The House Judiciary and Oversight Committees held a hearing Thursday where for nearly 10 hours they grilled FBI agent Peter Strzok, whose anti-Trump text messages sparked outrage among Republicans and critics of the special counsel investigation.
The contentious event brought together dozens of members of Congress who continued sparring over the 2016 election, the FBI and alleged Russian meddling in US politics as Strzok sought to explain his conduct and statements that have drawn the ire of President Donald Trump.
While the goal was aimed at investigating allegations of political bias in the Justice Department, much of the information discussed during the hearing had been widely known for weeks. The showdown instead became a literal partisan shouting match and a largely political exercise, as both sides dug in and took shots.
Here are some of the key moments:
Combative from the start
In a sign of how contentious the hearing would be, House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy’s first question that Strzok said he could not answer sparked a lengthy shouting match with Democrats after Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte threatened to hold Strzok in contempt.
Democrats repeatedly objected and used parliamentary maneuvers to force a vote related to former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
The episode got particularly heated when Strzok asked to confer with FBI counsel about whether he could answer the question.
“Only with your own counsel,” Goodlatte said, prompting a loud response.
“Mr. Chairman, there’s no basis for that,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top House Judiciary Committee Democrat. “He can consult with the FBI counsel, he’s an FBI employee.”
“The gentleman is not recognized,” Goodlatte responded.
“And the chairman is not being proper,” Nadler shot back.
The procedural vote nixed the Democratic effort on a party-line vote, although Gowdy “passed” when it came his turn to vote.
‘I don’t give a damn what you appreciate Agent Strzok’
In another fiery moment early in the hearing, Strzok said the intention of his statements had been misconstrued and that he did not “appreciate” that. Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican who is not running for re-election, said in return he did not care about Strzok’s feelings.
“I don’t give a damn what you appreciate, Agent Strzok,” Gowdy said. “I don’t appreciate having an FBI agent with an unprecedented level of animus working on two major investigations during 2016.”
Strzok explains what was going on behind text message
Strzok has been under fire for months over anti-Trump bias, and many of his critics have pointed to a text message he sent saying “we will stop it” in regard to Trump’s candidacy for President.
At the hearing, Strzok said he was not referring to the FBI, but instead to the electorate.
“In terms of the texts that ‘we will stop it,’ you need to understand that was written late at night, off-the-cuff, and it was in response to a series of events that included then-candidate Trump insulting the immigrant family of a fallen war hero, and my presumption, based on that horrible, disgusting behavior, (was) that the American population would not elect somebody demonstrating that behavior to be the President of the United States,” Strzok said.
Strzok defends the FBI
Continuing in that vein, Strzok pushed back on the idea that the FBI is an overtly political organization.
“The suggestion that I, in some dark chamber somewhere in the FBI would somehow cast aside all of these procedures, all of these safeguards, and somehow be able to do this, is astounding to me,” Strzok said. “It simply couldn’t happen. And the proposition that that is going on, that it might occur anywhere in the FBI, deeply corrodes what the FBI is in American society, the effectiveness of their mission, and it is deeply destructive.”
His comments were part of a broader defense that, at the end of which, several Democratic members of the committees audibly cheered.
Republican spotlights relationship with Page
Texas GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert went after Strzok and referred to his affair with Page, in one of the most heated moments of the entire hearing.
“I’ve talked to FBI agents around the country,” Gohmert said. “You’ve embarrassed them. You’ve embarrassed yourself. And I can’t help but wonder when I see you looking there with a little smirk, how many times did you look so innocent into your wife’s eye and lie to her about Lisa Page?”
The line prompted jeers from others on the committee, and as Strzok responded, the two talked loudly over one another. “You need your medication,” said New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman.
Stzok was eventually allowed to respond.
“I have always told the truth,” he said. “The fact that you would accuse me otherwise, the fact that you would question whether or not that was the sort of look I would engage with in a family member who I have acknowledged hurting, goes more to a discussion about your character and what you stand for and what is going inside you.”
Gohmert’s reference to the affair was perhaps the most direct and incendiary, though other lawmakers appeared to reference it more indirectly. Toward the end of the hearing, Georgia GOP Rep. Karen Handel called it “truly ironic” that Strzok had been reassigned to the FBI’s human resources department.
“Did I hear you say earlier that you’re in a senior position in the HR division for the FBI? … That’s very ironic.”
Democrats slam ‘circus’
Many Democrats at the hearing took issue with the events more broadly and the rhetoric of their Republican colleagues. California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren called it a “circus” and warned against sewing division.
“I would urge that we, we make sure that the actions we take do not create further divisions in our country,” she said.
Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez contended that the hearing would find a receptive audience in both Fox News and the Kremlin, and said, “A lot of this today is simply what? Auditioning for Fox News.”
“If there are two people that are thrilled and excited today, there are two people,” Gutierrez said. “The folks over at Fox News and at the Kremlin.”
‘If I could give you a purple heart, I would’
Some Democrats went further than others in coming to Strzok’s defense. Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen offered Strzok his condolences for the extended criticism he has received for months.
“If I could give you a Purple Heart, I would. You deserve one,” Cohen said, a statement drew immediate rebukes from Republicans.
Republican sharply criticizes anti-Trump sentiment
Texas GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe offered a tongue-in-cheek remark for Strzok’s posture in contrast with the litany of texts he exchanged with Lisa Page offering anti-Trump sentiment.
“When you said you never crossed that bright, inviolable line, what you meant to say was except for 50,000 times, except for hundreds of times a day where I went back and forth, expressing my personal opinions about ‘f’ing’ Trump and stopping Trump and impeaching Trump on official FBI phones, on official FBI time,” Ratcliffe said. “Other than that, you never crossed that line. I’m sure there are 13,000 FBI agents out there that are beaming with pride at how clearly you’ve drawn that line. … Do you see why that might call into question everything you’ve touched on all of those investigations?”
Congressman cites experience as a dentist for judging body language
In one of the more bizarre moments of the hearing, Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona cited his experience as a dentist for helping him judge body language.
“You talk about bias,” Gosar said. “This morning I watched — and by the way, I am a dentist, OK, so I read body language very, very well. And I watched you comment on actions with Mr. Gowdy. You got very angry in regards to the gold star father. That shows me that it is innately a part of you and a bias.”
Strzok appeared confused by the statement.
“Sir, I disagree. I don’t know you are saying this experience is like being at the dentist, if that’s what you’re suggesting. But I would tell you, sir, what you see in my response – what you see in my response is a genuine passion for the United States of America.”