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Peter Strzok Hearing; Strzok Defends Himself and FBI; Strzok Grilled by Lawmakers; Trump Lashes out at Allies. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 12, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] PETER STRZOK, FBI AGENT WHO SENT ANTI-TRUMP TEXTS: Sir, I would authorize the release of any work-related text messages that are out there.

GOODLATTE: Ahh, but the question is what is work-related and what is not?

STRZOK: That's right Sir and I would not -- I would not accept or agree to the release of non-work related text messages.

GOODLATTE: Even -- even though your testimony is that you would never let your work interfere with your personal opinion.

STRZOK: That is exactly my testimony.

GOODLATTE: So how are we going to know that unless we see those text messages?

STRZOK: So the Inspector General very carefully and an independent body went exhaustively through the entirety of that body and found Sir that there were no acts of bias; that there was nothing demonstrative...

GOODLATTE: The Inspector General works for an entirely different entity than the United States Congress. Will you authorize release of them to the United States Congress?


GOODLATTE: The Chair...

ISSA: Mr. -- Mr. Chairman, a point of inquiry, I'm trying to understand his answer. My understanding was that the Inspector General did not see what he is claiming to be his personal texts that these were -- that they were requested and he delivered what he said was business related. So if I understand correctly, no one has seen anything that he determined, Mr. Strzok determined would not be delivered because in his opinion, they were not business related. I have a number of texts in front of me that I would say were very personal that we're looking at that undoubtedly he would have objected to turning over.

GOODLATTE: The gentleman makes a very good point. He may want to ask questions about that when he is shortly to be recognized. But first we're going to recognize the gentlewoman from Texas, Ms. Jackson Lee for five minutes.

JACKSON LEE: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. I'm sorry my colleague walked out before Mr. Strzok had give his answers. I hate no one. I do not hate the Administration, the President, my colleagues. In fact, I love this nation; I honor this nation. And so I believe it is important that we stand on the force of truth in the Constitution.

In the oversight of these two committees, it is unfortunate that none of these committees, Judiciary oversight have decided to pursue more precious or more important issues than asking about Hillary Clinton's emails which have been well documented that there was no criminal impact and in essence she was vindicated by the Inspector General's report and other reports.

Unfortunately this has become a fishing expedition. What we have not done is investigated the children being stolen away from their families, nor have we looked at our President meeting with Mr. Putin, getting his annual performance review while offending our NATO allies. Foreign policy scholars are aghast that this President, one who famously refused to read his briefing materials will be meeting with Mr. Putin.

In addition, we are wasting time doing the Clinton investigation rather than investigating the role that Russia played in the 2016 elections, unanimous and unassailable assessment of the intelligence community is that the Russians helped Trump over Hillary and intended to harm her. In the judgment of the Republican-controlled Senate intelligence committee, they agree with that assessment.

Unfortunately, the President and House Republicans do not agree. The leader of Russia is known to have sanctioned murder of dissidents, jailed journalist and this is the President who is described as easy to meet with.

Neither the Judiciary Committee or the Oversight committees investigated the President's indicating that he can pardon himself. So here we are Mr. Strzok to ask you questions. I saw you in the closed session. I think you're a credible witness and I believe you love America.

My questions on require yes or no. Did anything you did or say in 2016, change the fact that Trump campaign associate Carter Page was under counterintelligence surveillance going back to 2013? Anything that you did, yes or no Sir.


JACKSON LEE: Did anything you did or say in 2016 change the fact that in March 2016, the president met with George Papadopoulos, who would later plead guilty for lying to the FBI?


JACKSON LEE: Did anything you did or say in 2016 change the fact that Donald Trump Jr. met with agents of the Russian government in Trump Tower in 2016? STRZOK: No.

JACKSON LEE: Did anything you did or say in 2016 change the fact that the president asked Russians to hack into Hillary Clinton's e-mails?


JACKSON LEE: Did anything you did or say in 2016 change the fact that Paul Manafort, who has proven -- who has pleaded guilty, in fact that in July 2016 that Paul Manafort changed the GOP party platform at the 2016 GOP convention in order benefit Russia or change the platform?

STRZOK: Ma'am, without saying whether or not that's accurate, no.

JACKSON LEE: Did anything you did or say in 2016 change the fact that in May 2016, George Papadopoulos was drunk in a London bar bragging about how Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton?

STRZOK: Again, ma'am, without confirming whether or not that's accurate, no.

