Not since the Army-McCarthy “red scare” hearings in 1954 (with Donald Trump’s future lawyer Roy Cohn alongside Sen. Joe McCarthy) has there been such an abusive congressional hearing that went so completely off the rails as yesterday’s joint House Judiciary and Oversight Committees
hearing kangaroo court show trial “to investigate the investigators,” featuring the FBI’s counter-intelligence chief Peter Strzok, the subject of right-wing media’s wild conspiracy theories, in order to assassinate his character and attempt to discredit the FBI and the Special Counsel’s Russia investigation in defense of their “Dear Leader.”
As Rick Wilson writes at The Daily Beast, Republicans Thought Peter Strzok Would Be a Punching Bag. He Just Knocked Them Out.
Those who forget the lessons of televised congressional hearings are doomed to repeat them, which is why the morning segment of the Capitol Hill show trial of veteran FBI agent and former head of the Bureau’s Counterespionage division Peter Strzok turned into a disaster for Republicans.
Donald Trump’s congressional enablers, sycophants, and political suck-ups wanted a punching bag, but Strzok instead delivered one of the rarest of moments: the full Joseph N. Welch.
Welch, the chief counsel for the U.S. Army during the infamous McCarthy hearings in 1954, had reached a breaking point. After McCarthy’s tendentious badgering reached a fever pitch, Welch delivered a famous rejoinder that ended the Wisconsin senator’s career. Watched by millions on live television, Welch went full beast-mode.
“If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so,” said Welch. “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?”
This morning, it was Strzok’s turn. After an hour of drama-queen badgering from Trey “Benghazi” Gowdy and Bob Goodlatte, Strzok issued two passionate statements that will be the takeaways from an otherwise disorganized and contentious shitshow of a hearing before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees.
The first was a ringing defense of the FBI, with Strzok showing the kind of real passion that makes for great television. The FBI lifer issued a ringing defense of himself and his agency, punching Gowdy hard in the nose. Video link.
“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 that 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.”
He closed with this fastball:
“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.”
The second was a shot across Donald Trump’s bow: “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.”
I understand we are living in a political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity. But the honest truth is that Russian interference in our elections constitutes a grave attack on our democracy. Most disturbingly, it has been wildly successful – sowing discord in our nation and shaking faith in our institutions. 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.
As someone who loves this country and cherishes its ideals, it is profoundly painful to watch and even worse to play a part in.
This latest spectacle was designed for one purpose only: the destruction of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Donald Trump’s Russia ties. Republicans like Fredo Nunes who have tried to present a series of dramatic, table-flipping reality TV moments to reach that goal have failed time and again to derail the Mueller investigation. This morning was yet another swing-and-a-miss for the Trump GOP.
Because Trump supporters live in a hermetic media echo chamber, these hearings are part of a predictable, hokey Kabuki dance. They’re a device for generating a new round of hyperbolic base-only stories that will follow the same dumb arc as all the rest. In the coming days, you’ll see Sean Hannity flirt with apoplexy, coating the camera lens with flecks of spittle as he rants over Strzok’s perfidy. You’ll see pro-Trump columnists herniate themselves stretching to turn flippant text messages into a vast conspiracy. Twitter will be a flood of moronic memes, white-hot takes, and promises that Strzok will soon be in Gitmo alongside Hillary, Obama, Podesta, and Soros.
None of it will deter the Terminator in the Special Counsel’s office. None of it will change the facts of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, and Trump’s ass-deep ties to Russian money and influence. Trump’s unhinged, shithouse-rat-crazy tweets today should tell you how deeply he fears Mueller.
Strzok was supposed to be a key in the imaginary conspiracy that Trump’s congressional lackeys and media fantasists have desperately tried to write as history. The idea that his text messages poison the entire Mueller investigation was a pillar of their defense of the president. This morning they were going for a quick kill. They needed Strzok to flail, and wilt. The Gowdy, Goodlatte, and Gaetz types needed their grandstanding, dick-waving mock outrage to leave Strozk shaking and begging for mercy.
Strzok had none of it. In this morning’s round he left the Trumpists of the House staggered in their corner, cut and shaky, wondering where Strzok learned to hit back that hard.
The Washington Post editorializes, The Strzok hearing damaged our democracy:
TEMPERS BOILED over on Capitol Hill Thursday as Peter Strzok, the FBI official at the center of President Trump’s attempts to discredit special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, testified before a joint meeting of two House oversight committees. With all its yelling and interruptions, the hearing was a fitting coda to the hyperpartisan farce of an investigation that House Republicans have conducted into the FBI and Mr. Mueller’s Russia probe.
Republicans spent hours parsing text messages and waving documents in the air. But all of it, just like most of the broader House investigation, was a distraction from this central point about the conspiracy narratives the president and his defenders have been cooking up about the FBI: If the agency had been trying to harm Mr. Trump’s campaign, agents could have released damaging information on pro-Trump Russian interference before Election Day — and they did not.
The investigators certainly had a lot they could have spilled. “In the summer of 2016, I was one of a handful of people who knew the details of Russian election interference and its possible connections with members of the Trump campaign,” Mr. Strzok said. “This information had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump. But the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind.”
Whether you believe Mr. Strzok’s account of what he was thinking, the fact is that the FBI said little about Russian meddling before Election Day 2016. There simply was no effectuated plot to harm Mr. Trump’s electoral chances.
For his part, Mr. Strzok could not argue his way out of responsibility for his now-famous 2015 and 2016 text messages expressing strong anti-Trump views, as well as criticisms of other 2016 presidential candidates. Yet the messages are not proof of anything other than Mr. Strzok’s personal feelings — and, in committing them to writing on company equipment, his poor judgment. Republican arguments presumed that Mr. Strzok’s opinions were tantamount to corrupt behavior. As Lawfare’s Susan Hennessey, a former National Security Agency lawyer, put it, “What is actually on display here is House GOP members demonstrating that they cannot even conceive of the possibility someone could place duty and institutional integrity over base political and personal interests.”
