WASHINGTON - Congress isn't done with the Hillary Clinton email investigation of 2016, despite an independent watchdog report that found no political bias by the FBI or Department of Justice in how the case was handled.
Even before the 568-page report was released on Thursday, the Senate and House judiciary committees had scheduled hearings to question the report's author - Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz - about his findings. FBI Director Christopher Wray also is set to testify before the Senate panel.
The Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for 2 p.m. Monday, and the House panel will meet at 10 a.m Tuesday. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will join the House Judiciary Committee for a joint hearing.
Despite widespread bipartisan praise for Horowitz from Congress, some House Republicans have challenged his conclusions.
"(The) Inspector General report confirms that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received special treatment from the Obama Justice Department during its investigation of her use of a private email server," House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said. "The Justice Department and FBI didn't treat her like any other criminal suspect and didn't follow standard investigative procedures."
But Horowitz's report did not find any bias in favor of Clinton. The report concluded that former FBI Director James Comey broke FBI and Justice Department protocol in his handling of the 2016 investigation of Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state for President Barack Obama. But it also said that Comey was not motivated by political bias when he cleared Clinton of criminal wrongdoing.
Instead, the report blasted Comey for being "insubordinate" by holding a news conference to discuss the Clinton case publicly without telling his bosses in the Justice Department what he was going to do. The report also said that it is not normal practice for an FBI director to go into detail about a case when no charges are being filed.
"While we did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey's part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice," Horowitz wrote in the report.
Other House Republicans are using the report to renew their push for a second special counsel to investigate how the FBI and DOJ handled the Clinton email inquiry - the same subject Horowitz looked into for 18 months. There already is a special counsel, Robert Mueller, leading a separate investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
"The (FBI) agents on the ground and all Americans throughout our exceptional country deserve a Justice Department that upholds the rule of law and not an agency run amuck by senior staff who engage in widespread and highly problematic misconduct, including partisan, political biases overcoming the need for sound objectivity and good judgment," said Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., lead sponsor of a resolution to appoint a special counsel to investigate "gross misconduct" at the highest levels of the FBI and DOJ.
Some GOP leaders also are seizing on Horowitz's revelations about anti-Trump text messages between two FBI officials to call for more congressional investigations. While Horowitz didn't find political bias by Comey, he did uncover more Trump-bashing texts from a pair of FBI officials who were involved in an extramarital affair.
The report says bureau lawyer Lisa Page wrote to counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok in a text message: "(Trump's) not ever going to become president, right?" In response, Strzok, who helped oversee the Clinton email investigation, wrote: "No. No he's not. We'll stop it."
Goodlatte announced on Thursday that he intends to subpoena Strzok to compel his testimony before the House judiciary and oversight committees. Page left the FBI last month, but Strzok still works for the bureau.
"One of the lead investigators texted he would 'stop' Trump from becoming President," Goodlatte said, referring to Strzok. "These actions have tarnished the reputations of our nation's top law enforcement agencies and have undermined Americans' confidence in their justice system."
Horowitz first acknowledged in December that his inquiry into the Clinton case had unearthed the messages between Strzok and Page. Horowitz notified Mueller about the texts because Strzok was on Mueller's team for the separate Russia investigation. Mueller promptly removed Strzok from his staff. Page had already left Mueller's office by the time the texts became public.
The report characterized the politically charged text messages as "antithetical to the core values of the FBI.' Still, investigators "did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed."
Goodlatte and House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., also are using the texts as the basis to hold a hearing during the week of June 25 to question Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about why they didn't notify Congress about the newly revealed messages as soon as they learned about them.
"In reviewing this report it is clear the FBI and DOJ withheld relevant text communications between Lisa Page and Peter Strzok," Goodlatte and Gowdy wrote in a June 14 letter to Rosenstein and Wray. "The Deputy Attorney General learned of these texts days before the IG report was made public, while others at the DOJ or FBI learned of these texts in May of 2018. The failure to disclose and produce these messages to Congress continues a pattern of non-cooperation and interference with the pendency of our joint investigation."
Democrats say Republicans want to keep the controversy alive in large part to try to undermine Mueller's Russia investigation and protect Trump.
"There are two facts incontrovertible and not subject to spin," said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "One, Donald Trump won that election, so the complaints about the FBI and Jim Comey and all the rest don't lead anywhere. At the end of the day, the actions reviewed in this report helped Donald Trump win the election, not the other way around."
Schumer was referring to the fact that Comey told Congress he was reopening the Clinton email investigation just days before the election. Clinton and many Democrats believe Comey's action may have cost Clinton the presidency, even though it didn't result in any charges against her.
"Two," Schumer said, "this report contains no evidence to make any reasonable person conclude that the special counsel investigation is anything other than independent, impartial and just as important today as it was before this report was issued."
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