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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Peter Strzok Testifies Before Congress. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired July 12, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm out of time. And we will revisit the issue.
PETER STRZOK, FBI AGENT: May I respond to your question, sir?
GOWDY: You may when we revisit the issue.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Point of order.
STRZOK: You just asked a question. May I respond now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... answer the question.
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Mr. Chairman, the witness is permitted to answer the question briefly, as the chairman...
GOWDY: The gentleman from Louisiana is recognized.
NADLER: As the chairman has repeatedly said today.
GOWDY: The gentleman from Louisiana is recognized.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is the witness not going to be permitted to answer the question, Mr. Chairman?
NADLER: Mr. Chairman, I'm going to object to your not permitting the witness to answer the question you asked him.
GOWDY: One moment, while I find out who is next on the Democrat side.
NADLER: Mr. Chairman, that is not the question.
STRZOK: Sir, you asked if I went directly to impeachment, rather than Russia. I would like to respond to the question that you asked immediately.
GOWDY: We're going to come back to it.
NADLER: He should be permitted to answer the question.
GOWDY: But if you're dying to respond to it now, as long as you do actually respond to the question.
STRZOK: Yes, sir.
My immediate concern was absolutely having to do with Russia and everything related to that. My concern was what Russia was doing on social media. My concern was what Russian intelligence officers were doing in the United States.
My concern was what the government of Russia might or might not be doing with members of the Trump campaign. It was broad and robust. That was my response.
GOWDY: That's wonderful. That's wonderful. And trust me, when I tell you, that would have been a longer text. I get that.
It would have taken a lot longer for you to actually type that, but you didn't.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Regular order, Mr. Chairman.
Are you going to pontiff for -- nonstop?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentlelady from Michigan is recognized.
REP. BRENDA LAWRENCE (D), MICHIGAN: Thank you.
Mr. Strzok, during your 11-hour closed door interview with our committee, Republicans asked you more than 200 questions on the special counsel's and the FBI investigation of the Trump-Russia collusion and interference with the 2016 election.
At one point, you described how the special counsel's investigation had -- and I quote -- credible allegation that the government of Russia had offered assistance to elements and matters of the Trump team on the election.
Is that correct?
STRZOK: I believe so. I don't have a copy of the transcript, so I will...
LAWRENCE: And, subsequently, Rep. Meadows followed up with this question. He stated -- and I quote -- "There was evidence that Russia was trying to do it. There was no evidence the other way around."
Do you recall that?
STRZOK: I don't remember that specific exchange, ma'am.
LAWRENCE: You told -- and I'm going from the transcript.
LAWRENCE: You told Rep. Meadows that you understood his question, but could not answer in an unclassified setting.
It appears from your transcript, sir, that you interpreted his question as -- quote -- "Whether or not there were any reciprocation of that by members of the Trump team in offering their assistance back to Russia."
You later continued to explain -- and I'm quoting from your transcript -- "As to whether or not there was information about whether elements of the Trump campaign were themselves engaging in that, I can't answer that in an unclassified setting. And, furthermore, I don't think the FBI or special counsel would want me commenting on ongoing investigations."
So, just to be clear, the question of whether the Trump campaign was trying to collude with Russia calls for a classified response and a response that would involve information that's part of an ongoing investigation. Is that right?
LAWRENCE: Thank you.
I certainly would not want you to reveal any classified or sensitive investigative information in this setting. We have repeatedly gone back and forth with that, and I don't understand why we have to repeat things repeatedly to such an intelligent group of people.
Back in March, Chairman Gowdy stated on national TV -- and I quote -- "And if you believe, as we have found, that there's no evidence to collusion, you should want special counsel Mueller to take all the time and have all the independence he needs to do his job."
Chairman Gowdy also stated -- and I quote -- "When you're innocent and the allegation of collusions with the Russians, there's no evidence of that, you are not innocent of that, act like it."
