Norfolk, Virginia (CNN)Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday addressed allegations of bias at the FBI amid controversy over text messages exchanged between two bureau officials and promised he is tackling problems "head on, not sweeping them under the rug."
Sessions promises to fight bias in wake of texting controversy
"My purpose every day is to get the department back to its fundamental mission of enforcing the law and protecting the safety of Americans with integrity and fairness," Sessions said as he concluded an unrelated immigration speech in Norfolk, Virginia.
"It means absolutely eliminating political bias or favoritism, in either direction, from our investigations and our prosecutions," he said. "That sort of thinking is the antithesis of what the department stands for. We will not tolerate it."
Several high-ranking Republicans, including President Donald Trump, in recent days seized on text messages produced to Congress last weekend as evidence of anti-Trump bias among some members of the FBI who worked on the Russia investigation.
The officials -- a top counterintelligence expert and an FBI attorney who were having an affair -- have come under fire for past exchanges that included insults aimed at Trump. Their texts were collected as part of an internal Department of Justice investigation and shared with lawmakers.
In one exchange, Peter Strzok, who led the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server as the No. 2 counterintelligence official, said he had a "sense of unfinished business" after the email probe, and needed to "fix it and finish it."
In another, Lisa Page, the FBI attorney, wrote on February 25, 2016, about the amount of manpower that should be involved in the Clinton investigation, saying, "She might be our next president. The last thing you need us going in there loaded for bear. You think she's going to remember or care that it was more doj than fbi?"
Both officials worked on special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Strzok was reassigned to the FBI's human resources department after the messages were discovered, while Page had completed her detail with the team before the Special Counsel's Office was made aware of the texts.
"What this is all about is further evidence of corruption, more than bias, corruption at the highest levels of the FBI," Sen. Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican who's the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said Tuesday.
His accusations were echoed by other lawmakers and conservative pundits, and a focus on Page's mention of a "secret society" spiraled into frenzy over an alleged cabal at the law enforcement agency. Johnson later backpedaled after it was revealed the message was likely sent as a joke.
Sessions did not refer explicitly to the texting scandal Friday and accepted criticism from Congress as not "necessarily a bad thing."
"When they learn of a problem and start asking questions, well, that's just a good thing. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, truly," he said.
"When we find problems, we're addressing them head on, not sweeping them under the rug," he added. "Much of what we are doing is behind the scenes, it's not public, but some of it is squarely in the public view."