Based on what I've read about Mr. Strzok over the past year, here's how I see the reality, as simply as possible.
Even before the Mueller investigation officially began, Peter Strzok had seen a great deal of information cross his desk about efforts by Russia to meddle with the U.S. presidential election and deal with the Trump campaign. There was not enough to start the investigation yet, but enough to cause massive concern, most especially for a 22-year veteran of the FBI who's a leading expert in counterintelligence, particularly Russia. He didn't do interviews himself yet on the information coming in -- it was not only too early, but there were others below him who did the interviewing at the first stage. But he saw enough to concern him, and to believe that Trump would cause a huge security risk to the United States. So, he formed a personal opinion about Trump's prospects in the presidential race. And as a personal opinion, it was very harsh, based on intelligence that had come his way. And he expressed that opinion, as people do. And that personal opinion grew, as the investigation began and more information was gathered, and he began doing his own interviews. But when it came to doing his job as an FBI agent, he did the job as he has for 22 years, with that personal bias kept personal, and his work totally objective and professional.
There's no evidence to say otherwise. The independent Inspector General concluded that in his 600-page report. Indeed, and there's no evidence that any Republican in the House hearing yesterday offered and said otherwise. There was a lot of innuendo and smearing and name-calling. But not one hint of evidence presented to show the slightest wrongdoing by Peter Strzok in his work.
In fact, the greatest proof that Strzok didn't act to undermine Trump's presidential campaign -- despite what Republicans on the committee, and elsewhere try to suggest -- is not what he did, but what he didn't do. Because if Peter Strzok actually wanted to act on his personal bias and "stop Trump" as the Republicans yesterday did their best to say his emails showed, then he could have incredibly easily stopped Trump -- by merely leaking to the press that the Trump campaign was under FBI investigation for acting in conspiracy with Russia. But he didn't. Not for over eight months from the time the investigation began during the campaign, even after the election and then into the presidency. He was professional, did his work, and kept it all private, to himself. Just like all the FBI did.
My favorite moment in the hearings came after Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) had spent his five minutes by shredding Strzok and giving a lengthy lecture from his years as a prosecutor and judge that a person who had biases could not even serve on a jury. This was a point Mr. Poe kept making, endlessly, that if you had bias, you could not serve on a jury. Period. Blunt as he could me. Any bias, you can't even be on a jury. I kept thinking, hmmm, gee, that's not true. I sat on a jury recently, and the lawyers could select and block anyone they wanted to. And then Strzok, to his great credit, answered in kind and gave an even better answer. He said that when a judge talks to the prospective jurors, he or she always asks the jury if each person "is able to put your personal biases aside, and listen to all the evidence fairly and make a fair decision." Indeed, this is precisely what Strzok said he himself did in his professional job as an FBI agent. He had personal biases, put them aside and did his job.
To be clear, there is no rule, nor should there be, that FBI agents can't have personal biases. In fact, there's a rule to the contrary -- more than a rule, a law: it's illegal to ask a prospective government employee about their politics. As Strzok noted, all agents have biases. Both for Democrats and for Republicans. And to think otherwise is foolish. Indeed, the reality is when one simply votes in an election, casting that ballot is expression a personal bias. The job of an FBI agent is to put that personal bias aside when doing one's job. And there is not one shred of evidence, including from the Inspector General's report, that Peter Strzok did anything improper in his work. Try as Republicans did to suggest that he was removed from his job on the Special Counsel's investigation because of performance, there's just no evidence of that -- either. The Inspector General found no evidence. Rather, once the emails with his personal opinions became public, there could be the appearance of bias, and that was enough to remove him from the Special Counsel's team -- to ensure the investigation not just be fair, but be seen as fair. And importantly: much as Republicans have tried to seize on this as proof he was removed for wrongdoing, there not only is zero evidence of that (again...) in any filing or report, but -- he was reassigned to another job in the FBI. He wasn't fired. For an FBI agent to act improperly on personal bias in an investigation would have been a clear fireable offense. An immediate fireable offense. Yet -- Peter Strzok wasn't fired. He's still an active FBI agent to this day.
[Side note: lost in the GOP talking point of Strzok being removed from the investigation is the substance of that reality. He Was Removed From the Investigation. Early in the process. He is not part of the investigation, and has had absolutely no part of the investigation for a year.']
Two critically-important related points about this matter of having personal bias. The first is that, as one Democrat on the committee noted, records show that FBI Director Christopher Wray and his wife made $39,000 worth of contributions to Republican candidates in 2016. And no one, has suggested that he (clearly showing a profound action of personal bias) is operating in any way but fairly. And the second is that in his text messages, Strzok didn't just criticize Trump, but also criticized Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch and other Democrats. And said in those same text messages that if he had a choice, he'd prefer to vote for a Republican, John Kasich.
On the other end of the spectrum, my least-favorite exchange may have been the one with Trey Gowdy -- he of the two-year Benghazi investigation that uncovered absolutely nothing -- when he tried to get snarky about Peter Strzok having written that he thought Hillary Clinton should win by 100 million to zero. When Strzok was forced to explain the blatantly obvious, that he was using hyperbole (something Gowdy clearly had to know, because he's a stiletto, not a moron), Gowdy then tried to double-down on the snark and "well, then, let's divide the hypberbole by 10," which he said made it 10 million to zero, "since zero divided by 10 is still zero." One of my disappointments in the hearings was that Strzok politely answered that he knew there were many millions who legitimately supported Candidate Trump, and instead didn't reply to Gowdy, "The ZERO was the hyperbole, you small-minded claboon!!"
There's so much more to write about the hearing, but I have to leave it at that. I gave up watching in the early afternoon anyway, not wanting my head to explode. And I feel the same here about my typing fingers. We've heard many analyses of the day describing the hearing as a circus and a low point for Republicans in the House. And analysts noting how Republicans seemed to go into this unprepared, thinking it would be a slam dunk -- because they believe their own false narrative -- and didn't realize that Peter Strzok was a real person, who was very smart, accomplished and would actually push back. And because when attacking him for political points to show on "Fox News," they forgot the reality that Peter Strzok's failing was that he only did something stupid, rather than wrong, and so they had no ammunition.
I'm sure the Republican base loved the hearings, because they're being told to love the hearing and are being shown the supposedly-damning questions, not the Democratic side, nor the pointed answers. But in the end, just like with Trey Gowdy's 11-hour questioning of Hillary Clinton that got nothing, Republicans yesterday got nothing. Absolutely no evidence of any wrongdoing by Peter Strzok in his work. And in the end, that was a disaster for the GOP and did great damage to their party.
But it was worse.
The biggest takeaway from it all was the damage the Republican Party did to the United States. If Vladimir Putin could have scripted his dreams, yesterday's GOP-led hearing probably couldn't have brought it all more to life. There in the United States Congress were elected Republicans doing their best to tear apart U.S. intelligence services and undermine the American public's faith in them. As I've written here in the past, this is no longer about Trump -- we get who he is -- this is about the elected officials of the Republican Party who have ceded their responsibilities and sworn oaths to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States by enabling a fascist administration. Not only is Peter Strzok the leading counterintelligence agent in the FBI with 22 years of service to the country fighting its enemies, most notably Russia, and the Republicans have been trying to undercut his authority, but they are trying to destroy public trust in the FBI and U.S. intelligence services -- all to protect the fascist in the White House. On his way to visit Putin. It is a disgrace, and it is dangerous. The good news is that their efforts, like yesterday, are coming apart at the seams.
So many passages to choose from, but we'll go out on this.