- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the House Judiciary Committee about the inspector general’s report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
- Republican lawmakers are seizing on the report’s findings to question the legitimacy of the Russia probe and to demand more classified intelligence from the DOJ about the investigation.
- Democrats accuse their colleagues of playing politics, focusing on the “tired story” of Clinton’s emails, and trying to force the DOJ to turn over Trump-Russia documents to discredit Rosenstein and help the White House.
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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray testified Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee about an inspector general report on the FBI’s handling of its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.
The FBI ultimately concluded against recommending charges against Clinton after the lengthy investigation. Though the report found no evidence of bias, political or otherwise, when the bureau closed the investigation, inspector general Michael Horowitz said senior FBI officials, including then FBI director James Comey, broke Department of Justice protocol and made serious errors in judgment.
The report did not focus on the Russia investigation. However, Republicans have seized on its findings to question the legitimacy of the Russia probe and to demand additional sensitive documents about the investigation from the DOJ.
Democrats accuse Republicans and the White House of using the report to distract from the special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings in the Russia investigation.
On Thursday, the committee saw much of the same partisan squabbling, and things quickly devolved into Democrats and Republicans conducting two separate hearings.
Republicans: A laser focus on purported surveillance abuses and FBI bias
House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte opened the hearing with a lengthy statement condemning the political biases of FBI officials working the Clinton investigation.
He also said that getting the DOJ to turn over Trump-Russia documents to the committee “has felt like pulling teeth much of the time.”
GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz asked Rosenstein whether he knew of any investigative efforts related to the Trump campaign before the FBI officially launched its investigation into Russian interference on July 31, 2016.
Rosenstein said he was not aware of any such efforts from the DOJ or FBI.
Gaetz later pivoted to the FBI’s application for a FISA warrant targeting Trump campaign aide Carter Page during and after the election.
“List for me the people who briefed you on the substance of that FISA renewal [about Page] to go and spy on people,” Gaetz said.
Rosenstein, who appeared visibly frustrated throughout his exchange with the congressman, replied that Horowitz is currently investigating the Page FISA application process and that he would wait and see what Horowitz finds.
“Did you read the FISA application before you signed it?” Gaetz countered.
“I’m not going to comment about any FISA application,” Rosenstein said.
“So you won’t say to this committee whether or not you even read the document you signed that authorised spying on people associated with the Trump campaign?” Gaetz asked.
Rosenstein said he did not agree with Gaetz’s characterization of what the warrant application was about.
The two men then had a tense back-and-forth during which Gaetz attempted to get Rosenstein to disclose whether he had been briefed on it by any FBI personnel, like Peter Strzok or Lisa Page.
Rosenstein replied that he had not been briefed on it by any FBI officials, and then explained to Gaetz that he had been briefed on the application by a team of career DOJ attorneys.
“I can tell you, sir, that the information that’s public about [the warrant] doesn’t match with my understanding of the one that I signed,” Rosenstein said. “But I think it’s appropriate to let the inspector general complete that investigation … if the inspector general finds that I did something wrong, then I’ll respect that judgment. But I think it’s highly, highly unlikely, sir, given the way the process works.”
Democrats: ‘With so many other issues, this committee has stayed silent – but on Hillary’s emails? Sound the alarms’
New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the top Democrat on the committee, responded to Goodlatte’s initial remarks by issuing a lengthy statement of his own accusing Republicans of focusing on “the tired story of Hillary Clinton’s emails … plus a few conspiracy theories about the special counsel.”
“When President Trump and his administration were actively separating families at the border, ripping children out of the arms of their parents and causing untold suffering to thousands of families, that did not warrant an emergency hearing from this committee,” Nadler said.
“As with so many other issues, this committee has stayed silent,” he added. “But on Hillary Clinton’s emails? Sound the alarms.”
When the DOJ refused to turn over sensitive documents about the Russia probe, Nadler said, Republicans threatened Rosenstein with contempt or impeachment proceedings.
“This is an investigation, I might remind my colleagues, that has already yielded five guilty pleas and that has led to the indictment of 20 people so far,” Nadler said. “The president and some of his closest advisers are under investigation for having participated in a criminal conspiracy with a foreign power against the United States.”
“That is an emergency,” he said.
Democrats on the committee also drew attention to the fact that Horowitz’s report made no conclusions about the Russia investigation and did not, as Trump suggested, vindicate him from the probe.
California’s Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who has sat on the panel for over 20 years, noted that she had never experienced anything like the partisan politics playing out with respect to the Trump and Clinton investigations. She also accused her Republican colleagues of inappropriately politicizing sensitive FISA information.
“It’s very obvious” why details about the Page warrant and others should not be in the public arena, because “people could lose their lives,” Lofgren said.
She added that Republicans on the committee appear to be asking Rosenstein and other top officials to violate the same FBI and DOJ policies they are simultaneously asked to uphold.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said the panel was “looking for monsters wherever we can find them.”
Rosenstein and Wray: The FBI and DOJ are ‘working overtime’ to make ‘unprecedented disclosures’ to Congress
In his opening statement, Rosenstein emphasised his commitment to “rooting out abuse and misconduct when there’s credible evidence that it occurred.”
In light of the IG report, he said, the DOJ and FBI are committed to the need to “correct errors, hold wrongdoers accountable, and deter future violations.”
Rosenstein also alluded to Republicans’ continued demands for classified Russia-related documents.
“We already revised the department’s confidentiality policies to emphasise that non-public sensitive information obtained in connection with our work is protected from disclosure,” he said, referring to leaks to the media that may have come from within the FBI or DOJ.
“We intend to enforce that principle on our employees and we need to demonstrate respect for it ourselves by protecting sensitive information entrusted to the FBI,” he added.
The FBI is working overtime and making “unprecedented disclosures” to Congress in light of Trump’s calls for transparency, the deputy attorney general said. He noted that he had also tapped John Lausch, the US attorney from Chicago, to handle the document production process.
Wray emphasised many of the same points as Rosenstein in his opening statement and stressed the FBI’s commitment to adhering to protocol, protecting classified information, and guarding against leaks to the media.
The deputy attorney general fielded several questions from Republicans about his oversight of Mueller’s investigation and the DOJ’s document production.
Peter Strzok takes center stage
Rep. Ron DeSantis asked Rosenstein at one point why the DOJ had initially failed to uncover text messages between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page from the summer of 2016, in which Strzok told Page that “we’ll stop” Trump from becoming president.
“We’re not withholding anything embarrassing,” Rosenstein said, adding that the DOJ did not discover the message until Horowitz’s investigation because of a technical issue that Horowitz explained to Republican lawmakers after he testified about the report earlier this month.
Doesn’t the timeline of the investigation “undermine the integrity of actions by people like Peter Strzok?” DeSantis shot back.
“Yes, congressman, that obviously is highly inappropriate, and I was troubled by it as well,” Rosenstein said.
“It’s more than that,” DeSantis said. “The inspector general did find that the bias affected – he didn’t say it affected the decision about Hillary – but he said once we got into the fall, when you had the Huma Abedin emails and there was slow-walking on that by Peter Strzok, he was really concerned with pursuing this collusion investigation.”
“And [Horowitz] testified on the record that it was absolutely reasonable to say that the bias not only existed but affected what [Strzok] did,” DeSantis said.
Strzok was escorted from FBI headquarters this month after the inspector general’s report came out.
DeSantis also suggested that Rosenstein should recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller probe because of his involvement in Comey’s firing and his decision to sign off on extending the FBI’s surveillance of Trump campaign foreign policy aide Carter Page during and after the election.
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