FBI agent Peter Strzok did not need help shaming Trey Gowdy and the other Republicans at Thursday’s Joint House Judiciary and Oversight Committee hearing on allegations that the veteran FBI counterintelligence agent had led an inquiry into foreign meddling in the 2016 election that was biased against Donald Trump.
Sharp and focused, generally unruffled yet appropriately upset with outrageous questions from Gowdy and his hyper-partisan colleagues, Strzok responded to the unrelenting attacks by declaring “unequivocally and under oath” that “not once in my 26 years of defending my nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took.” Then he went to the heart of the matter with a pointed declaration that “I understand we are living in a political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity. I have the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role, but I truly believe that today’s hearing is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”
But the most powerful moment in day-long hearing did not result from any of the wild lines of questioning produced by the likes of Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert—nor from Strzok’s takedowns of off-the-rails committee members. The exchange that shredded the committee’s absurd focus on a handful of texts Strzok had exchanged with FBI lawyer Lisa Page came courtesy of one of the sharpest lawyers in Congress, Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin.
Raskin began his remarks by explaining why the hearing was really taking place. “The purpose, of course, is to derail and discredit the investigation by the special counsel that has obtained 19 indictments and five criminal convictions,” he said, referencing the investigation into wrongdoing by Trump associates that is being led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Noting that Strzok had, in his personal texts, been an “equal opportunity insulter” of Democrats and Republicans, the veteran law professor argued that, while some of the texts might have been nasty, they could not reasonably or responsibly be reimagined as evidence of conspiratorial wrongdoing. “There are no kings here and we have freedom of speech—the right that is cherished by the people and feared only by tyrants. But my colleagues have insisted on making a conspiracy theory out of your pillow-talk texts,” said Raskin.