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The news of the agent's reassignment was first reported in August, but details were unclear. Video provided by Newsy Newslook

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WASHINGTON — House conservatives plan to press FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday about revelations that a top agent was demoted for anti-Trump text messages — an incident the lawmakers charge proves bias against the president in the Russia investigation.

But while that will make for a confrontational hearing between Wray and the House Judiciary Committee, legal experts say Congress is unlikely to take action to derail special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a member of the Judiciary Committee, said at a news conference with five other GOP lawmakers Wednesday that President Trump has been subjected to "the unprecedented bias against (him) that exists when we allow people who hate the president to participate in the investigations against him."

"People who actively dislike the president were assigned to work against him," said Gaetz, adding later in an interview that he believes FBI agent Peter Strzok should have been fired rather than being moved from Mueller's team to the bureau's human resources department.

Strzok — a top counter-intelligence agent who also helped run the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of State — was abruptly reassigned this summer after the inspector general for the Department of Justice discovered text messages between him and another FBI official that allegedly contained anti-Trump statements.

The existence of the messages were revealed Saturday in news reports, but the full text of the messages has not been disclosed.

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., a member of the committee, said he will press Wray on what he sees as the FBI's bias in favor of Clinton and against Trump. Conservatives believe the FBI let Clinton off easy last year when former director James Comey concluded that she was "extremely careless" in her handling of classified emails but did not commit any crime, language that Strzok was reportedly involved in drafting.

Wray took over as FBI director in late September after Trump fired Comey in May.

"One of the questions that needs to be answered is why are the same people that have mishandled and provided bias to the Hillary Clinton investigation over time, why are they still in this administration?" Biggs said at Wednesday's news conference.

Conservatives also renewed their call Wednesday for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the FBI's handling of the Clinton case. Sessions, in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last month, said he has directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate Republican members' requests for a special counsel.

The Department of Justice's inspector general is already conducting an investigation of the FBI's handling of the Clinton email case. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is expected to testify before the House Judiciary Committee next week, and will undoubtedly be asked about that probe.

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., has threatened to have his committee vote on a contempt of Congress resolution against Wray and Rosenstein in the wake of the news about Strzok. He said the FBI and the Department of Justice hid the information from Congress for months "in a willful attempt to thwart Congress’ constitutional oversight responsibility." 

The Department of Justice has denied that and said officials are cooperating with the committee's investigation and will continue to do so.

Democrats say Republicans are just trying to divert attention away from Mueller's investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin and possible obstruction of justice by Trump.

Mueller's probe recently resulted in two indictments and two guilty pleas from Trump associates — including a guilty plea from former national security adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI about his communications with the Russian ambassador.

As of Wednesday, Nunes had not yet announced whether he planned to bring the contempt resolution to a vote in his committee.

The problem for lawmakers in pointing to the Strzok case as evidence of bias in the overall Russia investigation is that Mueller demoted the agent as soon as he was informed about the questionable text messages, legal experts said.

"I think that Mueller bent over backwards to be 'purer than Caesar's wife' in letting him (Strzok) go," said Charles Tiefer, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and the special deputy chief counsel for the House Iran-Contra Committee's investigation of the Reagan administration.

Nunes may be angry that the Department of Justice didn't clear Strzok until a few days ago to testify before his committee, but that's not a basis for contempt of Congress, Tiefer said.

Congress can only hold people in contempt if they are currently withholding testimony or documents, Tiefer said. They can't go after them for a slow response, he said.

"If you could charge every official who was behind schedule in responding to Congress with contempt, you would have to line them all up at the D.C. stadium," the professor said.

It's also unlikely that House leaders would bring a contempt of Congress resolution to a vote of the full House even if it passed the committee, he said.

"The stance of congressional leaders so far has been 'let justice be done,' " Tiefer said. "There are more indictments ahead. Congressional leadership is not going to want to look like they are fighting those."

Andrew Wright, an associate professor at Savannah Law School in Georgia and former staff director of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Congress has the power to withhold funds from Mueller's investigation.

Mueller's investigation has cost taxpayers at least $3.2 million so far, according to Justice Department records released Tuesday.

But Wright said any effort by Republicans to cut off funding to the investigation would never pass the Senate, where Democrats have the power to block such a move. Besides, the Mueller investigation allows GOP leaders to focus on tax policy, health care and other issues instead of having to answer endless questions about the Russia investigation, he said. 

"(House Speaker) Paul Ryan is benefiting from the fact that the Mueller investigation gives him an out from talking about Russia at every press conference," Wright said. "He can say 'the special counsel is handling that' and move on to the next question."

More: House Intel chairman threatens FBI director, deputy AG with contempt of Congress

More: Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, defends Justice Department in wake of Trump criticism

More: President Trump defends Michael Flynn for lying to FBI by claiming Hillary Clinton did the same thing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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