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FBI Agent Peter Strzok Testifies Before Joint House Committee. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired July 12, 2018 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:30:00] REP. BOB GOODLATTE, (R-VA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The clerk will call the roll -

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: The clerk of the Judiciary Committee will call the roll of members who have not yet been recorded.

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mr. Issa.

REP. DARRELL ISSA, (R), CALIFORNIA: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mr. Issa votes yes.

Mr. Gowdy.

REP. TREY GOWDY, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mr. Buck.

REP. KEN BUCK, (R), COLORADO: Aye.

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Ms. Roby.

REP. MARTHA ROBY, (R), ALABAMA: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mr. Rothfus.

REP. KEITH ROTHFUS, (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Aye.

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mr. Rothfus votes aye.

Miss Bass.

REP. KAREN BASS, (D), CALIFORNAIA: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mr. Jeffries.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES, (D), NEW YORK: (INAUDIBLE)

GOODLATTE: I've been asked by the minority and the majority counsel to advise members their votes will only be counted once if they're on both committees. And the clerk of the Oversight and Government Reform --

(CROSSTALK)

ISSA: Mr. Chairman, point of order. On what basis would that rule be, since we -- each committee is voting separately on that?

GOODLATTE: Procedurally, we have agreed to one unified vote.

The clerk of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee will call the roll of those members who have not voted.

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mr. Gowdy.

GOWDY: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mr. Amash.

REP. JUSTIN AMASH, (R), MICHIGAN: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Ms. Foxx.

REP. VIRGINIA FOXX, (R), NORTH CAROLINA: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mr. Hurd.

REP. WILL HURD, (R), TEXAS: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mr. Mitchell.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mr. Clay.

REP. LACY CLAY, (D), MISSOURI: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mr. Gomez.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Yes, sir, he just responded to her.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Mr. Chairman?

GOODLATTE: The gentleman from Missouri.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: No.

GOODLATTE: The gentleman from Missouri votes no.

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mr. Clay votes no.

GOODLATTE: The clerk will report.

The clerk will suspend.

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: The gentleman from Texas is recognized. HURD: Yes.

GOODLATTE: Mr. Hurd, of Texas, votes aye.

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mr. Hurd votes aye.

GOODLATTE: The gentlewoman from North Carolina.

FOXX: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mrs. Foxx votes yes.

GOODLATTE: The clerk will report.

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mr. Chairman, 38 members voted aye, 31 members voted no.

GOODLATTE: And the motion to table the appeal of the ruling of the chair is upheld.

The chair recognizes the gentleman from Maryland, Mr. Cummings, for his questions.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D), MARYLAND: Mr. Strzok, first of all, let me say this. To the members of the FBI who may be watching this, I want them to be clear that we have the utmost respect for the organization. And you -- and I thank them for doing what they do every day. And protecting rights and protecting our people and protecting our way of life. And as I listen to you in answering Chairman Gowdy's questions, particularly at the end, you gave a very impassioned statement. But can you understand why there are members that question whether the thoughts that you may have -- that you put in an e-mail, a text, might interfere with the investigation? I mean, can you understand at least the questioning of that?

[11:35:44] PETER STRZOK, FBI AGENT: Yes, sir, I do.

CUMMINGS: And I want to -- and I know you are familiar with oaths, because I'm sure you've taken them 50 million times. But I remind you that you're under oath. And I'm just going to ask you this. How do you square that? In other words, I understand the piece about there are so many layers that the FBI wouldn't even allow to happen, even if they -- you wanted to. Wanted them to. But how do you take that, compartmentalize -- I guess that's the best word I can think of -- and then when you walk into the room be neutral or independent or live up to your oath. Do you understand my question?

STRZOK: I do, sir.

