objecting that Goodlatte’s command put Strzok in an “impossible position,” demanding a ruling on his point of order, and at one point, moving to adjourn immediately.
The opening action reached the height of preposterousness when Strzok, under pressure from Goodlatte, finally asked to consult with FBI attorneys seated behind him about the query.
“You may consult with your counsel,” Goodlatte instructed.
To which agent Strzok responded, “But I may not consult with the FBI’s counsel?”
“Only with your own counsel,” Goodlatte directed, to the bemused disbelief of many present.
And there it is in a nutshell: Republican lawmakers pressing an FBI agent to disclose information about an ongoing criminal investigation against the direction of FBI counsel, then denying that agent the opportunity to consult with FBI lawyers present to make certain he wouldn’t be disclosing sensitive information.
“Look, this is serious business,” noted former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance as she reflected on the moment on MSNBC. “This is about protecting national security-related information,” she said, adding that Strzok certainly should have been permitted consultation. Not granting him that access was “a moment of embarrassment” for a body charged with overseeing the rule of law, Vance said.
Following on Vance’s point, former FBI Assistant Director Frank Figliuzzi guessed that FBI counterintelligence agents monitoring the hearing were reaching the same conclusion he did: “There’s only one person who can sit and watch this travesty and enjoy it, and his name is Vladimir Putin.”
“The sowing of discord and disarray in our institutions” is the chief goal of the Russian government and its intelligence apparatus, Figliuzzi observed, “and that’s exactly what we were watching today.”
He also decried GOP lawmakers for showing a “complete disregard for the sanctity of a pending criminal investigation” by not allowing Strzok to consult with FBI lawyers.
As Strzok noted 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.”
Just a guess that Donald Trump will enjoy watching the lowlights of today’s travesty almost as much as his buddy, Vlad. Perhaps they can delight in the fireworks together during their upcoming unsupervised one-on-one.
Here’s the opening 10 minutes of Q/A, well worth the watch:
WATCH: This morning's House Judiciary hearing quickly became contentious as Chair Bob Goodlatte threatened FBI Agent Peter Strzok with contempt for declining to answer questions on Russia probe.
— ABC News (@ABC) July 12, 2018