House Chairman threatens ex-FBI agent Strzok with contempt for not answering hearing questions

Former FBI agent Peter Strzok testified today before a joint hearing carried out by two House Committees conducting oversight of the FBI and Justice Department.

Strzok was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections after it was discovered he sent anti-Trump texts with another FBI official, as well as for his conduct during the Hillary Clinton email probe.

He faces questions regarding his relationship with FBI lawyer Lisa Page, as well as text messages and conduct regarding potential bias toward President Trump. Strzok’s text messages included support of Clinton and aspirations of aiding impeachment efforts toward the President.

At one point during Thursday’s hearing, Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican, threatened to hold Strzok in contempt for refusing to answer a question about the Russia investigation.

“You haven’t given a good legal reason to not answer. Your testimony is critical to this investigation. I am specifically directing you to answer the question to not answer. Your testimony is critical to this investigation. I am specifically directing you to answer the question,” Goodlatte said.

Goodlatte warned Strzok he could be held in contempt for refusing to answer questions. He denied Strzok’s request to consult FBI counsel during the hearing.

Watch the hearing here:

His conduct has fueled accusations against top members of the FBI for exercising bias against President Trump that may impede investigations against him.

Last month, Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz said before lawmakers that the department “didn’t find or see evidence prosecutors were impacted by that bias.” He added that the biased messages were “extremely serious, completely antithetical to the core values of the department.”

Refusal to Answer

Shortly after the hearing began on Thursday, Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy questioned Strzok on details of the investigation into Russian interference, to which Strzok said he could not answer questions.

“I understand your question and would like to answer. As you know, the counsel of the FBI have directed me not to answer any questions about any questions about ongoing investigations,” Strzok said.

His response sparked an argument between Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Rep. Jerry Nadler on Strzok’s refusal.

“You haven’t given a good legal reason to not answer. Your testimony is critical to this investigation. I am specifically directing you to answer the question to not answer. Your testimony is critical to this investigation. I am specifically directing you to answer the question,” Goodlatte said.

Goodlatte warned Strzok he could be held in contempt for refusing to answer questions. He denied Strzok’s request to consult FBI counsel during the hearing.

Heated Questioning

A fiery exchange ensued between Strzok and Gowdy.

Gowdy pointed out that Strzok’s messages discussing the impeachment of President Trump began just one day after the special counsel’s investigation was announced – before any deep investigative action and interviews had taken place.

“No wonder Bob Mueller kicked you off the investigation, Mr. Strzok,” Gowdy said.

“Any suggestion that me, the FBI, would [have] taken any action [to] improperly impact the electoral process, I take great offense and disagreement about what it was or wasn’t,” said Strzok.

“I don’t appreciate being mischaracterized,” he added.

“I don’t give a damn what you appreciate, Agent Strzok,” Gowdy said. “I don’t appreciate having an FBI agent with unprecedented level of animus working on two major investigations.”

Strzok’s Defense

Throughout the hearing, Strzok maintained that his text messages did not convey bias.

“After months of investigations, there is simply no evidence of bias in my professional actions,” he said.

He defended his messages as blunt criticism, sometimes exaggerative and hyperbolic, that were “expressed out of deep patriotism and an unyielding belief in our great American democracy.”

However, Strzok said he was regretful for the messages that caused confusion.

“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,” he said.

He insisted that he did not recall writing messages implying that he would stop President Trump.

“I separated my personal beliefs from any action I took as an FBI agent, every day,” Strzok said.

Disruptions

The hearing was disrupted for approximately five minutes when committee member Rep. Eric Swalwell proposed the subpoena of Steve Bannon, and a move to hold Bannon in contempt if he does not respond. The committees then proceeded with a recorded vote process before resuming with questioning.

Rep. Elijah Cummings also momentarily disrupted the hearing by holding up signs of individuals who have pleaded guilty during the Mueller investigation.

He insisted that the department should not be undermined or impeded from carrying out its apparent effective work.

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