If President Trump and his allies want us to believe that there is no collusion with Russia, and that's what this is about, I would suggest that they take Chairman Gowdy's recommendation and begin acting like it.
And I yield back my time.
GOWDY: Gentlelady yields back.
The gentleman from Idaho is recognized.
REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R), IDAHO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
In your opening testimony today, you stated that -- quote -- "Not once did my personal bias interfere with my judgment. There is no evidence of bias in my professional actions" -- close quote.
OK, let's explore that statement for a second. Can you please define -- because I'm really confused. Can you define what's your definition of bias?
STRZOK: I think, sir, bias depends on the context in which you're talking about. With regard to political opinion, that is allowing your beliefs to get in the way of the honest independent pursuit of facts.
LABRADOR: So, allowing your own beliefs to get in the way of your actions. Is that correct?
STRZOK: Of your honest -- right.
STRZOK: Of the honest, open pursuit...
Please me an example of a situation when bias would interfere with your aspect -- your professional judgment.
STRZOK: It's difficult to answer a hypothetical.
I'm not going to interview a witness. I am going to destroy evidence. I am going to prevent somebody from taking an investigative step. I'm not -- it's a difficult hypothetical.
LABRADOR: Has there ever been a time when your professional actions or you believe that you had bias, that you needed to move on from an investigation at any time?
LABRADOR: No. Has there been a time in your career that you recused yourself from a professional action?
LABRADOR: OK. So, you will be surprised, but I actually believe that the Russians tried to destabilize our economy, the -- our way of life, our government. I think they have been doing it for a long time.
I'm curious if this is the first time that Russia tried to interfere with an American election.
STRZOK: I am aware of times where they -- you know, going back to the '60s and '70s, where they planted evidence, where they were seeking to introduce items of information that were false in newspapers.
I am not aware of any direct outreach to members of a presidential, either the candidate or his media team.
LABRADOR: Did they attempt to interfere in the 2012 elections?
STRZOK: I'm certain they did, yes.
LABRADOR: Yes. So, do you recall President Obama telling Russian President Medvedev that he would have more flexibility to negotiate on issues like missile defense after the 2012 election?
STRZOK: I don't remember that, sir, no.
LABRADOR: He said that in a hot mic. Why wasn't that investigated?
STRZOK: Sir, because, one, there were no allegations, to my knowledge -- again, I was not in the position...
LABRADOR: This is the president of the United States telling the Russian president that he was not going -- he was going to have more flexibility and he was going to do certain things.
Do you recall during the debates when President Obama objected to candidate Romney that the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy book, the Cold War is over? Do you remember that?
STRZOK: I don't, but I...
LABRADOR: OK. So, you were not interested in Russian interference with our elections in 2012, but you were interested in Russian interference in 2016?
STRZOK: That's not true, sir.
LABRADOR: And you were not interested in the actions of a president who was saying that Russia was no longer a foreign power that we needed to be concerned about?
STRZOK: Sir, I disagree with that statement.
LABRADOR: Well, you don't even recall those statements, so I don't know how you can disagree with them.
STRZOK: Well, you were characterizing my interest in their interference. And I can respond to that, if you would like.
LABRADOR: OK. That's fine. How can you assure the American people that you're not lying today?
STRZOK: Because, one, I -- as I said before, I'm doing it under oath. I am telling you, having spent 26 years putting on a gun, putting my life at risk for this country, I am not lying to you right now.
LABRADOR: So, you're doing it under oath.
STRZOK: More than that, sir, if you don't want to take my word for it, I get people -- I get people might be hesitant.
LABRADOR: Oh, no, that's fine. Yes.
STRZOK: I would say, look at the record.
STRZOK: Look at everybody who has worked with me. Look at what the I.G. said. And that will absolutely...
LABRADOR: Today, you stated that you don't mean it when you said Trump supporters smell. You didn't really mean it when you said that -- used the word impeachment. You did not mean it when you said Republicans were hillbillies. You were not telling the truth in those moments?
