The Slatest

The Peter Strzok Hearing Was a Total Fiasco, but One Moment Was Particularly Unreal

Rep. Louie Gohmert attends the Peter Strzok hearing, makes a funny face.
Rep. Louie Gohmert attends the Peter Strzok hearing, makes a funny face. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Thursday, the House Oversight and Government Reform and the House Judiciary committees held a joint hearing on the Clinton email investigation in which they questioned FBI agent Peter Strzok. The hearing at multiple points spilled into outright chaos, as Republicans and Democrats feuded over the appropriateness of questions about a sensitive ongoing counter-intelligence investigation and whether or not to release a transcript of a previous closed-door hearing with Strzok (Democrats argued for it to be released in its entirety, and Republicans used a procedural vote to prevent that from happening). To crib from Urban Dictionary, an accurate description of the events might be that they were “characterized by a ridiculously inordinate amount of frenetic activity, disorganization and chaos to an absurd degree, and associated with extreme ineptitude/incompetence and or sudden and unexpected failure.”

Through the bedlam, one moment stood out. It came when Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas, accused Strzok of lying under oath and compared his testimony to how the congressman imagined Strzok’s conversation with his wife about an affair with FBI lawyer Lisa Page might have gone. Congressional Republicans have used text messages between Strzok and Page, in which both criticized Donald Trump in very harsh terms, as a basis for discrediting Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian election interference, what role Trump’s campaign might have played in that interference, and whether or not the president attempted to obstruct an investigation into that interference.

Strzok repeatedly denied that his personal views played any role in his conduct in either the Clinton investigation or the Russia probe, and Republicans repeatedly said they didn’t believe him. An inspector general’s investigation of Strzok’s involvement in the Hillary Clinton investigation found no evidence that his political views directly influenced any investigative actions he took in that case that were reviewed by the IG. For his part, Mueller reassigned Strzok from the Russia case when the texts were discovered last August, and the agent has since been put on notice that the FBI intends to fire him.*

The Gohmert questioning was particularly heated, though. You can watch that here:

The exchange kicks off with Gohmert accusing Strzok of lying about whether or not he took any inappropriate official action because of political bias:

I watched you in the private testimony you gave. And I told some of the other guys, he is really good. He’s lying, he knows we know he’s lying, and he could probably pass a polygraph.

At this point, indignant Democrats shouted that it was inappropriate to accuse a witness of lying without any evidence of that fact and asked Gohmert to withdraw his statement. He did not. A Democratic congressman then called what Gohmert had just done a “disgrace.” Then Gohmert said Strzok was the disgrace and brought up the affair with Page:

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 Page.

At this point, several Democratic members can be heard shouting “this is outrageous,” “shame on you,” “have you no… ,” “this is intolerable harassment of the witness.” The kicker came when one congresswoman shouted, “You need your medication!”

Gohmert tried to deny Strzok the opportunity to respond to his accusations, but the Republican chairman of the judiciary committee, Bob Goodlatte, gave him that chance before cutting him off. What Strzok was able to offer in that brief time was a damning rejoinder:

I assure you, under oath, as I spoke also during my interview a week or two ago, I have always told the truth. 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 in with a family member who I have acknowledged hurting, goes more to a discussion about your character and what you stand for and what is going inside you …

At this point Gohmert interrupted Strzok and each man attempted to shout over the other, before Goodlatte cut them both off. It was a particularly squalid end, to a particularly squalid exchange, in a particularly squalid hearing.

Correction, July 12, 2018: This post originally misstated that Strzok had been fired by the FBI.