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THE SITUATION ROOM
Peter Strzok Answers Questions in Congressional Hearing. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired July 12, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that's something this committee would like to have and see what those -- if in fact there were documents, what the heck they were. I've got a minute. I'll yield it to --
PETER STRZOK, FBI AGENT: Sir, you're going to love this. It's going to upset the vote. I've been instructed that the FBI has now told me that I can answer questions about the receipt of the documents. So I will defer, Mr. Chairman, if you would like to hear that. Or --
REP. BOB GOODLATTE (R-VA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The gentleman may proceed with his questions and you may answer.
STRZOK: Before, may I -- may I confer with counsel briefly to see if this is completely unbounded or if there are any limitations on what I may say?
REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: Well, I've got a lot of questions I've asked all day long that he won't answer.
GOODLATTE: Let's ask the one you've been told you can answer.
JORDAN: So let's get the answer to this one.
STRZOK: Which question, sir?
JORDAN: The one that's on the table about the documents.
STRZOK: Sir, the documents we received from a different source and the initial batch in mid-September.
JORDAN: Wait, wait, wait, wait. No, no. I'm not understanding. You said you got -- go back. Did you get documents from Bruce Orr?
STRZOK: Yes. At some point we received material from Mr. Orr.
JORDAN: You got documents from Bruce Orr. And what were those documents?
STRZOK: We received documents from Mr. Orr, not me --
Excuse me, sir.
JORDAN: I can maybe make it simpler. Agent Strzok, was it the dossier? STRZOK: Sir, shat I am authorized to tell you in response to a
question, "Did you receive documents from Bruce Orr," the FBI has directed me that I may say that not me, the FBI received documents and material from Mr. Orr.
JORDAN: Did you? I appreciate that. I appreciate that. But you did not from Mr. Orr?
JORDAN: OK. But the FBI did get documents from Bruce Orr?
STRZOK: Yes, sir.
JORDAN: Did they get the dossier?
STRZOK: My direction from the FBI is I may tell you the FBI received material from Mr. Orr.
JORDAN: Now, this is -- this is amazing. This is amazing.
STRZOK: I'm just as aggravated as you are.
JORDAN: So Nelly Orr -- Nelly Orr works for Fusion, works for Glen Simpson, and she's giving documents --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Regular order, please. Let us bring the director of the FBI to answer those questions. The gentleman cannot answer. Asked and answered. Asked and answered. He cannot answer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The regular order.
GOODLATTE: The regular order is --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I understand, Mr. Chairman. Regular order.
GOODLATTE: The FBI has now instructed Mr. Strzok that he can answer additional questions, and Mr. --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Agent Strzok --
GOODLATTE: There is additional time to get the answers to those questions --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The FBI approved.
JORDAN: Has the FBI also given you permission to say if Glen Simpson is the name that you use in the e-mail where you say "Simpson"?
STRZOK: I don't believe they have given me guidance. My most recent understanding and my guidance from the FBI is in response to the question of whether the FBI received documents from --
JORDAN: Has the FBI given you --
STRZOK: The answer is that yes, we did. JORDAN: The FBI given you -- has the FBI given you information to tell me whether you knew Nelly Orr worked for Fusion at the time you were meeting with her husband?
STRZOK: Sir, to my knowledge the FBI has not directed me to -- or allowed me to respond to that.
JORDAN: All right. I yield back. Thank you.
GOODLATTE: The committee will stand in recess until immediately after this series of votes.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We've been watching today's remarkably bitter, deeply-partisan congressional hearing. Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who sent anti- Trump text messages during the Russia meddling investigation, repeatedly insisted his personal opinions had absolutely no impact on any official actions he took during the investigation. Republicans simply don't believe him.
Let's go quickly to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.
Manu, at times this hearing was more like a partisan brawl. It went on and on and on.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it devolved very quickly into an incredibly contentious atmosphere. Right at the beginning of this hearing, all through the course of the day, initially when Peter Strzok said he could not answer a number of questions related to the Russia investigation, Republicans threatened to hold him in contempt, went after him and criticized him, wouldn't even allow him to confer with the FBI attorney who was present. Instead, saying he could only speak to his own personal attorney.
And at one point, a lot of discussion about a text has gotten a lot of attention that have been turned over to the inspector general and later to Congress, that from August of 2016 when he state, with Lisa Page, the FBI attorney at the time, she texted, "Trump is not ever going to become president, right? Right?"
"No, he won't," said Peter Strzok. "We will stop it." And that is what prompted Republicans to say, well, it just showed that Peter Strzok was trying to stop this President Trump from becoming President Trump in the 2016 campaign.
Well, for the first time, Wolf, Peter Strzok explained why he said that, and he made the case that this was not bias in this investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STRZOK: You need to understand that 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 assumption, based on that horrible, disgusting behavior, that the American population would not elect somebody demonstrating that behavior to be president of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you can 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 any --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you did not do that with regard to Attorney Page, who is also involved in these investigations?
STRZOK: Sir, I disagree with that. I separated out my personal beliefs from any action I took officially as an FBI agent. Every day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A member of this committee just asserted that this witness was under oath, and a former agent of the FBI lied. There is no evidence of that. I ask him to withdraw it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do not withdraw it. He is not a member of Congress. It's not a violation of the rule. And just as you have been expressing bias through your members about what a hero --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is not a single person in this room who has ever characterized a witness --
GOODLATTE: Gentleman from Rhode Island -- Gentleman --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is my time.
GOODLATTE: The gentleman from Rhode Island will suspend.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, the disgrace of what this man has done --
GOODLATTE: The gentleman from Texas will suspend for a moment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is the disgrace, and it won't be recaptured anytime any time soon because of the damage you've done to the justice system.
