FBI agent Peter Strzok admitted Thursday he doesn’t like President Trump but insisted his personal political views, including text messages promising to “stop” Mr. Trump or facilitate his impeachment, did not influence two of the country’s most important investigations.
In 10 hours of testimony to Congress, Mr. Strzok also confirmed for the first time that the FBI did accept documents from Justice Department official Bruce Ohr during the 2016 campaign. Mr. Ohr’s wife worked at Fusion GPS, the firm that paid to compile the salacious and unverified anti-Trump dossier.
Mr. Strzok also confirmed to Congress that his computer was used to change the language in the memo the FBI used to exonerate Hillary Clinton of criminal wrongdoing in her emails — though he said that decision was made by lawyers.
But there were few other major revelations in hours of testimony most notably characterized by GOP attacks on Mr. Strzok’s integrity and Democrats leaping to defend him and the FBI.
Mr. Strzok himself smirked through much of the proceedings, telling lawmakers the raucous hearing was “another victory notch” for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He did say he now regrets having sent tens of thousands of text messages, including supercharged anti-Trump screeds, from his government-issued phone to his paramour, Lisa Page, at the time an FBI lawyer.
But he characterized the messages as standard political opinions he was entitled to hold under the First Amendment, and insisted his promise to Ms. Page that they would find a way to “stop” Mr. Trump didn’t mean he was biased in his approach to his job.
“At no time in any of these texts did those personal beliefs ever enter into the realm of any action I took,” Mr. Strzok told lawmakers, saying the bureau didn’t bungle the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails nor the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Mr. Strzok said in one key message where he said, “we’ll stop” Mr. Trump from becoming president, he was referring to America’s voters.
Ms. Page, who resigned from the FBI this spring, is slated to testify to Congress behind closed doors Friday and Monday, after defying a subpoena to appear earlier this week.
Their affair is now at the center of questions about the fairness of the FBI’s actions during and after the 2016 election.
The two exchanged text messages calling for Mr. Trump’s impeachment and calling him names while members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion. Discovery of the texts later led to Mr. Strozk’s removal from the special counsel team.
Mr. Strzok told lawmakers that he never felt it was necessary to recuse himself from the Russia probe.
“I did not think that bias was expressed in those text messages,” he said.
Republicans were dumbstruck, and read out portions of the FBI’s rules prohibiting misconduct, saying Mr. Strzok’s behavior brought disrepute on the bureau.
“You’ve embarrassed them,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican. “You’ve embarrassed yourself.
He then broached the subject of Mr. Strzok’s infidelity: “I can’t help wonder when I see you looking there with a little smirk, how many times did you look so innocent into your wife’s eyes and lie to her about —”
Mr. Strzok interrupted: “Your decision to bring up my wife, a person I have acknowledged I have hurt, says more about your character than mine, sir.”
Rep. David Ciciline, Rhode Island, accused Mr. Gohmert of “intolerable harassment” and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, New Jersey, yelled “You need your medication” at the Texas Republican.
Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat, suggested Mr. Strzok, who served in the Army, deserved a Purple Heart for his service to the country.
Republicans, meanwhile, threatened to hold Mr. Strzok in contempt of Congress for refusing to divulge more details about how the Russia probe was conducted.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, demanded to know how many witnesses Mr. Strzok had interviewed after joining Mr. Mueller’s team. Mr. Strzok said the FBI told him he wasn’t allowed to say.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, told Mr. Strzok he was under subpoena and was required to answer the question.
Mr. Strzok responded that he was testifying voluntarily and not under subpoena, setting off another contentious exchange between lawmakers. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, accused Mr. Goodlatte of putting Mr. Strzok in an impossible position.
What followed was a nasty back-and-forth with Mr. Strzok saying lawmakers were mischaracterizing the reason Mr. Mueller ousted the FBI agent from the Russia probe team.
“It is not my understanding that [Mueller] kicked me off because of any bias, that it was was done on the appearance,” Mr. Strzok said. “If you want to represent what you said accurately, I am happy to answer that question, but I don’t appreciate what was originally said being changed.”
“I don’t give a damn what you appreciate, Agent Strzok,” Mr. Gowdy said. “I don’t appreciate having an FBI agent with an unprecedented level of animus working on two major investigations.”
Republicans said they not only want answers about the Russia probe, they also want to see more of Mr. Strzok’s 50,000 text messages to Ms. Page.
Mr. Strzok said he would only make his work-related text messages available for public scrutiny. Mr. Goodlatte said it could be difficult to determine which messages were personal and which were public.
Mr. Strzok said the Justice Department’s inspector general was able to make that determination.
Rep. John Ratcliffe accused Mr. Strzok of lying about his claims that bias did not seep into his political investigations.
“When you said you never crossed that bright, inviolable line, what you meant to say was except for 50,000 times, except for hundreds of times a day where I went back and forth, expressing my personal opinions about ‘f—ng Trump and stopping Trump and impeaching Trump on official FBI phones, on official FBI time,” he said.
“Agent Strzok are you starting to understand why some folks out there don’t believe a word you say.” Mr. Ratcliffe continued.
Democrats said the hearing was a GOP attempt to undermine the Mueller probe.
During one part of the hearing, a group of staffers held up large photos of the five individuals who have pleaded guilty in Mr. Mueller’s Russia collusion probe so far.
Mr. Nadler, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said lawmakers should focus on Russian election interference rather than grilling Mr. Strzok.
“This country has a number of emergencies that we are not spending any time on,” he said.
One of the hearing’s most striking moments came when Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, pressed Mr. Strzok on the anti-Trump dossier complied by former British spy Christopher Steele. Mr. Jordan repeatedly demanded Mr. Strzok reveal the identifies of “Corn and Simpson,” two names mentioned in an email the agent sent referencing the FBI’s receipt of the dossier.
Simpson is possibly a reference to Glenn Simpson, founder of Fusion GPS, which hired Steele to complete he dossier, while David Corn is likely the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine, which reported on it.
Mr. Strzok said he would “love” to answer the question, but an FBI attorney had barred him from doing so.
“This is unbelievable, but that is where this has gotten, and it is as frustrating as it can get,” Mr. Jordan said.
At the hearing’s conclusion, Mr. Goodlatte took aim at the Justice Department for muzzling Mr. Strzok, calling it “unacceptable.”
“Congress has been blocked from its constitutional oversight duties,” he said, later adding, “and the American people did not get answers.”