Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler (N.Y.) on Wednesday defended two FBI agents, who both served for a time on special counsel Robert Mueller's team, after it was revealed they exchanged text messages expressing support for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and attacking then-candidate Donald Trump.
Nadler spoke during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing where Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified about the integrity of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged Russian meddling and collusion during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Reports surfaced earlier this month that FBI counterintelligence officer Peter Strzok was removed from Mueller's team over the summer after a Justice Department internal investigation uncovered "politically tinged messages" he exchanged with FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Page had briefly been assigned to Mueller's team as well, but had left the team before Mueller's office was made aware of the texts.
On Tuesday, the FBI released roughly 375 messages sent between the two agents between August 2015 and December 2016. The inspector general's internal probe into the matter remains ongoing, according to CNN.
Nadler, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the list of grievances raised by Republicans who have asked for a review of the special investigations seems "wildly off-the-mark." He argued there was nothing "unlawful" about former FBI director James Comey sitting down to draft a premature exoneration statement about the Clinton investigation, and said the same of FBI agents' text messages.
"Nor would it have been unethical to outline his conclusions before the investigation was over if the clear way to the evidence pointed in one direction," Nadler said. "Nor is there anything wrong with FBI agents expressing their private political views via private text message, as Peter Strzok and Lisa Page appeared to have done in the 375 text messages we received last night."
He went on to say the department's regulations expressly permit private communications of the sort.
"I reviewed those text messages and I am left with two thoughts," Nadler said. "First, Peter Strzok did not say anything about Donald Trump that the majority of Americans weren't also thinking at the same time. Second, in a testament to his integrity and situational awareness, when the office of the Inspector General made Mr. Mueller aware of these exchanges, he immediately removed Mr. Strzok from his team."
Nadler then switched the script and said the committee should be investigating FBI agents from the Clinton investigation, accusing them of being biased against Clinton.
"To the extent we are now exchanged in oversight of political bias at the FBI, this committee should examine evidence of a coordinated effort by some agents involved in the Clinton investigation to change the course of the campaign in favor of President Trump, by leaking sensitive information to the public, and by threatening to leak additional information about new emails after the investigation was closed," Nadler said.