A top FBI official at the center of controversy over alleged political bias at the bureau said on Thursday that his private views about President Donald Trump did not influence his actions as the lead investigator on the Hillary Clinton email investigation team.
Testifying publicly for the first time during a tense Congressional hearing, Peter Strzok, a deputy assistant FBI director, said a series of anti-Trump and pro-Clinton emails he exchanged with former FBI lawyer Lisa Page during the 2016 presidential election had no impact on his actions as an investigator for the FBI.
“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,” Strzok told a joint hearing by the house judiciary and government oversight committees.
Strzok later worked on Special Council Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and allegations of collusion with Russia until last year, when he was removed after the text messages came to light.
Strzok said he was removed not because of his anti-Trump “bias” but because of Mueller was concerned about the “appearance of bias” the text messages cast over the Russia investigation.
Strzok’s public testimony came after he met last month with the two congressional panels for 11 hours of questioning behind close doors.
The hearing on Thursday grew tense as Strzok declined to answer questions about the Russia investigation, citing the FBI’s advice. That led the chairman of the judiciary panel, Bob Goodlatte, to threaten holding him in contempt of Congress.Democrats on the panel interjected, accusing Republicans of harassing Strzok and unsuccessfully pushing for an adjournment of the session. The testimony resumed after several minutes of back and forth between Democrats and Republicans.
Strzok said he was one of a “handful” of people at the FBI with knowledge of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and yet he declined to disclose it.
“This information had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump,” he said.”But the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind.”
Strzok and Page were involved in a romantic relationship in 2016, when they were both involved in the investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server. President Trump has seized on Strzok and Page’s texts to denounce the Mueller probe as nothing more than a “rigged witch hunt.”
Page also briefly served on Mueller’s investigative team until the revelations of her texts with Strzok. She resigned from the FBI in May. She is facing contempt of Congress charges after she failed to appear Wednesday for private meetings with the Judiciary and Oversight committees.
Trump lashed out directly at Page in another Twitter post Thursday from Brussels:
A recent report by the Department of Justice’s inspector general singled out Strzok for criticism over his text messages but it concluded that political bias did not determine the outcome of the Hillary Clinton investigation.