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Justice IG Testifies Before 2 House Panels, Talk Turns To Family Separation

Justice Dept. Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz testifies before the House Oversight Committee and the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
Alex Wroblewski
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Justice Dept. Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz testifies before the House Oversight Committee and the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Updated at 6:29 p.m. ET

Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department's inspector general, returned to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to take questions from lawmakers hoping to put their spin on the report his office released last week.

The nearly 600-page report is a comprehensive look at the Justice Department's handling of its investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server in 2016.

Read the report's executive summary here.

It provided ample political ammunition to senators on both sides of the aisle, when Horowitz testified Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee alongside FBI Director Christopher Wray, and again on Tuesday, when he testified before a joint hearing of the House Oversight Committee and the House Judiciary Committee.

Horowitz heard similar arguments from both houses of Congress, although on Tuesday, Democrats also used some time to call attention to the Trump administration's newly enacted policy to separate children from their families if they have entered the country illegally.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, interrupted House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., as he was opening Tuesday's hearing.

"We have all seen the pictures of immigrant children ripped apart from their parents at the border," said Nadler, who visited an immigrant detention facility Sunday with a handful of fellow Democrats. "These children are not animals, they're not bargaining chips, they're not leverage to help President Trump build his wall."

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, yelled about the issue during his opening remarks.

"Even if you believe immigration should be halted entirely, we all should be able to agree that in the United States of America, we will not intentionally separate children from their parents," Cummings said, growing louder. "We will not do that! We are better than that. We are so much better!"

And then later, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said it was shameful that the committees were talking about conduct related to an investigation into Clinton's emails instead of the immigration policy.

"People aren't talking about the goddamn emails," Swalwell said. "They're not. They're talking about kids separated from their mom and their dad, sitting in cages on our southern border."

At that point, both Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said they were separately working on legislation to fix the policy, with Meadows promising his was nonpartisan with no mention of other immigration changes Trump has been pushing for, like funding for a wall on the southern border.

When the joint hearing was focused on the IG report, members of the two House committees focused on similar issues and pursued similar lines of arguments as senators had the day before.

Since the report's release, Republicans have argued it shows the deep level of bias against President Trump in the FBI and Justice Department. The inspector general uncovered politically charged messages sent by FBI special agent Peter Strzok and then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page, and others, which indicated a clear disdain for then-candidate Trump.

"Bias and fairness cannot coexist," said Gowdy, in his opening remarks. "We cannot have a justice system that bases decisions on anything other than facts... Respect for the rule of law is the thread that holds the tapestry of this country together."

Gowdy specifically took issue with a Democratic argument that also came up in the Senate hearing Monday: If the FBI was trying to throw the election to Clinton, it did a terrible job, considering the end result.

"I've seen efforts from some, not all, but some of my Democratic colleagues to shift the burden of bias onto those impacted by that bias," Gowdy said. "That it is somehow the responsibility of those affected by bias to show how that bias negatively impacted them — What a dangerous shifting of the burden."

Since the report's release, Democrats, however, have also continually pointed to the IG's findings that no decisions made by the Justice Department while investigating Clinton's private email server "were affected by bias or other improper considerations."

"The Republicans were wrong again — all their howling about 'lock her up' was bogus," said Cummings. "It was baseless. It was unsubstantiated. But, again and again, the Republicans refuse this conclusion. They still want Hillary Clinton to be guilty, even today."

Republicans on Tuesday spent much of their time reading direct quotes from the text message exchanges between Strzok and Page, and sowing doubt in the IG's determination that the apparent bias of the two FBI officials didn't affect the outcome of the Clinton email investigation.

Horowitz was asked to explain how the officials could be biased without the investigation being tainted by that, in an exchange with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.

"There were other team members involved. In some of those [decisions], (Strzok) and Ms. Page took a more aggressive view than the prosecutors," Horowitz said. "In many of those instances actually, it was the prosecutors who were making the decisions, not the agents. So when we looked at the notes, the emails, the other evidence we could find, we concluded that there wasn't evidence of bias in how those decisions were actually made or carried out."

Democrats have also taken issue with President Trump's claim that the report "totally exonerates" him in the Justice Department's ongoing Russia investigation into possible coordination between Trump's campaign and Moscow during the 2016 election. The report focused only on the Clinton email investigation, and Horowitz told the senators Monday that his office "did not look into collusion questions" as part of its probe.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.