Question: What's more frightening than the Federal Bureau of Investigations abusing its nearly unlimited power by deploying heavily-biased agents on a political witch hunt against a presidential candidate?
Answer: When federal lawmakers elected by Americans to conduct oversight of the FBI's vast powers use their offices to obstruct, delay and disrupt a hearing into that very witch hunt.
That's what happened on Thursday when ex-FBI agent Peter Strzok was called before a joint session of the House judiciary and oversight committees. Democrats had no intention of letting Strzok answer even one question, and throughout the hearing repeatedly interrupted Republicans, called for "points of order," demanded recorded votes, delayed by objecting with "points of parliamentary procedure" — and at one point even motioned to immediately adjourn.
In a decidedly uncivil hearing, Democrats also simply started talking whenever they wanted to — a disgusting departure from the diplomatic decorum that normally governs political debate on Capitol Hill.
Strzok, you'll remember, was a member of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into allegations that then-candidate Donald Trump colluded with Russia to win the presidency in 2016, before he was demoted. Strzok was also a key player in the probe that cleared former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after she destroyed 30,000 e-mails in her secret home server, which she often used for classified information, a felony.
Strzok, along with ex-FBI lawyer Lisa Page — with whom he was having an affair — also repeatedly disparaged the GOP nominee, saying "F Trump" and vowing in one message about Trump's campaign, "we'll stop it." Page, for her part, called Trump an "idiot" and a "douche."
Lawmakers charged with government oversight wanted to get to the bottom of the whole mess, so they subpoenaed Strzok to testify (Page defied a subpoena on Tuesday and refused to appear). But from the outset, it was clear that Democrats had no intention of gathering information — or doing their jobs, namely to conduct legislative oversight over the FBI.
Instead, they turned the hearing into a partisan show of political grandstanding and feigned outrage. The Democrats on the two committees had clearly orchestrated a plan to delay and deflect, through any means necessary. And it was an ugly — even scary — display of what now threatens the very nature of the Founders' vision of government.
In his opening statement, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) made no pretense of staying on point. "This country has a number of emergencies right now under the jurisdiction of this committee which we may not spend any time or attention to, the leading one being obviously the fact that 3,000 children were improperly taken away from their families and the administration seems either unwilling or out of total incompetence unable to return the kids to their families even under court order."
This is, remember, a hearing to get to the bottom of a highly-biased FBI agent sending disparaging texts to his lover in an attempt to determine if his clear anti-Trump bias prompted what many critics say was unlawful surveillance of a presidential candidate.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), however, stayed on point. In his first question to Strzok, he asked how many people he'd interviewed in an eight-day period before the formal FBI investigation into Trump-Russia collusion began.
Strzok refused to answer. "Congressman, as you know, counsel for the FBI, based on the special counsel's equities, has instructed me not to answer questions about the ongoing...."
Gowdy interrupted: "I'm asking for a number."
Then all hell broke loose.
Nadler said, "Mr. Chairman, I object."
Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, said, "The gentleman does not have standing to object."
Nadler tried another maneuver.
"Point of order," he said. A point of order is a parliamentary action that inquires about a possible violation of the House rules and can supersede further debate, but the committee chairman can disallow the point of order objection.
After a brief back and forth, Goodlatte graciously allowed it.
"My point of order is that intentionally or otherwise, this puts Mr. Strzok in an impossible position. He's still an employee of the FBI," Nadler said, reading his pre-arranged objection from a sheet of paper.
Goodlatte said, "The gentleman's point of order is not well taken."
After some more back and forth, and Strzok's repeated refusal to answer even the most basic question, Goodlatte warned the witness.
"Your testimony is essential to this hearing and to our oversight and information gathering functions with regard to the--"
"Point of order," Nadler again interrupted.
The rest of the exchange follows:
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 RAISE MY POINT OF ORDER AND I INSIST ON IT.
Goodlatte: WHAT IS THE POINT OF ORDER?
Nadler: THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S MANUAL INSTRUCTS DEPARTMENT PERSONNEL NOT TO RESPOND TO QUESTIONS ABOUT THE EXISTENCE OF AN ONGOING INVESTIGATION OR COMMENT ON ITS NATURE OR PROGRESS...
Goodlatte: THE GENTLEMAN HAS NOT STATED A VALID POINT OF ORDER.
After more squabbling:
Nadler: I APPEAL THE RULING OF THE CHAIR. HE'S RULED IT'S NOT A POINT OF ORDER.
Goodlatte: THAT IS NOT A RULING. MR. STRZOK --
Nadler: MR. CHAIRMAN, I INSIST ON MY POINT OF ORDER AND I INSIST ON APPEALING THE RULING OF THE CHAIR.
Then another Democrat, David Cicilline (D-RI), jumped in. "Point of order. I believe there's been a point of order raised. We have a rule to answer Mr. Nadler's --- "
"It's not a point of order," Goodlatte rightly said.
"You can't just repress it 'cuz you don't -- " Cicilline said before being drowned out. Cicilline said that the appeal of the chairman's ruling on the point of order requires a full committee vote (although because Republicans control the House, the vote was a foregone conclusion as they have more members on the committees).
"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," Goodlatte said, again, rightly.
Then Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) interrupted. "Is it not appropriate to also interject the attorney-client privilege, which is a rule of the House."
Cicilline interrupted again: "Point of parliamentary inquiry," he said.
"A parliamentary inquiry is not in order during [Gowdy's] time."
Then Nadler jumped in: "Mr. Chairman, I move to adjourn."
"Second," said Cicilline.
"You're not recognized for that purpose," Goodlatte said.
Democrats laughed and guffawed. Oh, the hilarity.
"Mr. Chairman, I think you have no choice but to recognize such a motion," Nadler said with a smirk.
"I do not have--" Goodlatte began, but Cicilline interrupted again, saying: "Are we just going to make up rules as we go along?"
On and on it went. "Point of order!" Democrats demanded. "Point of parliamentary inquiry!" Democrats cried.
Eventually, Democrats successfully demanded a recorded vote on whether to table the ruling of the chair on Nadler's supposed "point of order." After a 15-minute delay, the vote went straight along party lines, with Republicans winning 38-31.
But everyone lost. Every American who expects the legislative branch to conduct oversight on federal agencies — and for every elected representative to serve Americans, not their political parties or personal agendas — lost. And the failure of America's elected officials to oversee the most powerful spy agency in the country is perhaps even more frightening than an out-of-control FBI.