During a hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, scolded his Republican colleagues for attempting to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller by calling for an inquiry into Mueller’s team, and for refusing to focus on more pressing matters.
“[…] With the year coming to a close, and with the leadership of the Department of Justice finally before us, what do my Republicans colleague want to discuss? Hillary Clinton’s emails,” Nadler said. “Let me repeat that. With all of these unresolved issues left on our docket, a week before we adjourn for the calendar year, the majority’s highest priority is Hillary Clinton’s emails and a few related text messages.”
Republicans have criticized Mueller’s staff — which is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election — over what they argue is implicit bias against President Trump. A review of several text messages between senior FBI agent Peter Strzok and senior FBI lawyer Lisa Page sent to lawmakers on Tuesday night showed the two discussing their mutual dislike of Trump as well as their personal political views, which were often sympathetic to former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Strzok and Page were assigned to the Clinton email investigation prior to their work on the Mueller Russia inquiry. Strzok was removed from the Russia probe over the summer, after the Justice Department inspector general first discovered the messages.
On Wednesday, the Judiciary convened to confront Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, on the revelations.
“I and many on this committee now find ourselves in the difficult position of questioning the actions of both prior and current department and FBI leadership,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said during Wednesday’s hearing, citing the text messages. “Reports on the political pre-disposition and bias of certain career agents and department lawyers on Special Counsel Mueller’s team are deeply troubling to all citizens who expect a system of blind and equal justice. The Department of Justice investigations must not be tainted by individuals imposing their own political prejudices.”
Nadler, in contrast, insisted on Wednesday that there was nothing inappropriate about Strzok and Page expressing their personal opinions, especially given that the exchanges in question — which included Strzok expressing fears that Trump might win the presidency — took place months prior to the investigation, in the midst of the 2016 campaign.
“[There is nothing] wrong with FBI agents expressing their political views via private text messages as Strzok and Lane did in the messages we received last night,” he stated. “Department regulations permit that sort of private communication.”
Nadler noted that “when the office of the inspector general made Mr. Mueller aware of [the text messages], he immediately removed Mr. Strzok from his team.”
“To the extent that we are now engaged in oversight of political bias at the FBI, this committee should examine evidence of a coordinated effort by some agents involved in the Clinton investigation to change the course of the campaign in favor of President Trump by leaking sensitive information to the public, and by threatening to leak additional information about new emails after the investigation was closed,” he added.
The New York congressman concluded by arguing that the Trump administration’s call for a second inquiry into the Mueller probe was “at best wildly dangerous to our democratic institutions.”
Nadler’s comments come amid increased pressure from the White House to halt the ongoing Russia investigation, despite a number of troubling developments and indictments out of the special counsel’s office.
On Monday, October 30, Mueller’s team issued its first indictments in relation to the Russia probe, arresting former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign associate Rick Gates on several counts of money laundering, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, and conspiracy against the United States. It was also revealed that former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI three weeks earlier.
Later, on December 1, former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about various conversations he had with Russian officials during the transition and after taking office. Days prior, Flynn’s lawyers had cut ties with Trump’s legal team, a sign that he was willing to cooperate with Special Counsel Mueller for a lesser punishment.
As the Russia investigation heats up, Trump’s team is seeking out ways to bring it quickly to a close, something Nadler argued on Wednesday was not only dangerous, but was distracting from other issues.
“President Trump has engaged in a persistent and dangerous effort to discredit both the free press and the Department of Justice. …Every minute that our majority wastes on covering for President Trump is a minute lost on finding a solution for the DREAMers or curbing a vicious spike in hate crimes or preventing dangerous individuals from purchasing firearms or stopping the president from further damaging the constitutional order,” he said. “I hope my colleagues will use today’s hearing as an opportunity to find their way back to the true work of the House Judiciary Committee.”