FBI official Peter Strzok tried to defend his actions during the investigations of Hillary Clinton and any Russian election meddling during the 2016 presidential election in a contentious congressional hearing that stretched 10 hours Thursday.
The joint hearing before the House Judiciary Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committees Thursday became emotionally charged, and at times, highly personal, as bitter partisan arguments erupted. Strzok's anti-Trump text messages fueled suspicions of partisan bias in the FBI.
Congressional investigators are continuing to probe the Department of Justice and FBI after an internal inspector general report released last month criticized leadership at the top levels during the Clinton investigation. While the report ultimately found political bias did not affect the final conclusion of the investigation, it raised serious questions about the FBI's integrity during the contentious election.
Strzok faced particularly intense questioning from South Carolina's Rep. Trey Gowdy, the Republican chairman of the oversight committee, and Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican who highlighted Strzok's extramarital romantic relationship with fellow FBI agent Lisa Page and appeared to question Strzok's integrity and how he faced his wife.
"How many times did you look in your wife's eyes and lie to her about Lisa Page?" Gohmert declared, to rebuke from Democrats on the panel, one of whom blurted out asking whether he'd taken his medications that day.
In revelations from the inspector general report, Strzok exchanged troubling communications with Page in which he appeared adamant that they would "stop" then-candidate Trump from ever becoming president. Page and Strzok both worked on the FBI investigation into Clinton's emails and, later, on special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. The texts, in addition to previously released exchanges, have since given ammunition to the claim from conservatives that Strzok and others in the FBI were actively working against Mr. Trump.
Strzok told the panel Thursday that he "doesn't recall" writing the text, saying that it was an off-the-cuff message written late at night, and it did not suggest that he or the FBI would take any action to intervene in election. He also said that he wrote the text in response to Mr. Trump's comments about a Gold Star family.
Follow along for updates from earlier:
Hearing adjourned, 10 hours after it began
Goodlatte wrapped up the hearing at exactly 8 p.m., 10 hours after it began. In his closing remarks, he expressed disappointment in his Democratic colleagues who dismissed the hearing's importance, and expressed disappointment in Strzok.
Goodlatte claimed Strzok declined to answer questions, "under the cover of the FBI and special counsel Mueller."
Strzok says he "did not" advise Mueller about relationship with Page
Strzok, pressed by Rep. Karen Handel of Georgia, said he "did not" advise Mueller about his relationship with Lisa Page.
Strzok said he did not find the information relevant.
Strzok says FBI is generally "conservative"
Strzok, pressed about the political views of fellow FBI agents, said he didn't generally know the specific political beliefs of fellow FBI agents. But typically, people in the FBI are "conservative," he said.
Strzok made the comments in response to questions from Wisconsin's Republican Rep. Glenn Grothman, who appeared to be pressing Strzok to say most of his colleagues are liberal.
Generally, Strzok said, FBI agents in the D.C. office are "strongly conservative, strongly law and order, strongly national defense."
Strzok: "I am deeply regretful of those texts"
Strzok said that he is "deeply regretful" of sending the anti-Trump texts to his colleague, but said that he did so with an expectation of privacy.
"I had no idea that this was going to happen ," he said, adding that he would not have done so otherwise.
Still, Strzok said he doesn't think his text messages are indicative of bias.
Strzok says the FBI received documents from Bruce Ohr
Rep. Jordan asked Strzok if he received any documents from Bruce Ohr.
Strzok hesitated, checked with his counsel, and was then authorized to say: "not me, the FBI received documents and material from Mr. Ohr."
The session then paused for a recess so the congressmen present could go to votes on the House floor.
Rep. DeSantis says he doesn't think Strzok's answers have been credible
"The idea that there's no bias here-- I don't think your explanations have been credible," Rep. DeSantis said to Strzok.
He later asked Strzok about the funding of the Steele Dossier, which the FBI has directed Strzok may not answer at this time.
Time yielded to Chairman Gowdy
Rep. Virginia Foxx yielded her time to Chairman Gowdy, who asked Strzok about his mention of impeachment on the day the special counsel was appointed.
"My concern was not knowing, given these allegations, what existed," Strzok said. "Whether on the one hand, there was no criminal activity whatsoever... or on the far end that there might be an impeachable offense."
Rep. Gohmert asks Strzok about his wife
Rep. Louie Gohmert asked Strzok how many times he's "looked into his wife's eyes" and lied to her, as Gohmert claims Strzok has lied to the joint committee. The remark is a jab at Strzok's affair with his former colleague Lisa Page.
Those present at the hearing burst into an uproar and one representative suggested that the Gohmert "needs his medication" for the "inappropriate" question before order was called.
Rep. Cohen says this hearing is just a distraction
"If I could give you a purple heart, I would," Rep. Steve Cohen said, calling the hearing an "attack" on Strzok.
Cohen criticized the hearing as a distraction from Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and a way to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
"It's astonishing to me that you would be put on trial as you have today," Cohen said, praising Strzok's work in security.
House moves to recess for 1 hour
Members are taking a 1 hour recess from the hearing for votes and will reconvene at 2:00 pm.
