Testifying for the second time in as many days, Department of Justice Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz came under withering criticism Tuesday from congressional Republicans for his conclusion that biased FBI officials did not demonstrably shape decisions in the Clinton email investigation.
Horowitz (pictured above), the independent watchdog at the Department of Justice (DOJ), produced a report last week detailing strong hostility toward President Donald Trump on the part of five FBI employees.
But the report found no documentary evidence that the bias impacted the decision by federal prosecutors not to seek charges against Clinton related to her extremely careless handling of classified information as secretary of state.
Several of the employees participated in both the Clinton probe and the counterintelligence investigation involving Russian election interference, along with independent counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible coordination with Trump’s campaign.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who led the hearing, reviewed Horowitz’s evidence point by point.
Gowdy pointed to a March 2016 text message from FBI supervisor Peter Strzok to FBI lawyer Lisa Page, with whom he was having an affair, expressing his opinion that Clinton should win the election 100 million to nothing.
“Can you see our skepticism?” Gowdy asked. “This senior FBI agent not only had her running. He had her winning — a hundred million to nothing. So, what if they found evidence sufficient to indict her?”
Gowdy contrasted Strzok’s mindset on the Clinton probe with his attitude toward the counterintelligence investigation in a July 31, 2016, text to Page.
“And damn this feels momentous. Because this matters,” he wrote. “The other one did, too, but that was to ensure we didn’t F something up. This matters because this MATTERS. So super glad to be on this voyage with you.”
Gowdy said the texts point to the conclusion that Strzok took one investigation seriously but not the other. Gowdy has also described the evidence presented by the IG report as “textbook bias.”
“You know, Inspector General Horowitz, it almost feels like they were going through the motions with the Clinton investigation. But, boy, they sure were excited about the Russia one,” he said.
‘We’ll stop it.’ On Aug. 6, 2016 — fewer than 10 days after the start of the Russia probe — Page texted to Strzok: “And maybe you’re meant to stay where you are because you’re meant to protect the country from that menace.”
Two days later, Strzok texted, “We’ll stop it,” in response to a Page text expressing concern that Trump might become president.
“This is two weeks into an investigation, and he’s already prejudged the outcome. And we’re somehow supposed to believe that bias was not outcome-determinative,” Gowdy said. “I can’t think of anything more outcome-determinative that his bias against this person I’m investigating with only two weeks’ worth of investigation. I have already concluded he should not be the president of the United States.”
Then on Aug. 15, 2016, Strzok suggested that they needed an “insurance policy” with respect to Trump.
“Strzok is not only on that Russia investigatory team. He’s actually leading it,” Gowdy said. “So that’s three weeks after Clinton is exonerated by Comey, Strzok is leading an investigation into Russia and possible connections with the Trump campaign.”
“In my personal view, having been a prosecutor and working with agents, I can’t imagine FBI agents suggesting that they might use their power to investigate, frankly, any candidate for any office.”
Mueller became independent counsel on May 17 of last year, and the following day, Strzok suggested he saw it as a chance at redemption.
“For me, and this case, I personally have a sense of unfinished business. I unleashed it with MYE,” he texted, referring to the initial used to label the Clinton investigation. “Now I need to fix it and finish it.”
Later in the same exchange, Strzok added, “Who gives a f*ck, one more A[ssistant] D[irector]…[versus] [a]n investigation leading to impeachment?”
Gowdy asked Horowitz, as a former prosecutor, whether he would rather have the role of direct examination of the witnesses in a trial setting or the role of cross-examining, based on the evidence that the report documents.
“I’d probably cross-examine,” he said.
Responded Gowdy: “That’s what I thought.”
Dems focus on bottom-line conclusion. Democrats throughout the hearing — when they were not talking about the unrelated issue of illegal immigrants separated from their children — focused on the conclusion that prosecutors were not influenced by the bias of FBI officers.
But Horowitz said several times that the bias was troubling nonetheless.
“My view of this was that this was extremely serious, completely antithetical to the [FBI’s] core values,” he said. “In my personal view, having been a prosecutor and working with agents, I can’t imagine FBI agents suggesting that they might use their power to investigate, frankly, any candidate for any office.”
In response to a suggestion by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) that the FBI officials were just expressing their political views, Horowitz said the issue goes beyond that.
“They weren’t just speaking about a generic election that they cared about,” he said. “It just so happened that the people they were speaking about had a connection to the investigations they themselves were working on. And in some instances, they tied that discussion to their investigative work. And that’s what’s concerning.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said any employer with a bias as strong as what the IG report demonstrated would be held liable in an employment discrimination case.
“We would be held as having a bias,” he said. “As a matter of fact, every member up here on the dais had to go through 90 minutes of training in which they gave us examples that for a fraction of what Page and Strzok had done, if there were any adverse action, we’d be held as biased.”
“You concluded with recommendations that appear to just be more policies of the same policies with the FBI that the DOJ already had.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) asked how Horowitz could determine that prosecutors did not share the agents’ bias without examining their private texts and communications.
“You’re bringing this investigation in here based on, or utilizing opinions and information, provided by prosecutors and agents who may be just as biased as the people we’re investigating,” he said. “We just don’t know because we hadn’t seen their texts. We hadn’t seen their emails.”