Live coverage: FBI chief, Justice IG testify on critical report

Justice Department Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz and FBI Director Christopher Wray are testifying Monday on a critical report from Horowitz's office that faulted the FBI for its actions during the 2016 presidential race.

The report released last week found former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyComey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Trump calls Brennan ‘a very bad person’ after Putin criticism Buck Wild: 'Is President Trump paranoid or is the Deep State out to get him?' MORE deviated from department norms with his decisionmaking, and it criticized a senior counterintelligence agent for texts that revealed a bias against President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want to use 'adversary' to describe Russia Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Roby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism MORE.

The report found no evidence that political bias affected the FBI's decisions in its investigation of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Dem pollster: GOP women have a more difficult time winning primary races than Dems Mellman: (Mis)interpreting elections MORE's use of a private server while serving as secretary of State, but was deeply critical of FBI and DOJ leadership.

See The Hill's live coverage of Horowitz and Wray's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee below:

 

Grassley gavels out hearing

5:20 p.m.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Kavanaugh paper chase heats up MORE (R-Iowa) gaveled out Monday's hearing a little over three hours after it began.

See below for full coverage of the hours-long hearing, and The Hill will have a wrap-up of the testimony Monday evening.

 

FBI chief: A lawyer can obstruct justice

5:06 p.m.

FBI Director Christopher Wray acknowledged under questioning from a Democratic lawmaker that a lawyer can obstruct justice on behalf of their client.

When Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Dems protest vote on controversial court pick Who is Andrew Wheeler, EPA's new acting chief? Congress can protect midterm elections with the Disclose Act MORE (D-R.I.) asked generally if a lawyer for a subject could obstruct justice, Wray replied “absolutely.”

While Whitehouse did not mention any names, his line of questioning appeared pointed at President Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who recently suggested that Trump may pardon those convicted in the special counsel probe into Trump campaign associates' ties to Russia.

“When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons,” Giuliani told the New York Daily News on Friday.

Giuliani's remarks came shortly after a federal judge revoked bail for Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortJudge rejects Manafort's bid to move trial further from DC Mueller seeking immunity for up to 5 people to testify in Manafort trial 5 revelations from Mueller's indictment of Russians in DNC hack MORE for alleged witness tampering, sending Trump’s former campaign chairman to jail until his trial later this year.

— Olivia Beavers

 

GOP senator invokes tooth fairy, Easter bunny in question on FBI bias

4:38 p.m.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) invoked the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny and former mob boss Jimmy Hoffa in a question to Inspector General Michael Horowitz about bias in the FBI.

"General, do you believe in the tooth fairy?" Kennedy asked.

"No," Horowitz replied.

"Do you believe in the Easter bunny?"

"No."

"Do you believe that Jimmy Hoffa died of natural causes?"

"Not based on what I've read."

Kennedy then referenced part of Horowitz's report citing a previously undisclosed, anti-Trump text message exchange between FBI Agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page that took place during the 2016 campaign.

"Do you honestly believe that the American people are going to look at this report and look at those emails and not believe that there was bias, and people acting on bias, and that the fix was in at the FBI?" Kennedy said. 

"I completely understand the concerns, senator, and that's why we've laid all of this out here, and that's why we found that it impacts the credibility of the handling of the of the investigation," Horowitz replied.
 
— Julia Manchester
 
 
Graham presses Horowitz about FBI bias against Trump

4:17 p.m.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE (R-S.C.) got particularly heated when asking Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz about possible FBI bias against President Trump during the election.

Graham specifically seized on how one agent, who conducted the FBI’s interview of Hillary Clinton about her use of a private email server, told another FBI official on Election Day that he was “with” the Democratic presidential candidate.

When asked how he felt about it, Horowitz replied: “Very concerned.”

“Habitually, ‘very concerned’ gets to be enough already,” Graham shot back.

Graham also asked Horowitz about former FBI Director James Comey’s controversial decision during the election to call Clinton’s handling of her emails “extremely careless” and not use the phrase “grossly negligent,” which has criminal implications.

