Departing House Republicans Try to Keep Investigation Into F.B.I. Alive
By NICHOLAS FANDOS
Erin Schaff for The New York Times A letter by House Republicans, released on a Friday before the New Year’s holiday, was an anemic end to a high-profile congressional investigation that has deeply divided Capitol Hill.
WASHINGTON — In one of their final acts in the House majority, Republicans released a letter on Friday urging their Senate counterparts to pick up their politically charged inquiry into the handling of the F.B.I.’s investigations of President Trump’s campaign and Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, and called again for the appointment of a special counsel to study the matter.
Detailing some of their findings, the chairmen of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees said it appeared to them that the F.B.I. had treated the Trump and Clinton cases differently, cutting Mrs. Clinton and her associates crucial breaks while assigning agents who privately exchanged reams of messages bashing Mr. Trump to investigate his campaign’s links to Russia.
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“It is not the discovery of bias that is so destructive to fairness, it is the existence of it,” the chairmen, Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia and Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, wrote of the officials.
They also used the letter to resurface Republicans’ contested charge that the F.B.I. abused sensitive surveillance powers to spy on a former Trump campaign associate believed to be compromised by Russia.
Coming on a Friday evening before the New Year’s holiday, the letter was an anemic end to a high-profile congressional investigation that has deeply divided Capitol Hill and delivered Mr. Trump a steady stream of talking points to attack the special counsel who inherited the Russia inquiry and others investigating him.
It amounted to an admission that Republican investigators from the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees had not completed the work they began in October 2017, and the letter did not appear to disclose any major previously unknown facts.
House Democrats insisted throughout the investigation that Republicans’ efforts were not carried out in good faith, accusing them of using Congress’s oversight powers to relitigate the Clinton case and target those investigating Mr. Trump. When they take control of the committees next week, Democrats plan to reorient their investigative focus toward the president himself and his policies.
In a sign of how central investigations will be to the Democratic House, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the presumptive speaker, said on Friday that she had hired Douglas N. Letter, a former high-level Justice Department official with decades of experience, to serve as the House’s top lawyer.
Mr. Goodlatte and Mr. Gowdy rejected assertions that their investigation had intentionally targeted the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. They said their goal was to restore confidence in institutions damaged in 2016.
“Quite the opposite, whatever product is produced by the special counsel must be trusted by Americans, and that requires asking tough but fair questions about investigative techniques both employed and not employed,” they wrote. Both men are retiring in the coming days.
But after a slow start, the investigation came to encompass a bevy of politically charged topics and allowed Republicans to parade through Capitol Hill top F.B.I. and Justice Department officials involved in investigations.
Some of Mr. Trump’s most ardent defenders in the House sit on the committees and used the investigation as a bludgeon on behalf of the president and to declare the Mueller investigation woefully biased against him. When the Justice Department balked at producing sensitive documents about the Trump inquiry, several Republicans threatened to impeach Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general then overseeing the investigation.
The letter from Mr. Goodlatte and Mr. Gowdy was addressed to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader; Matthew G. Whitaker, the acting attorney general; and Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general.
Mr. Horowitz is looking at many of the same issues the committee did and already released a 500-page report on the F.B.I.’s conduct this year focused on the Clinton email case. It painted an unflattering picture of top bureau officials — including describing James B. Comey, the former director, as insubordinate and detailing texts by two senior officials bashing Mr. Trump — but did not challenge the conclusion that Mrs. Clinton should not be prosecuted.
Mr. Horowitz is expected to release a second report sometime next year on the period focused on the opening of the investigation of Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia and the bureau’s surveillance of the former Trump adviser, Carter Page.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who will take over next week as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said he plans to continue some of the investigative work done by House Republicans.
Republicans on the committees plan to release transcripts of each witness interview they conducted, including sessions with Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy F.B.I. director; Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department official targeted by Mr. Trump over his contacts with the author of a salacious dossier alleging coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia; and other top F.B.I. officials. But they are waiting on the F.B.I. to redact classified information from the documents first.
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