JACKSON LEE: Did anything you do or say in 2016 change the fact that when Donald Trump was presented with dirt on Hillary Clinton, he responded "I love it"?

STRZOK: Again, ma'am, only commenting on public accounts of that, no.

JACKSON LEE: Did anything in the I.G. report change the fact that Donald Trump Jr. was communicating with WikiLeaks Julian Assange about the timing of releasing e-mails designed to harm Hillary Clinton? Anything you do?

STRZOK: Anything I did, no.

JACKSON LEE: Did -- you're well aware that Mr. Flynn has pleaded guilty, is that not correct?

STRZOK: That's correct.

JACKSON LEE: You're well aware that he was a national security advisor for the president of the United States?

STRZOK: That's correct.

JACKSON LEE: Well in his offense statement that we have right here, Mr. Flynn , the -- indicated that his amendment -- I'm sorry, his statements, false statements and omissions, caused impeding the Russian investigation.

But more importantly, I believe it's important to take note of the fact that he provided information to the Russian ambassador that said here, calm down, don't bother to get upset about sanctions.

And according to a whistleblower, he said the sanctions would be, quote, ripped up to allow money to start flowing to one of Flynn's business projects. You had no interference with that, did you not? STRZOK: I did not.

JACKSON LEE: And you had no involvement, if you will, during your June 2018 interview I noticed some concern in your voice when recalling the 2016 campaign season, specifically October 2016 and specifically as it relates to the state of Trump Russia investigation.

Why were you so concerned about what was happening at that time?

STRZOK: I'm sorry ma'am, you would rephrase that question?

JACKSON LEE: During your June 2016 -- excuse me, June 2018 interview, I noted some concern in your voice when recalling the 2016 campaign season, specifically October 2016 and specifically as it relates to the state of the Trump Russia investigation.

Why were you so concerned about what was happening at that time?

STRZOK: Well I think -- trying to keep this is at a -- at a level not talking about open -- our open investigations.

JACKSON LEE: Only your --

STRZOK: Yes, ma'am. So the predicating information, the information we had, which was alleging a Russian offer of assistance to a member of the Trump -- Trump campaign was of extraordinary significance.

It was credible, it was from a extraordinarily sensitive and credible source, and as we looked at what that represented, the -- the key time was obviously coming into the election.

And so for us, there was absolutely a need to one, this was a serious allegation, two, of extraordinary gravity, and three, given the fact that the election was upon us and that if in fact then candidate Trump were elected, that whether he or certainly more likely or possibly members of his campaign were actively working with the Russians, we needed to get to the bottom of that.

It could be that none of them were, it could be that some or it could be on a far worse scale, but the urgency for us to understand what was going on in advance of the election and certainly in advance of any inauguration, I can't overstate the importance of that.

JACKSON LEE: I thank you. Mr. Chairman, may I put into the record -- I ask unanimous consent to put into the record articles including the one by Cillizza, no evidence Strzok biased the investigation any meaningful way.

GOODLATTE: Without objection.

JACKSON LEE: I -- I thank you. And the patriotism of this witness and all of us should indicate that certainly Russian involvement


GOODLATTE: The time of the gentlewoman has expired. JACKSON LEE: I yield back, thank you.

GOODLATTE: The -- the gentleman just answered questions regarding the substance of the Trump Russia collusion investigation. We have many more questions that we are entitled to ask and the gentleman is responsible for answering with regard to the onset of that investigation.

We are not interested in the substance of Mr. Mueller's investigation. But the manner in which it was created and your involvement in that is very much directly related to that.


So when we return, we will have more questions for you regarding that as we indicated earlier. Now, the committee will stand in recess for votes, and we will reconvene at 2:00 p.m.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

We've been following the fireworks up on Capitol Hill here in Washington, where we're hearing publicly now for the very first time from the FBI agent, former FBI agent, I should say, right at the center of President Trump and Republicans' ire. We're talking about Peter Strzok.

Strzok was fired from the Russia investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, after he was caught sending anti-Trump texts to an FBI lawyer he was having an affair with, Lisa Page. Republicans believe the texts prove Strzok was biased against Trump while investigating possible collusion. But, Strzok, has been defiant. He has been defensive throughout all of this.

I want to get immediate reaction from all of this. And, Gloria Borger, you're among our experts. You've been listening to every word that was said over these past, what, about three hours or so.


