Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday he is willing to hold former FBI attorney Lisa Page in contempt of Congress if she continues defying a congressional subpoena to answer questions about anti-Donald Trump text message exchanges.
“I am very disturbed by this,” Ryan told reporters at a news conference. “Congressional subpoenas for testimony are not optional. … She was a part of a mess that they have uncovered over at DOJ. She has an obligation to come testify.”
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Ryan later added: “If she wants to come plead the Fifth, that’s her choice. But a subpoena to testify before Congress is not optional. It’s mandatory. She needs to comply.”
Ryan’s comments backed up House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who issued the subpoena for Page’s testimony on Saturday and blasted Page’s decision to skip a Wednesday morning deposition. It’s unclear when the House might move to hold Page in contempt — or whether an agreement can be reached to bring in Page in later this month.
Ryan’s remarks are sure to fuel a growing confrontation between GOP lawmakers and top FBI officials who have been at the center of the president’s claims that the FBI’s Russia investigation is a “witch hunt” led by biased FBI personnel. Page’s texts with FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok — unearthed by an internal Justice Department watchdog — revealed deep animus toward Trump. But there’s also no evidence to show their personal views were translated into action.
For his part, Strzok — who testified before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees for 11 hours last month — has forcefully denied that he improperly prioritized the Russia probe in late 2016 over an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server or took actions based on anti-Trump sentiment. Strzok is due back on Capitol Hill on Thursday for a public hearing.
Page’s attorney, Amy Jeffress, said Wednesday morning that Page is not refusing to cooperate with the committees but had been treated unfairly and denied access to relevant FBI files necessary for her to prepare.
“Through her actions and words, Lisa has made it abundantly clear that she will cooperate with this investigation. All she is asking is to be treated as other witnesses have under the Committees’ own rules,” Jeffress said in a statement.
According to Jeffress, Page has volunteered to testify later this month, as long as she receives more details about the scope of the committees’ questioning and access to certain FBI files. Jeffress said the Justice Department confirmed late Tuesday night that the files would be made available to her.
“We are working to arrange that process quickly so that we can move forward with her appearance before the Committees,” Jeffress said, adding that in their statements, members of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees were engaging in “bullying tactics.”
Not all Republicans agitating to haul Page before Congress are convinced her behavior is in bad faith.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said he understood that the FBI failed to provide relevant documents to Page that she needed in order to prepare for her deposition. He said he spoke to the FBI directly on Wednesday morning and that officials confirmed a “technical glitch” prevented them from sharing the files. Page, he noted, went to the FBI and waited for three hours to obtain her files, only to be denied.
“If indeed she showed up and waited for three hours at the FBI, shame on them,” Meadows said.
“I’m trying to confirm right now whether it’s a delay or a stall tactic,” he said. “Obviously, she’s known that she’s a witness with pertinent information … yet at the same time, I don’t want to falsely accuse her of something if this was through no fault of her own.”
Asked whether getting Page’s testimony is important in advance of Strzok’s public hearing, Meadows said it isn’t essential.
“We may have to come back and ask Peter Strzok additional questions after we ask her questions,” he said. “Certainly, this is not the first or the last time that we’ll be asking Peter Strzok questions as it relates to the bias we believe existed during the investigation.”
Meadows’ comments are notable — he’s been among the most aggressive critics of Strzok and Page’s text message exchanges, insisting that they’re proof of deep-seated bias among the officials in charge of the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential collusion between the Kremlin and Trump campaign.
Meadows’ comments were also at odds with those of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a top House conservative and ally of Meadows, who said he thinks Republicans may issue another subpoena for Page’s testimony and might ultimately hold her in contempt for defying Congress.
Democrats were largely silent on the unfolding dispute but one Judiciary Committee member, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), suggested Page should testify — even as he took a jab at Trump’s reluctance to do an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller.
“It is wrong for Lisa Page not to talk to investigators for the same reason it is wrong for @realDonaldTrump not to talk to investigators,” he tweeted. “There is no requirement that investigators have to provide information in advance to a witness, subject or a target prior to talking to them.”