CUMMINGS: All right. Can you answer that? Because I think that would be very helpful to me. And hopefully, your answering that question will be helpful to my colleagues. In fairness to all of us. Go ahead. STRZOK: Yes, sir. Thank you. And I certainly do, sir, appreciate

and understand that question and that concern and why people would look at those texts and want to know why and how they should believe that personal beliefs played any role in my official acts. What I can tell you, sir, is that, first, I, like every FBI agent, like every person in this room, like everybody watching, has a political opinion. And each and every one of those people in the FBI, whatever their political beliefs, walks in the door and they leave those behind. The FBI has a culture. It is in our culture, it is in our training, it is in our policy, and everything we do is dedicated to the pursuit of the facts where they lay and applying the law to those facts. There's no room for personal belief. It is something that is an anathema to us. It is something that doesn't occur. And were it to occur, it would be noted and stopped. And in addition to that culture, we have policies, we have procedures, we have laws. We have guidelines that are designed to provide outside checks and balances, to provide for outside review, to provide for any number of ways that the individual actions of any agent, any analyst, any support personnel, are not acting in any way other than official policies and procedures. So when I tell you, again, as I did, personally, what I believe and what I did, I understand why people may or may not have doubts or believe that. But then I would turn to and say look at the entirety of the rest of the organization, of the men and women who make it up, of all the things that are in place to ensure that our job in the FBI is to competently and independently pursue the facts, wherever they are. And I cannot stress to you enough, that is exactly what is done day in, day out, and that is exactly what has guided my behavior for over 26 years.

CUMMINGS: All right. Thank you very much.

Let me ask you this. In previous testimony to Congress, President Trump's FBI director, Christopher Wray, explained the critical importance of protecting confidential human sources. And this is what he said, Agent Strzok. And I quote, "The day we can't protect human sources is a day the American people start becoming less safe," end of quote. Do you agree with that?

STRZOK: I do.

CUMMINGS: The problem is, we now have the transcript of your 11-hour closed-door interview with our committees. And it shows that Republican members asked you repeatedly about confidential human sources involved in the Russia investigation. Is that correct?

STRZOK: My recollection is yes, sir.

CUMMINGS: Do you remember how many questions they asked you about that?

STRZOK: I do not, sir.

[11:39:54] CUMMINGS: Let me read one of their questions from the transcript. One Republican member asked you this question, and I quote, "In the month of July, was there any information from confidential human sources given to you as it relates to the Russia investigation," end of quote. Do you recall being asked that question?

STRZOK: I do.

CUMMINGS: That question was specifically about information from confidential human sources in the Russia investigation. Obviously, you cannot answer the question. And that is because Department of Justice has a long-standing policy against revealing information from confidential human sources during an ongoing criminal investigation. Is that right?

STRZOK: Yes, sir.

GOODLATTE: Will the gentleman yield?

CUMMINGS: I will yield at the end. I want to finish.

And that is what Director Wray was talking about when he testified that revealing those sources or their information will make America less safe, is that right?

STRZOK: I don't know why Director Wray said that, but I agree with the statement.

CUMMINGS: In your experience, how dangerous could it be to reveal the identity of a confidential human source?

STRZOK: Extraordinarily dangerous.

REP. MARK MEADOWS, (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Will the gentleman yield to his friend?

STRZOK: Of course.

MEADOWS: I thank the gentleman.

I want to be clear. Since the gentleman from Maryland, who is my friend, is going along a line of argument that would suggest a question asked by me. I want to make it perfectly clear, I asked if you talked with confidential human sources. I never asked for a name, nor would I ever ask for a name of a confidential human source.

I appreciate it.

I yield back.

CUMMINGS: I don't think I said that.

But anyway, thank you, gentleman.

Disclosing the identity of a confidential human source could create a risk to that person or our national security, is that correct?

STRZOK: Yes.

CUMMINGS: What effect could revealing a confidential human source have on the FBI's ability to recruit or retain human sources in the future?

STRZOK: I think it could and is having an extraordinary impact, in that people who come to the FBI with information are putting themselves at risk. Anywhere -- risk in their job, risk of their life, and they trust and put their literally sometimes lives in the hands of the FBI. So when they observe -- if their identity is put at risk, clearly, that's a personal risk to that individual source. But every other potential source out there, every other person in Washington, D.C., or Beijing or Moscow, wondering about approaching the FBI to give them information is going to look to how well or how poorly the FBI protects their information and protects their identity as they weigh whether or not to take that extraordinary risk to work with the FBI and work with the United States of America.

CUMMIONGS: Mr. Strzok, the inspector general report criticized your political text messages and raised concern that your political views may have impacted your decision in the summer and fall of 2016 to prioritize the Trump/Russia investigation over the reopening of the Clinton e-mail investigation. I understand from your transcribed interview with the committee that you dispute that finding.

STRZOK: I do.

