House GOP presses DOJ watchdog on bias in Clinton investigation

House Republicans went on the attack Tuesday over the Justice Department watchdog report on the FBI's handling of the...

Posted: Jun 20, 2018 2:48 PM
Updated: Jun 20, 2018 2:48 PM

House Republicans went on the attack Tuesday over the Justice Department watchdog report on the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton investigation, charging that the bias exhibited by key FBI officials did affect the decision not to charge Clinton.

Republicans on the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees pressed Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz over his conclusion in the report released last week that political bias did not affect the specific prosecutorial decisions reviewed in the Clinton case.

Pointing to the anti-Donald Trump text messages exchanged by FBI agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, Republicans argued that the key officials on the Clinton case had no interest in charging Clinton - but had prejudged the outcome of the investigation into Trump and Russia.

"What is more textbook bias than prejudging this investigation before it's over and this one before it begins?" House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, asked Horowitz. "I am struggling to find a better example of outcome determinative bias than that. So what am I missing?"

Horowitz's second congressional hearing in the past 24 hours underscored the partisan divide that's emerged following the release of the inspector general's 500-page report, which faulted former FBI Director James Comey for insubordination, as well as Strzok and Page for "poor judgment."

Trump and his Republican allies have seized on the report to argue that the report shows special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is tainted by bias. Democrats meanwhile, have pointed to the actions by Comey and others as ultimately boosting Trump and hurting Clinton in the 2016 campaign.

While Monday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing often veered into a proxy debate over the Mueller investigation, lawmakers at Tuesday's House hearing appeared more interested in relitigating the Clinton case and the 2016 election, although the Mueller probe still loomed over the House proceedings.

In his testimony, Horowitz explained how his team reached the conclusion that bias did not affect prosecutorial decisions. "We looked at all of that evidence and we assessed whether on that record we could make a finding that bias turned into action by those other individuals, and we didn't believe there was evidence to reach that conclusion," Horowitz said.

But that explanation did not satisfy Republicans. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte faulted the inspector general for not investigating whether the decisions made by the FBI and Justice Department were most effective.

"While we appreciate the IG and his staff for a very detailed investigation, it is critical for the public to also hear what was not included in the report due to the IG's refusal to question 'whether a particular decision by the FBI and DOJ was the most effective choice,'" Goodlatte said.

And Gowdy focused his questioning on the FBI interview of Clinton, questioning the decision not to prosecute Clinton based on her intent with classified materials when the FBI interview didn't question her on that point. The IG report, however, provided a lengthy discussion of agents pressing her with "probing questions."

"When you make up your mind that you're not going to charge someone, and you make up your mind that you need to not go in not loaded for bear ... and there's not a single damn question on intent, it is really hard for those of us who used to do this for a living to not conclude they've made up their mind on intent before they even bothered to talk to the single best repository of intent evidence, which would be her," Gowdy said.

Democrats pushed back on the GOP accusations, arguing that the report also found that Strzok and Page also advocated for more aggressive approaches than prosecutors in some instances.

"In the days since you released your report, Mr. inspector general, I am struck by the total disconnect between the Republican party line and your actual findings," said Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. "The report criticizes the FBI and its former leadership - but virtually every action criticized ultimately harmed the candidacy of Secretary Clinton and inured to the benefit of Donald Trump."

On Tuesday, Republicans focused in particular on the text messages exchanged between Strzok and Page, including new texts that were revealed in the inspector general report in which Strzok said "we'll stop" Trump.

They pressed Horowitz to explain what Strzok meant by several statements.

Horowitz called the texts "extremely serious" and antithetical to the "core values" of the Justice Department.

Asked about Strzok's May 2017 text sent the day after Mueller was appointed special counsel - in which Strzok said, "Now I need to fix it and finish it" - Horowitz said he believed the "reasonable inference of that is that he believed he would use his official authority to take action."

But Horowitz would not discuss the actions the FBI had taken in the Russia investigation, saying it was part of an ongoing inspector general probe.

The texts were also used as a jumping off point to criticize Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has been fighting with House Republicans over documents for months. House Republicans say they are considering floor action to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress if he does not comply this week.

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, asked Horowitz to explain how Rosenstein reacted when he provided the next batch of text messages that included Strzok's "we'll stop" Trump message, charging that "Mr. Rosenstein sat on it for a month."

"This wouldn't be the first time he hasn't given us information frankly I think we're entitled to," Jordan said.

Horowitz said his office pointed out the "we'll stop" text to the Rosenstein's office in a June 8 communication. "When we found it I specified to the associate deputy attorney general on June 8 that he ought to look at this one," Horowitz said.

The Justice Department official replied "thank you for telling me that," Horowitz said.

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