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Rancorous House probe of FBI and Justice Dept. ends quietly with interview of Loretta Lynch

Former attorney general Loretta Lynch arrived on Capitol Hill on Dec. 19, to meet with members of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees. (Video: The Washington Post)

A House investigation of how the FBI and the Justice Department conducted probes of the Trump campaign’s alleged Russia ties and Hillary Clinton’s emails is fizzling to a close after lawmakers interviewed their last scheduled witness Wednesday and have no apparent plans to release a comprehensive report of their findings.

Former attorney general Loretta E. Lynch met behind closed doors with members of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform Committees for nearly seven hours in what Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) called “the swan song for a wild-goose chase by the Republicans.”

The joint investigation has inspired partisan rancor since it began last year, with Republicans insisting the proceedings were necessary to investigate allegations of bias within federal law enforcement agencies and Democrats accusing them of using the probe to discredit the origins of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

That political feuding is expected to continue, even as the probe ends and Democrats prepare to take charge of the House committees. Many of the Republicans involved had insisted that the investigation not conclude before they could again interview Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein after reports emerged indicating he suggested secretly recording President Trump and invoking constitutional procedures to remove him from office. A scheduled October interview with Rosenstein and the joint panel’s leaders fell apart.

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On Wednesday, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the Oversight Committee, said there were no plans to speak with Rosenstein before January, noting that “if he is coming, I don’t know about it.” Gowdy also said he was unaware of any plans to summarize the panels’ findings. He noted that he could not speak for Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), but that his preference would be “to release the transcripts and let people read them for themselves.” Gowdy did not say when he expected the transcripts to be released.

A spokeswoman for Goodlatte did not respond to a request for comment.

The House Intelligence Committee voted in October to release transcripts of 53 of the interviews its members conducted, but none has materialized. Thus far, the Judiciary and Oversight panels have released only a few transcripts — the most recent ones from two closed-door interviews with former FBI director James B. Comey.

Comey spent those sessions defending the FBI’s scrutiny of Trump, his campaign and transition, and the administration officials suspected of having ties to foreign governments. Comey also defended his decisions as FBI director, including sidestepping Lynch to make public announcements about the status of the Clinton email probe.

Comey emerged from the interviews accusing Republicans of shilling for the president to the detriment of national security.

Comey defends FBI interview of Flynn against charges of bias against Trump

On Wednesday, House Republicans asked Lynch to respond to several of the arguments Comey made suggesting that Lynch’s June 2016 meeting in Phoenix with former president Bill Clinton and references to her in documents — since discredited — connecting her to the Clintons made her seem like she could not be an objective leader of the Justice Department.

Her answers let lawmakers “get a feel for just how insubordinate Comey was during the Obama administration,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a member of the Oversight Committee said as he emerged from the session. Issa also said that Lynch’s meeting with Clinton was suspect because Clinton was “a very powerful and wealthy man,” and Lynch might need his help finding a job.

But some GOP members questioned the value of Lynch’s interview.

“I didn’t think we learned a whole lot today,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who will be the top Republican on the Oversight Committee next year, said exiting the session.

Many Democrats were unethused by Lynch’s testimony.

“With all that’s going on, I’m having a little difficulty getting excited still about Hillary Clinton’s emails or a casual conversation that the then-sitting attorney general had with the former president in passing at an airport,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), a member of the Judiciary Committee. “We didn’t learn anything new, no matter how many times we drag attorney general Lynch on Capitol Hill. Facts are stubborn things, and we’ve got to move forward.”

When the Democrats take control of the panels in the new year, leaders said, they plan to keep tabs on matters involving the FBI and Justice Department — but to ensure that Mueller’s probe is allowed to continue without interference.

“Our number one goal is to protect Mr. Mueller in that investigation,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who will be chairman of the Oversight Committee.

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