Republicans and Democrats sparred for a second day Tuesday over an internal Justice Department report that sharply criticized former FBI director James B. Comey for the bureau’s work investigating Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz answered questions for more than five hours at a joint hearing of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, a day after he testified before a Senate panel about his 500-page report.
The report issued last week detailed how Comey and other senior law enforcement officials veered away from Justice Department practice, policies and professional standards in their handling of the Clinton case.
Horowitz found no evidence that specific investigative decisions in the case were affected by the political biases of some at the FBI, but Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who chairs the House Oversight Committee, said the bias that was found strikes at the integrity of the criminal-justice system.
“If someone is prejudging the outcome of an investigation before it ends and someone is prejudging the outcome of an investigation before it even begins, what is more textbook bias?” Gowdy said after reading text messages between two senior FBI officials, Agent Peter Strzok and lawyer Lisa Page.
Horowitz agreed that Strzok’s words were “completely antithetical to the core values of the department and extremely serious,” adding, “I can’t imagine FBI agents suggesting even that they might use their powers investigating, frankly, any candidate for any office.” But he defended the report’s findings, stressing that “we didn’t find or see evidence of the prosecutors who were impacted by [Strzok’s] bias.”
Strzok is still an employee of the FBI, though officials have begun disciplinary proceedings that may lead to his ouster. Strzok’s attorney said he was escorted out of the FBI building Friday. Page left the FBI last month.
Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Republicans sought to use the findings to cast doubt upon the fairness of the ongoing special-counsel probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether any of President Trump’s associates coordinated with the Kremlin to influence its outcome.
Democrats lambasted their GOP colleagues for disregarding what they said was a more pressing problem for the country — the Trump administration’s move to separate migrant families at the border and detain children apart from their parents.
“Are we really going to sit here, 70 members of the Congress of the United States of America in 2018, and have a hearing that just repeats the hearings the Senate had yesterday on Hillary Clinton’s emails?” asked the Oversight Committee’s senior Democrat, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland.
He said the U.S. government is running “child internment camps” at the border. “What country is that?” he asked angrily, urging Republicans to pressure Trump to reverse course.
Cummings’s remarks were another indicator of how reaction to the long-awaited inspector general’s report on the Clinton investigation has largely fallen along partisan lines, with Republicans accusing the FBI of going easy on Clinton and Democrats pointing to Horowitz’s conclusion that whatever bias was uncovered did not appear to affect the case.
“I feel as though sunshine, transparency, would be the way to root out this bias that we seem to see reflected,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).
Horowitz said some names were withheld because the bureau did not want those people publicly identified, because they work on espionage cases.
Horowitz tried to beat back suggestions from Republicans that his office had gone easy on the FBI, saying, “We didn’t pull any punches.”
Horowitz noted that his office had made a criminal referral to federal prosecutors about alleged false statements made to his investigators by the FBI’s former deputy director, Andrew McCabe. Asked whether McCabe lied under oath, Horowitz answered, “In our view, yes.”
McCabe has denied wrongdoing.
Democrats repeatedly tried to get Horowitz to repudiate Trump’s claims that the findings somehow exonerate the president in the Russia probe.
Horowitz declined, saying only that his report did not look at the Russia probe — though he added that his office is looking at “campaign-related issues” surrounding that investigation.
At Monday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Horowitz made clear that his office still has unfinished business regarding the FBI’s Clinton investigation. The inspector general’s office is probing possible misconduct in the FBI’s safeguarding of its own secrets.
In the wake of the inspector general’s findings, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray has announced a bureau-wide effort to emphasize training designed to prevent FBI personnel from having unauthorized conversations with reporters.
Horowitz also acknowledged that his office is reviewing whether Comey may have mishandled memos he wrote about his interactions with Trump and his senior staff. Horowitz said the FBI had made a referral to his office about the memos and that he planned to issue a report on the matter, as well as another one on leaks from the FBI.
In his book released earlier this year, Comey said he shared one memo — about a February conversation with Trump in which he alleged that the president asked him to let go an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn — with a friend, Columbia University law professor Daniel Richman. Richman then relayed the memo’s contents to the New York Times, which Comey has said was meant to spur the appointment of a special counsel.
Another person familiar with the case, however, said Comey eventually shared other memos with his attorneys, including Richman, though he held back some information that he considered classified. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic.
Shortly after Comey was fired, an FBI review determined that some of the information in two of his memos was classified, said a person familiar with the matter, prompting the FBI to retrieve those documents from two people with whom Comey had shared them. The information was marked confidential, the lowest category of classified information, another person said. The Justice Department’s inspector general had previously told lawmakers privately that he will review the handling of the memos, according to people familiar with the matter.