CUMMINGS: You told us during your interview that you immediately assigned agents to follow up on the Weiner laptop. And we know that you were a key player in the FBI's actions, such as sending a letter about the reopening of the Clinton investigation shortly before the election that clearly hurt Secretary Clinton's candidacy and benefited Candidate Trump. But more importantly, you described during your interview that you believed Russia's attempts to interfere with our election pose a grave threat to our national security. You stated, and I quote, "I cannot think of a more grave allegation of the counterintelligence division, or let alone the nation, than that a hostile foreign power was seeking to clandestinely influence our presidential election." Do you remember saying that?

STRZOK: I do.

CUMMING: Why is the interference by a hostile foreign power in our presidential election such a monumental threat to our nation?

STRZOK: Well, I think when you look at the -- when you look at the threat that represents, when you look at the threats facing the United States and what it means to protect the United States, the prospect of voting is the key core of who we are as a democracy. And there's no more important vote that we exercise than the vote for the president of the United States. So when I look at the span of threats that I was responsible for that the counterintelligence division was responsible for and the FBI, the prospect of a hostile foreign power interfering and influencing the election for the president of the United States of America, I can think of few more severe or consequential threats facing our nation than that one.

[11:45:34] CUMMINGS: Just two more questions. What could be the potential impact of a hostile foreign power successfully interfering with our presidential election? STRZOK: Well, I think it's multifold. I think there's certainly --

from a broad perspective, it draws into question the effectiveness and the credibility of our electoral system. It places into question the motivations and the actions of those people either who are elected or who were brought in as staff to staff that campaign and eventually administration. I think it draws into question whether or not the actions of the elected party and group of governing folks are acting ultimately in the interest of the United States or whether or not there's the potential that those interests have been compromised in favor of that foreign power.

CUMMINGS: And finally, how is that threat made worse if the presidential campaign colluded or worked with hostile foreign power?

STRZOK: I think that would be the worst realization of that potential threat. I think you would indicate the FBI -- some of that is a hypothetical. I think the FBI would approach that from the perspective that if there were people within the campaign who were colluding or working with the government of Russia, that there's very little that would be of more importance to the FBI or actually the expectation of the American people that we get to the bottom of it. The American people, I think, expect that. Frankly, any presidential candidate who might have that going on in their campaign I think would want to know about that and have the FBI get to the bottom of it. But any actual inclusion and cooperation would be amongst the gravest threats to our democracy.

CUMMINGS: Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

GOODLATTE: The chair thanks the gentleman and recognizes himself.

Mr. Strzok, I want to follow up on a couple of the questions Chairman Gowdy asked. Your texts and e-mails make it appear you had come to a conclusion on the Clinton case long before you had interviewed many witnesses, including Clinton herself. You also appear to have been opining for the impeachment of President Trump at the very beginnings of the Russia case. Does the FBI normally make such decisions on whether to recommend prosecution or exoneration so far ahead of all the facts coming to light?

STRZOK: Typically, sir, DOJ makes prosecution decisions in cases.

GOODLATTE: Do they normally make such decisions whether to recommend prosecution far ahead of the facts coming to light?

STRZOK: Sir, I don't think any -- in my experience, the final decision is never made until the conclusion of the case. I think it is fair to say that in the conduct of investigations, particularly very large investigations with a lot of folks working on it, my experience is there comes a time if you're worth your salt in the conduct of that investigation, an agent, the attorneys assigned to that, will have a very good idea well before the case is concluded that there may or may not be demonstrable crimes. That there may --

GOODLATTE: Let me ask you this, then. How many other cases on which you have worked do you recall opining on the disposition of the case months ahead of interviewing multiple witnesses?

STRZOK: I remember quite a few cases where I or agents would discuss the prospects of the outcome of the case with prosecutors as the case was going on, from the beginning of the case, talking about what crimes may or may not be relevant as the case proceeded to identify which elements may or may not be strong or demonstrable, as well as towards the end when we were trying to shore up evidence that may or may not be there. But --

GOODLATTE: And let me ask you this about that. In regard to those cases, was it normal behavior on your part to chat with colleagues in the manner you did on the Russia case about how much you despise the very person you're investigating, or complimenting the person you're investigating in the Clinton case? Is that typical?

STRZOK: Sir, I would draw a distinction between commenting on case- related matters versus discussion of personal belief. I think those are very different matters than saying this person as a witness was not credible. Or this person as a target or subject did or didn't do something. That is a very different matter --

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: So you could completely separate out what your personal opinion is from what you discussed with others in investigations?

