Peter Strzok, a former top FBI official who has come under fire for sending text messages critical of President Trump in 2016, denied in congressional testimony Thursday that he let his personal opinions impact actions that he took in the agency’s investigations, according to prepared testimony released by his lawyers. His opening remarks in front of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees also ripped Republican lawmakers for giving him a “wholly inadequate” opportunity to prepare for Thursday’s open hearing.
“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,” Strzok said in his prepared remarks. “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’s remarks stressed that he kept his personal opinions separate from all of the investigations he’s worked on, including both the Russia probe and the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server.
In making that point, he argued that he could have publicly exposed the FBI’s probe into Trump’s campaign before the election — and disclose information that “had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump” — but didn’t.
“The thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind,” he said.
Before Thursday’s open hearing, Strzok sat for 11 hours of private questioning from the committees last month, where, he said Thursday, there was “significant tension” between him and Republican lawmakers, and “numerous time-consuming sidebars and discussions amongst counsel” over questions about the Russia probe that the FBI instructed Strzok not to answer.
Strzok said the FBI’s negotiations with the committee over what questions were fair game for Thursday’s hearing were ongoing as recently as Wednesday evening.
“I will abide by the FBI’s instructions — but let me clear: this is not because I don’t want to answer your questions; if I were permitted to answer, I would,” he said. “And the answers would doubtless be disappointing to the questioners and undermine the conspiracy narrative being told about the Russia investigation.”
He also bashed lawmakers for not providing him with the transcript from last week’s closed-door interview, and for allowing him only 36 hours to review thousands of pages of Justice Department documents that he said were turned over to the committee last week.
Read the full prepared remarks below:
Chairmen Goodlatte and Gowdy, Ranking Members Nadler and Cummings. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before your committees again, this time in an open hearing.
I testify today with significant regret, recognizing that my texts have created confusion and caused pain for people I love. 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.
I am eager to answer your questions, but let me first directly address those much-talked about texts.
Like many people, I had and expressed personal political opinions during an extraordinary Presidential election. Many contained expressions of concern for the security of our country — opinions that were not always expressed in terms I am proud of.
But having worked in national security for two decades and proudly served in the U.S. Army, those opinions 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.
But let 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.
This is true for the Clinton email investigation, for the investigation into Russian interference, and for every other investigation I’ve worked on. It is not who I am, and it is not something I would ever do. Period.
I understand that my sworn testimony will not be enough for some people. After all, Americans are skeptical of anything they hear out of Washington. But the fact is, after months of investigations, there is simply no evidence of bias in my professional actions.
There is, however, one extraordinarily important piece of evidence supporting my integrity, the integrity of the FBI, and our lack of bias.
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.
That’s what FBI agents do every single day, and it’s why I am so proud of the Bureau. And I am particularly proud of the work that I, and many others, did on the Clinton email investigation. Our charge was to investigate it competently, honestly, and independently, and that is exactly what happened.
I’m also proud of our work on the Russian interference investigation. This is an investigation into a direct attack by a foreign adversary – and it is no less so simply because it was launched against our democratic process rather than against a military base. This is something that all Americans, of all political persuasions, should be alarmed by. 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.
I expect that during this hearing, I’ll be asked about that ongoing investigation. During my testimony before these Committees two weeks ago, I was asked a number of questions, including about the ongoing Russia investigation, that counsel for the FBI instructed me not to answer. Consistent with my obligations, I followed the instructions of agency counsel. However, these exchanges generated significant tension with the Majority Members and numerous time-consuming sidebars and discussions amongst counsel.
Earlier this week, my attorney asked the Committees and the FBI to confer and agree on ground rules about which topics the FBI would allow me to testify about, and which I could not. As recently as last night, the FBI and Congress were still negotiating about what questions I would be allowed to answer here today. My understanding is that the FBI’s Office of General Counsel has provided the Committee with a list of questions that I will be permitted to answer today; the list includes certain questions that I was asked but instructed not to answer during my previous interview by the Committees. I am happy to answer any questions for which I have authorization to answer and where the FBI has directed me not to answer, I will abide by the FBI’s instructions – but let me clear: this is not because I don’t want to answer your questions; if I were permitted to answer, I would. And the answers would doubtless be disappointing to the questioners and undermine the conspiracy narrative being told about the Russia investigation.
In addition, I will testify today as accurately as I can, and to the best of my recollection. Nevertheless, my testimony will necessarily be less accurate, less precise, and less complete than it would be had the Committees not insisted on this unreasonable and unprecedented schedule. Only 36 hours ago I received access to thousands of pages of documents that the Department of Justice turned over to the Committees last week. Unlike the Members questioning me today, I do not have the transcript from my eleven hours of testimony last week. The time available for preparation has been wholly inadequate, as has my access to documents necessary for my preparation.
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.
As someone who loves this country and cherishes its ideals, it is profoundly painful to watch and even worse to play a part in.