STRZOK: No, I disagree with that, sir. I said I didn't mean it when I talked about people, that you could smell the support or hillbillies. That was a poor choice of words that I don't believe.
I did not say I did not believe impeachment. My explanation for impeachment was very different. And my explanation of impeachment was, as I considered it, that was on the far end of what might be occurring. What I also said was the opposite.
LABRADOR: I understand.
But -- so, finally, Democrats have made assertions today that are just not true, first, that the I.G. found no bias in your actions. This is not true.
The I.G. said -- quote -- "We were deeply troubled by text messages sent by Strzok and Page that potentially indicated or created the appearance that investigative decisions were impacted by bias or improper consideration."
And read what you just said, sir, potentially create the appearance. That says nothing about an active bias.
It is a hedged, three-adjective description about something which I can tell you doesn't exist. LABRADOR: "Moreover, as we describe in chapter nine, in assessing
Strzok's decision to prioritize the Russian investigation over following up on the midyear-related investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop in October 2016, these text messages led us to conclude that we did not have confidence that Strzok's decision was free from bias."
STRZOK: Yes, sir.
LABRADOR: So, you did -- he -- there was no decision that there was no bias. They just cannot find whether there was bias or not.
And the -- moreover, they did not really...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, regular order.
LABRADOR: They did not investigate the Russian investigation in the I.G. report, so there's going to be still pending...
GOWDY: Mr. Chairman, the gentleman is out of time and yields back.
STRZOK: May I respond to...
STRZOK: ... question?
GOWDY: I didn't hear a question.
STRZOK: I don't agree with it. He was asking me whether or not the -- whether I believed that the I.G. report indicated that there was an act of bias or not. And I was...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're afraid to hear you answer. But I would like to ask the witness be permitted to answer a question.
STRZOK: May I respond, sir?
STRZOK: Sir, I -- let's look at the facts of that laptop.
The facts of that laptop are, within hours, literally less than four hours of learning of that laptop, I assigned agents to go in and check and figure out what to do with that information.
LABRADOR: Mr. Chairman, that wasn't the question.
STRZOK: Within a day, they had done so. So -- and these were folks unrelated to...
GOWDY: The gentleman from Idaho has yielded back.
If you want to give a short response to a question he does not believe he asked, you're welcome to do it, but just keep it short.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Strzok, sir, speak clearly into the mic, to raise the mic, please, for you.
So, sir, I would take issue, I do take issue with the I.G.'s conclusion there. The I.G. said something, that they could not exclude the possibility that it played a role.
And what I would point you and point them to are the facts. And the facts are these. Within hours of learning, hours of learning of the Weiner laptop, I assigned very seasoned supervisory agents and subordinate agents and analysts to follow up on that.
And within a day of getting that information, they had gotten in touch with New York, determined that New York had not completed the processing, and that they were going to get back together when that occurred.
So, the notion that anything was back-burnered is belied by the facts that literally, within 24 hours of learning of that information, I had assigned people who, by the way, had nothing to do with the Russia investigations to follow up on the matter.
GOWDY: All right, you have been given a chance to answer.
The gentleman from New York is recognized.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Mr. Strzok, the investigation into possible Trump Russian collusion in the 2016 election has resulted in 23 indictments, correct?
STRZOK: I don't know the number, but it's sizable.
JEFFRIES: It's resulted from in 18 individuals who have been indicted, true?
STRZOK: Again, I don't know the number, but I will...
JEFFRIES: Three entities have been indicted in connected with the Trump-Russian collusion investigation, correct?
STRZOK: I will accept your representation. I don't know. JEFFRIES: The investigation has identified at least 75 different criminal acts, correct?
STRZOK: Again, sir, I haven't tallied them up.
JEFFRIES: There have been five guilty pleas. True?
STRZOK: I believe that's correct, sir, but I'm not certain.
JEFFRIES: Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States of America, correct?
