Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome to the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. Rosenstein.
For the better part of a year, my colleagues and I have implored this Committee to conduct real oversight of the Department of Justice.
On January 24, 2017, we wrote to Chairman Goodlatte insisting that “the Committee hold hearings on President Trump’s conflicts of interest, at home and abroad.” Citing to experts across the political spectrum, we showed that “[t]he Administration’s attempts to address its ongoing conflicts of interest are, so far, wholly inadequate.” Six weeks later, Attorney General Sessions was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation—but we have not held a single hearing on the question of conflicts of interest.
On March 8, we wrote again to the Chairman, encouraging him to call hearings on “Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. election.” Again, no such hearings were ever held.
In fact, this Committee—which during the Obama Administration held half a dozen hearings around Operation Fast & Furious, received testimony from FBI Director James Comey three times in 13 months, and detailed staff and resources to a Benghazi investigation that cost the public almost $8 million—this Committee, from Inauguration Day until four weeks ago, was largely silent in terms of oversight.
We haven’t lifted a finger on election security. Attorney General Sessions told us on November 14 that he has done nothing to secure the next election from threats at home and abroad.
We have not once discussed the President’s abuse of the pardon power. While the hurricane bore down on Houston, President Trump sidelined the Office of the Pardon Attorney to pardon a serial human rights abuser who bragged about running a concentration camp in Arizona.
And we have not held a single hearing on allegations of obstruction of justice at the White House—not for lack of evidence, but because, in the Chairman’s words, “there is a special counsel in place examining the issue,” and “several other congressional committees are looking into the matter,” and the Committee “does not have the time” to conduct this critical oversight. I ask my colleagues to keep those excuses in mind.
Now, with the year coming to a close, with the leadership of the Department of Justice finally before us, what do my Republican colleagues want to discuss? Hillary Clinton’s emails.
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 oversight priority is Hillary Clinton’s emails and a few related text messages.
As we saw in our recent hearings with the Department of Justice and the FBI, my Republican colleagues seem singularly focused on their call for a second special counsel—and, failing that, on the need to investigate the investigators ourselves.
The White House has now joined the call by House Republicans for a new special counsel to investigate the FBI. The President’s private lawyers have done the same. I understand the instinct to want to change the subject after the Flynn and Manafort indictments—but this request is grossly misguided, for a number of reasons.
First, it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how the special counsel regulations work.
Some criminal investigations pose a conflict of interest to the Department of Justice. The Russia investigation is such a case—because of the Attorney General’s ongoing recusal and because Department leadership assisted in the removal of Director Comey, among other reasons. In cases like these, the Attorney General may use a special counsel to manage the investigation outside of the ordinary chain of command.
But the key here is the criminal investigation. That’s what special counsel does. The Department cannot simply assign a special counsel to look at things that bother the White House. There has to be enough evidence to have predicated a criminal investigation in the first place. Then, and only then, if the facts warrant, can a special counsel be assigned to the case.
So far, there has been no credible factual or legal claim that anybody at the Department of Justice violated any law by deciding not to bring charges against Hillary Clinton or by attempting to meet with Fusion GPS. In other words, there is no investigation to which the Department could even assign a new special counsel.
Second, the list of grievances raised by the Majority for review by a new special counsel also seems wildly off the mark.
For example, there is nothing unlawful about Director Comey’s sitting down to draft an early statement about the Clinton investigation—nor would it have been unethical to outline his conclusions before the investigation was over, if the clear weight of the evidence pointed in one direction.
Nor is there anything wrong with FBI agents expressing their private political views via private text message, as Peter Strzok and Lisa Page appear to have done in the 375 text messages we received last night. In fact, Department regulations expressly permit that sort of communication.
I have reviewed those text messages, and I am left with two thoughts.
First, Peter Strzok did not say anything about Donald Trump that the majority of Americans weren’t also thinking at the same time. And second, in a testament to his integrity and situational awareness, when the Office of the Inspector General made Mr. Mueller aware of these exchanges, 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.
On Monday, Ranking Member Cummings and I sent a letter to the Department asking for additional materials related to these leaks, as well as to claims that these efforts may have been coordinated with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and other senior figures in the Trump campaign.
Third, the President’s call for an investigation of the investigation is, at best, wildly dangerous to our democratic institutions.
On the one hand, the President’s old “lock her up” cheer seems quaint after a couple of guilty pleas by Trump associates.
On the other, as former Attorney General Michael Mukasey—no fan of Hillary Clinton—has said: the President’s continued threats to prosecute his political opponents is “something we don’t do here.” If the President were to carry out his threat, “it would be like a banana republic.”
Finally, and most important, this investigation into the investigation cannot credibly be a priority for this Committee at this time.
I understand the instinct to want to give cover to the President. I am fearful that the Majority’s effort to turn the tables on the Special Counsel will get louder and more frantic as the walls close in around the President. But this Committee has a job to do.
President Trump has engaged in a persistent and dangerous effort to discredit both the free press and the Department of Justice. These are the agencies and institutions under our jurisdiction. Every minute that 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.
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. I thank the Chairman, and yield back the balance of my time.