STRZOK: I can assure you, Mr. Chairman, at no time, in any of these texts, did those personal beliefs ever enter into the realm of any action I took.
Furthermore, this isn't just me sitting here telling you. You don't have to take my word for it. At every step, at every investigative decision, there are multiple layers of people above me -- the assistant director, executive assistant director, deputy director and director of the FBI and multiple layers of people below me -- section chiefs, supervisors, unit chiefs, case agents and analysts, all of whom were involved in all of these decisions. They would not tolerate any improper behavior in me anymore than I would tolerate it in them.
That is who we are as the FBI. And 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. 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now Wolf, Democrats are saying it's all part of an effort by the Republicans to kneecap the FBI, shake confidence in the FBI and ultimately undercut Bob Mueller's investigation. That's something that the Republicans have pushed back against.
But this is the way that it has gone down throughout the day. At one point earlier in the day, the Republicans threatened to hold Peter Strzok in contempt, because he would not answer questions about the ongoing Russia investigation.
Democrats came back and said, "Well, how come we're not holding Steve Bannon in contempt," given that Bannon came before a separate committee in the House, Intelligence Committee, did not answer a range of questions there, even though he was under subpoena. And they did not hold him in contempt, despite some threats to do so.
The Republicans resisted a motion to try to subpoena Steve Bannon. So these theatrics have played through the course of the day. But when I asked Trey Gowdy, Wolf, the Republican chairman of the committee, "How come you did not want to hold Steve Bannon in contempt," but he was willing to hold Peter Strzok in contempt, he would not answer. He declined to comment, walked onto an elevator and didn't answer the question, Wolf.
BLITZER: And Manu Raju, we'll get back to you. One of the most contentious
Let's get some more on the breaking new. Our justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, is with us. The subtext of this hearing, the legitimacy of the Robert Mueller probe. Laura, how did the Democrats deal with this?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the name of the game for the Democrats today was deflect, pivot and do everything they could to keep the focus on the special counsel's work.
You saw Congressman Cummings, a top Democrat. He came with props, pictures of five guilty pleas that had been secured by the special counsel's office. You saw Sheila Jackson Lee. She had a picture of Paul Manafort's mug shot there, ready to go.
And you saw Congressman Gutierrez, pointing to the fact that Peter Strzok, because he was in such a small cadre of people who actually knew about the origination of the Russia investigation, and yet didn't say anything, he had the magic bullet to tank the entire election for Trump, but he never used it.
And so you saw Democrats constantly trying to avoid the text message situation and refocus the discussion on Mueller.
BLITZER: And one of the most dramatic moments was when Republican Congressman Louis Gohmert went after Peter Strzok, and he highlighted the fact that Strzok was having an affair with Lisa Page, a colleague at the FBI.
JARRETT: Yes. So that situation resulted in gasps from his colleagues. One even said, "Are you taking your medicine?" He lashed out at Strzok on a particular exchange where he felt like Strzok wasn't forthcoming with him.
But the entire affair with Lisa Page has been one of those things that's sort of lurking underneath the entire hearing. I mean, the whole reason they have this treasure-trove of text messages is because they're texting back and forth late at night, as Strzok explained.
But it's interesting, you know, Congressman Mark Sanford told my colleague Manu Raju that he actually thinks Congressman Gohmert went too far. And so there has been a little bit of pushback to what he did there.
BLITZER: One line of questioning from the Republicans was when Peter Strzok started doing interviews at the outset of the Russia probe. Tell us why that was significant.
JARRETT: So part of this goes to the entire Spygate conspiracy which we have reported is unfounded. But the issue there for House Republicans is that they want to try to say the FBI was doing something nefarious before the actually Russia investigation began in July of 2016.
And so he was asking him what things were happening, were there any interviews in those early days of the investigation? Now, of course, Congressman Gowdy answered his own question later on, saying, no, in fact, the first interview was on August 11.
And what he wanted to try to show there was Peter Strzok had prejudged the investigation and was texting all kinds of things, talking about Trump destabilizing the country, way before that first interview. And so it was really just part of this whole spectacle here. But that was what they were driving at in that part of the testimony.
BLITZER: Very dramatic stuff, indeed. Laura, thank you very much.
BLITZER: Let's get some more on the breaking news. Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia is joining us. He's a member of the Oversight Committee, as well as the Foreign Affairs Committee.
And you were there, Congressman. Thanks very much for joining us.
REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: As you know Strzok, he already testified before lawmakers behind closed doors, what, about 11 hours. Why was today's public hearing necessary?
CONNOLLY: I don't think it was necessary. And your reporter referred just now to Democrats trying to deflect attention away from the main topic. The opposite is true.
This hearing and the 11-hour closed deposition are Republican attempts to deflect attention away from the criminal investigation of Russian connections with the Trump campaign. And Democrats want to refocus that. That's a pretty serious issue.
And in the 11-hour closed deposition, for example, over 200 questions were asked Mr. Strzok. Only five dealt with the Russian investigation. That tells you what they're really up to. They're trying to protect this president at any cost, including destruction of law enforcement, destruction of the reputation of the FBI, and ultimately. the destruction of the Mueller investigation itself. It's a new low for the United States Congress.
BLITZER: Do you believe, Congressman -- do you believe Peter Strzok when he says his political opinions -- we saw those political opinions outlined in all the e-mail, the text exchanges he had with Lisa Page -- do you believe that those personal views of his did not influence his official actions?
CONNOLLY: Well, there's no evidence of that. In fact, we had -- we don't even have to take his word for it. The inspector general, Horowitz, testified before us a few weeks ago in which he, under oath, said there's no evidence that that person personal predilection of Mr. Strzok in any way tainted or polluted the ongoing investigation, criminal investigation. So we have the I.G.'s word for that.
But that's not good enough for my Republican friends.