STRZOK: He's been charged. I don't know the specific crimes.
JEFFRIES: He's sitting in jail right now as a result of alleged witness tampering, correct?
STRZOK: Yes, sir.
JEFFRIES: Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has pled guilty to lying to the FBI, correct?
STRZOK: Yes, sir.
JEFFRIES: Trump's deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, has been indicted for conspiracy to defraud the United States, correct?
STRZOK: Sir, he's been indicted. I don't know the charges.
JEFFRIES: George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign national security adviser, has pled guilty to lying to federal investigators about his contacts with Russian spies during the campaign. True?
STRZOK: Certainly, with Russians. I don't know how to characterize those Russians.
JEFFRIES: OK. Now, the FBI publicly disclosed information about the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation 11 days prior to the election in 2016. True?
STRZOK: Yes, sir, I believe that's right.
JEFFRIES: But the FBI maintained confidentiality about the Trump- Russia criminal investigation during the entire duration of the Trump presidential campaign, correct?
STRZOK: Yes, sir.
JEFFRIES: So, if you really wanted to stop Donald Trump from becoming president, you could have revealed the criminal investigation into the Trump campaign to the American people prior to the election, true?
STRZOK: Yes, sir.
JEFFRIES: Mr. Strzok, you are before this committee for one reason, to serve as a monumental distraction. There is a criminal investigation into the Trump campaign and possible
crimes related to the 2016 presidential election involving collusion with Russian spies to sell out our democracy and hijack the presidency.
My colleagues in the cover-up caucus don't like that criminal investigation, and, therefore, they need to identify a villain.
Mr. Strzok, tag, you're it.
Here is what is so ironic about that characterization. Vladimir Putin is a thug and a dictator who hijacked and interfered and attacked our democracy. But apparently, he doesn't meet the Republican villain test. Our so-called commander in chief continues to play footsies with him.
Kim Jong-un murders his people and has threatened nuclear annihilation against American cities, but apparently he doesn't meet the Republican villain test. The administration continues to engage in fake negotiations with him.
David Duke and neo-Nazis apparently for some don't meet the Republican villain test. That's right, I forgot, they are fine people on both sides.
Roy Moore, an alleged serial pedophile apparently doesn't meet the Republican villain test. He was the nominee of your party for a seat in the United States Senate.
But we're supposed to believe that agent Peter Strzok, a former army officer who has served the FBI with distinction, yes, made some mistakes, is the gravest, existential threat to our democracy. How dare you lecture us about villains when your party continues to turn a blind eye to that parade of degenerates that I just listed?
This investigation is a joke. It's a fraud. This hearing is a kangaroo court. It is a three-ring circus. It is not even meritorious of an investigation by Ace Ventura pet detective, let alone 75 members of the United States Congress. Let's stop wasting taxpayer dollars and get back to the business of the American people.
REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The gentleman from Georgia is recognized.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
GOWDY: Gentle lady from North Carolina is recognized.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to yield my time to you.
GOWDY: Thank you, gentle lady from North Carolina. Agent Strzok, on March 14, 2017, we were a couple of months into the presidency, see if you can recall this text that you received. Finally, two pages away from finishing ATPM. Do you know the president resigns in the end?
What is ATPM?
PETER STRZOK, FBI AGENT WHO SENT ANTI-TRUMP TEXTS: I believe it's reference to all the president's men.
GOWDY: All right. Do you recall how you replied?
STRZOK: Generally, I feigned surprise and said something to the fact that we should be so lucky or fortunate.
GOWDY: It was lucky. Lucky in what way?
STRZOK: Sir, my -- that he would resign as president.
GOWDY: You wanted him to resign two months into his presidency?
STRZOK: My sense was and a personal belief that I was not pleased with the direction and things that are being done with the presidency.
GOWDY: I thought you trusted the American people. I thought that is what you said in August of 2016 that the American people would stop him and then they didn't stop him. You are, all of a sudden, not trusting the American people anymore.
