It took only a few minutes for FBI agent Peter Strzok’s first public hearing in front of the House oversight and judiciary committees to devolve into chaos, with plenty of partisan back-and-forth between lawmakers and one threat of contempt against the agent.
At the outset, judiciary chairman Trey Gowdy’s (R-SC) line of questioning towards Strzok quickly turned into an argument between Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and oversight chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) about whether or not Strzok even had the right to refuse to answer Gowdy’s questions.
“You are under subpoena and are required to answer the question,” Goodlatte demanded. Nadler then raised a point of order against Goodlatte, saying the “demand puts Mr. Strzok in an impossible position. He is still an employee of the FBI and the FBI counsels’ and has instructed him not to answer the question.”
Goodlatte replied: “The gentlemen’s point of order is not well taken.” And Nadler shot back: “It’s right on-point.”
“No, it’s not,” Goodlatte swatted back.
Strzok, a deputy assistant director at the FBI, was removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team in 2017 after his pre-election, anti-Trump text message exchanges with FBI lawyer Lisa Page were leaked. In his testimony, he said that there was “no evidence of bias in my professional actions.”
Gowdy had originally asked him how many people he interviewed in the first week of the Russia probe in 2016, prompting Strzok to say that he could not answer “because it goes to matters which are related to the ongoing investigations being undertaken by the special counsel’s office.”
Goodlatte told Strzok that he could either answer Gowdy’s question or be “at risk of a contempt citation and potential criminal liability.”
Nadler again came to Strzok’s defense with insisted on another point of order. When Goodlatte automatically said it was “not well-taken” and overruled his point of order, Nadler said the chairman didn’t even hear him out and then moved to appeal his ruling on his point of order.
When Goodlatte asserted that the ruling was “not appealable,” other representatives hopped into what had become an all-out shouting match.
Meanwhile, Strzok sat silent for a full five minutes while the partisan mud-slinging played out.
Later, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) raised his own qualms with Strzok’s non-answers by dragging a controversial White House figure questioned by Congress into the conversation.
“Will the committee also consider contempt for Mr. Bannon who refused to answer Mr. Gowdy's questions when he was actually under subpoena?” Swalwell asked.
Goodlatte quickly replied, “That is not a proper point of order in this hearing.” Despite the chairman’s ruling, Swalwell then moved to “subpoena Steve Bannon.”
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), clearly sick of the ongoing histrionics, said, “We have indulged this harassment nine minutes.”
The hearing eventually proceeded, with Strzok defending his anti-Trump texts by explaining that he was simply expressing his “disgust” with the then-candidate’s verbal assault on immigrant families; and dismissing right-wing suggestions that his texts suggested a conspiratorial bias against the future president.