Peter Strzok Hearing Descends Into Chaos After First Question, Republican vs. Democrat Shouting Match

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A House Judiciary Committee hearing featuring former FBI counterintelligence chief Peter Strzok became heated Thursday when Democrats attempted to defend the FBI's decision not to allow him answer certain questions.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) was the first to question Strzok, but he declined to answer Gowdy's questions, saying that FBI counsel instructed him not to answer questions about an ongoing investigation.

In response, committee chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) warned Strzok: "Mr. Strzok, you are under subpoena and are required to answer the question."





At this, Ranking Democrat Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) interjected.

"The gentleman does not have the standing to object," Goodlatte responded.

"This demand puts Mr. Strzok in an impossible position," Nadler said. "He is still an employee of the FBI. And FBI Counsel has instructed him not to answer the question. If we have a problem with this policy, we should take it up with the FBI, not badger Mr. Strzok."

"The gentleman’s point of order is not well taken," Goodlatte said.

"It is right on point," Nadler shot back.

At this point, Republican and Democratic lawmakers began to openly yell at one another across the room, as Goodlatte said if Strzok did not answer questions they might recess the hearing and hold him in contempt.

Rough transcript:

GOWDY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Agent Strzok, the FBI investigation into potential Russia collusion with the Trump campaign began on July 31, 2016. You drafted the originating document. You approved the originating document. You were the point of contact on the originating document. And the FBI has represented to Congress that nothing from an investigative standpoint, with respect to Russian collusion and the Trump campaign began before July 31, 2016.

But 10 days before the investigation even began, 10 days before you drafted the originating document, approved the originating document with the point of contact on the originating document, 10 days before the investigation began -- which the department you work for says nothing was done before July 31st -- you said, "Trump is a disaster. I have no idea how destabilizing his presidency would be."

And because you struggled a couple of weeks ago with a word that I thought a commonly accepted definition, I'm going to go ahead and give you the definition of destabilizing. The first one, kind of, is obvious. It's to make unstable.GOWDY: The second one caught my attention -- the second dictionary definition: to call something such as a government to be incapable of functioning or surviving. That's a pretty significant allegation to make 10 days before you even began to investigate someone. So, that was before July 31st. I want to ask you, in that first week -- we'll go ahead and up it to eight days. Between July 31st and August 8th, how many interviews did you conduct related to the alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign?

STRZOK: So, Congressman, as you know, the council for the FBI, based on the special counsel's equities has instructed me not to answer questions about the ongoing investigations...

GOWDY: I'm asking for a number.

STRZOK: ...to Russian attempts to...

GOWDY: Agent.

STRZOK: ...interfere.

GOWDY: Agent Strzok, I'm asking for a number. I haven't gotten to the names. How many people had you investigated -- had you interviewed between the beginning of and on (ph) July 31st and August the 8th? It's an eight-day time period or a weekend to an investigation. How many people had you interviewed?

STRZOK: Congressman, I understand your question. I appreciate it. And I would very much like to answer it. But as I've stated, as you know, the counsel of the FBI, based on the special counsel's equities have directed me not to answer any questions about the ongoing investigation into Russian attempts to interfere...

GOWDY: So -- so.

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: The gentleman -- the gentleman will suspend and the clock will suspend. Mr. Strzok, you are under subpoena and are required to answer the question. Are you objecting to the question? If so, please state your objection.

NADLER: Mr. Chairman, I object.

GOODLATTE: The gentleman does not have standings to object. There is no...

NADLER: I -- point of order.

GOODLATTE: ...no point of order here that the.

NADLER: The point of order should be heard.

GOODLATTE: The gentleman will state his point of order.

NADLER: My point of order is that intentionally or otherwise, this demand put Mr. Strzok in an impossible position. He is still an employee of the FBI. And FBI counsel's instructed him not to answer the question.

GOODLATTE: The gentleman...

NADLER: If we have a problem with this policy, we should take it up with the FBI, not badger Mr. Strzok.

GOODLATTE: The gentleman's point of order is not well taken.

NADLER: It's right on point.

GOODLATTE: No, it's not. The -- Mr. Strzok, are you objecting to the question, and if so please state your objection.

STRZOK: Mr. Chairman, two things. One, I do not believe I am here under subpoena. I believe I am here voluntarily. Second, I will not, based on direction of the FBI to me, based on that, I will not answer that question because it goes to matters which are related to the ongoing investigations being undertaken by the special counsel's office.

GOODLATTE: Mr. Strzok, you have not stated a valid legal basis for not responding to a question directed to you by a member of the United States House of Representatives, and you are overruled.

NADLER: Point of order, Mr. Chairman.

