FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok insisted to Congress on Thursday that his text messages disparaging then-candidate Donald Trump were “not indicative of bias,” even though the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General said the texts showed a “biased state of mind.”
“I did not think that bias was expressed in those text messages,” he told the House committees on judiciary and oversight of messages he sent showing that he opposed Trump and would “stop” him from becoming president.
He added later that “I do not have bias,” and said be believes he was taken off special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Trump’s alleged ties to Russia because of the perception of bias.
The Justice Department IG report heavily criticized Strzok and Page, who were having an extramarital affair, for the sentiments they expressed to one another in text messages, and said the texts revealed potential bias and a “biased state of mind.”
“We were deeply troubled by text messages sent by Strzok and Page that potentially indicated or created the appearance that investigative decisions were impacted by bias or improper considerations,” the IG said.
The IG specifically cited a text message in which Strzok told Page in August 2016 that “we’ll stop” Trump from being elected.
“[I]t is not only indicative of a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects,” the IG said. “Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on the midyear-related investigative lead discovered on the [Anthony] Weiner laptop in October 2016, these text messages led us to conclude that we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision was free from bias.”
That text message, Strzok told lawmakers on Thursday, was written late-at-night and off-the-cuff, and “in no way suggested that I or the FBI would take any action” to interfere in Trump’s presidential campaign.
In the same hearing, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy said Strzok has a “self-serving definition of bias.”
“We’re a 100 percent country when it comes to having law enforcement that doesn’t pre-judge guilt and punishment before an investigation begins,” said Gowdy. “A fair, bias-free investigation is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it’s an American issue — or at least it used to be.”
Strzok was on defense about his personal opinions from the very beginning of Thursday’s hearing, claiming they never affected his work.
“[L]et 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 explained in his opening statement.
“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,” he said. “This information had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump. But the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind.”
Page is expected to give a closed-door testimony to the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees on Friday and Monday.