‘Do you need your medication?’ NJ lawmaker asks colleague in wild FBI hearing
WASHINGTON — A Central Jersey congresswoman told a Republican lawmaker from Texas that he needed his medication during a hearing into whether an FBI agent's political bias tainted investigations into Hillary Clinton's email use and Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J. 12th District, was among the Democratic members of the judiciary and oversight committees who railed against Republican colleagues for hectoring Peter Strzok, who testified publicly for the first time since being removed from special counsel Robert Mueller's team.
At one point, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, accused Strzok of lying and commented on his "smirk."
"How many times did you look so innocent into your wife's eyes and lied to her," Gohmert said before Democrats erupted in howls of protest: "Outrageous!" "Have you no shame!" "Mr. Chairman, please."
"Do you need your medication?" Watson Coleman blurted.
Strzok responded by saying he had always told the truth. He also said Gohmert's comments about his personal life say a lot about the congressman's own character and "what is going on inside" Gohmert.
The hearing brought a defiant Strzok face-to-face with Republican lawmakers who for months have held up his texts as the embodiment of anti-Trump bias within the FBI. In breaking his months-long silence, Strzok vigorously defended his handling of two hugely sensitive investigations in which he played a leading role: inquiries into Hillary Clinton's email use and possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The hearing briefly devolved into chaos and open yelling as Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte said Strzok needed to answer Republicans' questions and suggested they might recess the hearing and hold him in contempt. Democrats objected to Goodlatte's repeated attempts to get Strzok to answer. Goodlatte eventually let the hearing proceed without calling the panel into recess.
Strzok insisted the FBI had good cause two years ago to start investigating whether the Trump campaign was working with the Kremlin amid allegations of what he described as a Russian offer of assistance to a Trump campaign associate. He characterized anti-Trump text messages with an FBI lawyer as personal communications that he never envisioned becoming public and denied that they had swayed his actions.
Strzok insisted under aggressive questioning that a much-discussed August 2016 text in which he said "We'll stop" a Trump presidency followed Trump's denigration of the family of a dead U.S. service member. He said the text, written late at night and off-the-cuff, reflected his belief that the American public would not stomach such "horrible, disgusting behavior" by the Republican presidential candidate.
But, he added in a raised voice and emphatic tone, "It was in no way — unequivocally — any suggestion that me, the FBI, would take any action whatsoever to improperly impact the electoral process for any candidate. So, I take great offense, and I take great disagreement to your assertion of what that was or wasn't.
Plus, he said, both investigations were handled by large teams.
"They would not tolerate any improper behavior in me anymore than I would tolerate it in them," Strzok said. "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."
Some Democrats applauded after he finished speaking.
Republican members of the House judiciary and oversight committees grilled Strzok as they argued that text messages with FBI lawyer Lisa Page colored the outcome of the Clinton investigation and undercut the ongoing Russia probe. Strzok, a seasoned counterintelligence agent, helped lead both investigations but has since been reassigned to human resources.
"Agent Strzok had Hillary Clinton winning the White House before he finished investigating her," said Rep. Trey Gowdy, Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "Agent Strzok had Donald Trump impeached before he even started investigating him. That is bias. Agent Strzok may not see it but the rest of the country does, and it is not what we want, expect or deserve from any law enforcement officer much less the FBI."
In his opening statement, Strzok said he has never allowed personal opinions to infect his work, that he knew information during the campaign that had the potential to damage Trump but never contemplated leaking it and that the focus on him by Congress is misguided and plays into "our enemies' campaign to tear America apart."
Strzok acknowledged that while his text message criticism was "blunt," it was not directed at one person or political party and included jabs not only at Trump but also at Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
"Let me be clear, unequivocally and under oath: Not once in my 26 years of defending my nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.