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House GOP threatens key witness in FBI probes with contempt

Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said the House was willing to hold former FBI lawyer Lisa Page in contempt after she said she would not appear for questioning. (Video: Reuters)

House Republican leaders threatened to hold former FBI lawyer Lisa Page in contempt of Congress unless she agrees to testify by Friday morning about her role in the bureau’s probes into Hillary Clinton’s emails and President Trump’s suspected Russia ties.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) sent a letter on Wednesday to Page’s lawyer, telling her that unless Page agreed to testify publicly before their panels on Thursday at 10 a.m. or behind closed doors on Friday at 10 a.m., the GOP would formally seek to hold her in contempt.

“The Judiciary Committee intends to initiate contempt proceedings on Friday, July 13, 2018, at 10:30 a.m.,” Goodlatte and Gowdy wrote in their letter to Amy Jeffress, who is representing Page. Jeffress has argued that Page needs more time to review relevant records before testifying to the panels, a claim that the Republican members of those committees reject.

Should Page agree to testify on Thursday, she would be doing so alongside Peter Strzok, the former top FBI counterintelligence official with whom she exchanged anti-Trump texts that brought her to the GOP’s attention.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) indicated earlier Wednesday that he would support Goodlatte’s decision.

“Congressional subpoenas for testimony are not optional,” Ryan said, promising that “we will do what we need to do to protect this branch of government.”

Page, who worked for Andrew McCabe when he was FBI deputy director and briefly served on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team, “was part of the mess that we’ve uncovered over at DOJ,” Ryan said. “She has an obligation to come and testify. If she wants to come and plead the Fifth, that’s her choice. But a subpoena to testify before Congress is not optional; it’s mandatory.”

Page first came to lawmakers’ attention over anti-Trump text messages she exchanged with Strzok, with whom she was having an affair. The texts were discovered during the Justice Department inspector general’s probe of the Clinton email investigation. Strzok, who has already spoken to the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees behind closed doors, is expected to testify publicly before the panels Thursday.

Lawyer for FBI agent who sent anti-Trump texts assails House GOP ‘trap’

The House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena for Page’s testimony earlier this week. But Jeffress, her lawyer, pushed back, arguing in a statement that Page needed “clarification of the scope of the Committee’s interest in interviewing her and access to relevant documents” before she sat for an interview with the panels. Jeffress added that Page received word from the Justice Department only “after 11 p.m.” Tuesday that she would have access to the documents she needed for Wednesday’s interview.

Jeffress accused the panels of using unnecessary “bullying tactics” to push Page into an interview immediately, especially when “she has offered to voluntarily appear before the committees later this month.”

“There is no basis for claims that Lisa has anything to hide or is unwilling to testify. The record shows otherwise,” Jeffress said in the statement, stressing that Page had already cooperated with the inspector general’s probe and one other congressional panel. “We expect them to agree to another date so that Lisa can appear before the Committees in the near future.”

But Republicans dispute that timeline. Multiple GOP lawmakers, including Goodlatte and Gowdy, pointed out that Page has known for more than six months that the committees wanted to interview her; they also argued that she had all the information she needed for an unclassified interview far earlier in the day Tuesday than her lawyer claimed.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who sits on the Oversight and Government Reform committee, also charged that Page had made it “very difficult to even serve her with a subpoena.”

“The idea that she was willing to come voluntarily and this is all about document review that she’s had the ability to review for seven months — many of which she wrote, by the way — it just does not hold water,” Meadows said, complaining that a U.S. Marshal had to deliver Page the subpoena early in the morning.

The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), suggested Wednesday that “the real reason” Republicans were weighing contempt measures against Page was to “set up a dramatic thing” before Strzok’s public interview Thursday. Should they actually attempt to hold Page in contempt, Nadler said, a judge would probably “throw it out,” because she had not been given enough time to review documents.

“It’s open and shut,” he added.

John Wagner contributed to this report.

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