I read into the record, Wolf, in this hearing, the statements of eight Republicans who said virtually the same thing as Mr. Strzok, that Trump wasn't qualified, that he ought to do the right thing and get out of the race. Are they disqualified now from commenting on anything having to do with Russia and the interference with our election or, for that matter, should they be qualified from ever testifying in favor of Mr. Trump or against him? Lots of people had his opinion at the time, and lots of us still do.
BLITZER: But regardless of Strzok's intentions, hasn't his behavior seriously undermined public trust right now in the FBI, given the damming statements in all those e-mail exchanges?
CONNOLLY: Well, I don't think it helps. But I mean, I think that's not material. A criminal investigation is ongoing. It's led to three guilty pleas and 17 indictments, and there are probably more to come. There's a track record Mr. Mueller has. This isn't a fishing expedition. It's a serious criminal investigation, and irrespective of whims of the public tide, Mr. Mueller's investigation needs to go forward unimpeded. BLITZER: Strzok insists he wasn't removed from the special counsel's
probe, Robert Mueller's investigation of the Russia allegations. He says he wasn't removed because of bias. He says he was removed because of the perception his texts with Lisa Page might have created. Do you buy that?
[17:15:11] CONNOLLY: I do. And I think -- I think that was a proper decision. Mueller wants to stay purer than pure, and he made exactly the right decision, irrespective of whether or not there was evidence of taint. The perception, obviously, would be something that wasn't tolerable.
BLITZER: Strzok also told the lawmakers -- and you were there all day, and it's been going on since about 10 a.m. Eastern this morning. He told the lawmakers the Russia investigation began, because the FBI received information about a Russian offer of assistance, his words, to a member of the Trump campaign. What more can you tell us about that?
CONNOLLY: I really can't illuminate on that. We know that's the history. And we also know -- very important fact here -- that no one in the top echelons of the FBI, including Mr. Strzok, leaked that information.
So the only information of an ongoing investigation and the results of that investigation, the American electorate had prior to the election involved Hillary Clinton. No one was made aware -- not the media, not the public -- prior to the election that, in fact, a parallel investigation was going on of far more gravity, foreign interference and possible collusion between the political campaign of Trump and the Russian government.
BLITZER: Why did Strzok feel comfortable divulging that piece of information about the Russia investigation, but he refused repeatedly to answer several similar questions from Republicans?
CONNOLLY: My understanding is that he is under instruction and guidance by FBI attorneys, and he is abiding by the counsel, legal counsel the FBI is giving him. He is, after all, still an official of the FBI.
BLITZER: Why haven't the transcripts of Strzok's 11 hours of testimony behind closed doors been released? Why -- why are they kept secret?
CONNOLLY: Good question. Democrats do want to release those transcripts so the public can judge for itself. My Republican friends don't want to do that. They must have something to hide.
BLITZER: And is there any way you can get those documents released?
CONNOLLY: Well, there's talk we're going to do it as long as it is within the rules. We'll see.
BLITZER: Where is this heading? CONNOLLY: I think this is heading toward an enormous fracture in --
in our governance and, certainly, here in the legislative branch. I've never witnessed anything like I witnessed today, and it was not a proud moment.
Frankly, this hearing was conducted like a Russian political show trial with all the trappings: you know, innuendo; connecting dots that aren't meant to be connected; taking one isolated incident and generalizing without justification; demagoguery; intimidation; badgering of a witness; actually asserting that the witness had committed perjury in the middle of -- you know, a testimony under oath. These are unprecedented and taken to a new level.
And no American can be proud of what they witnessed today in the Republican management of this hearing.
BLITZER: It was really acrimonious. It was really angry. It was very partisan, very bitter. Have you ever seen a hearing like this in the years you've been in the House of Representatives?
CONNOLLY: I've seen some tough hearings, but I've never witnessed anything like this, Wolf. This was truly a low, low moment for the legislative branch of the United States government.
BLITZER: So what's going to be the impact, as far as the American public is concerned, as those who watched this hearing today, what do you think the fallout is going to be?
CONNOLLY: If you're predisposed to believe Trump is just being a victim of the media and his political opponents, you're going to believe more of that. And if you believe that there's something to be discovered here, you're going to believe the Republicans are actively conspiring to prevent the public from learning that truth.
BLITZER: Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia, thanks so much for joining us.
CONNOLLY: My pleasure, Wolf. Thank you.
BLITZER: I want our viewers to listen to this. This is another exchange that occurred during this truly extraordinary day. Listen to this.
STRZOK: I can assure you, Mr. Chairman, at no time, in any of these texts, did those personal beliefs ever enter into the realm of any action I took.
Furthermore, this isn't just me sitting here telling you. You don't have to take my word for it. At every step, at every investigative decision, there are multiple layers of people above me -- the assistant director, executive assistant director, deputy director, and director of the FBI -- and multiple layers of people below me -- section chiefs, supervisors, unit chiefs, case agents and analysts -- all of whom were involved in all of these decisions. They would not tolerate any improper behavior in me anymore than I would tolerate it in them. That is who we are as the FBI.
And the suggestion that I, in some dark chamber somehow 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. It simply couldn't happen.
[17:20:03] 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's get some analysis of what we just heard. A truly remarkable day here in Washington.
Susan Hennessey, you're our national security and legal analyst, used to work at the National Security Agency. What did -- first of all, what did you think of that exchange that we just saw?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's remarkable that Strzok has -- that is actually the most robust defense of the FBI that we've heard from a sitting official. Something that really is remarkable.
Look, what he's trying to explain and what -- what at least the Republicans on the committee sort of refuse to acknowledge was that every person has political beliefs. Every person has political opinions. That's different from bias. That individuals who work for the federal law enforcement or for the federal government put those opinions, they leave those opinions at the door, and they do their job in a nonpartisan, apolitical manner.