Strzok reiterates "sincere regret" for texts
While Strzok says he doesn't agree with lawmakers' characterization that his views were bias, the sentiment in his text messages "were not intended as direct animus as any set of people."
"I do sincerely regret that," he said. Strzok said every day he walked in the door at the FBI, "the entirety of my action was dedicated to pursuing the facts wherever they lie." He added that it would not have been necessary or required to recuse himself from any investigaiton.
Democrats demand release of transcript of Strzok's closed-door testimony
Democratic members are urging Chairman Goodlatte to release the transcript of Strzok's previous 11-hour long testimony offered to members behind closed doors out of transparency, citing that portions of the transcript have been leaked to the press.
Goodlatte has vehemently denied such a request saying the request is disrupting the process of the hearing.
Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island says that despite Goodlatte's denial, he may move to unilaterally release the transcript citing no House rule dictating against its release. He set a deadline of 5:00 PM today to be given a reason not to.
Goodlatte presses Strzok on his removal from special counsel probe
Strzok tells Chairman Goodlatte that he never felt it necessary to recuse himself from the Russia probe over his personal beliefs. He told lawmakers that it was his impression that his removal was based on the desire to avoid any appearance of potential bias.
Strzok, however, was adamant that his text messages were "not indicative of bias."
"I did not think that bias was exprsed in those text messages," he added.
Strzok said that it was impossible to say that "people must not have political opinion, everyone does, of course they do, the test is if that is left behind when they do their job."
Goodlatte asks for clarification on Trump supporter texts
Goodlatte, referencing another well-known text exchange: "What does Trump support smell like?"
Strzok says he was "struck by the extraordinary difference in the expression of political opinion" between voters in northern and southern VA; he called the text "flippant"
"Do you understand the implications of this text when my constituents in Virginia read it?" Goodlatte asked. Strzok replied: "I do, sir. I would ask you to tell them that was, in some cases, a certainly unfortunate use of words."
Strzok says "no room for personal belief" at FBI
"There's no room for personal belief. It's something culturally that doesn't occur," Strzok tells lawmakers, saying that there are numerous procedures and guidelines in place at the FBI to stop such instances of agents who are acting in any way other than an official capacity.
"When I tell you that I personally what I believe and what I did, I understand why people may have doubts. But look at the entirety of the rest of the organization of all the things that are in place," he added.
House disrupts hearing to vote on Bannon subpeona
The House broke questioning to hold a 5 minute long vote to table a motion made by Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California to subpoena former Trump aide Steve Bannon over his refusal to answer lawmaker's questions, similar to threats Strzok received during Thursday's hearing.
The motion, after a lengthy back and forth, was tabled.
Strzok says he "doesn't recall" writing text suggesting he'd stop Trump
Strzok says a text message suggesting that he would stop then-candidate Trump from being president was written late at night, and "in no way suggested that I or the FBI would take any action" to intervene in Trump's election. He said he also didn't recall writing it but that it was off the cuff and based on Mr. Trump's comments about the Khan family and needs to be understood in the context of the political climate at the time.
"It was in no way -- unequivocally -- any suggestion that me, the FBI, would take any action whatsoever to improperly impact the electoral process for any candidate," Strzok sternly told lawmakers.
He added, "at no time, in any of those texts, did those personal beliefs enter into the realm of any action I took." A round of applause is heard in the hearing chamber as Strzok's impassioned defense of his actions ends.
Gowdy's fiery exchange with Strzok
Watch Gowdy's entire exchange with Strzok, which took up the majority of time at the very start of Thursday's hearing.
Members break into argument over Strzok's refusal to answer question
Strzok objects to questions related to Russian interference as Gowdy continues to press the agent on specifics on the FBI's probe into possible collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
"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 replies.
Chairman Goodlatte and Nadler then broke out into a sparring match over points of order of the hearing and the agent's refusal to answer the question.
"I believe I am here voluntarily. I will not, based on direction by the FBI to me, based on that I will not answer that question because it goes to matters related to ongoing investigations taken by the special counsel," Strzok tells Chairman Goodlatte.
"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 demanded.
Goodlatte then threatened that Strzok could be held in contempt for not answering questions. The chairman also refused for Strzok to confer with FBI counsel during the hearing.
Cummings causes stir in hearing with photos
CBS News' Olivia Gazis says that Rep. Elijah Cummings caused a momentary stir as signs of those who have pleaded guilty to date in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe are raised during his opening remarks.
Strzok expresses "significant regret"
Strzok expresses "significant regret" that his text messages caused confusion and pain for the people he loves in his opening remarks.
"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.
Trey Gowdy says Strzok struggles to define bias
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, says Strzok has a "self-serving definition of bias" and had struggled to define bias during his 10-hour deposition behind closed doors some two weeks ago. He said that Strzok had Clinton winning the White House even before the election took place.
"Agent Strzok had Donald Trump impeached before he even started investigating him. That is bias. Agent Strzok may not see it but the rest of the country does, and it is not what we want, expect or deserve from any law enforcement officer much less the FBI."
"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.
He added, "A fair, bias-free investigation is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it's an American issue -- or at least it used to be."
