Congressional lawmakers are divided over the need to appoint a new special counsel to probe how the FBI handled its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server and whether political motivations are behind the current special investigation into the Trump administration.
Some House Republicans last week said text messages sent between two romantically linked FBI agents suggest the bureau worked to shield Clinton from a criminal indictment over her use of the server while serving as secretary of state and her use of private email to send classified information.
The evident FBI bias, Republican lawmakers argue, could extend into the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is examining whether the Trump presidential campaign colluded with Russia.
“The more text messages that come out, the more biases you see,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla, told the Washington Examiner.
But Lankford is not among those calling for a new special counsel, a situation that escalated last week when the FBI initially reported it could not find five months of messages sent between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who both served on Mueller’s investigation team until their affair was discovered.
That five-month stretch of missing text messages included President Trump’s inauguration, the firings of FBI Director James Comey and national security adviser Michael Flynn, and the appointment of Mueller.
“We've been asking for the remaining text messages between anti-Trump FBI agents [and former Mueller team members] Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The FBI now says the texts are missing,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who heads the conservative House Freedom Caucus, tweeted. “If it wasn't already clear we need a second special counsel, it's abundantly clear now.”
Lankford said rather than appoint another special counsel, he would entrust the Department of Justice to do an internal probe using their own inspector general and leadership team.
Across the Capitol, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who heads the government oversight panel, also called for a second special counsel.
Johnson, in a Jan. 20 letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, revealed exchanges between Strzok and Page during the Clinton email probe that suggest they were working to shield her from a criminal charge.
In the exchange, the two discussed the “pressure” to “finish” the Clinton probe when it became clear Trump would become the GOP nominee.
The two also discussed changing the draft of then-FBI Director Comey’s speech exonerating Clinton, the apparent Democratic nominee for president, to hide the fact that while serving as the nation’s top diplomat, she emailed then-President Barack Obama from her personal account while in a country considered an adversary to the U.S.
Strzok, in another exchange, expressed doubt in the current probe into Trump-Russia collusion, telling Page, “there’s no big there there.”
Johnson demanded the FBI search for the missing texts.
Late last week, Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz told the Senate the missing texts had been located.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, ridiculed Johnson in a floor speech over Johnson’s disclosure that Strzok referenced an FBI “secret society” that allegedly met after Trump’s election.
Johnson later acknowledged the reference may have been a joke between the lovers.
“Republican members of this body, I am ashamed to say, have picked up on casual texts sent between FBI agents to peddle the nonsense that there is a ‘secret society’ at the Department of Justice, without a shred of evidence,” Schumer said Thursday. “What began as an attempt to discredit the investigator has now devolved into delusional, self-serving paranoia.”
But high-ranking lawmakers disagree with Schumer.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been calling for a second special counsel for months.
Grassley wants the probe to focus on Hillary Clinton's involvement in the sale of a uranium mining company to a Russian-owned firm in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation.
The DOJ announced last year it would launch its own investigation into the sale, but Grassley believes a second special counsel is needed, and he backed the call by lawmakers last week to appoint one.
“I think their reason is just as good,” Grassley told the Washington Examiner. “Even though I am not part of their asking for it, I surely would support their effort.”