Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page defended herself and the bureau last year against accusations that bias against Donald Trump affected federal investigations of the Trump campaign’s suspected Russia ties and of Hillary Clinton’s emails, according to a transcript released Tuesday by the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.
Page, who came to prominence over anti-Trump texts she exchanged with former FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok while both were assigned to the Clinton and Trump investigations, stressed that senior bureau officials were also expressing anti-Clinton animus — but that neither affected how agents working those cases carried out their jobs.
“Many of us in law enforcement dislike the subject of our investigations. We are not keen on pedophiles and fraudsters and spies and human traffickers,” Page said. “That is fine. What would be impermissible is to take that harsh language and to act in some way that was illegal or against the rules. And we don’t do it.”
A representative for Page did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Page’s transcript is the second released in the past week by the panel’s ranking Republican, Douglas A. Collins (Ga.), in an effort to make public the record of the now-completed GOP-led probe of how federal law enforcement agencies conducted the two probes. The first, from a session that the Judiciary and Oversight committees held last year with Bruce Ohr, was derided by Democrats as an attempt to resurrect old political talking points in an effort to distract from current congressional investigations of President Trump and an expected report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
Page, who worked as special counsel to then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, admitted to the House Judiciary and Oversight committees that much of what she knew about the hierarchy of orders and decision-making in the Clinton probe was secondhand. In particular, her anecdote about former senior counterintelligence officials Sandy Kable and Randy Coleman telling investigators on the Clinton probe “that they were counting on us to get her” came via Strzok, Page said.
A FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on behalf of Kable. A message left with an assistant for Coleman, who now works for Caterpillar, was not immediately returned.
Trump seized on the release of the transcript in a Wednesday morning tweet, writing: “The just revealed FBI Agent Lisa Page transcripts make the Obama Justice Department look exactly like it was, a broken and corrupt machine. Hopefully, justice will finally be served. Much more to come!”
Last year, Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz criticized individual FBI officials for exhibiting signs of bias about their investigations, even as he concluded that bias did not affect the outcome of the Clinton email probe. Page and Strzok’s texts featured heavily in that review — and in the GOP-led investigations that seized upon it.
During Page’s July 2018 interview, Republicans brought up several of the texts she and Strzok had exchanged, including a 2016 message in which Strzok suggested that Trump wouldn’t win and compared the investigations of him to an “insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.” Republicans have alleged that this could mean the investigation was intended to serve as a means to take down Trump in the event he won the election.
Strzok has denied to lawmakers that his personal messages ever affected the integrity of his work. Like Strzok, Page also testified that their intentions were not nefarious, but reflected that investigators considered a Trump win to be unlikely.
She explained that the intent of the texts was: “Let’s not, you know, throw the kitchen sink at this because he’s probably not going to be elected, and so then we don’t have quite as horrific a national security threat than we do if he gets elected.”
Page said she and other FBI officials pushed back against the Justice Department at several points during the Clinton investigation, objecting when David Laufman, for example, asked to sit in on the interview of Clinton. That would have been a break with standard protocol, Page explained.
“I knew it would ultimately be my supervisory responsibility to weigh the investigative team’s recommendation on whether to charge or not to charge,” Laufman, a former senior official at the department, said late Tuesday. “Attending the interviews of the most consequential witnesses, including former secretary Clinton, was essential to fulfilling that responsibility because it gave me the ability to make firsthand assessments of witness credibility, which was critical to our factual findings and our recommendations to senior Justice Department leaders.”
Page said that “we all at FBI” also disagreed with the decision to let “fact witnesses” — in this case, Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson — sit in on Clinton’s interview about her use of a private email server, a decision that was made by the Justice Department, Page said, not the FBI.
“It is not typically appropriate or operationally necessary to have fact witnesses attend an interview,” Page said in the transcript, noting that no other witness was allowed to bring such an entourage.
She pushed back against the suggestion that the FBI “blew over” potentially charging Clinton with gross negligence under the Espionage Act, saying officials did consider it — but decided that the move would be too “constitutionally vague,” unprecedented, and “that they did not feel that they could sustain a charge.” Page also said Richard Scott, the Justice Department official in charge of overseeing the Clinton probe, had advised against making the harsher charge.
Scott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ultimately, then-FBI Director James B. Comey stepped ahead of then-attorney general Loretta E. Lynch to announce in mid-2016 that Clinton would not be charged with any crimes, but that she had been “extremely careless” — a move that was intended to lend more credibility to the result, though Page acknowledged that “the intent backfired.”
Comey’s central role in both the Clinton and Trump investigations is a running theme throughout Page’s testimony, but one she often references obliquely in the transcript, often deferring to the advice of an FBI lawyer present not to divulge details about matters concerning him. In one exchange pertaining to Comey, Page appears to stop just short of acknowledging that the FBI was looking into opening a counterintelligence investigation against Trump after Comey’s firing. Though the FBI was looking into alleged ties between Trump’s campaign and Russians previously, Page said, the bureau had no reason at that point to suspect that Trump himself was involved.
Former congressman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who was chairman of the Oversight Committee at the time of Page’s interview, pressed her on what she was referring to in a text reading: “we need to open the case we’ve been waiting on now while Andy [McCabe] is acting [FBI director].”
After speaking with the FBI’s lawyer, Page insisted she couldn’t say what it was — but did confirm that Comey’s firing was the “precipitating event.”
McCabe confirmed recently that he rushed to open an investigation into whether Trump was working on behalf of the Russians shortly after Comey’s firing — and before Trump could install a handpicked replacement.
Page also avoided discussing certain other topics that other figures in the probe would later detail, including a set of meetings in the fall of 2016 she participated in with Ohr, Page’s first boss at the Justice Department. Page declined to offer specifics to respond to lawmakers’ questions about what she knew of how Ohr passed information to the FBI in 2016 that he received from former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele regarding alleged ties between Trump and Russian officials. Ohr later disclosed that he had met with Page at least twice in the fall of 2016 to describe what he was learning from Steele — and that they eventually connected him with Joe Pientka, who was leading the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
John Wagner contributed to this report.