Congressional Republicans blasted the Justice Department and FBI on Thursday following the release of a long-awaited watchdog report that criticized senior government officials for their handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
Though the Justice Department's inspector general concluded that political bias did not play a role in the department’s decision not to charge Clinton over her use of a private email server while she served as secretary of state in the Obama administration, many Republicans seized upon the report’s most critical sections to renew sharp criticism of investigators involved in the probe.
Republicans focused on newly revealed text messages in the 500-page report to argue that the investigation may have, in fact, been tainted by political bias. In one August 2016 message, former senior counterintelligence official Peter Strzok told then–FBI lawyer Lisa Page, “We’ll stop it,” referring to Donald Trump becoming president. Text messages between the pair, many of which show them speaking candidly about various lawmakers, have been at the center of Republicans’ criticisms of the FBI and Justice Department as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference has gained steam.
“That’s pretty explosive,” Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, the chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said of the text. “It shows some pretty jaw-dropping bias that could certainly indicate — it could have affected things.”
As a result of Strzok’s text, the inspector general didn’t rule out potential political bias in the FBI’s decision to delay acting on emails found on the laptop of former Rep. Anthony Weiner after the investigated had ended. Weiner was married to Huma Abedin, one of Clinton’s closest aides.
"Peter Strzok shouldn't be employed at the FBI any longer,” said GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, a frequent critic of the FBI. “I mean, that's obvious." Strzok, who also worked on the Russia investigation, was removed from Mueller’s team after the text messages were discovered.
Jordan also pointed to an instant message in which an unnamed FBI attorney who was working on the Clinton probe wrote to another unnamed FBI employee a day after the election, “I am so stressed about what I could have done differently.” Jordan said it showed “animus” toward Trump and called it one of his “big takeaways” from the report.
"There was clearly an act of bias cumulatively,” said GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, “and it appears as though some of these were Democrats who were operating on their politics; others simply assumed that Hillary Clinton would be the next president of the United States and didn't want to get involved. But together it represented a pattern of bias to her favor, including a delay of a month at even looking at the Weiner computer and a predetermination that there was nothing there."
Democrats have argued the opposite, pointing to then–FBI director James Comey’s decision to make public before the election the FBI’s decision to examine the newly discovered emails on Weiner’s laptop. "This report makes clear that FBI Director Comey and FBI personnel failed to follow the rules, and in doing so, hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign and helped Donald Trump’s," Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin said in a statement.
Still, Republicans used Thursday’s report to deliver further criticism of the Justice Department and FBI.
“Today’s Inspector General report confirms that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received special treatment from the Obama Justice Department during its investigation of her use of a private email server,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.
“These actions have tarnished the reputations of our nation’s top law enforcement agencies and have undermined Americans’ confidence in their justice system,” Goodlatte added.
Meanwhile, a handful of House Republicans questioned the report itself, sending Inspector General Michael Horowitz a letter requesting previous drafts of the document, citing concerns that “people may have changed the report in a way that obfuscates [his] findings.”
Other Republicans were satisfied with the report’s findings, however.
"All IG reports are watered down by the agency that they're overseeing,” Issa said. “They're allowed to make constructive and even convincing or unconvincing arguments to change words. But as it currently is, it's still extremely damning of an infection at the Department of Justice in favor of the anticipated next president.”