FBI official Peter Strzok is trying to publicly defend his actions during investigations of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election as he testifies before a joint hearing before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees on Thursday. Testimony has been slowed by bitter partisan arguments among the members on the panels. At one point, after just one member had questioned Strzok, the panel voted on whether to subpoena former White House strategist Steve Bannon.
Strzok's anti-Trump text messages fueled suspicions of partisan bias over the course of the 2016 election and Hillary Clinton email investigation.
Congressional investigators are continuing to probe the Department of Justice and FBI after an internal inspector general report 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.
In revelations from the report, Strzok exchanged troubling communications with a fellow FBI colleague Lisa 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.Strzok faced aggressive questioning from Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, on this point.
Strzok told the panels today 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.
During the campaign, Mr. Trump had disparaged Khizr Khan after he delivered an emotional indictment of the then-GOP nominee at the Democratic convention. "If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say," he speculated to ABC News about Ghazala Khan, who had stood on the stage next to her husband. The Khans' son was killed in the Iraq War in 2004.
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.