FBI, Justice leaders grilled by lawmakers
Republicans accused top federal law-enforcement officials Thursday of withholding important documents from them and demanded details about surveillance tactics during the Russia investigation in a contentious congressional hearing that capped days of mounting partisan complaints.
Underscoring their frustration, Republicans briefly put the hearing on hold so they could approve a resolution on the House floor demanding that the Justice Department turn over thousands of documents by next week.
The House Judiciary Committee hearing marked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s first appearance before Congress since an internal DOJ report criticizing the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation revealed new disparaging text messages among FBI officials about Donald Trump during the 2016 election. FBI Director Christopher Wray also appeared before Congress on Thursday.
Republicans on the panel seized on the watchdog report to allege bias by the FBI and to discredit an investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign that is now led by special counsel Robert Mueller. They suggested that the Justice Department had conspired against Trump by refusing to produce documents they believe would show improper FBI conduct.
“This country is being hurt by it. We are being divided,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, said of Mueller’s investigation. Gowdy led a separate two-year investigation into the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and Clinton’s role in those attacks as secretary of state.
“Whatever you got,” Gowdy added, “finish it the hell up because this country is being torn apart.”
Rosenstein, at times raising his voice and pointing his finger, strongly defended himself and the department during the hourslong hearing, saying he was doing his best to balance congressional oversight with the need to preserve the integrity of ongoing investigations. He said despite Republican allegations, he was “not trying to hide anything.”
“We are not in contempt of this Congress, and we are not going to be in contempt of this Congress,” he said.
The hearing came amid Republican attacks on the Justice Department and allegations of FBI bias against Trump. On Wednesday, lawmakers spent 11 hours behind closed doors grilling Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who worked on both the Clinton and Russia investigations and traded anti-Trump text messages with an FBI lawyer. The inspector general criticized the officials for creating an appearance of impropriety but did not find evidence that bias had tainted the decisions of prosecutors in the Clinton investigation.