And what Strzok is really getting at is we don't just trust FBI agents to do that. There actually is a whole structure, a very elaborate set of rules and principles, in order to ensure that, even if anybody wanted to violate that really sacred commitment, they wouldn't be able to do so. So I think he really is underscoring how far off-base these accusations are.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the whole irony here is that the FBI is mad at Strzok, because they believe that his texts were inappropriate and that he shouldn't have done it. And whether or not it reflects bias in his investigation, they're saying, you know, "It was a bad thing to do."
So he gave this incredible defense of the FBI, and I bet there are people from the FBI -- you can answer that -- who are sitting there thinking, you know, "I wish we had a -- the defense was great. I wish we had a different messenger."
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM: I agree with you. I mean, you look at this and say, "That is what people at the FBI do." I remember counterterrorism cases, you'd go home at night and say, "That guy we're watching on Peoria is scum." You come into the office in the day and say, "What are the facts? Can we prove in a court of law that he wants to explode a bomb? Can we prove that beyond a reasonable doubt?"
This guy gave a defense of the FBI, but I'm going to guess, having served at the bureau, a lot of people are sitting back saying, "He profoundly embarrassed us, and one thing he ought to do is step back in front of the public and say, 'I'm sorry. I should never have done that on a government phone.'" Off hours, all Americans are doing that stuff. On hours on a government phone, you can't do it.
BLITZER: You used to work at the FBI for a while. You were dispatched by the CIA. But is it realistic to think that someone involved so deeply in a criminal investigation can remove his or her personal opinions the way he describes that?
MUDD: Sort of. I mean, when you go into the office -- and I was watching his defense -- you've got to sit there and say whether you like -- let's take Paul Manafort, for example, who's already been involved in this, obviously, for many, many months.
Whether you like Paul Manafort or not, whether you think he's dirty or not, can we go into a courtroom and say he's got dirty money? That's the facts. So at some point, whether or not you have emotional views, you've got to question yourself on what the facts are.
The second question -- and I completely agree with Mr. Strzok on this -- Americans don't understand this. You're talking about hundreds of people involved in this investigation. Regardless of whether you believe him or not, you're thinking that he can walk into the FBI Hoover Building and say, "Let me figure out a way to manipulate another 200 people."
BLITZER: He did have a very senior role.
MUDD: Sure, but you can't walk in and say, "Well, I don't care what the investigators say about what they found in the investigation. I'm going to twist it to make it anti-Trump." I don't see how you could do that.
BORGER: If he was so biased, why didn't he leak it? I mean, if he really wanted Trump to lose, he had the card. He could have leaked it and said, "There's a counterintelligence investigation going on about Donald Trump and Russia."
BLITZER: Wouldn't that have been a crime?
MUDD: That would be a crime. I mean, I agree. This is happening among -- this kind of commentary, among 150 million Americans. That is, anti-Hillary or anti-Trump. His mistake was not what he said, because I don't think it would have affected the investigation. His mistake was using a government phone to do it.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": It's also important to remember that Peter Strzok was reassigned from Robert Mueller's investigation a year ago when these texts were first uncovered. And the inspector general report that was recently released did condemn the texts as having been inappropriate but did not find any evidence of widespread bias within the agency against then-candidate Trump.
And I think today's hearing really just reinforced that these congressional hearings have devolved into exercises in partisan theater. There wasn't a lot of new information that was learned today. And he already testified behind closed doors for close to 11 hours. So this was little more than an opportunity for lawmakers to grandstand and, frankly, to distract from the real issue at hand, which is Russian interference in the U.S. election, especially at a time when President Trump is poised to sit down next week with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
HENNESSEY: And I think the mere fact that we're having this conversation shows that these attacks on the bureau are actually working. This has created the doubt in lots of Americans' minds about whether or not FBI agents, federal law enforcement, are actually executing the law or whether or not they are settling political grudges. And that itself is such an incredibly corrosive thing. And I really do think this hearing was -- was evidence of how successful this campaign has been.
[17:25:11] BLITZER: There was some news, Phil. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee had this exchange with Peter Strzok about his concerns early on in the Russia investigation.
STRZOK: I think trying to keep this at a level, not talking about open -- open investigations --
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: Only your --
STRZOK: -- so the predicating information, the information we had, which was alleging a Russian offer of assistance to a member of Trump's -- Trump campaign was of extraordinary significance. It was credible. It was from an extraordinarily sensitive and credible source.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What did you make of that?
MUDD: That's the most significant point in the entire day. As someone who used to watch these investigations, let me tell you what he's saying.
The focus in America is misguided. The focus has been entirely on whether or not there are charges related to Russia. If you're an investigator or an analyst, you're looking at this and saying, whether it's a gang case, whether it's a drug case, do we have credible information that leads us to believe a federal law was violated? And he's saying it's not the dossier. It's not some weird stuff from left field. It is credible information from a reliable source.
Regardless of whether Mueller comes out with charges, that's the critical point. Should they have investigated or not? And the answer is yes. BORGER: And they tried to get out of him, "Well, who is this credible source." I mean, it was clear it wasn't the dossier, that somebody was asking him, "Well, was it Papadopoulos." Because that's clearly not credible.
And then he had an FBI lawyer sitting back behind him, saying, you know, "We can't -- we can't discuss this." And what was stunning was all of these Republicans trying to sort of get him to reveal sources, which of course, they knew that he would not be able to do. It was for show. It was for show. The whole thing was for show.
We didn't learn a lot new.
BORGER: The whole thing was odious, in a way, because it was, you know, just trying to kind of push him up against the wall and say, "You were in a rush to clear Hillary Clinton. You wanted to go after Donald Trump."
And the Democrats saying just the opposite: "You could have gone after Donald Trump and you didn't." So what did we learn?
