(CNSNews.com) - In a closed-door hearing jointly conducted by the House Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Friday, former FBI Director James Comey testified that he could not “interpret” what FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok meant when he sent FBI Special Counsel Lisa Page a text that said: “Hillary should win 100,000,000 to 1.”
“I’m not in a position to interpret their text exchanges so I can’t answer that,” Comey said when asked Friday for his understanding of the meaning of this text.
On July 5, 2016, Comey had announced that the FBI would not recommend criminal prosecution of Hillary Clinton for the way she had handled her emails as secretary of state. Two days later, testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on July 7, 2016, Comey said in his opening statement that the people at the FBI who decided to make that recommendation “didn’t give a hoot about politics.”
“People can disagree, can agree,” Comey testified then, “but they will at least understand that the decision was made and the recommendation was made the way you would want it to be, by people who didn't give a hoot about politics, who cared about what are the facts, what is the law, and how similar people, all people have been treated in the past.”
The text from Strzok to Page that Comey said in Friday’s hearing he was “not in a position to interpret” was sent on March 3, 2016.
At that time, Comey was the FBI director and Strzok was leading the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.
Page, who was special counsel to then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, was also working on the Clinton investigation.
Clinton was running for president—and Strzok and Page revealed in text exchanges conducted on their FBI telephones that they were in favor of her and against Trump.
According to a report published in June 2018 by the Office of the Inspector General for the Justice Department, Strzok and Page were also carrying on an “extramarital affair” while investigating Clinton.
"Many of the text messages [between Strzok and Page] were of a personal nature, including discussions about their families, medical issues, and daily events and reflected that Strzok and Page were communicating on their FBI-issued phones as part of an extramarital affair," says the IG report.
"Some of these text messages expressed political opinions about candidates and issues involved in the 2016 election, including statements of hostility toward candidate Trump and statements of support for candidate Clinton," said the report.
The IG’s report, which examined the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation, lists on pages 399 and 400 some of the texts that Strzok and Page sent each other during the 2016 campaign. Some of these texts come from the period when both Strzok and Page were working on the Clinton investigation. Some come from later in 2016, when Strzok was leading the FBI investigation into what Comey would later describe to Congress in testimony on March 20, 2017 as “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.” This, Comey testified in 2017, included “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
The latter investigation began at the end of July 2016.
On March 3, 2016, according to the IG’s report, Page sent Strzok a text that said: “God trump is a loathsome human.” That same day, Strzok sent Page a text that said: “Omg [Trump’s] an idiot.” Again on that same day, Page texted Strzok: "He’s awful.” Then, still on that same day, Strzok texted page: “God Hillary should win 100,000,000-0.”
This passage from page 399 of the Department of Justice Inspector General's report on the Clinton email investigation lists some of the texts that Strzok and Page sent to each other in early 2016.
Later, on August 8, 2016, when Strzok was leading the FBI’s recently begun Russia investigation, Page sent Strzok a text that said: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right?” Strzok replied: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”
The IG report said that this text—declaring that “[w]e’ll stop” Trump--“implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.”
“We were deeply troubled by text messages sent by Strzok and Page that potentially indicated or created the appearance that investigative decisions were impacted by bias or improper considerations,” said the IG report.
“Most of the text message raising such questions pertained to the Russia investigation, which was not part of this review,” said the report. “Nonetheless, when one senior FBI official, Strzok, who was helping to lead the Russia investigation at the time, conveys in a text message to another senior FBI official Page, that ‘we’ll stop’ candidate Trump from being elected—after other extensive text messages between the two disparaging candidate Trump—it is not only indicative of a biased state of mind, but even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.”
Near the beginning of Friday's joint hearing, according to a transcript released by the two committees, Rep. Trey Gowdy asked Comey about the texts that Strzok and Page exchanged expressing their preference for Clinton over Trump. This included the text in which Strzok told Page: “Hillary should win 100,000,000-0.”
“So, if you are correct that the Democratic primary was still open in March of 2016, I read that as Special Agent Peter Strzok commenting that she should win the primary 100 million to zero,” Gowdy said in an exchange with Comey. “And I guess an alternative reading of that would be that he already had her as the nominee and she should win the general 100 million to zero. Is there another reading other than those two, winning the primary or winning the general?”
