Republicans Swing and Miss in Questioning FBI Agent Who Investigated Clinton and Trump

Peter Strzok made several bad judgment calls. The FBI agent, who is being grilled Thursday by House Republicans at a joint Judiciary and Oversight committee hearing, had an extramarital affair. He conducted that affair with a colleague at the FBI. He exchanged private text messages with that girlfriend, Lisa Page, sharing his personal views about the subjects of ongoing FBI inquiries—namely, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Strzok’s impassioned monologue at the hearing defending the FBI’s high standards is a little hard to take seriously, given what we know about his personal failings.

Let’s stipulate what GOP questioning and the text messages themselves have revealed: that Strzok did not like Donald Trump, did not want him to be elected president, and had a personal animus toward the Republican nominee and perhaps even his supporters. Strzok claims that bias did not interfere with his investigative work, which has Republicans and Trump supporters in the media rolling their eyes.

But what’s been remarkable about the hours of questioning is that none of the Republican members, including the most fastidious and serious member of the committee, Trey Gowdy, have presented any evidence that Strzok took action or influenced an action by the FBI or the Department of Justice to—to what, exactly? Stop Trump from winning the election? That didn’t happen. Make Hillary Clinton’s email investigation go away before the election? Director James Comey’s eleventh-hour letter announcing the reopening of that investigation undid whatever Strzok is supposed to have done (which again, there’s no evidence for) to bury it and help boost Clinton.

The implication, sometimes stated more explicitly, is that the entire investigation into Trump and his associates—Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and others—is illegitimate at least in part because of the personal political bias of the agent tasked with heading it up. Strzok hated Trump, hated Trump voters, wanted to ensure Trump lost the election, and then wanted to hobble Trump’s administration from the beginning. Thus, following the logic of House Republicans and the Trump-friendly media, he pushed for and continued to pursue a false investigation to do just that.

What that ignores is all the evidence, including some guilty pleas, that suggests there was a there there, or at least the broad federal law enforcement apparatus seemed to think there was. Manafort, the government claims with evidence, did fail to register as a foreign agent for years and laundered money he earned overseas. Evidence suggests Flynn did something similar, and he has since admitted to lying to the FBI about it. Two different Justice Departments, run by each political party, have approved the investigations, and a special counsel appointed by the Republican deputy attorney general continues to execute the broad Russia meddling and Trump associates probe.

You don’t have to take Strzok at his word that his personal bias against Trump didn’t influence his work at the FBI. It’s likely, either unconsciously or not, that it did. But a law enforcement agent’s bias against a politician doesn’t erase evidence of bad behavior that necessitates criminal investigation. And until there’s evidence Strzok actually took action to taint the investigation, the overwrought tale of bias at the FBI is just sound and fury.

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