HENNESSEY: I think at the end of the day, if you can't depend on the facts, you try and discredit the investigation. If you can't discredit the investigation, you try and discredit the investigator. And this is sort of -- they're now trying to discredit Pete Strzok individually. Even that has failed, although I do think that it has long-term -- long-term harm to independent law enforcement in the country.
SIDDIQUI: If this hearing foreshadowed anything it's that whatever the outcome of Robert Mueller's investigation will be, most Republicans, certainly Republicans in the House, are more than willing to play cover for the president and to try and further his narrative that there was some sort of conspiracy against him within the FBI.
And they're far more interested in supporting this president than they are focusing on the real issue at hand, which is that there is no plan in place to respond to Russian aggression, whether it's here in the U.S. or in Europe. And the president's own intelligence chiefs have testified that there have not been significant actions taken to prevent future meddling in U.S. elections, including November's midterms.
BORGER: Well, you know, they didn't attack Mueller, which was sort of -- sort of interesting to me. The closest they got to an attack on Mueller was, "You mean you just met with him for 15 minutes, and you didn't really talk to him about your bias or your affair," or whatever it was. And you know, you know Mueller better than almost anyone. And can you imagine Mueller just called him in and said, "Those texts -- bye." Right?
MUDD: The director would have said, "That's very nice. Have a nice day. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. You're done."
BLITZER: And if the Russian intention was to sow dissent here in the United States, from their perspective, mission accomplished. We saw that underscored today.
Stand by. There's more news. There's more breaking news we're following this hour. President Trump, he's in Britain right now, attending a black-tie dinner with Prime Minister Theresa May, fresh from all the turmoil he unleashed at the NATO summit in Brussels.
Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is in London for us. Jim, lots of pomp for the president's arrival there today. Update our viewers.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump has arrived in Britain for another big diplomatic test with a key U.S. ally, but he left behind a nasty mess in Belgium, where he clashed with NATO leaders. NATO sources tell CNN the talks were tough and blunt, and that president's claims that he convinced other countries in the alliance to boost their defense spending to brand-new levels are not accurate.
ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump was welcomed to Britain with pomp, pageantry and protesters, so royally ticked off they're flying a Trump baby balloon over London.
Still, the president dismissed the notion he's unpopular here.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's fine. I mean, I think they like me a lot in the U.K. I think they agree with me on immigration. I'm very strong on immigration.
ACOSTA: The president arrived in the U.K. after a trip to NATO that was no love fest. Mr. Trump emerged from his intense talks with key U.S. allies, claiming he had convinced NATO countries to go beyond the alliance's commitment of devoting two percent of their GDPs to defense spending by 2024.
TRUMP: Everyone's agreed to substantially up their commitment. They're going to up it at levels that they've never thought of before.
Everybody in that room, by the time we left, got along and they agreed to pay more and they agreed to pay it more quickly.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A NATO official told CNN the discussions behind closed doors were tough on both sides. But that leaders rejected Mr. Trump's call for countries to spend four percent of their GDPs on defense as a throwaway remark. French President Emmanuel Macron said as much in front of the cameras.
EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): We will uphold the engagements taken which consists of moving towards two percent of GDP on the horizon of 2024.
ACOSTA: At a news conference, the President insisted he supported NATO and brushed off the notion he would tweet differently.
TRUMP: No, that's other people that do that. I don't. I'm very consistent. I'm a very stable genius.
ACOSTA: It was just one day ago when the President started one of his tweets with the words, "What good is NATO?" But the President seemed to answer his own question when he was asked whether Russia's Vladimir Putin was a threat.
TRUMP: Hey, I don't want him to be, and that's I guess why we have NATO.
ACOSTA: European leaders are concerned about the President's upcoming summit with Putin set for next week. As Mr. Trump rarely criticizes the Russian leader.
TRUMP: He's not my enemy. And hopefully, someday maybe he'll be a friend. It could happen. But I don't -- I just don't know him very well.
ACOSTA: The President said he would again press Putin on meddling in the 2016 election, but insisted he already knows the response he'll receive.
TRUMP: We will, of course, ask your favorite question about meddling. I will be asking that question again. You know, what am I going to do, he may deny it. I mean, it's one of those things. So, all I can do is say, did you and don't do it again, but he may deny it.
ACOSTA: Even on the subject of Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, the President blamed his own predecessor, not Putin.
TRUMP: That was on Barack Obama's watch. That was not on Trump's watch. Would I have allowed it to happen? No, I would not have allowed it to, but he did allow it happen, so that was his determination.
ACOSTA: Now, the President will likely face more questions about his rocky summit with NATO leaders when he holds a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May. That happens just before the President meets with Queen Elizabeth, but it's the President's upcoming summit, Wolf, with Vladimir Putin that worries Europe most as a NATO official told me earlier today, Mr. Trump got an earful from U.S. allies behind closed doors, all offering their input on how to handle the Putin problem, Wolf. It will not be like afternoon tea, Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You're absolutely right, Jim Acosta in London. Thank you. Let's get some more on all of this. Our Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in Moscow. Fred, so what's the reaction in Russia?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, even the Russians, Wolf, can hardly believe their eyes and their ears with some of the things that they've been hearing out of that NATO summit there in Brussels. It's
interesting, we talked to the Kremlin, they'll tell you, look, we have nothing to do with the rifts in NATO but they're also saying that obviously they don't like NATO to be strong and they certainly believe that NATO is a threat to them. However, there are analysts here and there's politicians here who are saying that even the Soviet Union or Vladimir Putin could not have caused greater rifts to NATO than President Trump has done in the past 1-1/2 days. I want you to listen in to what one analyst said on state-run T.V. a little earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I've been researching Transatlantic relations all my life but I never thought I'd witness a period in history when it's not USSR or Russia that is driving a wedge between Transatlantic allies. And the USSR tried to do that many times, but their chief, Washington and the President of the U.S. who are doing everything to break the foundation of the Transatlantic Alliance and union.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: Look, one of the things, Wolf, obviously that the Russians are looking forward to is that summit in Helsinki in a couple of days, and one of the things that they've been talking about is they obviously want good optics at that summit compared to, for instance, the NATO summit, and it certainly looks like that's something that they are going to get. The Russians obviously also looking, talking about some pretty controversial topics, Syria being one of them, and then Ukraine, as well. And they said that if President Trump does bring up election meddling again, he'll get the same answer that he's got in the past. The Russians saying they didn't do it, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, how does this strife within NATO, Fred, set the stage for the Trump-Putin summit on Monday in Helsinki?
