Politics & Government

House panel heeds Trump plea, agrees to probe Comey, Clinton emails

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. AP

House Judiciary Committee Republicans Wednesday heeded President Donald Trump’s relentless calls for more investigations into Hillary Clinton, agreeing to seek documents relating to the FBI probe of her private email server.

"If it's in the public interest to investigate the Trump administration, it is most certainly in the public interest to investigate the real crimes by the real criminals," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a committee member.

Trump has been prodding Attorney General Jeff Sessions via Twitter to revive an inquiry into the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee who lost the election to Trump. Clinton’s use of the private email server as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 was investigated for months by the FBI.

Lawmakers had been resisting reopening inquiries into Clinton and Democrats’ conduct during the campaign. But judiciary committee Republicans seized an opportunity Wednesday after Democrats tried to win approval for a probe of Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey in May.

Republicans surprised them by turning the tables and pushing through a plan to learn more about the FBI investigation, notably why former President Bill Clinton was meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on a Phoenix tarmac as her department was probing Hillary Clinton.

Here's a look at Hillary Clinton's evolving remarks over the years regarding the investigation of her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

"Just because Hillary Clinton lost the election doesn't mean we should forget or forgive conduct that is likely criminal," Gaetz said. "We need an investigation of Tarmac-Gate.”

Democrats were furious. Committee member Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., accused Republicans of looking to pursue "right wing conspiracy theories from the past."

Trump has needled Sessions repeatedly in recent days, accusing him of being “weak” by not investigating Clinton. Democrats have suggested Trump is trying to humiliate Sessions to the point of resignation, a move that would ease the way for Trump to get rid of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.

Trump’s pique with Sessions, one of his earliest and staunchest supporters, stems from the attorney general’s decision in March to recuse himself from the Russia investigation after revelations he had met during the campaign with the Russian ambassador.

The Clinton investigation appeared to end last summer when Comey, who Trump fired in May, called her handling of her email careless, but said “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.” Comey then wrote a letter to Congress October 28, days before the November election that the case had been re-opened, followed quickly by an announcement that the case was, again, considered closed.

The Senate has been reluctant to launch any new inquiry, though Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, raised questions Wednesday about Democrats and Republicans in a hearing on foreign meddling in U.S. elections.

Grassley said he has asked the Department of Justice about Democratic National Committee officials allegedly working with Ukraine’s government to “undermine” Trump’s presidential campaign.

“The law needs to be enforced consistently and evenhandedly,” Grassley said. “Otherwise, it won’t be taken seriously.”

There was little sentiment among Republican senators, though, to look further into Clinton and her campaign.

“It harkens back to the notion of a banana republic,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of what he called Trump’s “inappropriate” calls for investigations into Clinton. “It’s what dictators do, they look to punish their enemies.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Senate Intelligence Committee member, noted that Clinton’s missing emails as secretary of state were investigated by the FBI. As a result, he said, there appears to be no need to reopen the case.

"As for me, I prefer to look to the future, not the past," Rubio said of Trump’s tweets agitating for Clinton investigations. “It’s time to move on."

President Trump told reporters that he’s “very disappointed” in Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a joint press conference with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C.,repeated his circumspect stance, a position he’s had all year, saying Wednesday that his committee is "investigating anything out of either campaign that could be collusion.” He said the committee had “made the appropriate document request.. to anybody tied to it."

But there is little indication to believe that Clinton’s campaign is a focus. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who said he understood Trump’s frustration and criticized Democrats for “going after (Trump) on everything, while Clinton actually did something,” suggested it was time for Trump to stop berating Sessions for not launching an investigation into his vanquished opponent.

"I don’t believe he should do that, and I don’t believe he should say that,” Hatch said of Trump’s repeated requests.

Democrats said the concept of a president browbeating his attorney general to take action against a political rival is entirely misguided.

“I didn’t support him for the job, but Sessions is doing his job,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “It’s one more example of this president’s disrespect for the rule of law.”

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark

Matthew Schofield: 202-383-6066, @mattschodcnews