(Bloomberg) -- The FBI agent whose anti-Trump text exchanges in 2016 fed Republican allegations of bias in the bureau said Wednesday that he regrets those messages but denied political favoritism, according to lawmakers who heard him defend his actions.
“Just an intimate conversation between intimate friends" that he now regrets, was how Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, quoted Peter Strzok’s description of a controversial exchange with Lisa Page, an FBI attorney with whom he was romantically involved at the time. Strzok was interviewed behind closed doors Wednesday by members and staff of two House committees.
In the most explosive of the text exchanges, Page expressed concern that Trump might win the presidency and Strzok responded “we’ll stop it.” But lawmakers said Strzok repeatedly denied any plotting to elevate the FBI’s nascent investigation into Russian contacts with Republican Donald Trump’s campaign over its separate inquiry into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Page has since left the agency, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller removed Strzok from the Russia meddling investigation once the text exchanges were disclosed. Strzok’s lawyer says his client was recently escorted from FBI headquarters as part of an internal disciplinary review.
On Twitter, President Trump has denounced James Comey, the FBI director he fired, and “the great lovers, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who started the disgraceful Witch Hunt against so many innocent people.”
While Jackson Lee said she believed Strzok’s account that his “intimate” messages didn’t reflect political bias in his work, Republican Representative Mark Meadows said, “None of my concerns about political bias have been alleviated based on what I’ve heard so far.”
“If you have intimate personal conversations between two people, that normally would show the intent more so than perhaps something that would be said out in public,” said Meadows, member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Meadows said some of the questions Wednesday focused on “who knew what when -- and what was the genesis of the Russia collusion investigation” and early surveillance of Trump campaign associates.
The interview with Strzok -- whose lawyer has said he also wants to testify publicly -- came during a week of intensifying House Republican focus on the Justice Department’s actions during the presidential campaign.
On Thursday, the Judiciary Committee is to hold a hearing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray on a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general on the handling of the Clinton probe.
Also Thursday, a Republican resolution demanding that Rosenstein and the Justice Department turn over more internal documents is expected to be brought to the House floor for a vote. It will be a test of how widely Republicans back the push by party conservatives to probe inner workings of the FBI and Justice Department and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the continuing Russia probe.
"All we are asking for are documents we deserve to get -- and they are giving us the finger," said GOP Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, a supporter of the measure.
All of the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter Wednesday protesting that plans to take up the resolution on an “emergency basis” show that the committee “has been hijacked by its most extreme majority members at the expense of upholding longstanding committee rules and minority rights.”
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