STRZOK: I am telling you, sir, I separated out my personal belief from --

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: But you did not do that with regard to Attorney Page, who was also involved in these investigations, correct?

[11:50:00] STRZOK: Sir, I disagree with that. I separated out my personal beliefs from any I separated out my personal believes from any action I took officially as an FBI agent every day.

GOODLATTE: Do you recognize how your vitriol against President Trump makes it appear you could never approach the case in a fair-minded manner?

STRZOK: Sir, of course, I appreciate that. I understand --

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: Let's discuss a text that hits home for me. On August 26, 2016, you texted Ms. Page, quote, "Just went to a southern Virginia Walmart. I could smell the Trump support." And smell is in capital letters, all capital letters. What does "Trump support" smell like, Mr. Strzok?

STRZOK: Sir, that's an expression of speech. I clearly wasn't smelling one thing or the other. What I was commenting on is living in northern Virginia --

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: What does --

(CROSSTALK)

STRZOK: What I meant by that, living in northern Virginia, having traveled 100, 150 miles within the same state, I was struck by the extraordinary difference in the expression of political opinion and belief amongst the community there from where I live.

GOODLATTE: You described that as smell in capital letters.

STRZOK: Sir, that was a choice, a quick choice of words --

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: All right. So earlier --

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: OK. So earlier, you had texted Ms. Page that another part of Virginia, Loudoun County, which is, I think, in northern Virginia, is quote, "still ignorant hillbillies," unquote. Is that what you meant?

STRZOK: No, sir, not at all.

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: You do consider Trump supporters to be ignorant hillbillies?

STRZOK: Not at all, sir.

GOODLATTE: What did you mean by that?

STRZOK: Sir, the first thing I'd tell you is that, as a Fairfax County resident, there's a healthy sort of competition between Fairfax and Loudoun. Second thing I would tell you is that in no way did I or do I believe any resident of Loudoun County or southern Virginia or anywhere else in the nation is -- are any of those things. That was a flippant --

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: So do you understand the implications of this text when my constituents in Virginia read it?

STRZOK: I do, sir. I would ask you to tell them that that was a -- in some cases, certainly unfortunate use of words, that in no way do I believe that those things are what --

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: Now you and Ms. Page used personal phones and accounts to communicate. Have you turned over those communications to the inspector general?

STRZOK: No sir.

GOODLATTE: If not, why not?

STRZOK: Sir, they asked and, working with my attorney, the inspector general and I arranged an agreement where I would go through my personal accounts and identify any material that was relevant to FBI business and turn it over. Those reviewed, there was none. My understanding is the inspector general was satisfied with that action.

GOODLATTE: We know from text that you and Ms. Page would transition to I-message and G-mail. Who determined that messages were only personal in nature and not business related, especially since you've just testified at length that a number of communications you have made on government communication devices were personal in nature?

STRZOK: Sir, the broad, broad context of what I used personal e-mail and phones for was personal communication. For those things that were work related, almost universally, that material was translated into FBI systems. Certainly, if there was anything that was of record or would constitute needing to be there, it was provided, but I made that decision.

GOODLATTE: So, let me ask you this. When did Attorney General Lynch know that charges would not be brought against former Secretary of State Clinton?

STRZOK: I can't answer that question, sir. That's something you'd have to ask her.

GOODLATTE: Do you know whether it was prior to Lynch's announcement that she would defer to career prosecutors and Director Comey on whether to prosecute --

STRZOK: Sir, I don't know.

GOODLATTE: -- Clinton?

Why would Lisa Page text that Lynch's decision was a, quote, "Real profile in courage since she knows no charges will be brought," end quote.

STRZOK: Sir, that's a question you'll have to ask her.

GOODLATTE: So how did you take that statement when she texted it to you?

STRZOK: The way I took that, sir, is that we had, for many months, working with a team, a team of career attorneys in the Department of Justice, a team of attorneys from the eastern district of Virginia, a team of agents from FBI, have been working intensively on this case. We had gone through mountains of evidence, tons of interviews. And we were looking at the various statutes that might apply to any sort of criminal conduct. And I think we were, as we surveyed that, as the attorneys looked at it, saw a number of very fatal areas where elements of the crime were lacking, our ability to demonstrate facts to prove those elements of a crime. So I think we had begun to arrive at a sense that it was going to be difficult, if not impossible, to identify any statute where we could satisfy those elements of the crime. My assumption certainly is that from the Department of Justice's perspective those attorneys were briefing their supervisors who were briefing their supervisor, who were ultimately briefing the deputy attorney general and the attorney general, and that she would have that same sense that it was a difficult, if not impossible, proposition to conclude that there were viable charges to be brought against Secretary Clinton.

