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FBI agent set for public House grilling

The Hill logo The Hill 7/11/2018 Katie Bo Williams and Olivia Beavers
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House Republicans are sharpening their knives for Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, the counterintelligence agent and former FBI lawyer who exchanged a series of anti-Trump text messages during the 2016 campaign.

Two powerful committees - Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform - will publicly grill Strzok on Thursday. And conservatives have given Page 48 hours to comply with a subpoena that she flouted on Wednesday morning, either by appearing behind closed doors on Friday or alongside Strzok in public on Thursday.

The fight over Strzok and Page has become increasingly acrimonious. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) threatened to hold Page in contempt on Wednesday, while a lawyer for Page accused Republicans of "bullying" tactics in their investigation into the bureau's handling of investigations during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Strzok, who is under subpoena to testify Thursday morning, has agreed to appear but has criticized House Republicans as having a "disdain for the truth." He has called for lawmakers to release the transcript of an 11-hour interview he gave investigators behind closed doors last month.

House GOP members see Strzok and Page, who were having an extramarital affair at the time they were exchanging thousands of texts, as the key to unraveling what they say was systemic anti-Trump bias at the Department of Justice during the election.

Strzok was a key investigator in both the investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private email server and the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia.

Page, meanwhile, was a close adviser to then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who Republicans have long argued harbored pro-Clinton sympathies.

Democrats alternatively have derided the GOP-led investigation as a political witch hunt designed to muddy the waters around special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. The ranking members of both committees on Wednesday released a swath of questions Republicans asked the agent that they said showed an intent to "obstruct" the Mueller probe.

According to Democrats, Republicans asked more than 200 questions about "the Special Counsel's investigation of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign and the FBI's investigation into Russia's interference with the election."

They also questioned Strzok about his personal voting practices and his relationship with Page.

"I don't mean to embarrass you, but is Lisa Page someone that you do or at some point in time did love?" Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), one of the lead investigators, allegedly asked Strzok.

His testimony on Thursday is expected to be a contentious affair.

Following his closed-door testimony, Republicans hinted gravely that they had learned unspecified new information that is connected to the FBI's handling of investigations during the 2016 campaign - but provided no evidence or specifics to substantiate their claims.

The GOP members who attended that interview - all fierce critics of the FBI and Justice Department - were particularly interested in the timeline of events surrounding the opening of the FBI's original counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia.

According to Page's lawyer, her refusal to appear before the panel on Wednesday morning was because she had not yet received enough information about the "scope of the committee's questioning and access to certain FBI files" - her notes and other documents, which because they were a bureau work product, she does not possess.

Her attorney, Amy Jeffress, said in a Wednesday morning statement that "we are working to arrange that process quickly so that we can move forward with her appearance before the Committees."

But House Republicans were not satisfied by that answer.

"Shouldn't take that long to familiarize yourself with something you wrote," said Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).

Page will be given two opportunities to comply with the subpoena, according to a Republican lawmaker familiar with the matter - Thursday in public with Strzok or 10 a.m. Friday in private.

"And if she didn't comply with the subpoena on either of those two additional opportunities, then at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, we would initiate contempt," the lawmaker said.

Strzok, who was recently escorted from the FBI in what is believed to be a precursor to dismissal, was heavily criticized in a 500-page report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

Horowitz found that he displayed a "biased state of mind" during a critical phase of the Clinton investigation, but that no decision made during the course of the probe was a result of bias or improper influence.

Mueller removed Strzok from his team when Horowitz alerted him of the texts with Page.

The inspector general found that his texts with Page suggested he "might be willing" to take official action to hurt Trump's electoral prospects.

Despite the "cloud" that the text exchanges between Strzok and Page cast on the investigation, the inspector general found, Strzok was not the sole decisionmaker in any of the incidents the report examined. And in some instances prior to the July announcement, the report notes, Strzok and Page "advocated for more aggressive investigative measures in the Midyear investigation, such as the use of grand jury subpoenas and search warrants to obtain evidence."

In perhaps the most explosive new revelation from the report, Strzok told Page "We'll stop it," after being asked, "[Trump's] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!"

That text, the report said, was "indicative of a biased state of mind" - and suggested that Strzok may have intentionally slow-rolled the review of emails connected to the Clinton investigation. Emails discovered on a laptop belonging to former New York congressman Anthony Weiner (D) essentially led the Clinton probe to be reopened a little more than a week before the 2016 election.

Strzok told investigators at the time that he was prioritizing the investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.

In his closed-door interview with congressional investigators, he repeatedly denied showing political favoritism to Clinton over Trump.

As of late Wednesday afternoon, it was not clear how Page would respond to the choices laid out by the joint task force.

Strzok is scheduled to appear at 10 a.m.

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