Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday renewed their grilling of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray on the Department of Justice inspector general’s report on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
The report released earlier this month found officials at the DOJ committed numerous mistakes and failures over the course of the 2016 investigation.
Rosenstein’s testimony is his first public comments on the report, which found that some top officials at the DOJ demonstrated a “willingness to take official action” to prevent a Donald Trump presidency, but that no such action was taken.
“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected those specific investigative decisions” that the OIG reviewed, Inspector General Michael Horowitz told the committee on June 19.
Rosenstein repeatedly said he supported and respected the findings of the inspector general about bias among certain DOJ officials. Both he and Wray outlined the steps the FBI and DOJ were taking to ensure biases would not affect future investigations.
“We are determined to emerge from this experience better and wiser,” Wray said.
Watch: Jim Jordan and Rod Rosenstein’s Fiery Exchange
Still, Chairman Bob Goodlatte on Thursday railed against the DOJ for the OIG’s reported bias of certain officials, including Peter Strzok, who for months led the Clinton email investigation and texted his mistress and DOJ lawyer Lisa Page that “we’ll stop” a Trump presidency.
“While those on the other side of the aisle continue to exclaim that these biases are only political predilections … I wonder whether these same members would say the same if text messages had turned up to the tune of, ‘Hillary is a disaster,’ or ‘We’ll stop’ her, or cursing her with all manner of expletives,” Goodlatte said.
Democrats maintain that Republicans’ repeated criticism of Rosenstein for the FISA document requests and DOJ employees’ actions in 2016 is a smokescreen for the multiple ongoing investigations into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and possible obstruction of justice by the president over the course of those investigations.
“Despite an inspector general’s report that, in more than 500 exhaustive pages, demonstrates conclusively that the outcome of the Clinton investigation was not affected by any improper bias, political or otherwise, we are wasting precious committee time to chase Hillary Clinton,” ranking member Jerry Nadler said.
“The majority doesn’t want the end and conclusion to this investigation,” so they are seeking to undermine it with committee hearings like the one today, Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois said.
He then warned Rosenstein about his GOP colleagues.
“They want you,” Gutierrez said. “They want to impeach you, they want to indict you, they want to get rid of you.”
Republicans at the hearing pressed Rosenstein to comment on Strzok’s August 8, 2016 text exchange with Page, asking for his opinion on the substance of those texts and what FBI and DOJ leaders have done to ensure political biases don’t affect department decisions.
“Yes, it is highly inappropriate,” Rosenstein said of Strzok and Page’s texts in response to a heated volley of questions from GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida. But he did not say whether Strzok’s reported biases against Trump affected any investigative decisions.
Republicans used the opportunity of having Rosenstein on the stand to ask him why his department has taken months to respond to multiple requests and subpoenas for documents related to potential abuses by the DOJ of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act during its investigation into ties between President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia.
The committee recessed twice in the middle of the hearing to vote on a resolution from Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows demanding that Rosenstein’s DOJ turn over subpoenaed documents related to potential abuses by the DOJ of FISA protocols by July 6.
That resolution, which passed around noon Thursday along party lines, 226-183, is unenforceable, but it effectively puts members on the record on whether they approve of the DOJ’s timeliness producing the documents.
Rosenstein denied accusations from multiple Republicans at the hearing that his department was trying to withhold any information or shield its employees. Wray informed the committee that more than 100 employees at the FBI this past week have been “working day and night” to produce the documents.
Employees have already delivered 880,000 pages of documents to Congress, Wray told the committee.
In an exchange with GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the congressman asked Rosenstein point blank, “Why are you keeping information from Congress?”
“That is not accurate, sir,” Rosenstein said, shaking his finger at the congressman, amid cross-talk as Jordan repeatedly interrupted the deputy AG’s responses to his questions.
“Your use of this to attack me personally is deeply wrong,” Rosenstein said. “I’m not trying to hide anything.”
Goodlatte and Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin — who both attended a closed-door meeting last week where the DOJ handed over FISA-related documents — have both expressed confidence this week that the DOJ will deliver the requested information in a timely fashion, despite voting in favor of the resolution Thursday that applies public pressure on the department.
“We had them working through the weekend to deal with completing the document requests that our committees have made across the Department of Justice. There are technical issues involved. It’s literally like computer search terms and things like that,” Ryan said Tuesday, before working with Meadows and other conservatives to craft the resolution passed Thursday.
“We do expect full compliance very, very soon,” Ryan said.