What Peter Strzok’s Testimony Did and Didn’t Accomplish

Yesterday, as I watched Peter Strzok testify before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, I couldn’t help but recall the 11 hour ordeal Hillary Clinton endured in front of Rep. Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi committee. The South Carolina representative played a starring role in both of them. While it’s true that he was relentless in attacking Clinton, Gowdy took things up a few notches against Strzok and came off looking pretty unhinged. Since Paul Waldman has done such a great job of capturing what happened, I’ll let him explain.

So today we saw, for instance, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) badgering Strzok about the meaning of individual words in his late-night text messages to his girlfriend, using Gowdy’s patented prosecutorial technique of shouting a question at a witness, and then when the witness begins to answer, interrupting and shouting a different question at a louder volume. Unsurprisingly, the hearing quickly devolved into a circus, with members yelling at each other, overlapping points of order, and a general sense of chaos.

I remember shaking my head during several of those exchanges thinking, “this guy is supposed to be smart, but these questions don’t even make any sense.” My conclusion was that they were not designed to make any sense, but to get the witness rattled. Perhaps Gowdy spent too much time watching that climactic scene in the movie, “A Few Good Men” when Tom Cruise’s character gets Jack Nicholson’s to lose his cool. But things don’t always go the way they do in the movies. Strzok didn’t lose his cool and instead, delivered the opposite.

So did Strzok deliver the knockout punch, as some of the headlines suggest? No, he didn’t. That is because the entire framework of seeing these kinds of interactions as battles that produce winners and losers is a ridiculous notion to begin with. It takes the concept of real wars and assumes that verbal battles play by the same rules where one side is defeated and the other one victorious. The problem is that in war, the goal is to kill enough of the enemy that they eventually surrender. Verbal battles like this one tend to be more like the ongoing battles between insurgencies and counter-insurgencies. No one ever surrenders.

Rick Wilson does a good job of describing what Trump’s enablers will do next.

Because Trump supporters live in a hermetic media echo chamber, these hearings are part of a predictable, hokey Kabuki dance. They’re a device for generating a new round of hyperbolic base-only stories that will follow the same dumb arc as all the rest. In the coming days, you’ll see Sean Hannity flirt with apoplexy, coating the camera lens with flecks of spittle as he rants over Strzok’s perfidy. You’ll see pro-Trump columnists herniate themselves stretching to turn flippant text messages into a vast conspiracy. Twitter will be a flood of moronic memes, white-hot takes, and promises that Strzok will soon be in Gitmo alongside Hillary, Obama, Podesta, and Soros.

Stroke did exactly what he needed to do yesterday. He got a public forum to explain himself and provide facts, just as Clinton did during the Benghazi hearing. That means something to those of us who don’t inhabit that “hermetic media echo chamber” Wilson is referring to. But did it change the equation at all? No, it didn’t.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.