PLEITGEN: Yes, I think it makes that summit all the more important for the Russians. Right now, it's something that can be compared to the NATO summit. We're probably at least as far as the optics are concerned, it will compare somewhat favorably. And certainly, if you look at some of the pundits, you look at some of the politicians here in this country, they will tell you -- they believe that the relations between President Trump and Vladimir Putin at this Helsinki summit could mark a turning point, possibly a stepping stone to better relations between the U.S. and Russia if indeed these two get along, as well, as President Trump seems to believe that they might, Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen is Moscow for us. Thank you. We're standing by, by the way, for the congressional hearing to resume. Lawmakers have been shouting, they've been interpreting the witnesses -- the witness, I should say, they've been interpreting each other, it's been extremely angry. We'll continue to have coverage of that.
[17:35:12] Also, later, North Korea is a no show for a very important meeting on returning the remains of U.S. troops from the Korean War.
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories. Right now, we'll get back to the congressional hearing with the FBI agent Peter Strzok as soon as it resumes. It's been extremely contentious. Also breaking, President Trump, he's in Britain right now attending a black tie dinner with the Prime Minister Theresa May. Let's talk about what we saw today. Susan Hennessey, it sets the stage for the one-on-one meeting the President will have Monday in Helsinki with Putin, and a lot of Americans, a lot of experts are very nervous about this.
[17:40:11] SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. I think they should be. The President appears to be trying to get his base to believe that Vladimir Putin is good and NATO is bad. That's a relatively alarming precondition to have this particular engagement. You know, one of the most notable thing that the President said is, you know, well, I'll ask Putin about election meddling and I'll just have to take his word for it, and I'll tell him not to do it again. No, that's not all you can do. One, he should be relying not on the word of Vladimir Putin but on the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community. Two, he believes as all of his administration does, that this election -- that this meddling actually occurred, then what they should be doing is implementing sanctions, all kinds of countermeasures to ensure this kind of fundamental attack on our democracy doesn't occur again.
BLITZER: He was much more critical, Gloria, of the NATO allies than he was of Putin.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. Right, and predicted that his meeting with Putin would be better. But what was stunning to me about what the President said was to the media, I will ask your favorite question about election meddling, as if it's just a scenario that the media is promoting out there. What it is is a scenario that every intelligence agency is promoting, and yet the President seems to refer to it as something that you care about, not something that I care about, and then, he said, well, you know, who knows? He's going to deny it, whatever. But it was -- it was kind of offhanded and you know, I'll be sure to do it because otherwise I'll get criticized if I don't. Which seems to belie the seriousness of the whole matter.
BLITZER: Sabrina, he also said it was basically a loose meeting, no real agenda. We'll talk a little bit, maybe we'll become friends, and then we'll move on.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, it's important to recall that when he had a phone call with Vladimir Putin just a couple of months ago, he didn't bring up the topic of Russian meddling in the U.S. election. So, it's hard to even take the President at his word that he plans to raise the issue when he sits down face-to-face with Putin. It's also remarkable that today when the President finally reaffirmed U.S. commitment to NATO that that's something that's noteworthy. It just reinforces the ways in which he has tried to weaponize, of course, the issue of defense spending commitments to try and divide NATO allies, which is frankly what Vladimir Putin wants to do. And it seems like he was dealt a helping hand by the U.S. President based on the antics that he pulled, of course, during the course of the summit.
BLITZER: And before leaving Brussels for London, he had this impromptu 40-minute news conference. Glad he had a news conference, glad he's answering questions from reporters, but at one point, though, I'm (INAUDIBLE) to get your reaction, he said -- he said that I'm a very stable genius.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we've heard that before.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Genius, I mean, as I used to say at the epiphany school, if brains were dynamite, this guy could not blow his nose. Look, the problem we're going to have in the Russia meeting is when he says things went really well with North Korea, when he says the NATO allies have agreed to expand defense spending radically, neither those are true. Watch Secretary of State and Secretary Defense after the Russia meeting. Don't watch the President because he's going to make stuff up.
BLITZER: But he's apparently going to have a one-on-one meeting with Putin at least to start with only their translators present.
MUDD: Sure, but if there's going to be something to execute on that, for example, some conversation by what to do in Syria, that's Mike Pompeo's inbox. The President has to come out and say, either we decided to do something or not, and if the answer is yes, the President is not going to do it, he's got to direct somebody else to do it.
BORGER: But there'll be no transcript which is -- which is a little scary. I mean, there should be official records of meetings that are as important as between the President of the United States and Vladimir Putin, and you're not going to have it, at the beginning at least. I mean, if Pompeo joins and Mattis, I mean, I'm assuming you'll get something but --
HENNESSEY: But the President continues to believe that diplomacy is about his personal relationship with another leader. You really can't get past the notion that this is anything more about whether or not Vladimir Putin likes him and is nice to him. You do think it's worth underscoring the positions that the President gave voice to this -- you know, during this summit, his anti-NATO positions, there is no constituency for this. Republicans oppose this view, Democrats oppose this view. There is no strategic advantage whatsoever.