BLITZER: It got really, really tense.

[13:10:00] BORGER: Well, it was really tense and very partisan. And you had, in Mr. Strzok, a very defiant person who said, look, just because I sent these texts saying we'll stop Trump doesn't mean that I conducted any investigation any differently than I would have otherwise.

I mean the charge from the Republicans is that they believe that it is clear that he was in a rush to clear Clinton and then go after Donald Trump. And his response to that is, you know, these were personal texts. In no way would it affect my investigation. And the notion that there might be Russians colluding with people in the Trump campaign is something that he felt was a matter of great urgency. And so you had these, you know, this back and forth over what

questions he could answer, whether the FBI had told him he could answer questions about the investigation. He said no. But, you know, in every way, in every interrogation from Republicans, there was the charge that you were unfair, this whole investigation, to use Donald Trump's words, could have been a witch hunt because it was started out of a partisan bias.

BLITZER: The texts between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, they are so damning.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: They are, Wolf, which is why what Gloria is laying out here, yes, that is Strzok's mission today, is to try to walk this line of, I have personal political views, it didn't impact my work at all. That may be true. But when he says that those texts, quote, not indicative of bias, that's just flat wrong on its face. It is indicative of bias. I understand his point is, well, that bias didn't infiltrate into my work, into my conduct in the professional capacity. But you can understand why, when you look at the language of those texts, that it's very easy to point to a bias that this FBI agent was expressing. I mean it sort of goes to the sort of rule that exists. You should -- you should put nothing in text or e-mail that you are not comfortable seeing on the front page of "The New York Times" or on CNN's banner across the bottom of the screen there. He didn't follow that rule. And so now he's in this position.

Gloria is right to note that he remains defiant. He has not apologized in any way for this behavior for expressing these things. He's just trying to make this case. But I think it's a tough case for him to make because of the simple nature of those texts.

BLITZER: And it's a very tough case, Jim Sciutto, to make when we know that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, fired him after learning about all these texts.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I think in this hearing you have the -- you have America and the Mueller investigation in a nutshell, right, because you have, on the one side, some Republicans, not all Republicans, because many Republicans say that -- let Robert Mueller continue to do his work. He's not biased. We trust him, et cetera. But some Republicans, and certainly the president, argue that the investigation has been biased from the beginning and that these messages between Strzok and his -- and his -- the woman he was having an affair with are proof of that bias.

On the other side you have Democrats, but also crucially the FBI, because even FBI officials that this president has appointed, Chris Wray among them, say that the bias expressed in those text messages do not reflect the broader institution and that, as Peter Strzok made the point in his testimony today, he had many people above him and many people below him who were different. You know, essentially making the argument, if you don't believe -- I don't know how biased. It's a big organization and people are dedicated to their jobs.

BLITZER: That was the conclusion that Michael Horowitz, the inspector general, had at the same time.

SCIUTTO: And he made -- that's the thing. So that's essentially -- so it's -- it's not -- it is a political divide, but it's not purely political, right, because you also have the FBI itself, which is a -- an organization led by Republican appointees, which has Republicans and Democrats among its ranks saying that, yes, there's evidence of bias here, but that the institution as a whole has many folks at senior levels, many appointed by Trump, et cetera, who do their job without letting that bias get in the way.

Now, the trouble is, as David and Gloria were saying, these texts are, on the face, very damning evidence. And they give ammunition to the president and those who make this claim that, look at it, it's right here in clear, you know, text form that from the beginning there were folks here who had it in for the president.

BLITZER: And, Laura Coates, you're our legal analyst. I want to get the legal perspective on what we're seeing right now because potentially there could be charges filed.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There could be. And, you know, on the one hand, as you're all saying, Peter Strzok is asking the nation to compartmentalize or allow him to compartmentalize. On the other hand, the Republicans who are his adversaries in this hearing are asking the American people to conflate these issues. Because at the same time that he is back, you know, on his defensive talking about what happened with the Clinton investigation, the focus of the witch hunt statements is about the Mueller probe. And as you said yourself, Wolf, it was Mueller who had the foresight to say, this will be a problem. You cannot be a part of my probe and my team any longer.

