Things got frenzied at a House hearing on the federal investigation into possible Russia influence in the Trump campaign, as Republicans lobbed accusations at anti-Trump FBI agent Peter Strzok, who responded by accusing them of playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, while a Democrat said he deserved a Purple Heart. Political reporter Nicholas Fandos’s take made the front page of Friday’s New York Times: “Fire vs. Fury as F.B.I. Agent Defends His Actions.”
Strzok’s play of the Russia card worked for The Times, where an editor liked his quote enough to make it the story’s text box: “Another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.” Who knew the paper had so many hard-core patriots on staff? Here's Fandos's lede:
The embattled F.B.I. agent who oversaw the opening of the Russia investigation mounted an aggressive personal defense on Thursday, rejecting accusations that he let his private political views bias his official actions and labeling Republicans’ preoccupation with him “another victory notch in Putin’s belt.”
Fandos pitied the poor put-upon FBI agent who (as he admitted deep into the story) was dismissed from Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel team after his anti-Trump texts came to light, and was harshly criticized in the Justice Department’s Inspector General report:
But in defending himself and his agency, Mr. Strzok had to weather hours of blistering attacks by Republicans, whose accusations drifted from personal animus toward President Trump to blatant lying and moral misconduct with a senior F.B.I. lawyer, Lisa Page. It was a remarkable performance by Republicans, long seen as the party of law and order and the defenders of law-enforcement power and prerogatives.
It was predictable that The Times rushed to Strzok’s side, given the liberal paper’s sudden passion for all things surveillance in the age of President Trump. Fandos used loaded language to characterize Strzok’s Republican questioners:
In his first public comments since volumes of private text messages between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page were disclosed, the agent concluded opening remarks with a pointed broadside against his antagonizers.
“I understand we are living in a political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity,” Mr. Strzok said, continuing: “I have the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role, but I truly believe that today’s hearing is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”
He concluded: “As someone who loves this country and cherishes its ideals, it is profoundly painful to watch and even worse to play a part in.”
Fandos buried the controversial bits of Strzok's bio, including his obsessive anti-Trump animus.
Mr. Strzok, a career agent, played a pivotal role in two of the bureau’s most politically fraught cases in recent memory: the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email practices as secretary of state and a separate inquiry into Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election and its interactions with the Trump campaign. He briefly served on Mr. Mueller’s team, as well, before being removed after the discovery of his text messages with Ms. Page, with whom he was in a romantic relationship.
In one oft-cited exchange from August 2016, Ms. Page, who also worked on both investigations, said to Mr. Strzok that Trump is “not ever going to become president, right?”
“No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” Mr. Strzok replied.
A former Army officer, Mr. Strzok has worked at the F.B.I. for more than two decades. He rose quickly through its ranks, earning a reputation within the bureau as one of its most savvy and reliable counterintelligence agents. It was that reputation and increasingly senior positions that landed him on the teams investigating both Mrs. Clinton and eventually Mr. Trump.