Because none of them do. They are quintessentially partisan political animals who have no loyalty to country or fidelity to the Constitution, despite their oaths of office.
Thursday’s hearing should have been about Russia’s ongoing attacks on our democratic institutions and elections, and how we are going to deter or stop it. You heard not one word of this from Republicans. Instead, they were hellbent on attacking and undermining our federal law enforcement agencies and the Special Counsel’s investigation in an effort to defend their “Dear Leader.” This is what defense counsel does when counsel knows that his client is guilty — he attempts to refocus the jury from his client’s criminal conduct and put the prosecution on trial (ala the O.J. Simpson trial).
In the end, the hearing did more to harm Congress and the FBI than it did to expose wrongdoing. In that way, it is much like the rest of the House GOP Russia investigation. Oversight panels have devolved into partisan conspiracy machines racked by political bickering. The result is needless harm to the FBI just when the agency should be focused on preventing more foreign attacks on the nation’s democracy.
Mr. Strzok is not the perfect messenger, but he was right about this message: “Russian interference in our elections constitutes a grave attack on our democracy,” he said. “Most disturbingly, it has been wildly successful — sowing discord in our nation and shaking faith in our institutions. I have the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role, but I truly believe that today’s hearing is just another victory notch in [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”
Putin’s puppet Donald Trump and his fellow traveler enablers in the Congress are not done undermining the rule of law and obstructing justice in defense of “Dear Leader.” They are actively interfering in an ongoing criminal investigation, and potentially jeopardizing methods and sources. This is a crime. White House Orders Broader Access to Files About F.B.I. Informant:
The White House has rebuffed concerns among American intelligence and law enforcement officials and ordered that more lawmakers be given access to classified information about an informant the F.B.I. used in 2016 to investigate possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to two American officials with knowledge of the decision.
Both the director of national intelligence and the director of the F.B.I. tried to keep the classified documents tightly restricted, fearing that a broader dissemination of operational reports and other sensitive material could lead to more leaks of detailed information about the role of the confidential F.B.I. informant.
Some American officials believe, in fact, the reason the White House made the decision was to provide political ammunition to President Trump’s Republican allies who have argued — without any evidence — that the F.B.I. investigation was opened in July 2016 as an effort to keep Mr. Trump from becoming president.
The F.B.I. files about the informant will now be available to all members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, instead of to just a group of congressional leaders known as the Gang of Eight. It is unclear whether Mr. Trump or a lower-level White House official authorized the move.
And it will be leaked by GOP members to FAUX News aka “Trump TV” in three, two, one … So much for their hyperventilating over potential national security leaks from Clinton’s private email server. This is an actual national security leak to Trump TV for partisan political purposes.
During the summer of 2016, the F.B.I. sent an informant to meet with two Trump campaign advisers after the bureau had received information that the two men had suspicious contacts linked to Russia. The informant, Stefan Halper, an American academic who teaches at Cambridge University in England, had meetings with both Carter Page and George Papadopoulos to gain a better understanding of their contacts with Russians.
The New York Times did not originally name Mr. Halper because of a general practice not to name confidential F.B.I. informants to preserve their safety. Mr. Halper’s name has now been widely reported.
A veteran of several Republican administrations, Mr. Halper has been a source of information to the C.I.A. and other American security agencies for several years, according to people familiar with his work for the government.
F.B.I. officials concluded that they had the legal authority to open the investigation into the Trump campaign after they received information that Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that the Russians had compromising information about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, in the form of “thousands of emails,” months before WikiLeaks released stolen messages from Democratic officials.
Mr. Trump’s congressional allies reacted angrily to the revelation of Mr. Halper’s role in the F.B.I. investigation, accusing the bureau of “spying” on the Trump campaign. The president himself has called the issue a “scandal” on Twitter.
“Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president,” he wrote in May.
“If true — all time biggest political scandal!”
Congressional leaders have received two briefings about Mr. Halper’s role in the F.B.I. investigation. One of the briefings was attended by John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, and Emmet T. Flood, a White House lawyer handling issues related to the special counsel’s Russia investigation — leading to vocal criticism on Capitol Hill that it was improper for White House officials to attend a classified briefing about an investigation that involves the president.
Representative Devin Nunes of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and one of the president’s staunchest defenders in Congress, for weeks has demanded that the full House and Senate Intelligence Committees be given access to documents about the informant’s role in the campaign. He has accused the Justice Department of “obstruction” of a congressional investigation.
Democrats have argued that the true aim of the Republicans is to undermine the Russia investigation — which in May 2017 was taken over by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III — and that Republicans want access to F.B.I. files to gain information they can use against the inquiry.
Intelligence and law enforcement officials — including Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director — were opposed to expanding the number of lawmakers who can read the classified files, according to people with knowledge of their thinking.
In a letter to Mr. Coats on Thursday, Democratic members of the Gang of Eight protested the release of the documents, saying that it “contravenes your representation to us and our colleagues that this information would not be shared outside that group.”
“We believe your decision could put sources and methods at risk,” they added.
During congressional testimony in May, Mr. Wray gave a thinly veiled warning to lawmakers about the dangers of exposing information about confidential sources.
“The day that we can’t protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe,” he said.
Putin’s puppet and his fellow traveler enablers in Congress are making Vladimir Putin’s fondest dream of undermining America’s democratic institutions and America’s role as leader of the free world a reality. Every one of these traitorous bastards needs to be removed from office.