[13:14:58] And so going forward we look at this issue in two different chunks of time. One about whether he violated FBI policy by, one, using the professional phone as a device to talk about personal issues and bias and call into question the objectivity of the FBI, which is a very big problem going forward. On the other hand, it's the idea of, how does this impact the Mueller probe. And because of Mueller's decision not to interview him extensively, not to talk to him about why he made this effort, why he made the statements, what his thought process behind it, give him an opportunity or a lifeline to continue, you see a clear delineation between when bias could have occurred and when bias was not allowed to enter the equation.

So, legally speaking, in terms of the Mueller probe, we're still in the objectivity land. When it comes to Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, their own statements were the most damning among them. But it doesn't actually tread into the Mueller probe yet. And that has to be distinguished.

CHALIAN: Yes, just to Laura's point, it is clear, from what Chairman Goodlatte was saying right before the break, Wolf, that he wants to get into the Mueller probe --

BORGER: Right.

CHALIAN: To start bringing it to there to see if he can inject the allegation of the Strzok bias into the Mueller probe. He said, when we come back from break, you do need to answer our questions about the formation of the probe.

BORGER: Right.

CHALIAN: The beginning stages of that. Not about the ongoing investigation, but how it came to be. And that's what they're -- what Republicans are going to try to focus on to connect the two.

BORGER: So get ready for a fight. Another fight.

BLITZER: And, Gloria, this -- it was -- it was not surprising, but the questions and the statements from the Republicans were totally different than the questions and statements from the Democrats.

BORGER: Sure. You know, the Democrats were trying to separate it and make sure that everybody knows that there are lots of checks and balances at the FBI. That Peter Strzok, as he himself said, was not the one making all the decisions. He was involved in the case. But he wasn't the person at the top making the decisions.

And the Republicans were saying, look, you were. You were making these decisions. You were deciding that it was more important to go after Donald Trump and the Trump campaign than it was for you to go after Hillary Clinton.

What I found sort of stunning, actually, is when Strzok was asked to explain the "we'll stop" texts, he talked about Trump's attacks on a gold star family and talked about how personally abhorrent he felt that was. So in a way he gave a little more fuel to the folks who were saying, you really hated Donald Trump. I mean it was very clear from his answer that he did not like Donald Trump. But Mueller didn't ask him. Mueller --

COATES: Right.

BORGER: And I, knowing what I know about Bob Mueller, I think he probably just called him in his office and said, you're gone.


BORGER: And didn't feel that they --

COATES: Because no explanation would have been good.

And, you know, he -- also on that point, you know, Peter Strzok poured lighter fluid on a lot of the ammunition that people are going to have. At the end, when he was asked, can you release your personal or give us clearance to release the personal messaging you had, he said, well, no, I'm not going to release that. It was very titillating for a lot of the Republicans (INAUDIBLE), well, there must be so much more that you don't actually want us to see that confirms the innuendo that not only do you not like Trump because of the gold star family attack, but there is something more that you're trying to hide. And that's a problem. SCIUTTO: Well, and that point is somewhat undermined by the fact that

the Republican-led committee will not release the transcript of his private testimony.

COATES: Certainly. Certainly.

SCIUTTO: So, you know, lo and behold, there's a little bit of sanctimony -- a little some hypocritical sanctimony coming out in this hearing. Imagine that.

COATES: Shock.

BLITZER: And a little bit of politics as well.

Asha Rangappa is with us, our legal and national security analyst.

What was your analysis, Asha, from what you heard?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, that was quite a spectacle for sure. You know, I don't know that we necessarily learned anything new. This is -- these are all things that the IG report had gone over. And it's interesting that before the IG report was released, there was a lot of hyping up that this was going to, you know, blow everything wide open. And that was a pretty objective assessment. So I think that this was a lot of performance.

I do think it's actually unfortunate that Strzok can't speak to how they opened the investigation. And I think I understand the FBI not wanting him to, but I think it would clarify a lot about how bias couldn't even really make it into an investigation when it's opened because of the way that you have to articulate your factual basis for opening an investigation. You can't just say, hey, I had a hunch, or, I feel this way, you have to actually point to things that you've observed or seen. So we can't get that information, but I think that would be clarifying and take us out of the realm of just talking about his texts.

BLITZER: Josh Campbell, you're a former FBI supervisory agent. I assume you worked at some point, or at least crossed paths with Peter Strzok. What was your reaction?


So we all know that congressional oversight is messy, it's complex, sometimes it's contentious, but I think that this is hard to watch because, you know, what we're seeing here is essentially three ships that are passing in the night. And they're not only moving in different directions, but they're operating on completely different dimensions.

