(CNSNews.com) – During a joint House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Thursday, FBI Agent Peter Strzok defended his use of the phrase, “We’ll stop it,” in a text message to his FBI colleague Lisa Page regarding then candidate Donald Trump’s candidacy, saying it “in no way suggested” that the FBI would take action to influence Trump’s candidacy.
“Mr. Gowdy, what my testimony is what I said during extensive asking of this question during my prior interview is I don’t recall writing that text. What I can tell you is that text in no way suggested that I or the FBI would take any action to influence the candidacy—“ Strzok said in response to grilling by House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).
Gowdy first asked Strzok about how many people he interviewed in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server during the first week of August 2016.
GOWDY: Just so the record’s clear, because it’s been a little while, I didn’t ask you the content of those interviews. I didn’t ask you the names of who you interviewed. I asked you whether or not you interviewed anyone from July the 31st until August the 8th, and I find it interesting that the FBI will tell us no interviews were conducted before July 31st. That apparently doesn’t impact an ongoing probe, but between July 31st and August 8th it does. Here’s the good news: I already know the answer to it.
I went and looked at the file. The first interview that I can find is on August the 11th of 2016, which is 11 days after it began, which makes me wonder on August the 6th, so you haven’t interviewed anyone. Your investigating this alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. You’re the lead investigator. You originated the investigation. You’re the point of contact. You drafted the document, and here you are before you’ve interviewed a single solitary witness saying ‘F*** Trump.’
Then that same day your colleague Lisa Page wrote: ‘Maybe you’re meant to protect the country from that menace,’ and you responded, ‘I can protect the country at many levels.’ We’re not even a week into an investigation that you originated, approved, were the contact for. You hadn’t interviewed a single solitary soul until August 11th, and you’re already promising to protect the country from that menace Donald Trump.
And then on August the 8th, you still hadn’t interviewed anyone. You’re eight days into your Russian collusion with the Trump campaign investigation, and you got another text from your colleague Lisa Page. ‘Trump’s not ever going to be president, right?’ And You replied, ‘No, no, he’s not. We’ll stop it.’ By the time you promised to stop him from becoming president, on August the 8th, how many interviews had you conducted?
STRZOK: Mr. Gowdy, so two answers to that. One, with regard to how many interviews had or had not been conducted, I’ve been directed by counsel for the FBI not to answer that question. Second, sir, I think it’s important to take those texts in the context of how they were written and what they meant.
GOWDY: And someone may ask you that question, Agent Strzok, but I didn’t. I asked you how many people you interviewed before you wrote it. If you want to get into context, let one of my other colleagues do that with you. Here’s what I want to know. Who’s the ‘he’ in ‘he’s not?’
STRZOK: ‘He’ is then candidate Trump.
GOWDY: So when you said, no, Donald Trump’s not - in connection with a question – going to become president, what’s the ‘it’ – what’s ‘stop it?’
STRZOK: Chairman Gowdy, that text needs to be taken in the context of –
GOWDY: I’m asking, look, if you want to have a debate over a two letter word, we’re going to have to do that some other time. What and who did you mean by it?
STRZOK: Mr. Gowdy, as I’ve stated, that text was written late at night in shorthand---
GOWDY: I don’t care when it was written. I don’t care whether it was long-hand, cursive. I don’t care about any of that. I want to know what ‘it’ meant, Mr. Strzok.
STRZOK: It would be his candidacy for the presidency, and my sense that the American population would not vote him into office.
GOWDY: Right, right. Well we hadn’t gotten to the will yet. Your testimony is the we’ll is the American people. Is that right? That’s your testimony. The ‘we’ll stop it’ you were speaking on behalf of the American people. Is that correct?
STRZOK: Mr. Gowdy, what my testimony is what I said during extensive asking of this question during my prior interview is I don’t recall writing that text. What I can tell you is that text in no way suggested that I or the FBI would take any action to influence the candidacy—
GOWDY: Agent Strzok, that is a fantastic answer to a question nobody asked. My question to you … Your testimony a couple of weeks ago was the ‘we’ meant the American people, which I found confusing, because on November the 7th, which is the day before the election, you said this. You were concerned that those same American people that you were speaking on behalf of might actually elect Donald Trump president, so you said, ‘OMG, this is F***ing terrifying.’ I think we know what F***ing means. I’m pretty sure we have OMG down too. What was terrifying about those same American people you trusted to stop him in August, not stopping him in November?’ What was so terrifying about that, Agent Strzok?
STRZOK: Mr. Gowdy, I do not have a copy of the transcript. We have not been provided that transcript.
GOWDY: It’s your text. It’s not the transcript. It’s your text.
Strzok then tried to explain that he respected the American electorate’s “right to vote” for the president and that he was simply expressing his personal belief of how he saw the outcome of the 2016 election.
