WASHINGTON ― FBI special agent Peter Strzok, whose anti-Trump text messages provided fodder for congressional Republicans who allege the bureau was biased against Donald Trump, said Thursday that a high-profile hearing focusing on his conduct was “just another victory notch in Putin’s belt.”
Strzok, testifying at a joint hearing held by the House Judiciary and House Oversight committees, called Russian interference in the 2016 election a “grave attack on our democracy” that was “wildly successful” in “sowing discord in our nation and shaking faith” in American institutions.
“I have the utmost respect for Congress’ oversight role, but I truly believe that today’s hearing is just another victory notch in [Vladimir] Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart,” Strzok said, referring to the Russian president.
During the 2016 campaign, Strzok played a key role in both the widely publicized investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the then-covert probe of dealings between Russian officials and associates of the Trump campaign. He briefly served on the special counsel team led by Robert Mueller, but was removed as soon as his anti-Trump text messages came to light.
Strzok’s texts were sent to Lisa Page, a former FBI attorney with whom he was having an affair. Many of the texts disparaged Trump as well as other political figures, including Democrats. Seizing on the texts, Trump and his supporters have convinced a significant number of Americans that the FBI, which a former bureau official described as “right-leaning,” had an anti-Trump bias.
Strzok said Thursday that Russian interference in the 2016 election was “a direct attack by a foreign adversary” that should concern all Americans.
“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,” Strzok said. “This investigation is not politically motivated, it is not a witch hunt, it is not a hoax.”
Strzok said there was “simply no evidence of bias” found in his professional actions after months of investigations and that one “extraordinarily important piece of evidence” supported his integrity and lack of bias: the fact that details of the investigation into Russian interference didn’t go public before the election.
“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 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.”
That’s a point that Strzok also made to investigators with the Justice Department’s Inspector General.
“Strzok stated that had he ― or the FBI in general ― actually wanted to prevent Trump from being elected, they would not have maintained the confidentiality of the investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and members of the Trump campaign in the months before the election,” the report stated.
Strzok said that he regretted that his texts “created confusion” and “provided ammunition for misguided attacks against the FBI, an institution I love deeply and have served proudly for more than 20 years.”
Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’s senior justice reporter covering the Justice Department, federal law enforcement, criminal justice and legal affairs. Have a tip? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Signal at 202-527-9261.