The tone and tempo of the House hearing on the Clinton investigation report, in which DOJ Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz testified before a joint Oversight and Judiciary Committee session, was notably different from the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. For a variety of reasons, it was far more entertaining. It was also more detailed, more confrontational and even more partisan.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) set a sadly predictable tone for Democrats at the hearing. In his opening statement, Cummings departed entirely from the matter at hand and started to rant about President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy toward newly-arrived illegal aliens. Complete with quivering voice and crocodile tears, the lawmaker implored his Republican colleagues to stand up to the president on this issue, citing the separation of minors from the adults who accompanied them across the United States border.
Rep. Trey Gowdy Presents the Case for Bias
Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), in his initial questioning of Horowitz, brought the hearing back to the purpose for which it was convened. If Cummings deserved a Country Music Award for his sob-stained performance, then Gowdy surely deserved an Oscar for his. That statement contains no derision; Gowdy was direct, reasonable and rational, with just the right amount of thinly-veiled sarcasm, as is his wont. He entirely dismantled the notion that political bias played no role in the decision-making process at the Bureau.
Neatly tying together the more than coincidental timing of text messages exchanged by two senior FBI officials with the progress of the Clinton investigation and the opening of the Russia investigation, Gowdy demonstrated how incredulous it was to assume the absence of bias.
The chairman compelled the IG to confirm some of the most damning facts about the conduct of FBI personnel during the closing stages of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the opening stages of the FBI’s probe of potential Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Gowdy confirmed with Horowitz that FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page had both worked on the Clinton investigation, had both worked on the FBI’s Russia investigation and had both, for a time, been assigned to the special counsel’s Russia investigation. In their text messages to each other, Strzok and Page – at various times – made direct and indirect references to Strzok using his position to influence, first, the course of the election and, later, the legitimacy of President Trump.
Gowdy also confirmed that at least two additional FBI officials – who had expressed extreme disdain for Trump and for his supporters – has also been involved with both the Clinton and Russia investigations.
Inspector General Acknowledged Political Bias
As he had done during his Senate hearing, Horowitz again made his point that while “no documentary or testimonial evidence of political bias” was uncovered, the appearance of such bias seeped into many aspects of the email investigation and, particularly, into the decision to open an investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Horowitz repeated, again, his admission that he, “did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over the Wiener Laptop review was free from bias.” As Senator Mike Lee had pointed out during the Senate hearing, when it comes to detecting bias, “The absence of evidence is not the same as the evidence of absence.”
Comey’s Mistakes Rehashed
Former FBI Director James Comey was a principal subject of the House hearing. Comey’s decision to take it upon himself to predetermine the judgment in the Clinton investigation – even before Clinton herself had been interviewed – was something with which Gowdy took particular issue. The South Carolina lawmaker lectured both Horowitz and the Committee on this “outcome determinative bias,” and went on to describe how the same group of FBI officials who had prejudged the outcome of the Clinton investigation had also, apparently, prejudged the outcome of the Russia investigation:
“These agents were calling [Clinton] President before she was even interviewed. They were calling for the end of the Trump campaign before the [Russia] investigation even began. They were calling for impeachment simply because he happened to be elected. That is bias and with all due respect, it is the FBI’s job, not mine, to prove that bias can ever be harmless.”
Closing In on the Special Counsel?
Though Democrats frequently digressed to talk about immigration, much of the rest of the hearing focused heavily on the issue of manifest bias. While Democrats continue to insist that the IG report proves that there was no pro-Clinton, anti-Trump bias involved in the handling of the Clinton investigation, Republicans are facing the reality that, no matter how much evidence of bias they point to, the report is what it is. Horowitz will not be re-writing it to accommodate Republican wishes for him to admit that the Clinton investigation was influenced by political partisanship.
Instead, this series of ongoing investigations and future hearings will raise an even more pertinent issue. Though the evidence of political bias at the FBI was considerable and undeniable, and even though it could not be conclusively proven that such bias influenced the treatment of Hillary Clinton, those partisan opinions may well have led the FBI to concoct an investigation of President Trump.