STRZOK: Mr. Gowdy, what I would say in that is one, I was not referring to the American electorate at all. The American electorate, I respect in their decisions and their right to vote is absolutely a cornerstone of our democracy, so in no time did I insult or call into question the judgment or the power of the American electorate. What I was expressing in that text is my personal belief and my personal sense of how I saw and what I believed in the potential upcoming administration.
GOWDY: And see, that’s what I find so confounding, because in August, you blamed the ‘we’ on the American people, that the American people would stop it, because you don’t want it to be you and Lisa Page, and you don’t want it to be the FBI.
What I find confounding Agent Strzok is you were counting on the American people. That was the ‘we’ you referenced in August when you said ‘we’ll stop it.’ But the American people didn’t stop it. He actually won, so then we go to March of 2017, and you’re already talking longingly about him resigning, and then we go to the day that Special Counsel Mueller—well before we go to that, that’s March of 2017. March of 2016, you wrote: ‘God, Hillary should win 100 million to zero, and I’m assuming Hillary would be former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?
STRZOK: That’s correct.
GOWDY: In March of 2016, weren’t you investigating her for potential mishandling of classified information?
STRZOK: We were.
GOWDY: Had you interviewed her yet?
GOWDY: Had you interviewed more than 30 other witnesses that wound up being interviewed?
STRZOK: I would have to check the case file, but I’ll take your representation –
Gowdy also asked Strzok about what the FBI agent characterized as “hyperbole” in explaining that he knew of no one who would have voted against Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.
GOWDY: Well if she had said something incriminating in your interview that took place months later of her, would she have won 100 million to zero then?
STRZOK: Likely not, no.
GOWDY: Well then why wouldn’t you wait until the investigation was over before you have her, the nominee and winning a general election against an opponent that hadn’t even been named yet? 100 million to zero, Agent Strzok? That’s how bad she should win?
STRZOK: Mr. Gowdy, those personal expressions of my observing the political process of the presidential primaries had no bearing on my actions of any investigation to include the investigation of Secretary Clinton.
GOWDY: You couldn’t think of a single person that would not vote for Hillary Clinton for president? 100 million to zero, Agent Strzok?
STRZOK: Sir, it was clearly hyperbole.
GOWDY: Let’s say it was hyperbole. Let’s divide it by 10. How about we say it was hyperbolic and divide it by 10. 100 million divided by 10 I’m pretty sure is 10 million. Zero divided by 10 is still zero. You couldn’t think of a single solitary person that was going to vote for her for president before you interviewed her and while you were supposed to be investigating her.
STRZOK: Congressman, clearly that’s not the truth. Clearly I could envision millions of Americans who were likely and did vote for then—
GOWDY: Well you wrote it. Did you write it? Did you write that text? Were you under duress?
STRZOK: I did write that, sir. It was a political expression engaging in hyperbole.
GOWDY: We’re going to go into one other time period. May 17th, 2017. Bob Mueller was appointed. Your friend Jim Comey’s been fired, and he’s already leaked the memos to his law professor friend and Mueller of special counsel. Do you remember how long it took for you to start talking about impeachment after Bob Mueller was appointed?
STRZOK: I don’t, sir.
GOWDY: One day. One day, and you are talking about impeachment, and for anyone who may have missed it, the day after his appointment, Agent Strzok, you did it again five days later. Now how many interviews had you done as part of the special counsel team within the first five days of his appointment?
STRZOK: Sir, the same answer as before, I can’t get into details--
GOWDY: Right, and the answer’s also the same. It’s zero. No interviews had been done.
STRZOK: I don’t know if that’s true or not.
Gowdy also grilled Strzok on why he was kicked off of the Mueller investigation. Strzok claimed it wasn’t because of any existing bias, but the “perception” that the text messages might create.
GOWDY: No interviews had been done by August the 8th when you’re talking about stopping him and how terrifying it would be for him to win and you can protect the country, and no interviews have been done before you’re talking about impeachment of the president. No wonder Bob Mueller kicked you off of the investigation, Agent Strzok. My question is, if you were kicked off when he read the text, shouldn’t you have been kicked off when you wrote them?
STRZOK: Not at all.
GOWDY: Well it wasn’t the discovery of your text, Mr. Strzok. It was the existence of your bias that got you kicked off.
STRZOK: No Mr. Gowdy, it wasn’t. I do not have bias. My personal opinions in no way—
GOWDY: Well, why did you get kicked off?
STRZOK: Mr. Gowdy, my understanding of why I was kicked off was that based on the understanding of those texts and the perception that they might create---
GOWDY: Hang on second, perception. You’re saying it was the perception of the 13 Democrats on the special counsel probe, including one who went to what he hoped was a victory party. That’s a perception problem too. They weren’t kicked off. You were.