Strzok Heads to the Hill

Former FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok has been much heard from—in the medium of his many text messages—but seldom seen. That all changes Thursday at 10 a.m., when the man central to investigations into both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will appear before a joint hearing of the House committees on the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform. Strzok’s testimony will not only be public, it will be streamed. House Republicans will try to find out whether Strzok’s politically biased comments damage the FBI’s investigation into Team Trump; Strzok will try to rehabilitate himself as a martyr to truth.

Strzok’s favorite correspondent, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, was to have appeared before the congressional committees Wednesday. But, claiming that she had not had time to review documents and prepare, she took a pass on honoring the subpoena she had been served. North Carolina representative Mark Meadows tweeted his displeasure: “Her failure to appear before Congress this morning had little to do with ‘preparation’—and everything to do with avoiding accountability.” Her silence can be seen as either helping Strzok (by not adding any new damaging information into the equation) or hurting him (by leaving him to testify Thursday without benefit of knowing what she has to say).

Unlike Page, Strzok has not resisted subpoenas. He has merely said they are unnecessary, that he’s willing to testify whenever and wherever Congress wants. He is eager to sit at the witness table, especially if it is a public affair. “We regret that the Committee felt it necessary to issue a subpoena when we repeatedly informed them that Pete was willing to testify voluntarily,” Strzok’s lawyer—Aitan Goelman of Zuckerman Spaeder—said in June. Since Strzok already testified behind closed doors for 11 hours on June 27, Goelman has been asking that the transcript be made public: “To provide the public with assurances that the Committee truly seeks fair play and transparency,” Goelman wrote to Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, “we request that you publicly release the transcript of Special Agent Strzok’s previous testimony.” It’s a reasonable request, and one can hope that the transcript will be made public, if not before Thursday’s public testimony, then soon after.

There’s every reason to think that the FBI agent will take his congressional antagonists head on. His lawyers have been touting his military experience as evidence of his charater: “Pete is [sic] military veteran who served with honor,” begins a bio-sheet section headed “Defended America in the 101st Airborne.” Fair enough. But one gets the sense that the Zuckerman Spaeder team are trying a bit too hard when they go on to remind us that the 101st was “the unit that draws a proud lineage back to parachuting behind German lines prior to D-Day.” One doubts that the heroes of Sainte-Mere-Eglise fought and died to provide cover to a disgraced government employee.

All of this gives some credence to predictions that Strzok is going to try to pull an Ollie North (perhaps with some indignant tones borrowed from Joseph Welch). But it’s a strategy as tricky as it is bold. Stand up to congressional inquisitors and Strzok may indeed come across as a lonely hero. Or, he may present himself instead as a Col. Nathan “You Can’t Handle the Truth” Jessup.

If this does prove to be Strzok’s strategy, Republicans on the House committees have no excuse not to be ready for it. One, they have already had a day in the FBI agent’s company. Two, Strzok’s legal team has telegraphed its playbook.

But perhaps more significant, there has been reporting (such as that by John Solomon at The Hill) suggesting that the committees have gained access to more damaging communications involving Strzok. If the FBI agent has a plan of attack in mind, it could well be thrown off by having to explain emails and memos he hasn’t anticipated justifying.

Whoever gets the upper hand, tomorrow’s hearing promises to be among the more compelling and riveting events in the long slog of the various Russia investigations.

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The White House Daily Chronicle, December 17, 2018

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