Trey Gowdy, Trump, Fox news pundits, and other partisan conservatives have been apoplectic regarding the Peter Strzok Lisa Page text messages. They interpreted these comments as proof-certain of a “corrupt” Mueller investigation of Russian meddling. It’s reminiscent of the conspiracy theory air circulating the Hilary Clinton email investigation and Benghazi. Fox News’s tabloid-style “reporting” helped create an environment in which the response to every transgression or act of negligence was exaggerated into something far exceeding its scope, with no evidence to support the conspiracy theory. In contrast, this same segment downplays an actual proven covert plot by the U.S.’s most significant foe to manipulate democracy. Trey Gowdy’s blistering questioning of Peter Strzok at the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday July 12, 2018.
- Bias: First, “Bias,” in a legal sense means financial bias. That is, it means that you financially benefit or suffer from a decision in which you are involved. It does not mean your political beliefs or party. Second, it applies to decision makers, e.g., judges and juries. It does not apply to investigators. Imagine if the Mueller’s investigation were required to be staffed only by people who liked Trump, or even those who had no opinion regarding Trump. This would severely limit the talent and skills pool available for the investigatory team. Moreover, the alleged “bias” would be even more severe in requiring a uniform political view on the team.
- Election sentiments: Before Trump’s nomination and for a time after his nomination, the Republican party was as divided and nearly as critical of Trump as Democrats. Educated people, professionals, and Republicans with political experience were particularly shocked and offended by Trump’s ascendency. Even Fox News, now accused of being Trump’s “state media,” was late to favorably reporting on Trump. Now Fox is not only favorably reporting and commenting on Trump, but it’s celebrities and ownership have close personal relationships with Trump (e.g. Sean Hannity and Rupert Murdoch). Fox has even become the primary source for Trump staff hirings. However, at no time, prior to the election, during the election, and now, has Trump been viewed favorably by a majority of people. Viewing negative statements about Trump as evidence of anything untoward is a distortion of reality.
- Context: Strzok’s statements were pillow talk. There was no effort at accuracy. There was an expectation of privacy and they were made in a casual conversation with someone who had no involvement or relevance to the investigation. The statements were made in text message shorthand of emotion and sentiment. Thus, it is folly to interpret them literally.
- Meaning of Words: Gowdy takes particular offense to Strzok telling Lisa Page that “We’ll stop it,” presumably referring to the election of Trump. Correctly interpreted, however, those words are more likely reflective of the existing knowledge of the Trump – Russia connection than they are an intent to influence the election. This scenario is corroborated by what we now know U.S. intelligence agencies and the Obama administration knew about Russia’s attempt to influence the election as it was happening. Most people with contemporaneous knowledge would believe the facts would be fatal to a candidate’s election. It was reasonable for Strzok to believe that Russian interference would be made public before the November 2018 election. Hence, the “stop.” Instead, the information was quashed by the Obama administration out of fear that such a revelation would itself be viewed as election interference.