Nadler says Strzok, Page affair "not relevant"
Ranking Member Jerry Nadler tells committee members that Strzok's alleged relationship with Lisa Page is not relevant to the committee's hearing on Thursday, saying "I hope I can expect better behavior from my colleagues" than that of President Trump who has repeatedly tweeted about the two colleagues alleged affair.
"You don't have to like him but you have to treat him and any witness before us with respect," Nadler added.
Chairman Goodlatte implores Dems to imagine the shoe on the other foot
Chairman Bob Goodlatte urges Democrats to stop saying today's hearing "doesn't matter", saying to imagine if instead of President Trump, Strzok was saying disparaging comments about President Obama or Hillary Clinton.
"For those who think we are wasting time in this committee, suppose all of this had been said about candidate Obama before he was elected, or even more topical, about Hillary Clinton while she was running in the same election. Would we be where we are today? The only honest answer is an absolute affirmative, "YES"! Of course we would be here because every single Democrat would be protesting bias and discrimination against their preferred candidates by an out-of-control FBI and DOJ. So please stop saying this doesn't matter and is only the product of conspiracy theory," Goodlatte told the committee.
Strzok calls hearing a "notch in Putin's belt"
"I understand we are living in a political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity. But the honest truth is that Russian interference in our elections constitutes a grave attack on our democracy. Most disturbingly, it has been wildly successful - sowing discord in our nation and shaking faith in our institutions. 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," Strzok says in prepared remarks of Thursday's hearing.
He adds that it's "profoundly painful to watch and even worse to play a part in."
Strzok claims to have had damaging info in 2016 on Trump campaign
In prepared remarks, Strzok says he had information in the summer of 2016 about efforts to interfere with the U.S. elections and connections between foreign governments and the Trump campaign that could have derailed the campaign.
"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. This information had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump. But the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind," Strzok says in prepared remarks of his testimony.
He adds, "In the summer of 2016, we had an urgent need to protect the integrity of an American Presidential election from a hostile foreign power determined to weaken and divide the United States of America. This investigation is not politically motivated, it is not a witch hunt, it is not a hoax."
Strzok defends texts in prepared remarks
In excerpts of prepared remarks, Strzok claims that his opinions in questionable text messages were "expressed out of deep patriotism and an unyielding belief in our great American democracy."
"At times my criticism was blunt, but despite how it's been characterized, it was not limited to one person or one party - I criticized various countries and politicians, including Secretary Clinton, Senator Sanders, then-candidate Trump and others," Strzok is prepared to tell lawmakers.
Strzok also reiterates the DOJ IG's findings that at no point did his political and personal opinions "impact any official action I took."
"After months of investigations, there is simply no evidence of bias in my professional actions," Strzok says in prepared remarks.
What did the IG report find?
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz told lawmakers last month that as a result of the report's findings, the FBI found two additional FBI agents beyond Strzok and Page as well as one attorney that exposed political bias during the investigation. While employees have a right to a political opinion, "their job is to check them at the door" Horowitz said.
"The one thing I thought we all understood, you're entitled to be and should be part of the public, government, democracy we live in, when you get in the office you leave your views outside when you walk in the door," the IG said.
Horowitz explained that the most troubling aspect of Strzok and Page's exchanges was the fact that they thought their messages were private when they weren't.
"They were using their FBI devices, sometimes at work, sometimes not at work, to speak about individuals that they were investigating. They weren't just speaking about a generic election," he said, adding that Page and Strzok had "tied their discussions to their investigate work and that's what's concerning."
"My view of this was that this was extremely serious, completely antithetical to the core values of the department," Horowitz said of the largely anti-Trump and politically biased messages exchanged. Horowitz reiterated, however, that through the investigation, "we didn't find or see evidence prosecutors were impacted by that bias."
Horowitz said that Strzok "exhibited" some form of bias but that decisions made by others during the Clinton investigation "were not infected by that bias."
House Judiciary Committee: Who is Chairman Bob Goodlatte
Bob Goodlatte is a member of the House of Representatives. He is a Republican representing Virginia's 6th district. He is also the chairman of the United States House Committee on the Judiciary, whose charge is the administration of federal courts and Federal law enforcement agencies like the F.B.I.
Mr. Goodlatte is chairing this joint committee meeting of both the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. His job as chairman is to set the agenda for and control the order during today's hearing. He yields time to other members of the committee who wish to ask questions of the witness.
Ranking members of the House Judiciary Committee are Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) and Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland).
What about those texts?
The content of Strzok's text messages are expected to be raised in detail during Thursday's hearing. The FBI employee disparaged Mr. Trump in communications with Page throughout the course of the campaign, including referring to then-candidate Trump as an "idiot" and making fun of Trump supporters.
During the campaign, Strzok led the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private server while she was secretary of state. The texts sent between Page and Strzok are dated between August 2015 and December 2016, the duration of the campaign. They raised concerns about Strzok's impartiality and will likely prompt more questions about the investigation into Clinton's server.
Strzok, who was assigned to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling and ties to Trump associates, was ultimately dismissed from the team over the exchanges. Page