STRZOK: Sir, I utterly trust the American people. What I worry about is when the government of Russia puts their fingers on the scale and causes the will of the American people --
STRZOK: -- other than America elected our president.
GOWDY: How many indictments have there been of Americans for collusion with Russia?
STRZOK: Sir, I couldn't answer that question.
GOWDY: Sure, you could. You worked on the investigation.
STRZOK: When you say -- you know full well, sir, collusion is not a crime. I don't know where that term came from.
GOWDY: Well, you're right. It's not. It's not. Conspiracy, coordination, collusion, a lot of people use those words in the same way. How about we say conspiracy?
GOWDY: How many Americans have been indicted for conspiring with Russia to impact the 2016 election?
STRZOK: None to my knowledge.
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Yet.
GOWDY: And we'll be happy to get Mr. Nadler as a witness at next week's hearing if he wants to help you answer that.
[16:20:04] So, you wanted President Trump to resign two months into his presidency.
STRZOK: No, sir, I think I read that text as a snarky comment about a book that was being read and a comment made. It was a conversational text exchange. It is not a written expression of a desire for something to occur.
GOWDY: Maybe I missed it. Help me. God, that we should be so lucky.
STRZOK: Yes, sir. And I think you would accept as a very intelligent sophisticated man that people frequently speak when they're texting or in conversation, you'll say things that are hyperbole or exaggerations are not literal because that's just the nature of the way you talk to each other.-
GOWDY: Usually, Agent Strzok, not when I was supposed to be dispassionately neutrally investigating someone, I actually did not.
But let's go. Let's go. We have already passed the who gives a F, one more A.D. versus an investigation leading to impeachment. I think we've already established that there is a school of thought that you can be impeached even if you're not a current office holder. You can be barred from holding office in the future, but you did not engage in any impeachment analysis in your other 2016 investigation with Secretary Clinton. You saved all of that for candidate Trump.
So I want to go to another text. You and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely I would be there, no question. Now, this is the day after Mueller was appointed.
When you said be there, are you talking about on his team?
STRZOK: Yes, sir.
GOWDY: I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern. There is no big there there.
So, in addition to disappointing the hell out of my Democrat colleagues that someone who was investigating Russian collusion didn't think there was any there there, why would you be concerned? Why would you not be ecstatic that there was no collusion? Why the word concern?
STRZOK: I don't know what I meant. Concern to me seems like there is a lot going on and a lot presumptive that there might be something like impeachment. But, sir, you got to pick, which one do you want? I'm either convinced that there is impeachment or I'm convinced what you just read that there is no there there.
GOWDY: No, I --
STRZOK: And the reality, sir, if you look at it is the fact, that I was looking at this with an open mind and saying, I don't know what there is. GOWDY: Actually, Agent Strzok, of all the universe of options, that's
not the one I picked.
STRZOK: But --
GOWDY: Of all the universe of options, you looking at something with an open mind is not the one I pick.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is the obvious one to conclude from that e- mail.
GOWDY: I'll tell you the one that I picked.
The one I picked and it breaks my heart to say this about an agent for an agency that I have tremendous respect for, you as a counterintelligence officer had no interest in participating in a counterintelligence investigation that was not going to lead to impeachment. That's how I read it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Chairman, you are assuming someone else's position.
GOWDY: I hesitate in part --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Chairman, you are coming to conclusions on someone else's view points in the hearing. Allow the witness to respond.
GOWDY: I'm pretty sure it's my time. And gentle lady is not recognized.
I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern there is no big there there.
STRZOK: Sir --
GOWDY: What were you concerned wasn't there?
STRZOK: Sir, my concern was not knowing given these allegations what existed, whether on the one hand, there was no criminal activity whatsoever towards the middle, that there are individuals kind of pursuing their own agendas for their own self enrichment, or on the far end that there might be an impeachable offense.
GOWDY: Why would you want to investigate?
