Donald Trump says Peter Strzok’s testimony shows ‘witch hunt’
President Trump is citing FBI agent Peter Strzok’s recent testimony to Congress to bolster his assertion that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is “rigged” and a “witch hunt” that is hurting the country, ahead of a Monday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Trump said U.S.-Russian relations are hampered by the “witch hunt” and “rigged situation” in the United States, and went on to attack Mr. Strzok as a “disgrace to our country.”
“So when I look at things like that and he led that investigation or whatever you call it, I would say that, yeah, I think it hurts our relationship with Russia,” the president said in an interview with CBS released Sunday. “I actually think it hurts our relationship with a lot of countries. I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on.”
Mr. Strzok, a key figure in the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and who also was part of Mr. Mueller’s team, answered questions from House lawmakers last week on whether anti-Trump bias influenced federal investigators’ work.
In one text message sent in August 2016 to FBI lawyer Lisa Page, with whom Mr. Strzok had an extramarital affair, Mr. Strzok said “we’ll stop it” when Ms. Page asked whether Mr. Trump would become president.
Mr. Strzok said the text was taken out of context and was written late at night, and that he meant the American people wouldn’t elect Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump said he wasn’t buying it.
“He says, ‘Oh, I meant the American people.’ All of a sudden, you know, he came up with excuses,” the president said. “I guess given to a lawyer, but everybody laughed at it.”
House lawmakers also interviewed Ms. Page behind closed doors last week.
Rep. John Ratcliffe, Texas Republican, said he didn’t find Mr. Strzok to be a credible witness. He said Mr. Strzok sent texts that said he would protect the country from Mr. Trump as he was looking into the Russian collusion question.
“He talked about an insurance policy,” Mr. Ratcliffe said Sunday on Fox News. “That alone really raises reasonable doubt and real questions about the validity of any evidence that he collected in this investigation, which became the special counsel probe.”
Ahead of the president’s meeting with Mr. Putin in Helsinki, the Justice Department last week announced an indictment stemming from Mr. Mueller’s investigation that accuses 12 Russian military officials of hacking Democratic officials’ emails in 2016 and trying to use them to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.
Mr. Ratcliffe said a major takeaway from the indictment is that no collusion-related charges were tied to Americans potentially assisting the Russian scheme.
“It really seems like, from my perspective, this is more about the special counsel trying to justify the work that they’re doing and their existence rather than really trying to seriously prosecute folks that were trying to meddle in our elections,” he said.
Mr. Trump said all those events happened during the previous administration and the Democratic National Committee should be “ashamed of themselves” for allowing the hacking to take place.
“I think we’re greatly hampered by this whole witch hunt that’s going on in the United States. The Russian witch hunt. The rigged situation,” Mr. Trump said on CBS.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he disagrees with Mr. Trump’s characterization of the Mueller investigation.
“I don’t think it’s a witch hunt. I’ve never thought it was a witch hunt,” Mr. Gowdy said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“Russia attacked this country in 2016. That’s the No. 1 thing we’ve asked Mueller to look at what did Russia do,” Mr. Gowdy said.
Mr. Gowdy did say he has “absolutely” seen evidence of an anti-Trump bias within the FBI and mentioned Ms. Page.
“Now, how pervasive it was beyond those two I think there are four or five other unidentified bureau and department agents and employees who also had bias,” he said. “But there are 13,000 FBI agents, and 99.9 percent of them are doing exactly what you would want them to do and exactly the way you would want them to do it.”
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, said Sunday that the indictment is a “good thing” but that the Department of Justice probably could have resolved the matter without a special counsel.
“If we have proof that they did it, which it sounds we did, we should now spend our time protecting ourselves instead of sort of having this witch hunt on the president,” Mr. Paul said.
He said there is no evidence that Mr. Trump has been personally involved in any Russian attempt to interfere with the election.
“So I think we need to be done with this so we can start actually protecting our elections from foreign countries,” Mr. Paul said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, applauded the indictment of the Russians but said the document was incomplete.
“The indictment plays like they’re only going after the Democrats, when Bob Mueller and all his investigators and his lawyers know for a fact that they also targeted Republicans,” Mr. Nunes said on Fox News.
“Why is that not in the indictment? It makes the indictment look ridiculous,” Mr. Nunes said.
Democrats, meanwhile, said Mr. Trump’s attitude toward the revelations serves Mr. Putin’s interests and that the president should consider canceling the summit.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said Mr. Putin “is essentially an unindicted co-conspirator” and “ringmaster” of the conspiracy.
“And he’s going to be sitting down at the table with Donald Trump,” Mr. Schiff said on CNN. “And Trump is basically saying that indictment is just a witch hunt. And that’s a great gift for Vladimir Putin.
“So I think if Kim Jong-un can eat the president’s lunch, which I think he clearly did, it will be a very easy matter for Vladimir Putin,” said Mr. Schiff, referring to the North Korean dictator.