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Subpoenas do not come with the option of regrets. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. For Lisa Page, however, one half of the infamous pair of “FBI Lovers”, the option is apparently there.
Just hours before her required appearance before the House Judiciary Committee to discuss her role in the FBI’s bias surrounding the Trump election, her lawyer informed the committee that she would not be appearing.
According to Page’s lawyer, she needs more time to review materials in preparation for her testimony. According to Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), however, Page had more than enough time to review the documents in question. “Her failure to appear before Congress this morning had little to do with ‘preparation’ and everything to do with avoiding accountability,” Meadows tweeted.
It’s worth reviewing why Page is in this position in the first place. Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s 500-page report on the actions the FBI took in advance of the 2016 elections details a number of specific findings that justified the firing of former FBI Director James Comey and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, among others.
But the most troubling findings in the report have more to do with the wider culture of the FBI itself. General bias at the FBI was everywhere. From then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s unabashed public meet-up with Bill Clinton while overseeing an investigation into his wife, to the official FBI resources being dedicated to “spinning” the Hillary investigation, to Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s failure properly to comply with his recusal, to volumes of improper communications with the media (not to mention agents allowing themselves to be wined and dined by the press), the cavalier attitudes, the “above the law” mentality and overt hostility to candidate Trump was rife throughout the FBI.
And in that drama, Lisa Page plays a central role—as does her paramour, Peter Strzok, who testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. The IG cites Page and Strzok among five FBI employees he calls out for bringing “discredit to themselves” and damaging “the FBI’s reputation for neutral fact finding and political independence.” It’s easy to see why.
Consider this searing rebuke from the IG report:
[W]hen one senior FBI official, [Peter] Strzok, who was helping lead the Russia investigation at the time, conveys in a text message to another senior FBI official, [Lisa] Page, that “we’ll stop candidate Trump from being elected—after the other extensive text messages between the two disparaging candidate Trump—it is not only indicative of a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects. This is antithetical to the core values of the FBI and the Department of Justice. [Emphasis added.]
In another exchange that has become infamous, Page texts Strzok, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok responded, “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”
That Congress should investigate this behavior is obvious to everyone except congressional Democrats, who repeatedly tried to adjourn, delay and obstruct Strzok’s Thursday hearing. Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) went so far as to suggest Strzok should be given a purple heart for all he’s had to go through.
But this is far from a superficial witch hunt. Congress has a historical and constitutional prerogative to protect and oversee the implementation of lawful behavior among the branches. Indeed, a robust oversight role for Congress was envisioned by the Framers and cemented by the courts, who have found Congress’ “power in inquiry” to be “inherent to the legislative process” and “as penetrating and far-reaching as the potential power to enact and appropriate under the Constitution.”
There’s a reason that refusal to comply with a congressional subpoena can result in a citation for criminal contempt of Congress. In its oversight heyday between 1975 and 1998, Congress held 10 votes to hold cabinet-level officials in contempt.
More consequential, however, is Page’s refusal to comply with her subpoena—along with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosentein’s refusal to turn over key documents to Congress—which perpetuates the image that there are two sets of rules in America: one for government elites, and one for everyone else.
This attitude was on fine display during Strzok’s hearing, as he refused to answer substantive questions “at the direction of the FBI,” (though, under a subpoena, he is required to answer), defended his professionalism (rich, coming from the man who texted “F Trump” to his mistress), complained about his treatment at the hands of Republicans, and called the very fact of the hearing “another victory notch in Putin’s belt.”
As one commentator put it, Strzok’s attitude and actions demonstrate “the danger of a powerful idiot arrogantly convinced his cause gives him latitude to ignore the rules.”
Such brazenness should not stand. Not only do Democrats look increasingly hypocritical as they demand cooperation with a special counsel to find evidence of the elusive Russian collusion, they do disservice to the institutions upon whose impartiality and professionalism our government rests.
This is not simply a crisis of confidence particular to the 2016 elections. Until the full story is resolved and independent actors held to account, faith in the FBI and the Justice Department will be shaken; and shaken, in turn, will be the faith we place in those tasked with enforcing the law and investigating the facts in a neutral and impartial fashion. The way the government has handled itself thus far has been to treat Congress and the voters like problems to be solved, not citizens to be served.
House Republicans are right to press this issue, and they should continue to press it to the full measure of congressional authority. The rule of law surely extends to those who enforce it; perhaps they bear an even greater responsibility to account for their behavior when it is so brashly and shamelessly wrong.
But the continually dismissive attitudes of Rosenstein, Strzok and Page suggest that they truly do not understand the duty the FBI has toward the highest standards of transparency, impartiality and professionalism.
In its findings, the IG report quoted the opinion of one FBI agent that the majority of Americans who elected Trump are “all poor to middle class, uneducated, lazy POS.” The flippancy of the FBI and the Justice Department in response to the need for fixing these problems suggests that perhaps they agree.