The Strange Testimony of Peter Strzok

Infamous FBI agent Peter Strzok testified before Congress on Thursday, July 12. Many questions put to him concerned his text messages and focused on the bias displayed.

But the text messages may be a side story.

Taking a look at Strzok's testimony other than that regarding his messages, two moments are particularly striking. It seems either he is lying or, if not, that he may be incompetent in a way that is hard to believe.

Screen grab from C-SPAN

In his testimony, Strzok described how he changed the wording of then-director James Comey's description of Hillary Clinton from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless.” At the time the change was made on his computer, there were, he said, many people gathered in his office “because it was the biggest.” An unnamed FBI lawyer from the legal counsel division supposedly offered the change to bring it into line with what the director wanted to communicate.

Specifically, Strzok related, “My recollection is — and I’m not an attorney — that attorneys within the F.B.I. raised concern that the use of ‘gross negligence’ triggered a very specific legal meaning.”

Rep. James Sensenbrenner then stated the obvious, which was that this handed Mrs. Clinton a get-out-of-jail-free card. Strzok in turn denied it.

Rep. Sensenbrenner is of course correct, as many have pointed out. The mental state required by the statute in question requires (only) gross negligence. Everything turns on this.

Strzok's failure to realize the significance of the change, if fail he did in reality, would fit the definition of incompetence, since it is hardly credible that a high-ranking FBI agent such as Strzok would be unaware of the significance of the removal of the term “gross negligence” in this context.

That seems hard to believe. But in Strzok's telling, he was little more than a secretary, merely making the change based on the consensus of the unidentified group upon the suggestion of a nameless FBI counsel. Well, perhaps; but, you know, that doesn't sound so good, either.

The other striking thing was that Strzok repeatedly claimed that the DOJ's Inspector General report found no bias. But this is disingenuous or, again, evidence of a lack of legal knowledge that is hard to credit in a senior FBI agent, attorney or not.

The IG report very carefully pointed out that the IG was not reviewing whether the Clinton espionage investigation could have been handled differently. It further and more importantly stated that if any rational investigative purpose was served by any investigative decision that this then would not be considered a biased ethical violation. That is because the IG report looked for ethical and legal violations: it was not a review of the quality of the investigation or even of its fairness.

Even so, the IG report concluded there was a “cloud” cast over the investigations. (IG Report p. 424)

Now, an ordinary person may not be aware of the nature and parameters of the IG report, but for a high-ranking FBI agent not to be again strains credulity.

So, why was Peter Strzok's testimony so … weird? Was he lying or is he perhaps incompetent?

Possibly neither. It may be that he is in denial and that he is displaying intentional opacity, which is a psychological term meaning, roughly, that one is oblivious to one's own true intentions and motivations.

Which, curiously, would indicate the existence of an extreme and deep-seated bias.

Tadas Klimas is a former FBI agent, awarded the National Intelligence Medal of Achievement (NIMA).

Infamous FBI agent Peter Strzok testified before Congress on Thursday, July 12. Many questions put to him concerned his text messages and focused on the bias displayed.

But the text messages may be a side story.

Taking a look at Strzok's testimony other than that regarding his messages, two moments are particularly striking. It seems either he is lying or, if not, that he may be incompetent in a way that is hard to believe.

Screen grab from C-SPAN

In his testimony, Strzok described how he changed the wording of then-director James Comey's description of Hillary Clinton from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless.” At the time the change was made on his computer, there were, he said, many people gathered in his office “because it was the biggest.” An unnamed FBI lawyer from the legal counsel division supposedly offered the change to bring it into line with what the director wanted to communicate.

Specifically, Strzok related, “My recollection is — and I’m not an attorney — that attorneys within the F.B.I. raised concern that the use of ‘gross negligence’ triggered a very specific legal meaning.”

Rep. James Sensenbrenner then stated the obvious, which was that this handed Mrs. Clinton a get-out-of-jail-free card. Strzok in turn denied it.

Rep. Sensenbrenner is of course correct, as many have pointed out. The mental state required by the statute in question requires (only) gross negligence. Everything turns on this.

Strzok's failure to realize the significance of the change, if fail he did in reality, would fit the definition of incompetence, since it is hardly credible that a high-ranking FBI agent such as Strzok would be unaware of the significance of the removal of the term “gross negligence” in this context.

That seems hard to believe. But in Strzok's telling, he was little more than a secretary, merely making the change based on the consensus of the unidentified group upon the suggestion of a nameless FBI counsel. Well, perhaps; but, you know, that doesn't sound so good, either.

The other striking thing was that Strzok repeatedly claimed that the DOJ's Inspector General report found no bias. But this is disingenuous or, again, evidence of a lack of legal knowledge that is hard to credit in a senior FBI agent, attorney or not.

The IG report very carefully pointed out that the IG was not reviewing whether the Clinton espionage investigation could have been handled differently. It further and more importantly stated that if any rational investigative purpose was served by any investigative decision that this then would not be considered a biased ethical violation. That is because the IG report looked for ethical and legal violations: it was not a review of the quality of the investigation or even of its fairness.

Even so, the IG report concluded there was a “cloud” cast over the investigations. (IG Report p. 424)

Now, an ordinary person may not be aware of the nature and parameters of the IG report, but for a high-ranking FBI agent not to be again strains credulity.

So, why was Peter Strzok's testimony so … weird? Was he lying or is he perhaps incompetent?

Possibly neither. It may be that he is in denial and that he is displaying intentional opacity, which is a psychological term meaning, roughly, that one is oblivious to one's own true intentions and motivations.

Which, curiously, would indicate the existence of an extreme and deep-seated bias.

Tadas Klimas is a former FBI agent, awarded the National Intelligence Medal of Achievement (NIMA).