GOODLATTE: Your -- let me -- let me continue. Your testimony is essential to this hearing, and to our oversight and information-gathering functions with regard to the actions taken and decisions made by the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2016 and 2017. I am specifically directing you to answer the question in response to our subpoena, not withstanding your objection.

NADLER: Point of order, Mr. Chairman.

GOODLATTE: Mr. Strzok, please be advised that you can either comply with the committee's directive to answer the question or refuse to do so, the latter of which will place you at risk of a contempt citation and, potential, criminal liability.

NADLER: Point of order.

GOODLATTE: Do you understand that?

NADLER: Point of order, Mr. Chairman.

GOODLATTE: The question is directed to the witness.

NADLER: And I have a point of order before he answers the question.

GOODLATTE: The point of order is not well taken, until.

NADLER: You don't know what the point of order is. You can't say it's not well taken.

GOODLATTE: The point of order -- the witness will answer the question.

NADLER: Mr. Chairman, I have -- I raise my point of order and I insist on it.

GOODLATTE: What is the point of order?

NADLER: The United States Attorneys' Manual instructs department personnel not to respond to questions about the existence of an ongoing investigation or a comment on its nature or progress.

In a letter to Congressman John Linder in 2000, referred to as the Linder letter, the department made this policy, explicitly, applicable to a request from Congress, quote, "All though Congress has a clear and legitimate interest in determining how the department enforces statutes, congressional inquiries during dependency (ph) of a matter poses an adherent threat to the integrity of the department's law enforcement and litigation functions", un-question -- unquote.

Therefore, the chairman -- the question being directed at the -- at the witness is out of order, the witness' declination to answer it as against the instructions of the FBI, pursuant to FBI policy which is necessary, so it not to allow us to subvert an ongoing criminal investigation. He is right.

GOODLATTE: The gentle...

NADLER: And he should not answer the question.

GOODLATTE: The gentleman has not stated a valid point of order.

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER: I appeal the ruling of the chair in that case.

GOODLATTE: Nonetheless -- nonetheless, the United States Supreme Court has recognized that it is, unquestionably, the duty of all citizens to cooperate with the Congress in its efforts to obtain the facts needed for intelligent legislative action. It is their unremitting obligation to respect the dignity of the Congress and its committees and to testify, fully, with respect to matters within the province of proper investigation.

NADLER: Mr. Chairman, (inaudible).

GOODLATTE: The...

NADLER: Mr. Chairman, you know -- or we all know that if we were to ask a question of a witness about a military secret. If we were to ask them, how does the H-bomb work, he could not answer that question.

GOODLATTE: The gentleman has not...

NADLER: This is the same thing.

GOODLATTE: ...stated -- that is classification issue. Not an issue of whether or not this is a valid question for which.

NADLER: I appeal the ruling of the Chair.

(UNKNOWN): You've ruled it's not a point of order.

NADLER: He has ruled (ph), but it's not a point of order.

GOODLATTE: That is -- that is not a ruling. Mr. Strzok.

NADLER: Mr. Chairman, I insist on my point of order and I insist on...

GOODLATTE: Mr. Strzok.

NADLER: ... appealing the ruling of the chair.

GOODLATTE: Mr. Strzok, knowing the advice that I have (inaudible)...

(UNKNOWN): Point of order, Mr. Chairman, point of order. I believe there's a point of order that's been raised, and you've ruled we have a right now to answer Mr. Nadler's (inaudible).

GOODLATTE: It is not a valid point of order. The chair has...

(CROSSTALK)

(UNKNOWN): You can't just repress it, Mr. Chairman, because you don't.

NADLER: ...on that question, on that ruling.

UNKNOWN: Point of order, Mr. Chairman.

GOODLATTE: Mr. Strzok.

NADLER: Mr. Chairman, I appeal the ruling of the Chair that you have just made on that -- on the -- on whether (inaudible).

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: You have not stated a valid point of order.

NADLER: And that is your ruling and I appeal it.

GOODLATTE: That is not an appealable...

(CROSSTALK)

(UNKNOWN): Point of order, yes it is, Mr. Chairman. Appealing the ruling of the chair is exactly what he's requesting. He's appealing it. That requires a vote to either sustain it or overrule it.

GOODLATTE: The gentleman from New York has not cited a rule of the House that is being violated. Therefore, it is not a point of order.

(UNKNOWN): That's your rule (inaudible).

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER: I appeal that ruling of the Chair.

JACKSON LEE: Mr. Chairman -- Mr. Chairman, is it not appropriate to also interject the attorney-client privilege, which cannot be overridden, and is a rule of the House to the extent...

GOODLATTE: The...

