The Peter Strzok Star Chamber Backfires

House Trumplicans turn the philandering FBI agent into the twenty-first century Joseph Welch.

Here is what we all need to understand about the partisan food fight that broke out on Capitol Hill on Thursday:

  1. The Trumplican-led House Judiciary Committee dragged former FBI Counterintelligence Division head Peter Strzok before them for one reason and one reason only: to attempt to create the latest, and yugest, in a long line of heretofore failed distractions from Donald Trump's Russiagate travails. These date back sixteen months to the debunked "Obama tapped the phones at Trump Tower!" to the equally debunked "the FBI was spying on Trump!" to the current "The FBI was biased!" trope growing out of Agent Strzok's now-famous 2016 anti-Trump texts to his then-adulterous lover Lisa Page, both of whom were bounced from the investigation in Robert Mueller's first month immediately after the the FBI Inspector-General discovered them.

  2. Agent Strzok didn't have to be subpoenaed to testify before House Redcaps; he volunteered, and eagerly so. House Redcaps subpoenaed him anyway for both closed door and public hearings, and are refusing to release the transcript of the earlier closed door session, interestingly enough. Perhaps because it would make them look as bad, or worse, than they managed to bury themselves when the cameras were running.

  3. Democrats didn't cover themselves in glory either, hurling insults (Sheila Jackson-Lee to Louis Gohmert: "Do you need your medication?") and dispensing stupid hyperbole like Stephen Cohen telling Strzok that he "deserved a Purple Heart" for how 'Pubbies were savaging him, earning the Tennessee-09 Democrat stiff blowback from veterans groups and prompting him to apologize within twenty four hours. I suppose they're still adjusting to Trumpies infringing on their demagogic gimmick. But they nevertheless got the better of the day's sulfuric exchanges, because it was GOPers who had the burden of beating down Agent Strzok to the point of either shell shock or triggering a "gotcha" admission that would breathe life into their moribund "FBI bias" angle, and they failed miserably.

The highlights (or lowlights, depending upon your point of view):

  1. House Government Reform & Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy - who with his recent snowy Van Dyke beard to go with his recent inexplicable turn to Trumpism resembles nothing so much as a retired Confederate general, or maybe the late Colonel Sanders - deliberately tried to compromise the Mueller investigation by asking Strzok how many interviews he conducted in the first week of the Russia probe, a question Gowdy knew the agent was prohibited from answering by the FBI's general counsel because it related to an ongoing federal investigation. Chairman Bob Goodlatte then jumped in and threatened Strzok with contempt of Congress charges if he didn't comply. It was a blatant ambush to try and depict the witness as being obstructionist - and, of course, sate the bloodthirsty appetites of #Cult45.

Democrats tried to object, but Goodlatte, doing his best Henry Waxman impression, streamrolled right over them.

  1. Gowdy indulged in what was not the most shameless grandstanding of the day, but was pretty close to it:

Strzok claimed Gowdy had twisted his words upon answering a question about Mueller’s decision to remove him from the team overseeing the probe into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential race, stating that he did not “appreciate” what he originally said being “changed.”

“I don’t give a [bleep] what you appreciate, Agent Strozk,” Gowdy replied. “I don’t appreciate having an FBI agent with an unprecedented level of animus working on two major investigations during 2016.”

Even though the FBI Inspector-General found no evidence of any bias in the Russiagate investigation itself. Gowdy might as well have been leading the hymns at a Trump campaign rally with that stanza. What in the world has happened to the man who defended the Mueller investigation for a year against the corrupt machinations of House Intelligence Committee Chairman and epic Trump stooge Devin Nunes to discredit it? Who got to him, and how? That sounds worthy of its own little investigation, if you ask me.

  1. The dubious reward for most shameless Trumpie grandstanding went to the aforementioned Louis Gohmert, who strayed off-topic to hit Agent Strzok squarely below the belt:

"You've embarrassed yourself, and I can't help but wonder when I see you looking there with a little smirk, how many times did you look so innocent into your wife's eye and lie to her about Lisa," Gohmert said during a hearing of the House oversight and judiciary committees.

That was a crack deliberately calculated to trigger a Hank Pym reaction. Instead, Strzok went all Joseph Welch on the Texan's heinie:

"I assure you under oath ... I have always told the truth," Strzok told Gohmert. "The fact that you would accuse me otherwise, the fact that you would question whether or not that was the sort of look I would engage with in a family member who I have acknowledged hurting goes more to a discussion about your character and what you stand for."

In other words, defending the serial adulteries and sexual misconduct of the Adulterer-in-Chief in the White House while going full-bore holier-than-thou on one of his early pursuers. A spectacular plunge into the sort of caustic hypocrisy that the GOP's surrender to Trump two years ago has made inevitable and crippling. Democrats, unsurprisingly, had a field day pointing it out, illustrating anew how thoroughly and comprehensively Republicans have forfeited both the moral high ground and their own credibility across the issue board.

Peter Strzok is a philandering cad. Louis Gohmert turned him into Joan of Arc.

Or, again, Joseph Welch. He was the U.S. Army's chief counsel during the famous McCarthy show trials in 1954, who was, in today's parlance, finally "triggered" by some Gohmert-esque bullying into the outburst that ended Senator Joe McCarthy's career: “If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentleman, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me… You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Sometimes a little righteous indignation is a good thing. Agent Strzok was given ample opportunity to dish it out:

“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 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.”

“I understand we are living in a political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity. I have the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role, but I truly believe that today’s hearing is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”

Boom. And the red-faced Redcaps facing him could not, and cannot, prove otherwise, any more than they proved that flippant text messages to impress a bedmate constitute a "vast conspiracy" to "overthrow Donald Trump". They went for the kill, the knockout punch, and they got (heh) counter-punched to the mat instead.

Let that be a lesson, 'Pubbies: Never try to out-Democrat the Democrats. Because you really, really stink at it.

Meanwhile, the Mueller investigation soldiers on with yesterday's announcement of grand jury indictments against a dozen Russian intelligence officers for conspiring “to gain unauthorized access (to ‘hack’) into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage releases of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 presidential election” in an unequivocal effort to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton (I can't imagine why, can you?). As the indomitable David French points out, "The indictment practically screams, 'More information is coming!' — including additional information about Russian communication with American citizens."

Russiagate is no "witch hunt". The Kremlin's attempt to subvert the 2016 election actually happened. And it didinvolve the Trump campaign. All of this needs to be fully investigated, the truth revealed, and wrong-doers brought to justice, whether or not it impacts Donald Ivanovich. A truly patriotic, "America first" "nationalist" wouldn't require two seconds to fully support this. A truly innocent POTUS would keep his mouth shut about it and confidently do his job, knowing that he'll be vindicated. And yet the president continues to mock, denigrate, and undermine the Mueller investigation as though he has great reason to fear its results. He'll never heed this advice, but he'd look a lot less guilty if he did.

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Ben_Smith
Ben_Smith

Regardless of his relationship with his (ex?) wife, he's an American hero. He's the kind of guy that makes you sleep better at night knowing he's on our side and working to protect us.