On Thursday, House Republicans held yet another hearing about Hillary Clinton’s emails — this one starring an FBI agent, Peter Strzok, who worked on the Clinton investigation in 2016, but sent texts privately expressing anti-Donald Trump sentiments around the same time.
The conspiracy theory Republicans are trying to push is that Strzok’s texts are evidence of anti-Trump bias in the FBI’s ranks that impacted the Clinton investigation. Their theory was contradicted by the recently released Inspector General report, which found that bias didn’t impact how it was handled.
Republicans’ conspiracy theory is also contradicted by the underlying facts of the 2016 campaign. Despite the fact that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were investigated at different points during that year, FBI agents didn’t leak to the press about the Trump investigation. Instead, on two occasions, then-FBI Director James Comey took unusual steps to publicize the Clinton investigation — decisions that prominent pollsters believe may have cost her the election.
Before the question-and-answer portion of Strzok’s testimony began, he read a statement in which he highlighted that if the FBI was indeed in the bag for Clinton, they had a very counterproductive way of showing it.
“There is… one extraordinarily important piece of evidence supporting my integrity, the integrity of the FBI, and our lack of bias,” Strzok said. “In the summer of 2016, I was one of a handful of people who knew the details of Russia election interference and its possible connection with members of the Trump campaign. This information had the potential to derail and quite possibly defeat Mr. Trump, but the thought of expressing that or exposing that information never crossed my mind.”
The lack of Trump leaks from the FBI before the 2016 election has always been a glaring hole in the Republican conspiracy theory that proponents of it have been unable to explain.
During Thursday’s hearing, Republicans ignored the IG’s conclusion that bias didn’t impact the Clinton investigation and instead tried to embarrass Strzok by making him repeatedly read aloud texts in which he had called Trump a “douche.” Strzok patiently explained that even FBI agents are allowed to have private political views, so long as those opinions don’t manifest in their work product.
Meanwhile, Democrats like Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) excoriated Republicans for holding yet another hearing on Clinton’s emails while refusing to conduct any oversight on Trump.
“In the majority’s view, the texts exchanged between Mr. Strzok & Lisa Page [another FBI agent Strzok was having an affair with] are a higher priority than Trump’s request that Comey end the investigation of Flynn or his decision to fire Comey… the majority’s view is we don’t have time to conduct oversight on almost any national security issue but hours on end to discuss Mr. Strzok’s affair.”
“Why have Republicans have been so dismissive of Russia’s attacks on the United States?” Nadler asked later. “Why are they so intent on destroying confidence in the Department of Justice and special counsel investigation?… Because they are scared, and accountability is coming.”
In a tweet posted on Thursday evening, Trump misrepresented the underlying facts of Strzok’s case — Strozk was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team as soon as his anti-Trump texts came to light — to make a case that his text messages undermine the entire Mueller investigation.