JACKSON LEE: ...that the witness' have the right...

GOODLATTE: ...gentlewoman will suspend.

JACKSON LEE: ...to an attorney client privilege in this House.

GOODLATTE: Mr. Strzok.

JACKSON LEE: And that is what this witness is asserting. Attorney client...

GOODLATTE: Mr. Strzok.

JACKSON LEE: ... privilege, and he has been advised not to answer the questions.

GOODLATTE: The gentlewoman will suspend.

The gentleman has not raised the attorney-client privilege. He has said that he's been instructed by the FBI not to answer the question. Now...

JACKSON LEE: By lawyers.

GOODLATTE: ... he knows -- he knows the advice I have just given him. If he would like, I'll restate it. But knowing this, will you answer the committee's question as directed or do you refuse to answer the committee's question?

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER: And I insist on appealing the ruling of the chair...

(UNKNOWN): Point of parliamentary inquiry, Mr. Chairman.

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER: ... that (inaudible) was not in order.(UNKNOWN): Point of parliamentary inquiry -- point of parliamentary inquiry, Mr. Chairman.

GOODLATTE: The gentleman from South Carolina has the time. A parliamentary inquiry is not in order during the gentleman's time. The chair is instructing the witness to answer the question, and the question to you is...

NADLER: Mr. Chairman...

GOODLATTE: Will you answer the committee question as directed, or do you refuse to answer the committee's question?

NADLER: Mr. Chairman, I move to adjourn.

(UNKNOWN): Second.

GOODLATTE: You're not recognized for that purpose.

(LAUGHTER)

(OFF MIKE)

(UNKNOWN): He has to be recognized.

NADLER: Mr. Chairman, I think you have no choice but to recognize such a motion.

GOODLATTE: I do not have...

(OFF MIKE)

NADLER: Are we just going to make up rules as we go along, is that...

GOODLATTE: The -- the -- the motion is not in order during the time controlled by the gentleman from South Carolina.

NADLER: I appeal that ruling of the chair.

GOODLATTE: Mr. Strzok, will you answer...

NADLER: Can I appeal your ruling of the chair that my motion to adjourn is not in order?

GOODLATTE: The gentleman is not in order.

NADLER: That may be, but I appeal your ruling.

GOODLATTE: The gentleman is not recognized.

(OFF MIKE)

Knowing this, will you answer the committee's question as directed, or do you refuse to answer the committee's question?

STRZOK: Mr. Chairman, as you know, counsel for the FBI has directed me not to answer questions about the ongoing investigation. As you also know, counsel for the FBI is sitting here behind me. May I consult with them?

GOODLATTE: You may consult with your own counsel.

STRZOK: But I may not consult with the FBI's counsel?

(LAUGHTER)

GOODLATTE: Only -- only with your own counsel.

(OFF MIKE)

NADLER: Mr. Chairman, there's no basis for that. He can consult with the FBI counsel. He's an FBI employee.

GOODLATTE: The gentleman is not recognized.

NADLER: And the chairman is not being proper.

GOODLATTE: The chairman is being proper.

(UNKNOWN): The witness can't be directed not to confer with his attorney.

GOODLATTE: The FBI is not his attorney. His attorney is seated behind him. If he wishes to consult his attorney (ph)...

(CROSSTALK)

(UNKNOWN): He's an employee of the FBI, Mr....

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: ....as (ph) he's already done, he may do so.

NADLER: And his attorney may consult with the FBI attorney?

(UNKNOWN): Isn't the privilege that of the FBI, and shouldn't the FBI counsel be solicited on that point?

(OFF MIKE)

STRZOK: Mr. Chairman, my counsel has reiterated that counsel for the FBI has directed that I may not answer that question.

GOODLATTE: Mr. Strzok, in a moment we will continue with the hearing, but based on your refusal to answer the question, at the conclusion of the day we will be recessing the hearing and you will be subject to recall to allow the committee to consider proceeding with a contempt citation.

SWALWELL: A point of order, Mr. Chairman. Will the committee also consider contempt for Mr. Bannon, who refused to answer Mr. Gowdy's questions when he was actually under subpoena?

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: That is not a proper point of order in this hearing.

(CROSSTALK)

(UNKNOWN): Parliamentary inquiry.

SWALWELL: Mr. Gowdy, do you remember that?

(UNKNOWN): Parliamentary inquiry.

SWALWELL: Do you remember that?

GOODLATTE: The time is controlled by the gentleman from...

(UNKNOWN): Parliamentary inquiry.

GOODLATTE: A parliamentary inquiry is not in order when the gentleman from South Carolina controls the time.

SWALWELL: Mr. Bannon didn't answer your questions under subpoena.

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