BLITZER: A bit (INAUDIBLE) Sabrina, we saw the mug shot today of Paul Manafort, the President's former campaign chairman. There it is right there, that mug shot. He's got a trial coming up in about two weeks. He's been moved to a new jail in Alexandria, Virginia just outside of Washington, D.C. This is a big deal.
SIDDIQUI: Absolutely. And it's important to recall that while there are some other figures who were essential to this investigation, Paul Manafort is still someone who has not struck a deal with federal prosecutors. I think that he is certainly one of the key targets that Manafort -- or I'm sorry, that Mueller and his team hope that they can lift but, of course, that hasn't yet happened. It remains to be seen whether the added scrutiny and the added pressure could cause something significant to develop.
BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We're awaiting the restart of the congressional hearing. Lawmakers have more questions for the FBI agent who sent anti-Trump text messages during the campaign. It's been a remarkably bitter partisan hearing. There you see him, Peter Strzok, he's back in the room. We'll have live coverage.
[17:45:11] Also, coming up, North Korea is a no show for an important meeting on returning the remains of U.S. troops from the Korean War.
BLITZER: All right, the hearing has resumed up on Capitol Hill. There's Peter Strzok, the FBI agent, answering Eric Swalwell's questions. We'll dip in.
PETER STRZOK, FORMER FBI AGENT: -- to that but when it comes -- that's a personal exception to responsibility that I take and I need, and I'm working to make right. But when it comes to official conduct, when it comes to any action which would violate a law or crime, absolutely, I've never done that, and I have no need to take the Fifth.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Mr. Strzok, you watched as Director Comey testified a number of times under oath to Congress.
STRZOK: I have.
SWALWELL: And to your knowledge, has President Trump, has he raised his right hand and gone under oath just as you and Director Comey have to special counsel or anyone else?
STRZOK: Only time I recall is when he was sworn in as President.
SWALWELL: Were you the sole individual who closed the Hillary Clinton investigation?
SWALWELL: Were you the sole individual who opened the Russia investigation?
SWALWELL: On November 3rd, 2015, did you send an e-mail to Michael Cohen and say that our boy can become President of the United States and we can engineer it, I will get Putin's team to buy in on this. Did you send that e-mail?
SWALWELL: Did you set up a meeting on June 9th, where the e-mail setting up that meeting was sent to Donald Trump, Jr., where Donald Trump, Jr. was offered dirt on his father's opponent? Did you set up that June 9th meeting at Trump Tower?
STRZOK: Without stating whether or not that meeting happened, I did not set up a meeting.
SWALWELL: Did you reply to the e-mail setting up that meeting when dirt was offered and said, I love it?
STRZOK: I did not.
SWALWELL: And in the summer of 2016, were you working as a speechwriter?
SWALWELL: So, would you have happened to have written the speech for Donald Trump, the candidate in the summer of 2016, where he told an audience, Russia, if you're listening -- and then went on to tell the Russians that if they hacked Hillary Clinton's e-mails, they'd be rewarded. Did you write that speech?
STRZOK: I did not.
SWALWELL: Does any of the behavior that I just described concern you from a counterintelligence perspective?
[17:49:55] STRZOK: Because it indicates a set of standards and requests that in my mind, one, encourage a foreign power to begin inserting themselves into our electoral process. It indicate a willingness or desire to engage in a conversation and dialogue about how to do that. It potentially implicates a variety of laws, and without getting into what has or has not been done investigatively, I simply -- I'm expecting that based on the open source reporting about those things.
SWALWELL: Thank you. I yield back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The chair recognizes the gentleman from North Carolina, Mr. Meadows for five minutes.
REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Strzok, I'm going to go through a few real quick questions but I think earlier your testimony today, I'm going to make sure I have this clear. I think you were quoted as saying, "We don't ever talk about ongoing investigations outside of the FBI." Is that true?
STRZOK: I don't know the context in which I said it. I can think of --
MEADOWS: We were talking about sharing with the media.
STRZOK: Oh, right, no. You don't -- you -- in my experience, that is -- I can think of examples, not that I've participated in where members -- if there's an ongoing case, say, a field office wanted to enlist the public's help and they would talk to the media about getting a lead on a kidnapper. So, I -- there are times where that might occur, so that's why I want to be careful to frame what I said and how I said it.
MEADOWS: So, you have never talked to anyone outside of the FBI about the Russia investigation at all?
STRZOK: I have never spoken to any member of the media about the Russia investigation.
MEADOWS: Have you spoken to anyone who is not in the media and is not part of the Department of Justice or the FBI about the Russia investigation, other than witnesses?
STRZOK: The U.S. -- the U.S. Intelligence Community.
MEADOWS: All right. So, you've talked to the CIA?
STRZOK: The U.S. Intelligence Community. I would not --
MEADOWS: Would that include the CIA?
STRZOK: Potentially. I don't think I can answer the specifics of who I talked to without getting --
MEADOWS: Well, and so, I'm going to -- I'm going to ask questions that you can't answer that are not specifics about this investigation. And so, in doing so, I need you to give me clear answers. Are you aware that there was a meeting between Director Brennan and Senator Harry Reid where indeed he shared certain intelligence with Senator Reid on August 25th of 2016? Are you aware of that?
STRZOK: Not to my recollection, I am not.
MEADOWS: OK. Well, then, the text message between you and Ms. Page a few days after that on August 30th, where you said, here it comes when Senator Reid sent a letter to Director Comey. What would you have been referring to then?
STRZOK: My recollection of that which is very imprecise was that Senator Reid had been making a lot of comment, and I don't know if it was public comment or comment to Director Comey.
