The Justice Department inspector general’s decision in January to open an investigation into the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation was met with widespread praise from Democrats.
“My reaction is that it’s entirely appropriate and very necessary but also not surprising,” Clinton campaign press secretary Brian Fallon told MSNBC on Jan. 12, the day that inspector general Michael Horowitz announced the investigation.
“I welcome it,” Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said the same day.
“I support what they’re doing. It’s long overdue.”
But nearly a year later, Democrats are much less enthusiastic about Horowitz’s probe.
The change of heart is due to the revelation that one of the top investigators on the email investigation sent politically-charged text messages to his mistress, an FBI lawyer.
Those messages, exchanged between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, have undermined the federal investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Kremlin. That’s because in addition to being a top investigator on the Clinton email probe, Strzok supervised the Russia investigation, which began several weeks after the Clinton inquiry was closed in July 2016.
Strzok and Page both transferred to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team after he inherited the investigation following the firing of James Comey as FBI director.
Horowitz, an Obama appointee, discovered the Strzok-Page texts after submitting a request to the FBI for the communications of key figures in the email probe.
After seeing the biased messages, Horowitz made two additional requests from the FBI for Strzok’s communications. He informed Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein of the messages on July 27. Strzok was immediately demoted to the FBI’s human resources department.
For reasons unexplained, Mueller’s office, the FBI and DOJ refused for more than four months to explain why Strzok was removed from the investigation. The existence of the texts were revealed earlier this month. Nearly 400 of the messages were released on Tuesday.
Republicans have cited the texts to argue that the Mueller investigation now falls under the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine. Strzok’s involvement in the early stages of the Trump investigation has spoiled Mueller’s probe, GOP lawmakers have argued.
Democrats have downplayed the texts, in which Strzok refers to Trump as a “fucking idiot” while praising Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. Many have argued that Republicans are using the fruits of Horowitz’s investigation in order to end Mueller’s investigation.
California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, argued on Sunday that Republican focus on the text messages and other evidence of bias on the Mueller team were intended to undercut Mueller.
“The intent here is nothing short of discrediting Mueller, then discrediting the Justice Department, then discrediting the FBI, then discrediting the judiciary,” Schiff told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Back in January, Schiff praised one of his Democratic colleagues for submitting a request that spurred the inspector general investigation.
“I say hats off to my colleague, [Maryland Rep.] Elijah Cummings, for making the request for this investigation some months ago,” Schiff said.
He was joined in his endorsement by Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook.
“It’s a troubling pattern that the FBI seems to have chosen a horse in this election, and we welcome this investigation so this doesn’t happen again,” he said back in January.
Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman who openly supports Democrats, told Chris Hayes of the watchdog investigation: “I’m glad they’re doing it.”
Neera Tanden, a former Clinton campaign adviser and president for Center for American Progress, called the investigation “absolutely the right thing to do.”
Joshua Earnest, who served as Obama’s press secretary, also endorsed Horowitz’s inquiry.
“Decisions that are made by inspectors general across the administration are independent,” he told reporters at a White House press briefing.
“Hopefully they will follow the evidence where it leads.”