[13:20:05] If you think about the purposes they have, you know, they're blowing off steam. You have Republicans that are really tired of not getting answers to a lot of their questions, so they're letting that be know. You have Democrats who are just tired of all the nonsense here and the charades, trying to call that out. And then you have Peter Strzok, who you mentioned, who I worked with at FBI headquarters, who is now finally having an opportunity to, you know, explain for himself what happened because he's tired of his personal opinions or personal reputation being besmirched. So you have all that happening at one time, but I don't think that that actually serves the American public because they're not learning anything that's really new. What I think we should be seeing, instead of all this grandstanding, is really taking a lot of this time to extract that important information from a very important witness, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point.

We're going to have a lot more on this coming up.

But there's other important news we're following as well, including major protests set to erupt in the U.K. as the British prime minister gets ready to greet President Trump. We'll go there live. Stick around for that.

Also, the North Koreans failing to show up for a scheduled, very important meeting with U.S. officials. And it's fueling deep skepticism right now about their intentions in the nuclear talks.

Also, the president releases a letter from Kim Jong-un.

And, just in, charges have just been dismissed against Stormy Daniels after her arrest overnight. We have details.


[13:25:41] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Your testimony is Bob Mueller did not kick you off because of the content of your text. He kicked you off because of some appearance that he was worried about.

PETER STRZOK, FBI AGENT WHO SENT ANTI-TRUMP TEXTS: My testimony, what you asked and what I responded to, was that he kicked me off because of my bias. I'm stating to you, it is not my understanding that he kicked me off because of any bias, that it was done based on the appearance. If you want to represent what you said accurately, I'm happy to answer that question, but I don't appreciate what was originally said being changed.

GOWDY: I don't give a damn what you appreciate, Agent Strzok. I don't appreciate having an FBI agent with an unprecedented level of animus working on two major investigations in 2016.

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 decision. They would not tolerate any improper behavior in me any more 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.


BLITZER: Just one example of a rather testy exchange. That was Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican congressman, and Peter Strzok, the former FBI agent who was fired as part of this investigation.

Let's get some analysis on this and other issues. Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah is joining us. He's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, what's your reaction to this hearing so far? I don't know how much of it you've seen, but it's very, very tense.

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), UTAH: Yes, it is. Testy I think is a good description. I haven't been able to watch all of it, obviously. I've been able to see parts of it. I actually cleared my schedule a little bit so I could have some time to look at it.

Wolf, I think that Peter Strzok has got a problem, and that is, you can't say the things that he said in what he thought was a private e- mail where he could express himself honestly. You can't say you smelled Trump voters. You can't call them backward red neck hillbillies. You can't express that kind of animus and really hatred, not just a few times, but dozens if not hundreds, and then stand before the American people and say, as he said, well, that wasn't really how I felt. And if it is how he felt, it didn't impact my work. Oh, my gosh, if this was a juror and you were a defense attorney, would you allow this juror to sit on a panel when they've expressed this kind of animosity towards someone they were supposed to investigate?

BLITZER: He did make the point, congressman, that he could have exposed the entire investigation into then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in the summer of 2016, and he didn't expose that that investigation was underway for alleged collusion, as they say. He says that was proof that maybe his personal opinions did not affect his work. Does he have a point?

STEWART: Well, I mean, if it's a point, it's a very dull one. I mean the fact that he didn't commit crimes doesn't mean that he wasn't influenced by his own prejudice and his own bias.

And I also think, Wolf, to be fair, that when you look at not just what he said and, look, how he feels, we don't know. I'm talking about the outcome of these two investigations. I think he could certainly create a case that this individual, and maybe a few others around him, were very sympathetic towards Hillary Clinton, and that was reflected, and were very antagonistic toward the president. And that was probably reflected as well. I think you could argue that. But I guess time will tell as time goes on.

BLITZER: Yes, this hearing is going to be continuing. We'll continue, of course, to have coverage of it.

Let me get to the NATO summit that has just wrapped up, congressman, while I have you.

As you know, President Trump lashed out at some of America's closest allies, accusing Germany specifically of being a, quote, captive of Russia. Is talk like that towards U.S. allies and friends really beneficial?

[13:30:04] STEWART: Well, it probably -- on the surface, I understand why people are questioning that and, frankly, I do as well. It's one of those circumstances where were I president I wouldn't have said it probably in that way.