As Special Counsel Robert Mueller turns his focus directly on President Trump, conservative lawmakers from four separate committees have launched a vicious attack on the FBI in an effort to discredit the bureau’s investigation into the Trump-Russia collusion.
Republicans claim that missing text messages between two FBI agents assigned to the investigation into Russia and President Trump’s campaign “further question the credibility and objectivity of certain officials at the FBI.”
Meanwhile, House Intelligence Committee lawmakers have produced a “classified” four-page memo that GOP members say shows abuse by the bureau of government surveillance powers. However, they are refusing to show their “proof” to anyone, including the FBI.
The fighting has soured the relationship between the law enforcement agency 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.
“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.”
“Well, yeah, they’re the ones that had the problem,” Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said Tuesday, when asked why the bureau’s request to see the document is being denied, according to The Hill.
In another sign of tension, FBI Director Christopher Wray threatened to resign over pressure from the White House to dismiss Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a longtime GOP target.
The GOP attacks on the FBI come amid signs that special counsel Robert Mueller 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.
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 “a blatant attempt to discredit Mueller’s probe.”
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 Goodlatte (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.
The missing messages are between senior counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page and Strzok, who were having an extramarital affair and frequently discussed the news of the day over texts. 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 Clinton’s team and other Democrats.
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.”
Ron Hosko, a former assistant director at the bureau said the messages 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.”