There may not have been much new substance revealed during Peter Strzok’s testimony, as Jazz predicted, but everyone got to watch a lot of score-settling. Republicans in the hearing went after Strzok, Strzok went after them, Democrats and Republicans fought with and talked over each other, and voters got another reason to either cheer or boo depending on who was talking at the moment.
How bad were the disconnects? No one seemed to agree how Strzok ended up at the table today, let alone what he could be asked. Strzok ended up facing a charge of contempt of Congress for refusing to give Rep. Trey Gowdy the number of people he interviewed before beginning his text tirades about Donald Trump:
GOP lawmakers are growing frustrated with Peter Strzok's refusal to share details on the Russia investigation at his House Judiciary and Oversight Committees hearing.
Strzok, the FBI agent who sent anti-Trump texts, also noted that he was there voluntarily and not by subpoena. pic.twitter.com/AjqaSfyTQu
— POLITICO (@politico) July 12, 2018
Regardless, Gowdy already knew the answer, even if Strzok would not provide it. How, Gowdy wondered, can Strzok claim that personal animus didn’t drive the investigation when Strzok was texting “F Trump” before he’d talked to a single witness?
"You are the lead investigator, you originated the investigation, you are the point of contact, you drafted the document, & here you are before you interviewed a single solitary witness saying 'F Trump,'" Rep. Trey Gowdy pulls no punches with Peter Strzok https://t.co/3x4HT39ijx pic.twitter.com/w3BTqgglAm
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 12, 2018
This pretty much encapsulates the pre-fab nature of this hearing. We already know what Strzok texted, and we pretty much know all of the context for it too, thanks to the Inspector General report that took Strzok and Lisa Page to task while referring Andrew McCabe for criminal prosecution. All of this is as choreographed as Strzok’s inevitable defense of wrapping himself up in the FBI’s flag and having Democrats cheer it:
FBI Agent Peter Strzok applauded by Democratic members of House Oversight Committee after passionate response to Rep. Trey Gowdy, saying Gowdy's accusation "deeply corrodes what the FBI is in American society, the effectiveness of their mission, and it is deeply destructive." pic.twitter.com/m2Hbc9kPPQ
— ABC News (@ABC) July 12, 2018
And, for that matter, the shoe-on-the-other-foot argument from the chair right back to those Democrats:
Goodlatte also challenged Democrats to replace Trump’s name in those texts with their own.
“To my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, please replace President Trump’s name with your own name in a small sample of things Mr. Strzok has said,” Goodlatte said. “Envision how you would feel if you found out that the chief agent investigating you as a Member of Congress was making these comments: ‘F Trump,’ ‘Trump is a disaster,’ ‘Just went to a southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support’ – or, perhaps most alarmingly and revealingly, ‘We’ll stop it’ – referring directly to Mr. Trump’s candidacy for President.”
Nevertheless, Gowdy still scored a few points. Strzok came across as arrogant, barely apologizing for his behavior in official and unofficial communications. In fact, he didn’t apologize at all for “we’ll stop it,” and in doing so pretty much laid out an effective case that Strzok had a significant amount of personal animus toward Trump well before the July 31 start date of the probe. How else does one understand “horrible, disgusting behavior,” and his red-faced, angry recitation of it to the committee this morning?
So in the first 1.5 hours, we heard just one complete answer to a question from Peter Strzok. Here he is explaining his most controversial text message. pic.twitter.com/iQ6C9B3xcR
— Shelby Holliday (@shelbyholliday) July 12, 2018
However, even that has limited value, as both David French and Gabriel Malor noted shortly afterward. Investigators are not required to feel neutrally about the subjects of their investigations or even refrain from expressing their feelings. When it involves electoral candidates, however, it certainly helps to have shown some personal restraint instead of emoting all over the place. Strzok proved more evasive in other questions. For instance, while Strzok maintained that he would never allow personal animus to bias an investigation, Gowdy went back to the record:
Rep. Gowdy: May 17 2017: Bob Mueller is appointed, Your friend Jim Comey has been fired…Do you remember how long it took for you to start talking about impeachment after Mueller was appointed?
Peter Strzok: I don’t, sir.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 12, 2018
Strzok insists that Robert Mueller removed him from the special-counsel prosecution out of an abundance of caution after some of these texts were made known to him. However, he claims that they shouldn’t have caused his dismissal, including this one in which Strzok appears to suggest that Mueller’s probe will provide an impetus for impeachment before even interviewing a single witness … again.
In other words, no one covered themselves with much glory today, but Strzok may have dug his hole a little deeper regardless. His testimony is continuing, and we’ll cover any other developments in later posts.