Democrats presiding over a hearing in which disgraced FBI agent Peter Strzok testified on Thursday morning had no intention of allowing the witness to answer questions. Instead, they ran interference for him, interrupting Republicans repeatedly with points of order and parliamentary procedure.
At one point early in the hearing, the ranking Democrat Rep. Jerrold Nadler moved that the entire hearing be adjourned.
In the melee, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte threatened to hold Strzok in contempt after he repeatedly refused to answer even the most basic questions about the Russia investigation.
The squabble started almost immediately, after House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy asked his first question: How many witnesses were interviewed in the first eight days of the investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and Donald Trump's campaign team?
Strzok claimed he could not answer, citing FBI legal counsel advice. But Goodlatte demanded he answer. "Mr. Strzok, you are under subpoena and required to answer the question," Goodlatte said.
After repeated interruptions by Democrats, Strzok asked if he could confer with FBI lawyers.
"Only with your own counsel," Goodlatte said. "Mr. Chairman, there's no basis for that," Nadler said. "He can consult with the FBI counsel, he's an FBI employee."
"The gentleman is not recognized," Goodlatte said.
"And the chairman is not being proper," Nadler said.
Goodlatte moved on, saying Nadler did not state "a valid point of order." And he said Strzok would be subject to "recall to allow the committee to consider proceeding with a contempt citation."
Strzok, for his part, defended himself. The former FBI agent was among the bureau team that cleared Hillary Clinton in her email scandal and who said in an August 2016 text to former FBI lawyer Lisa Page that "we'll stop" then-candidate Trump from becoming president.
"Let me be clear, unequivocally and under oath: not once in my 26 years of defending our nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took," Strzok said in his opening statement, adding later that the "fact is, after months of investigations, there is simply no evidence of bias in my professional actions."
Gowdy was fierce in his questioning.
"The moment special counsel Bob Mueller found out about Peter Strzok's text and emails he kicked him off of the investigation," Gowdy said. "But that was a year and a half too late. The text and emails may have been discovered in May of 2017 but the bias existed and was manifest a year and a half before that. All the way back to late 2015 and early 2016. So it wasn't the discovery of texts that got him fired, it was the bias manifest in those texts that made him unfit to objectively and dispassionately investigate."
Strzok said he is not biased.
"In the summer of 2016, I was one of a handful of people who knew the details of Russian election interference and its possible connections with members of the Trump campaign," Strzok said in prepared opening remarks. "This information had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump. But the thought of expressing that or exposing that information never crossed my mind."
The exchange ended in more fireworks. After Strzok said he didn't "appreciate" how Gowdy painted some of his actions, Gowdy shot back: “I don’t give a damn what you appreciate, Agent Strzok."