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Monday July 16th, 2018 1:06AM

Republicans demand interview with ex-FBI lawyer this week

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans have told former FBI lawyer Lisa Page that she must answer questions before two House committees investigating the Justice Department this week or they will begin the process of holding her in contempt of Congress.

Page was subpoenaed to appear for a private interview Wednesday, but her lawyer informed the committees Tuesday that she would not show up. Amy Jeffress said Page had offered to voluntarily appear before the committees later this month, but needed more clarification about what the lawmakers would be asking. Jeffress also said Page had been attempting to access documents at the FBI to prepare for the hearing.

The House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform Committees are interested in Page as part of their investigation into what they say is bias at the Justice Department. Page exchanged text messages critical of Donald Trump with FBI agent Peter Strzok, who will testify publicly before the panels Thursday. Page and Strzok both worked on the FBI investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton's emails and, later, on special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte and House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy wrote Jeffress Wednesday evening demanding that Page either appear at the public hearing with Strzok on Thursday or for a private deposition Friday. If she doesn't, the Republicans said, they will initiate the contempt process at 10:30 a.m. Friday.

"We are aware of the issues raised regarding access to documents by the FBI," Goodlatte and Gowdy wrote. "We are also aware of committee efforts to schedule your client's appearance for over six months now."

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday that he backed Goodlatte's efforts to secure Page's testimony. "A subpoena to testify before Congress is not optional, it's mandatory," Ryan said.

Contempt votes are rare in Congress and often largely symbolic. If the full House does vote to hold someone in contempt, the matter then moves to the courts, where it has often stalled.

Threats of contempt have had mixed results. Ryan recently secured the release of some documents by the Justice Department by threatening to hold officials there in contempt. But contempt threats were futile earlier this year when former White House strategist Steve Bannon refused to answer certain questions before the House intelligence committee, which was investigating Russian election interference. Bannon never answered the questions, and the House never voted on whether to hold him in contempt.

The Judiciary and Oversight panels have already spent much of the summer holding hearings and interviews critical of the FBI and Justice Department. House Republicans have suggested the FBI was conspiring against Trump during and after his presidential campaign, and the two committees are investigating decisions made by the agency and the Justice Department during the election. Democrats have strongly objected to the GOP-led investigation, saying it is an attempt to undermine Mueller's probe and sway public opinion against investigators.

Trump has seized on Page and Strzok's inflammatory texts, which were detailed in a report by the Justice Department's internal watchdog last month, to paint the FBI and Mueller's investigation as biased. The investigation is looking at Russian ties to Trump's campaign and whether Trump obstructed justice.

The report did not find that the conclusions in the Clinton investigation were tainted by political bias, but criticized Strzok and Page for their conversations. In one of the exchanges, Strzok wrote "we'll stop it" in reference to a potential Trump election win.

The president has also made frequent references to the fact that Page and Strzok were having an affair, which is noted in the Justice Department report.

Trump tweeted Wednesday: "Ex-FBI LAYER Lisa Page today defied a House of Representatives issued Subpoena to testify before Congress! Wow, but is anybody really surprised! Together with her lover, FBI Agent Peter Strzok, she worked on the Rigged Witch Hunt, perhaps the most tainted and corrupt case EVER!"

In a second tweet, Trump wrote: "How can the Rigged Witch Hunt proceed when it was started, influenced and worked on, for an extended period of time, by former FBI Agent/Lover Peter Strzok? Read his hate filled and totally biased Emails and the answer is clear!"

Strzok had a leading role in the Clinton probe and was removed from the Mueller investigation after the texts were discovered a year ago. Page had already left the Mueller team.

As the committees have investigated bias at the Justice Department, they have focused much of their ire on Strzok. He was interviewed privately by lawmakers on the two committees for 11 hours June 27. When he returns to Capitol Hill for Thursday's hearing he will be speaking publicly about the messages for the first time.

The Judiciary Committee also held a contentious hearing June 28 with FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. In the hearing, Republicans angrily accused the officials of withholding documents from them and demanded details about surveillance tactics in the Russia investigation.

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