Senate judiciary panel grills Justice inspector general, FBI dir - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Senate judiciary panel grills Justice inspector general, FBI director on Clinton email probe

Posted: Updated: Jun 18, 2018 3:05 PM
Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department's inspector general, testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2012. Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department's inspector general, testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2012.
FBI Director Christopher Wray FBI Director Christopher Wray
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WASHINGTON - Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz defended his scathing review of the federal investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, maintaining Monday that there was no "documentary evidence" that political bias affected investigative decision making.

In his first public comments since delivering the 568-page report last week, Horowitz told the Senate Judiciary Committee that cascading errors in judgment by top Justice and FBI officials seriously endangered the reputations of both institutions.

Though there was no finding of undue political influence, Horowitz acknowledged the "troubling" discovery of caches of text messages exchanged between two FBI officials that disparaged Donald Trump as a presidential candidate - a finding that continues to fuel claims by the president and some Republican lawmakers that the FBI is biased against Trump.

The FBI officials - senior counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and bureau attorney Lisa Page - held top positions in the Clinton inquiry and served on the team investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Strzok still works for the FBI; Page recently left the bureau.

"We found that the text communications cast a cloud over the (Clinton) investigation," Horowitz said.

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Some of the most blistering criticisms in the report were aimed at former FBI Director James Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, finding that Comey acted "unilaterally' when he publicly announced the closing of the Clinton investigation at a news conference in July 2016.

Horowitz referred to a near communication blackout between Comey and Lynch when Comey reopened the Clinton inquiry 11 days before the election. Clinton claimed that the action doomed her campaign.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Comey and Lynch declined invitations to testify before the panel Monday. Grassley also said that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was cited in a related inspector general's report for misleading investigators about his contacts with reporters prior to the 2016 election, was invited to the hearing but declined citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

FBI Director Christopher Wray, who succeeded Comey after his dismissal last year, appeared with Horowitz on Monday and told the Senate panel the FBI was pursuing misconduct allegations raised against FBI personnel in the report.

Still, Wray said, "Nothing in the report impugned the reputation of the FBI as a whole."

Horowitz's much-anticipated report was expected to offer the definitive version of the long-disputed events that have shadowed the Clinton investigation since it was finally closed on the eve of the 2016 election. But Monday's hearing only exposed the yawning political divide that not even a 16-chapter report, prepared over the past 18 months, could reconcile.

While Democrats seized on the report's central finding that the investigation was not infected by political influence, Republicans asserted that the coarse, anti-Trump text messages exchanged by the FBI agents were clear displays of bias against the current president and called into question the FBI's credibility in the ongoing Russia investigation.

Part of that investigation includes an examination of whether Trump sought to obstruct the inquiry by firing Comey.

Specifically, Republicans Monday focused on the contents of an Aug. 8 text from Strzok in which the FBI official indicated that he could take action to halt Trump's campaign.

"We'll stop it,' Strzok told Page.

The communication, the report stated, was "not only indicative of a biased state of mind but imply a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate's electoral prospects.'

"Remember these facts every time you hear the press or my friends on the other side of the aisle claim that this report found 'no bias,'" Grassley said of the text messages. "You may hear that talking point a lot today, but don't be fooled."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the Strzok Aug. 8 text was particularly "unnerving."

"There is nothing here that is normal," Graham said. "I can't believe that this has happened to my FBI."

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., however, claimed that the report's findings were being distorted by Republicans. He cited recent statements by Trump who said the review essentially absolved him from any allegation of obstruction or coordination with Russia now being examined in a separate inquiry by Justice special counsel Robert Mueller.

Horowitz did not address Trump's assertions directly, but he said his inquiry had no connection to the matters under review by Mueller.

"We didn't look at the special counsel investigation as part of this review," Horowitz said

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the panel's ranking Democrat, largely dismissed Republican arguments that Trump's political standing was somehow injured by the FBI's handling of the Clinton case.

Feinstein said Comey's damaging public statements about the Clinton case in the midst of the campaign came as the bureau remained largely silent about the existence of the separate investigation into Russia's election interference.

The California senator said the differing approaches to the investigations "unquestionably harmed candidate Clinton and helped candidate Trump."

"If the FBI was trying to throw the election to Hillary Clinton," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., "it couldn't have done a worse job."

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