“I’m not in a position to interpret their text exchanges, so I can’t answer that,” said Comey.
In the course of a lengthy exchange with Gowdy, Comey said that had he known of Strzok’s texts to Page he probably would have removed him from the case, but he would have been open to hearing an explanation for the texts.
“Would you have left him on the investigation had you known about these texts?” Gowdy asked.
“I would have certainly been open to listening to any explanation, but when you’re the leader of a justice agency, the appearance of bias is as important as the existence of actual bias,” said Comey.
“And although I have seen no evidence of any bias in any of the participants in that effort, the appearance of bias would have been very important to me,” Comey continued. “So I--again, it’s hard to go back and live a life you didn’t live, but I would imagine my judgement would have been you can’t remain on the case.”
Gowdy noted that when Special Counsel Robert Mueller learned about Strzok’s texts “he did immediately kick Strzok off his team.”
“Do you have any reason to disagree with his decision?”
Gowdy asked Comey.
“No,” Comey said. “I don’t know the details of his decision, but, again, I’ve seen the open source reporting to that. And if that’s true, it’s a reasonable decision by a reasonable leader.”
“And do you believe as you sit here today, that had you been aware of the texts contemporaneously, you too would have kicked Strzok off of the Midyear Exam [Clinton] investigation?” Gowdy asked.
“I think I already answered that one,” Comey said. “I would certainly be open to an explanation that I don’t know, can’t imagine sitting here. But absent an explanation, the appearance issue would have been very important to me, and it’s unlikely I would have left him on the case.”
Here is a transcript of part of Rep. Gowdy’s exchange with former FBI Director Comey:
Mr. Gowdy: … “March of 2016, Strzok wrote: ‘Hillary should win 100 million to zero.’ Do you recall whether the Democrat primary was still ongoing in March of 2016?”
Comey: “I’m not in a position to answer—you gave a long preamble to that about things that I don’t know from my own knowledge. So I’m going to exclude that part of your preamble and just answer the question at the end. Do I know whether the Democratic primary was ongoing in March of 2016? I think so, yes.”
Gowdy: “Well, let me back up, in fairness to you, and ask whether or not you’ve had a chance to read any of the text exchanges between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page?”
Comey: “I’ve seen some of them in the open source, in the media, obviously since I was fired as Director.”
Gowdy: “Did you read any of them in preparation for today?”
Comey: “No, I did not.”
Gowdy: “So, if you are correct that the Democratic primary was still open in March of 2017, I read that as Special Agent Peter Strzok commenting that she should win the primary 100 million to zero. And I guess an alternative reading of that would be that he already had her as the nominee and she should win the general 100 million to zero. Is there another reading other than those two, winning the primary or winning the general?”
Comey: “I’m not in a position to interpret their text exchanges, so I can’t answer that.”
Gowdy: “In the course of human history, has anyone won an election 100 million to zero, to your knowledge?”
Comey: “In the United States?”
Comey: “I don’t mean to be facetious. I can’t speak to Stalin’s reelection or Mao Tse-tung reelection campaigns. In—
Gowdy: “100 million to zero is a lot.”
Comey: “Sure. I’m not trying to be facetious, but I remember as a student the vote in Soviet Russia was 99.9 percent to—”
Gowdy: “We are going to get to Russia in a little bit. We’ll get to Russia in a little bit.”
Comey: “So in the—I can’t remember your question, Mr. Gowdy. In the United States, I’m not aware of any such lopsided vote.”
Gowdy: “So, in March of 2016, Peter Strzok is investigating Secretary Clinton—we’ll use your phrase—for the alleged mishandling of classified information. And at least according to this text, he has her winning the primary and/or the general election. Is that fair?”
Comey: “ I can’t answer that because I don’t know the text or what the intention was. So I’m just not the witness to answer that.”
Gowdy: “How about the plain language of that text, what do you interpret that to mean?”
Comey: “I really can’t without knowing them and knowing the context of them. I’m just not your best witness to answer that.”