The outgoing Republican committee chairmen in charge of a year-long probe of how the FBI and Justice Department handled investigations into the Trump campaign’s alleged Russia ties and Hillary Clinton’s emails once again called for a second special counsel to look into such matters in a letter to top administration and congressional officials summing up their work.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) sent their letter to acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). In it, they encouraged them to pick up where the House panels left off and “continue to identify and eliminate bias” at the federal law enforcement agencies “so the public can trust the institutions to make decisions solely on the facts and the law and totally devoid of political bias or consideration.”
“Our 2016 presidential candidates were not treated equally,” Goodlatte and Gowdy wrote in a statement accompanying the release of the letter. “The investigators in both investigations were biased against President Trump.”
The House GOP leaned heavily on details in an inspector general report released earlier this year to make their arguments about bias having infected the FBI and DOJ’s proceedings. The inspector general’s report found that while certain individuals, such as former top FBI counterintelligence officer Peter Strzok, displayed clear personal bias against Trump, there was no evidence that the conclusions of the investigations themselves were biased.
Nonetheless, Republicans and Democrats have openly warred over the implications of the inspector general report and their own investigation for months. Democrats have frequently charged that the GOP used the congressional investigation as a means of discrediting the work that provided the foundation for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s ongoing probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Republican leaders denied that charge in their letter, arguing that “whatever product is produced by the Special Counsel must be trusted by Americans and that requires asking tough but fair questions about investigative techniques both employed and not employed.”
But after dozens of mostly closed-door interviews and months of high-profile partisan clashes, the seven-page letter comes as a remarkably quiet ending — with lawmakers offering no discernibly new insights or recommendations for how the federal law enforcement agencies erred or might improve their work.
Alongside the call for a second special counsel — which Goodlatte and Gowdy first formally called for back in March — the panel leaders recommended that others take a closer look at the process of securing warrants to conduct surveillance on individuals, as well as how much detail investigators are required to provide the secret court that approves such warrants about “informant or source issues and the divulging of bias information.” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has already told reporters that he plans to take up this issue.
In the letter, GOP panel leaders criticize the decisions several of the witnesses testified to making during the investigations. In particular, they focus on those of former FBI director James B. Comey, pitting his testimony against that of former FBI general counsel James Baker, whose comments, they said, suggested that Comey possibly erred in deciding not to prosecute Clinton over her use of a private email server.
The Republican chairmen also cite Baker’s testimony to reiterate a criticism of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who they say should have returned to Capitol Hill for a closed-door interview about his reported comments that he suggested recording Trump and then trying to invoke constitutional procedure to remove him from office. Such an interview was scheduled with panel leaders in late October but abruptly canceled amid an outcry from rank-and-file panel Republicans, who felt they too should be allowed to pepper Rosenstein with questions. Some of those panel members, led by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), also sought to have Rosenstein impeached.
Jordan will take over as the top Republican on the Oversight and Government Reform panel in just a few days, at which point the Democrats taking over House leadership — and the chairmanship of the panels — are expected to dramatically alter, if not formally shutter, the probe.
The letter from Gowdy and Goodlatte was not accompanied by the release of any transcripts from interviews that have not yet been made public. A classified version of the panels’ findings is being made available to members.