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Republicans tear into IG finding on Clinton probe

The Hill logo The Hill 6/20/2018 Katie Bo Williams
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House Republicans on Tuesday took aim at a finding from the Department of Justice's (DOJ) inspector general that anti-Trump bias did not influence the outcome of the Hillary Clinton email probe, during a fractious and extended hearing that pitted dozens of lawmakers against the watchdog.

Although GOP members did not directly criticize the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, they repeatedly made the case that his report showed FBI officials had "prejudged" the outcome of the Clinton probe - a long-held Republican grievance - and suggested that his review was incomplete.

"While we appreciate the [inspector general] and his staff for a very detailed investigation, it is critical for the public to also hear what was not included in the report due to the [inspector general's] refusal to question 'whether a particular decision by the FBI and DOJ was the most effective choice,' " said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) argued that Horowitz should have probed how federal investigators on the so-called Midyear team voted in the 2016 election, as well as who they gave money to or whose bumper sticker they applied to their car.

"We don't know because you haven't asked. It's important to know who the investigators are," Gohmert said.

And in a ferocious opening statement that echoed his performance at the helm of the House Benghazi committee, Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) zeroed in on the FBI's interview of Clinton, arguing that it explains the "failure" to prosecute by showing that investigators exhibiting "textbook" bias had already made up their minds not to charge her.

Horowitz in his report issued last week called out five FBI employees for sending texts on government devices critical of then-candidate Donald Trump or supportive of Clinton - texts that he said "cast a cloud" over the Clinton probe - but he found no evidence that any individual decision was the result of bias.

The decision not to charge Clinton over her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of State, he assessed, was a valid exercise of Justice Department lawyers' prosecutorial discretion - not a partisan effort to shield a preferred presidential candidate.

He did not examine whether any decision in the probe was "the ideal choice," but merely whether it was reasonable or "based on considerations other than the merits of the investigation."

"We took this approach because our role as an [office of inspector general] is not to second-guess valid discretionary judgments made during the course of an investigation," Horowitz wrote in the executive summary of his report, noting it was the same approach his office has taken in past reviews.

Horowitz's testimony before a joint House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform hearing Tuesday was his second appearance on the Hill in as many days. He appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, a hearing that steered clear of the debate over a lack of charges in the Clinton probe.

For much of Tuesday's hearing, Horowitz sat quietly listening while lawmakers spoke at length about the report's findings, primarily asking him only to confirm factual points from the 500-page document.

Republicans railed against bias within the FBI, while Democrats hammered Republicans for relitigating the decision not to charge Clinton - in many cases using their time to stage emotional appeals for the GOP to instead intervene in the Trump administration's policy of separating immigrant families at the border.

"I think it's crystal clear that the only answer Republicans will accept is that Hillary Clinton must be guilty," Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in equally fiery opening remarks.

"They will keep going on and going until they get that answer, even if the facts will never support it and even if multiple independent reviews come to exactly the opposite conclusion."

Hinting at the political firestorm that has sucked much of the oxygen away from the inspector general's report, Tuesday's hearing was briefly interrupted at the very beginning by a group of protesters - some of them mothers holding squalling babies - chanting, "Families belong together."

Horowitz doggedly stuck to his official findings, refusing repeatedly to be pulled into affirming or denying conclusions beyond those he laid out in the report.

The inspector general declined to weigh in when Cummings - who cited former FBI Director James Comey's decision to speak publicly about the Clinton probe but not about the Russia investigation - asked if Clinton had received favorable treatment.

"I'm not going to judge whether it was favorable to whom or what," he said. "I'll just say that it was not consistent with department policy, practice and it shouldn't have been done."

He provided little new factual information, sometimes frustrating Republicans.

Three of the five investigators whom Horowitz criticized for anti-Trump texts on government devices are unnamed in the report, and the inspector general declined under pressure from GOP members to identify them.

The FBI does not want them to be named publicly because they work on counterintelligence issues, Horowitz said, but he also said he is working to provide congressional overseers with their names.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who is among a small cadre of House Republicans trying to wrest records related to the Russia probe from the Justice Department, pushed Horowitz on why Congress hadn't been given access to some of the texts his investigators found sooner.

He focused on what he described as the "most explosive" text message from FBI agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page: an August 2016 missive in which Strzok told Page "we'll stop it" in response to concerns that Trump would become president.

"If you uncovered it a month ago, why didn't we see it until last Thursday?" Jordan asked, referring to the day when the report was made public.

Horowitz told Jordan that his office only recovered the message in May, and, under questioning from Jordan, that it was then turned over to the office of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Gowdy returned repeatedly to the issue of whether investigators adequately questioned Clinton on her intent to mishandle classified information, but insisted that he is not claiming that she should have been charged.

"I can't answer that question because I don't think she was interviewed properly," he said.

Near the end of a six-hour hearing, Horowitz offered a defense of his findings to a nearly empty room.

Trump and a trio of House GOP members previously suggested that the inspector general report had been watered down during the drafting process and at the end of the day, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) pressed Horowitz on whether he had softened his final conclusions.

"Would you agree that it stands to reason that a man in your position might be tempted to rationalize a report that political bias did not affect the Clinton investigation as somehow serving a greater good of not completely undermining the country's faith in our FBI?" Johnson asked.

Horowitz brushed that notion aside.

"Having just completed an investigation where I called the former FBI director 'insubordinate' and issued a report about the deputy director lying under oath," Horowitz said, waving his hand dismissively.

"I don't think anyone can accuse us of pulling our punches on that."

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