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GOP feud with FBI ratchets up

The knives are out for the FBI on Capitol Hill.

Conservative lawmakers from four separate committees are raising alarm bells about a tranche of missing text messages between two FBI agents assigned to the investigation into Russia and President TrumpDonald John TrumpKey takeaways from the Arizona Senate debate Major Hollywood talent firm considering rejecting Saudi investment money: report Mattis says he thought 'nothing at all' about Trump saying he may leave administration MORE’s campaign, saying it calls into “further question the credibility and objectivity of certain officials at the FBI.”

Meanwhile, House Intelligence Committee lawmakers are refusing to allow the FBI to view a classified four-page memo that GOP members say shows abuse by the bureau of government surveillance powers.

“Well, yeah, they’re the ones that had the problem,” Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayLawmakers fail to pass annual intel bill after key Dem objects House Intel votes to release Russia transcripts Russia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems MORE (R-Texas) said Tuesday, when asked why the bureau’s request to see the document is being denied.

In another sign of tension, Axios reported Monday night that FBI Director Christopher Wray threatened to resign over pressure from the White House to dismiss Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a longtime GOP target.

It all comes amid signs that special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE is moving closer to interviewing Trump as he continues his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, including possible collusion with members of Trump’s campaign.

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Democrats have painted investigations of the FBI’s conduct by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Intelligence, Oversight and Government Reform, and Judiciary committees as transparent efforts to discredit Mueller’s probe.

 

The fighting has strained the relationship between the bureau and Capitol Hill Republicans for months, culminating in a rare public statement from the FBI confirming they had requested, and been denied access to, the memo. Oversight Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyHouse GOP sets deposition deadline for Fusion GPS co-founder Collusion bombshell: DNC lawyers met with FBI on Russia allegations before surveillance warrant Comey rejects request for closed-door interview with House Republicans MORE (R-S.C.) on Tuesday called the relationship “rocky,” saying “2016 and 2017 haven’t been good years for [the Justice Department] and FBI.”

“To say we want to see your memo when for months and months they haven’t let us see lots of stuff we wanted to see — the memo came from what you gave us, FBI,” Gowdy told Fox News. “There is nothing new in there other than what you gave us and you showed us.”

The Intelligence panel is wrangling over publicly releasing the memo, which would require a committee vote. Lawmakers of both parties have described it as a set of conclusions based on Republican research into FBI misconduct, with Democrats condemning it as misleading allegations and committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesJuan Williams: Trump, the Great Destroyer The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — Latest on Hurricane Michael | Trump, Kanye West to have lunch at White House | GOP divided over potential 2020 high court vacancy Senate Dem: Trump's 'fake, hyperbolic rantings' an insult to real Medal of Honor recipients MORE (R-Calif.) characterizing it as “facts.”

There are also signs the GOP is not united on the subject of the FBI, an organization that historically has not been seen as an enemy of the Republican Party.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel The National Trails System is celebrating 50 years today — but what about the next 50 years? Key conservation fund for parks set to expire MORE (R-N.C.), whose panel is also investigating Russia’s election interference, told CNN Tuesday that the FBI had been cooperative in providing documents to Congress.

“I’m not going to read anything into it other than it may be a technical glitch at the bureau,” he said of the missing texts. “The fact that they have provided the rest of them certainly doesn’t show an intent to try to withhold anything.”

Democrats have been more direct in their criticism. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, called the allegations in the memo “a conspiracy theory concocted by Chairman Nunes” after reviewing the underlying materials.

One important question is whether Republicans will be able to release any of the intelligence used to craft the memo. A working group, including Gowdy, Nunes and House Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteHouse Judiciary chairman threatens to subpoena Rosenstein Fusion GPS co-founder will invoke 'constitutional rights not to testify': lawyers House GOP sets deposition deadline for Fusion GPS co-founder MORE (R-Va.), met over the weekend to discuss the possibility. Nunes has “a plan,” according to Conaway, but no further details have been made public.

In a conversation with The Hill on Monday, Nunes said claims that the memo was unpersuasive without the underlying evidence were an example of Democratic obstruction.

The five months of missing messages between senior counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page has thrown gasoline on the fire. The messages begin again on May 17, the day that Mueller was appointed.

It “is harder and harder for us to explain one strange coincidence after another,” Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeHouse Judiciary chairman threatens to subpoena Rosenstein Senate passes key cyber bill cementing cybersecurity agency at DHS Hillicon Valley: Trump stuns with election interference claim against China | FCC limits fees for 5G | Uber reaches 8M settlement over breach | Fox sells Sky stake to Comcast | House passes bills to fix cyber vulnerabilities MORE (R-Texas) told Fox News on Tuesday.

Gowdy, Ratcliffe and Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator seeking information on FBI dealings with Bruce Ohr, former DOJ lawyer Election Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms Senate Homeland chair vents Mueller probe is preventing panel from receiving oversight answers MORE (R-Wis.) have revealed selective excerpts from the texts the bureau did turn over on Friday, arguing that they display “stunning” bias against Trump.

Page and Strzok were having an extramarital affair and frequently discussed the news of the day over texts, according to previously released messages. In those missives, they often criticized then-candidate Trump as unfit for office, with Page at one point writing “this man cannot be president.” The two also criticized the Obama administration, Democratic candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCarter Page files defamation lawsuit against DNC Dems fear party is headed to gutter from Avenatti’s sledgehammer approach Election Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight MORE’s team and other Democrats.

The messages were uncovered during the course of an inspector general investigation into the bureau’s handling of the investigation into Clinton’s email practices while secretary of State. Page had already left the team at that point, and Mueller removed Strzok when he was made aware of the texts.

The latest set of messages has not yet been viewed by reporters in full. In one excerpt published by Johnson on Tuesday, Strzok and Page discuss becoming a part of Mueller’s team, weighing both their own relationship and the likely outcome of that investigation.

“You and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely, I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concerned there’s no big there there,” Strzok wrote to Page.

Johnson provided his own interpretation of that text, telling a radio show in Milwaukee, “In other words, Peter Strzok was the FBI deputy assistant director of the counterintelligence division, and the man had a plan to do something, because he just couldn’t abide Donald Trump being president.”

Trump, who has repeatedly characterized the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt,” tweeted Tuesday that the news of the lost text messages was “one of the biggest stories in a long time.”

Even some former FBI officials concede that the texts between the two officials are damning. Ron Hosko, a former assistant director at the bureau, told The Hill they showed “misconduct [that] has to be addressed.”

But he was far more dubious of the Republican narrative on the memo.

“There are voices painting this picture of a conspiracy because more than anything they believe it’s getting them traction to push the Mueller investigation off the rails,” he said.

“It is better for them not to have it out there because right now it’s a bogeyman — people can assume that the worst is in the memo. It’s their best strategy today to get traction on it, while damage is being done to the FBI.”

Gowdy on Tuesday insisted that he “supports” Mueller and “has no interest” in interfering with the investigation.

He has repeatedly said that it “breaks his heart” to report “bad apples” at the FBI.


Jonathan Easley contributed.