The GOP senator, after laying out a series of concerns about Horowitz's findings, raised the possibility that some of the agents’ biases against Trump could’ve influenced their decision not to charge Clinton with criminal charges, since they indicated a preference for her over the Republican candidate.

Graham said this likely would’ve derailed Clinton’s campaign and helped Trump, suggesting this may have been a motivation for not doing so.

“What is the difference between ‘reckless disregard’ and ‘gross negligence'?" Graham asked.

"Not much," Horowitz replied.

“It is a lot politically,” Graham said in response.

 — Olivia Beavers

 

DOJ watchdog: Report 'not made weaker or softer in any regard'

3:41 p.m.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz denied that his report was improperly made "weaker," as President Trump had claimed in a tweet just prior to its release last week.

"We followed normal processes. [The report] was not made weaker or softer in any regard," Horowitz told lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

A trio of House GOP members have also asked for the drafts of Horowitz's report, arguing without evidence that "people may have changed the report in a way that obfuscates your findings."

It is part of the normal process for an inspector general to solicit comment during the course of producing a final report.

— Katie Bo Williams

 

DOJ watchdog: We did not address credibility of Mueller probe

3:25 p.m.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz carefully resisted questions from Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Dems press for info on any deals from Trump-Putin meeting Too many Americans go to prison but Congress can fix this problem This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation MORE (D-Ill.) about whether President Trump's conclusion that the watchdog report "exonerated" him in the Russia probe was correct.

Horowitz noted that his office's report "does not touch on the Russia investigation."

"We did not address the credibility of the special counsel’s investigation here," he said.

— Katie Bo Williams

 

FBI chief reiterates: Mueller not on a 'witch hunt'

3:23 pm

FBI Director Christopher Wray reiterated his statement defending special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE during his testimony after the president once again referred to the Russia probe as a "witch hunt."

"I do not believe special counsel Mueller is on a witch hunt," Wray told Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Dems protest vote on controversial court pick Budget chairs press appropriators on veterans spending Kavanaugh paper chase heats up MORE (D-Vt.).

Wray went on to criticize former FBI Director James Comey after Leahy said that Comey had no issue confirming a probe, saying "there are a number of things I probably would have done differently" as FBI director.

Wray said he could not confirm nor deny if that was a probe into leaks to former Trump campaign surrogate Rudy Giuliani prior to the election.

— Julia Manchester

 

Feinstein: How did Giuliani appear to know FBI would reopen Clinton email probe?

3:14 p.m.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments Dems launch pressure campaign over migrant families California Dems endorse progressive challenger over Feinstein MORE (D-Calif.) pressed the Justice Department's inspector general for additional information about how Rudy Giuliani, one of President Trump’s surrogates during the campaign, seemed to know the FBI was planning to reopen its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server. 

Feinstein noted that Giuliani first “bragged” on Fox News in late October 2016 about a surprise that would unfold “in the next few days” — three days before Comey made the announcement effectively reopening the review of Clinton's handling of classified information.

“On Nov. 4, when asked whether he had heard about this, Giuliani said, ‘Did I hear about it? You’re darn right I heard about it,’” Feinstein noted.

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who highlighted multiple instances of improper FBI contacts with the press in his report, said he cannot comment on this because his office's “investigative work is still ongoing.”

“We put this in here so that the readers and the public could see our concerns about the number of contacts with the media and systemically, but I am not in a position to speak about any investigative outcomes,” he responded.

Giuliani clarified during a subsequent interview Nov. 4 on CNN that he was previously speaking based on information from "former FBI agents," adding, "it’s all hearsay." 

The former New York City mayor now serves as one of Trump's personal lawyers handling special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia.

— Olivia Beavers

 

Wray: FBI has set up a dedicated leak investigation unit 

3:03 p.m.

FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers that the bureau has set up a "dedicated leak investigation unit" to ferret out inappropriate disclosures to the news media.

"We won't hesitate to throw the book at people who violate our rules on this," Wray said, noting that he had rolled out a new media contacts policy for the bureau in November.

The FBI chief was pressed by Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOn The Money: Fed chief lays out risks of trade war | Senate floats new Russia sanctions amid Trump backlash | House passes bill to boost business investment Hatch threatens legislative action to rein in Trump tariffs GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki MORE (R-Utah) over portions of the Justice Department inspector general (IG) report that highlighted unauthorized contacts between members of the media and FBI officials.