[11:55:28] GOODLATTE: Mr. Strzok, did you ever believe these texts would become public?

STRZOK: I did not.

GOODLATTE: Given that, you felt free to express your true feelings, didn't you?

STRZOK: I suppose, yes. That's a difficult question to answer.

GOODLATTE: Mr. Strzok, former Director Comey played judge, jury and exonerator in the Hillary Clinton investigation. In your experience at the FBI, have you ever seen the FBI director make the decision on whether to prosecute for the Department of Justice?

STRZOK: Mr. Chairman, I would not agree with that characterization of Director Comey. And in answer to your question I have not seen it before.

GOODLATTE: All right. Was that appropriate, what he did? To hold a news conference and publicly announce the decision that was supposed to have been made by the Department of Justice?

STRZOK: Sir, that was his decision. I --

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: Was it appropriate, in your opinion?

STRZOK: Sir, I don't think it's for me to say whether or not --

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: I think it is for you to say. I asked you the question. What's your opinion?

STRZOK: Sir, I understand the variety of factors that went in -- well, I understand some of the factors that went into Director Comey's decision to make the announcement. I can tell you that that decision was not made lightly at all. I can tell you my experience in that decision --

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: But you're not aware of any precedent for that? STRZOK: I am not.

GOODLATTE: Mr. Strzok, in a footnote, 197, of the inspector general's report, it's noted that, quote, "Supervision of the Russian investigation was briefly transitioned from Strzok to another Counterintelligence Division DAD in early 2017." Why were you transitioned from the Russia investigation in early 2017?

STRZOK: Sir, let me see if I can answer that question without getting into operational detail. The investigation was brought. What Russia was doing against our country encompassed a variety of things. There were actions in the cyber arena, there were actions by their agents and intelligence service, there were actions by subjects of investigation that are currently ongoing. The prospect of how the FBI would investigate that was a multi-tiered effort. So some of those efforts that traditionally fell into line that with other DAD and their stand and scope of responsibility were moved to their supervision.

GOODLATTE: So, the footnote goes on to state that, quote, "However, A.D. Priestap told us that FBI leadership decided to keep Strzok involved in the Russia investigation and he was, therefore, reassigned back to it." Do you know who in, quote, "FBI leadership," end quote, decided to keep you involved in the Russian investigation?

STRZOK: I do not.

GOODLATTE: Could it have been Deputy Director McCabe?

STRZOK: Sir, possibly. I do not know.

GOODLATTE: And when were you assigned back to the Russia investigation -- and when you were reassigned back to the Russia investigation, were you still in a supervisory role?

STRZOK: Sir, I would answer that question again. I don't -- I don't entirely -- my recollection does not comport with the statement from A.D. Priestap. There were elements of the investigation that stayed under subordinate leaders, section chiefs and unit chiefs, on down the line. There were elements of it that were transferred to a different DAD and remained with that DAD. So my recollection is a bit different from A.D. Priestap's.

GOODLATTE: Mr. Strzok, did you ever consider recusing yourself since you had such personal disdain for the person you were investigating?

STRZOK: I did not.

GOODLATTE: Yet, others did require that ultimately.

STRZOK: Sir, I would not characterize those decisions as subject to the same set of considerations.

GOODLATTE: You don't think that it was the bias expressed in your text messages that caused Mr. Mueller to remove you from the investigation? STRZOK: I do not think that the -- there were -- that bias was

expressed in those text messages. I cannot speak to why Director Mueller chose to remove me from the investigation, but I can tell you that those text messages are not indicative of bias.

GOODLATTE: Mr. Mueller never told you why you were being removed?

STRZOK: My recollection of the discussion was he mentioned the existence of the text messages, and that based on that, he needed to ask me to return to the FBI.

GOODLATTE: Lots of people have text messages, Mr. Strzok.

STRZOK: Yes, sir. And, again, my impression, not stated by him, but my impression was that based on the appearance of those messages and, in part, of a desire by him to avoid even the appearance of any potential bias, that he asked me to return. But that's a question for him.