MEADOWS: But they weren't public at that time. They became public with the New York Times, but they weren't public at that time. So, are you aware that in your e-mail dated January 10th where you acknowledge the fact that Harry Reid knew about the dossier prior to sending that letter, are you aware of that e-mail from you?
STRZOK: I don't know that I was talking in that about the Steele material which you're referring to as the dossier. I would have to check my notes. I'm not --
MEADOWS: I need you to check your notes and report back, because we have evidence that would suggests that. So, since we're talking about --
STRZOK: The date on this, Sir, was what? August of?
MEADOWS: August 25th was the briefing with Harry Reid by Director --
STRZOK: Of 2016?
MEADOWS: 2016 -- by Director Brennan. He sends a letter then to Director Comey, which we have acknowledgment of by Director Comey and by you and Lisa Page in text messages that would suggest that you were aware of that. So, the CIA Director briefing Harry Reid and the indication is that they talked about the dossier and we get that indication from an e-mail from you from January 10th.
STRZOK: Yes. But that's not true, Congressman, the first recollection I have of any material from the material produced by Mr. Steele was mid-September of 2016. So, I did not know or have information from -- of that material, certainly, from any other source prior to Mid-September, if memory serves.
MEADOWS: You had not seen it until mid-September?
STRZOK: My recollection is that in mid-September -- and I again, I have to differ to my notes --
MEADOWS: But I want to -- I want to give you a chance to make sure that we're clear on the record here, you are not aware of a briefing that took place between Director Brennan and Senator Harry Reid on August 25th --
STRZOK: That is correct, to my recollection, I was not aware of that meeting.
MEADOWS: All right. So, let me go on a little bit further because we've got four or five other documents that would indicate that the White House was notified at least four different times about this investigation. Do you think that that would be appropriate during an ongoing campaign that the Obama administration would be kept up to speed on a Russia collusion investigation? Do you think that would be appropriate?
STRZOK: Sir, you're mixing a couple of things. The -- it would be entirely appropriate for the White House to be aware and concerned about what the government of Russia was doing with regards to the elections.
[17:54:55] MEADOWS: That was not my -- that was not my question. But I agree, I'm concerned, I actually have a bill that I encourage my colleagues opposite to talk about Russian interference where we can make sure that didn't happen. We're talking about an investigation that would include collusion being talked about with the White House, we have evidence that would suggest, not once, not twice, not three times, but four times that it was discussed with people in the Obama administration. Were you aware of any discussion that took place with regards to the Russia collusion investigation that took place with the Obama administration's executive branch?
STRZOK: So, when -- I want to ask you, Sir, when you say investigations, are you talking about investigations -- I'm not saying there were or were not -- investigations of U.S. persons or potentially investigations of a Russian sitting in the Ukraine.
MEADOWS: Of U.S. persons associating with Donald Trump's campaign?
STRZOK: I am not aware of any briefings to the White House about this. When was the timeframe you provided? I'm not aware of anything the White House --
MEADOWS: Any time between July 31st and November 8th when the election happened. You're not aware of any? That's your sworn testimony --
STRZOK: I've sworn about specific identities of people who were there? I don't know, I --
MEADOWS: I don't want to ask you about the people. I don't want to know the people. I want to know did it happen, are you aware of any conversations that happened with Obama administration officials? And be careful how you answer.
STRZOK: I am certainly aware of conversations that occurred with Obama administration officials. I'm aware of a variety of conversations that took place across the U.S. intelligence community, talking about the Russian efforts. I am aware that my recollection and understanding -- again, I was not present at any briefing. My understanding is that there were not discussions of identities of individual U.S. persons who may or may not have been the subject of investigations.
MEADOWS: OK. I think you're parsing words. I yield back.
STRZOK: Sir, you asked -- you asked me to parse words.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Time of the gentleman has expired.
STRZOK: If you want a specific answer to be careful, then I would -- the only way I can do that is by parsing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The chair recognizes the gentleman from Louisiana, Mr. Richman for five minutes.
REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D), LOUISIANA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And against the wisdom of my grandmother that said that when you see a circus going on, don't jump in the middle of it and expect people not to call you a clown. I will ask answer -- ask questions anyway, because I think that this is a circus. And the problem is that it's a distraction from real issues that we're talking about or should be talking about in this country. We've asked this committee to have a hearing on the fact that we still have not renewed the Voting Rights Act. We have had no hearing. We've asked this committee to have a hearing on DACA, where we are putting at risk DREAMers who make this country a better place. But we've had no hearing on DACA. We've asked for hearings on the fact that we are separating infants and toddlers from their parents with now clearly no ability to reunite the family. So, we have sick and maniacal things going on in this country, and we spent six hours with 20 percent of Congress locked in a room, bashing someone in hopes that we can discredit a law enforcement investigation.
In my wildest dreams, in my entire life, I never thought that I, a young black man, would be defending the FBI. But we were always taught that we have to believe in the system, that the people who take an oath and swear to protect, people who protect and serve our communities, people who have fought for this country on foreign land, that we give them the benefit of the doubt of their honesty and their integrity and the fact that they want to see justice served. We have these hearings, but we won't have hearings to really look at Russian collusion. We can't even get the administration to admit that Russians played a part in hacking our elections. .
So, when we look at what we're doing today, what we're doing is wasting precious time. And I can go down the list on September 7th of 2017. We sent a letter about DACA. On October 2nd of 2017, we sent a letter to this committee asking to have a hearing about the Las Vegas shooting and what we could be doing as the Judiciary Committee to make sure that that doesn't happen again. We sent a letter November 6th of 2017 to ask about what we could be doing when 25 people were killed in a church in Texas. We, the Judiciary Committee with jurisdiction, why are we not having a hearing on that?
So, the question is, with all of the talent on this committee on both sides, my Republican colleagues, my Democratic colleagues, we have spent far too much time today on a red herring that is --