— Katie Bo Williams

 

Hatch pushes Wray on public response 

2:54 p.m.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) obliquely criticized FBI Director Christopher Wray's initial public response to the IG report as "downplaying" its findings, arguing that the document showed a "serious problem with the culture at FBI headquarters."

"If we can look at just one or two investigations and find this much bias, I can only imagine what else is out there," Hatch said.

"How can you assure Congress that you are taking seriously the problems identified in the inspector general report when your very first public response was to downplay its significance?"

— Katie Bo Williams

 

Horowitz says his office is handling FBI referral on Comey memos 

2:45 p.m.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz revealed that his office received an FBI referral on former FBI Director James Comey's handling of memos, and is currently handling the issue.

“Are you investigating Comey’s handling of his memos and does that include the classification issues? And should Mr. Comey expect a report when it is complete?” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked.

“We received a referral on that from the FBI. We are handling that referral and we will issue a report when the matter is complete, consistent with the law and rules," Horowitz said.

It was first reported in April that Horowitz's office was reviewing Comey's decision to provide his friend, Columbia law professor Daniel Richman, with memos that government officials now view as containing classified information.

Richman later verbally shared the contents of the memos to The New York Times.

— Julia Manchester

 

FBI determined to emerge 'better and wiser' from IG probe, Wray says

2:40 p.m.

FBI Director Christopher Wray assured lawmakers in his opening statement that the bureau accepts the IG's recommendations, noting that as part of its response the FBI has already referred the conduct called out by the Justice Department watchdog to the bureau's internal disciplinary unit.

Once that process is complete, he said, "we will not hesitate to hold people accountable."

But he also defended the bureau as a whole, echoing his own statements to press on Thursday that the actions of a few members in a particularly difficult investigation did not impugn the integrity of the wider institution.

— Katie Bo Williams

 

Fox News only cable network to carry start of hearing live

2:36 p.m.

Fox News was the only cable news network to carry the beginning of Wray and Horowitz's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee live.

CNN referenced the beginning of the hearing, but instead continued to feature reports on the controversy surrounding the Trump administration's migrant policy at the United States' southern border.

MSNBC's Katy Tur interviewed former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo at the start of the hearing.

— Julia Manchester

 

Grassley hammers FBI over its handling of Clinton probe

2:34 p.m.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) criticized the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server after the IG report revealed “shocking” new details about top former bureau officials' conduct.

“It wasn’t just Hillary Clinton using private email for official business, so was Jim Comey,” Grassley said, referring to the former FBI director. “It wasn’t just [former Deputy FBI Director] Andy McCabe talking to the press, so were dozens of others at all levels of the FBI.”

Grassley also argued that Clinton and President Trump were treated far differently by investigators during the respective federal probes, comparing the “kid-glove treatment” Clinton received while under investigation to the “bare-knuckle tactics” Trump has received under the special counsel probe.

Ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), on the other hand, doubled down on the Democrats' response to the report that the FBI’s decisions during the race helped Trump win the election and hurt Clinton’s campaign. 

“This unquestionably harmed candidate Clinton and helped candidate Trump,” Feinstein said.

“Importantly, the report found no evidence that these personal. political views tainted workplace decisions,” she added.

— Olivia Beavers

 

Comey, McCabe, Lynch declined invite to testify

2:03 p.m.
 
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) gaveled the hearing in promptly at 2 p.m. He said that the panel also invited former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former FBI Director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeBuck Wild: 'Is President Trump paranoid or is the Deep State out to get him?' Why does Congress keep playing political games on FBI oversight? FBI confidence in leaders sank after Comey was fired: report MORE to testify.
 
All three, according to Grassley, declined to appear and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) declined to agree to compel them. Comey's attorney, Grassley said, told him the former FBI head was out of the country, "although I saw he was in Iowa over the weekend. According to his Twitter feed, he seems to be having a wonderful time."
According to Grassley, McCabe's lawyer cited his Fifth Amendment rights and Lynch declined to appear. 
 
— Katie Bo Williams