Republicans face off with FBI agent at raucous hearing

WASHINGTON: An FBI agent who criticised Donald Trump in text messages during the 2016 campaign vigorously defended himself at a raucous congressional hearing on Thursday that highlighted the deep divisions over a probe of Russian election meddling that has clouded Trump’s presidency.
Republicans and Democrats shouted and swapped insults in the US House of Representatives session, attended by dozens of lawmakers, as agent Peter Strzok said his personal political views had never affected his official work.
During the hearing, Republicans attacked the FBI, as Trump himself has done, at a time when Special Counsel Robert Mueller is still investigating alleged Russian interference in the election and possible collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign aides.
Democrats said the hearing played into the Kremlin’s hands.
Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez said when it was his turn to question Strzok: “Congratulations Kremlin, and congratulations to everyone who is helping them.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will meet with Trump in Helsinki on Monday, has repeatedly denied US intelligence agency conclusions that Moscow interfered in the campaign and tried to help Trump.
Trump has described Mueller’s investigation as a political witch hunt.
Strzok said during the session, convened by two Republican-controlled committees: “Today’s hearing is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”
Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the centrist American Enterprise Institute, said the Republicans at the hearing showed no “notion of seeing Russia as an adversary” and they were “all trying to do what Donald Trump wants them to do.”
“This is going to undermine confidence in the FBI and other intelligence agencies,” he said. “There is collateral damage from these attacks that isn’t even being taken into account.”
Representative Bob Goodlatte, the Republican Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in his opening statement that the hearing was necessary. “The more information we acquire, the more interviews we conduct, and the more sources we contact, the more we learn.”