- - Monday, June 25, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It may be lonely at the top, but it’s even lonelier just below. That’s where Peter Strzok, the rogue FBI agent, can expect to find himself this week as he submits to a congressional grilling about his role in the FBI investigations of the presidential campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Though the testimony is likely to be behind closed doors, it’s in the court of public opinion that Mr. Strzok must demonstrate that his words and acts were not part of a scheme to subvert an American presidential election.

The first question the House Judiciary Committee might pose to the 48-year-old agent is how to respectfully pronounce his name. Names with missing vowels invariably stump English speakers. Mr. Strzok’s name is variously pronounced “Stroke,” “Struck” and even Strock” by television news readers, often in several variations of the same conversation. Everyone deserves to hear his name pronounced correctly, whether he is ultimately condemned or exonerated.

The deposition should then zero in on the harsh criticism Mr. Strzok suffered last week at the hands of Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, in his lengthy account of his conclusions in the FBI investigation of Hillary Clintons emails. As a high-ranking representative of what Americans are routinely reminded is “the world’s premier law-enforcement agency,” Mr. Strzok supervised the Hillary and Donald inquiries.

How the inspector general reached the bewildering conclusion that political bias did not taint the decision to absolve the Democratic candidate, is one of Washington’s current mysteries. Mr. Horowitz allowed that Mr. Strzok and his cohort were drowning in a bubbling pool of hatred of Mr. Trump and damage control at FBI headquarters eventually required booting the rogue agent out the back door, minus his security clearance.

Sometimes the bureaucracy can’t see what is obvious to everyone else. In August 2016, Mr. Strzok sent a text message to Lisa Page, his agency colleague and mistress in distress, telling her: “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way [Donald Trump] gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy [that pays] in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.” “Andy” turns out to be Andrew McCabe, the sacked deputy director of the FBI, who put out the fanciful explanation that the “insurance policy” was meant to shield Mr. Trump from Russian influence, not a scheme to derail his electability.

Words, after all, are expressions of thoughts, and words can be bent, spindled and mutilated by the mysterious alchemy of the human mind. Humpty Dumpty said it best in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass.” “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” Now Mr. Strzok faces congressional interrogation that could crack a lesser man. If the inspector general is correct, Mr. Strzok will have to explain to the House what was going on when Lisa Page fretted by text: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?” Mr. Strzok , wanting to reassure her, replied: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”

He who talks of “we” calls on strength in numbers. But when Mr. Strzok looks around the House hearing room to his left, right and rear, he’ll likely see that he is an army of one. Key FBI and Justice Department players involved in the Clinton e-mail probe, the Trump Russia investigation and special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia collusion query, are gone. Director James Comey and his deputy Andrew McCabe have been sacked. Lisa Page “resigned” in May to “pursue other opportunities,” along with Comey ally FBI lawyer Jim Baker, and a busload of others looking to hide in the tall grass.

Mr. Strzok must face the music with nobody to dance with. His lawyer says he has nothing to hide: “[Mr. Strzok] thinks his position, character and actions have all been misrepresented and caricatured and he wants an opportunity to remedy that.”

The inquiry should simply follow the facts. Conclusions about his character will be judged on the basis of whether and how he honored his oath of office. If he can demonstrate that he acted by the book throughout, his reputation can be picked up, refurbished and returned to him at once. If he can’t, Congress should hold him up as a warning to all who would weaponize bias to overturn the American democratic system.

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