STRZOK: May I answer your question?
GOWDY: My question is, why would you not want to investigate that?
STRZOK: Sir, I did want to investigate that. That is not what you're reading. What you are reading is my trying to decide what I want to do with the course of my career in whether to stay as deputy assistant director in the counterintelligence division where I have oversight of a wide variety of threats around the globe or whether I want to remove myself and go work on something in the special counsel's office that is very specific that is going to take -- I don't know how long it was going to take. Sir, to your point --
GOWDY: You are leaving out one really important word, Agent Strzok, impeachment. That was in all of your --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Regular order. Over a minute and a half over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Times up.
STRZOK: The big word of impeachment, and add four big words of no big there there. And the reality is you know full well I said both. You know why I said both. Why I did that and what I am telling you under oath is that I did not know what existed.
[16:25:01] I had prejudged nothing. That was all to be determined. That is a logical way for investigators, attorneys and --
GOWDY: Starting with the political death penalty and impeachment is not the logical way a neutral --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Point of order.
REP. BONNIE WATSON COLEMAN (D), NEW JERSEY: If you can't control yourself, how do you expect this committee to control itself? You have been out of control since you have been on this committee. Why don't you leave it alone? This is not Benghazi.
GOWDY: The general lady from New Jersey is recognized.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are recognized, Congresswoman.
COLEMAN: Well, hallelujah.
First of all, Mr. Strzok, I want to thank you for your service. Secondly, Mr. Strzok, I think you made a big mistake by putting those text messages on your business phone because then you opened up your personal phone and here we are talking about this mess when it really isn't important because the other thing that I know, Mr. Strzok, is that even if you do have biases, you did not influence the outcome of this investigation. The I.G. found that the outcome of this investigation was predicated upon evidence and information.
The other thing I know is that no matter how much you disliked Hillary or Donald Trump, you didn't have anything to do with either of them getting elected. You have nothing to do with the president of the United States disgracing this country every single solitary day when he embraces our enemies and sucks up -- embraces our enemies and is disrespectful to our allies.
You have nothing to do with the fact that the president of the United States has declared higher tariffs in the name of security to this nation against our closest friend and neighbor, Canada, but no one on this side of the aisle has opened their mouth. You have had nothing to do with the president enriching himself with his emoluments in carving out opportunities for his daughter so she is not negatively impacted with her brands in China while this side of the aisle says nothing. You have had nothing to do with the fact that Puerto Rico is still under water and without any kind of electricity in so many places, while this side of the aisle that's a part of the oversight committee has forgotten what its mission is.
But nonetheless, you have been here and you have tried to answer their questions. And I have never seen my colleague so out of control, so angry and so desperate to protect a president that we all know is not fit to be president.
So I want to leave you this opportunity. Is there any question on the table, Mr. Strzok, that you have been asked that you would like to clarify? Because I can give you two minutes and 25 seconds to have your say uninterrupted.
STRZOK: Congresswoman, I deeply appreciate that time. I do want -- everybody is watching this and making up their own mind.
And what I would tell you is, one, I'm sitting here telling you the truth and, two, independent of me, I cannot express to you my love of the FBI enough. The men and women who make up that workforce, their ethics, their integrity are unmatched anywhere in the world. And I think that is important because it is who we are. Two, that none of them would accept any of the behaviors that are being alleged anymore than I would accept it in him.
And, three, this entire exercise comes at a cost. We are doing -- what tears down the underpinnings of what represent law and order in this country. And there is not a robust, thick wall there. I think people don't appreciate how tenuous the balance of the rule of law versus chaos is.
And when we as a people engage in an activity where we take institutions wholesale, whether it's the FBI or the U.S. intelligence community and compare them to Nazis, we destroy things that, one, we may not see for years and years. And once we break those down, the amount of time it takes to fix is going to be tenfold.
And I cannot stress enough that I ask all of you to take deeply your responsibility to maintain our system of government.
COLEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Strzok.