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Republicans press top FBI official on Strzok's role in federal probes

Republicans press top FBI official on Strzok's role in federal probes
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A top FBI official who oversees the bureau's counterintelligence division faced questions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday about the role of FBI agent Peter Strzok in federal probes, The Hill has learned.

Lawmakers and congressional staff questioned Bill Priestap behind closed doors for several hours as part of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees' joint probe into the FBI's decisionmaking during the 2016 election.

Republicans have been eager to talk to Priestap about his involvement with the bureau's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election as well as its probe into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump has discussed possible pardons for three eldest children, Kushner: report McCaskill: 'Hypocrisy' for GOP to target Biden nominee's tweets after Trump Biden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate MORE's use of a private email server while serving as secretary of State — two high-profile investigations where he served in key leadership roles.

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Priestap was also in a supervisory position over Strzok, whose text messages criticizing President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE and other political figures during the 2016 presidential race have become a flashpoint among conservatives critiquing federal law enforcement officials' actions.

"There was a number of times, I would say maybe four different times in that, where he would have the words, 'Peter Strzok' and 'expert' in the same sentence," Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanCheney, top GOP lawmakers ask Trump campaign for proof of election fraud New RSC chairman sees 'Trumpism' as future Sunday shows preview: Biden team gears up for transition, Trump legal battles continue and pandemic rages on MORE (R-Ohio), an ally of Trump who serves on the Judiciary Committee, told reporters.

"It has kind of confirmed what I've suspected for a long time, that Strzok was a central figure in all of this — the Clinton investigation and the Russia investigation," added Jordan, who is a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Allies of the president have alleged widespread misconduct within the FBI and the Justice Department during the presidential election, pointing to exchanges between Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page as further proof of bias against Trump.

"They are trying to get Priestep to basically explain how the organization and pieces work together, and what was Strzok's role in all of that," one source familiar with the hearing told The Hill.

Republicans are also eager to have Page and Strzok to testify before their committees.

"Peter Strzok is obviously a key witness that we need to talk to," said Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Overnight Health Care: CDC panel recommends who gets vaccine first | McConnell offering new relief bill | Hahn downplays White House meeting on vaccines On The Money: McConnell offering new coronavirus relief bill | Biden introduces economic team, vows swift action on relief | Rare Mnuchin-Powell spat takes center stage at COVID-19 hearing MORE (R-N.C.), a close ally of Trump who serves on the Oversight committee.

Strzok's interactions with Page were the subject of criticism by Trump as recently as Tuesday night, when the president included them in a tweet referencing his broader unsubstantiated allegations of political bias by law enforcement during the election.

Priestap was also apparently involved in the controversial decision by then-FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyCarter Page sues over surveillance related to Russia probe Top Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon The new marshmallow media in the Biden era MORE to call Clinton’s handling of her emails “extremely careless” and not the potentially criminal “grossly negligent" during the election.

According to records released earlier this year by Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGrassley returns to Capitol after having coronavirus McConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection MORE (R-Wis.), Priestap reviewed and provided edits to the statement Comey gave in July 2016 announcing that he would not be recommending charges against Clinton, then the Democratic presidential nominee.

Trump and other Republicans have pointed to the wording change and the revelation that the FBI chief began drafting the statement before he had interviewed Clinton herself as proof that the FBI was trying to protect Clinton from prosecution.

Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiHHS scraps celebrity COVID-19 ad campaign aimed at 'defeating despair' Documents show 'political' nature of Trump COVID ad campaign, lawmakers say Trust and transparency are necessary to make COVID-19 vaccine successful MORE (D-Ill.), however, said he felt that Priestap didn't say anything that would indicate there was "political bias that motivated the Hillary Clinton email investigation."

Priestap "completely" backed up everything that Comey said, according to a source familiar with his testimony.

Only three lawmakers — Jordan, Meadows and Krishnamoorthi — attended the hearing, which took place on the first day after a weeklong recess.

Priestap's interview comes after the joint House investigation stalled for months after being first announced.

Republicans are now ramping back up a probe that Democrats have described as a partisan attempt to protect Trump from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerBarr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting MORE's investigation.

Priestap's interview was the first of three that the House panels have scheduled for this month.  

Lawmakers also plan to interview Michael Steinbach, the former head of the FBI’s national security division, as well as John Giacalone, who preceded Steinbach as the bureau's top national security official. 

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is also expected to soon release his own report on FBI conduct during the Clinton investigation, raising some question about whether he will pre-empt the two other interviews.