Republicans on Capitol Hill say they’re considering holding former FBI lawyer Lisa Page in contempt after she did not appear for an interview Wednesday under subpoena, but her lawyer maintains she’s more than willing to cooperate and House leaders have resorted to “bullying” tactics.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday he was “very disturbed” by Page’s refusal to show up and indicated he is willing to hold her in contempt of Congress.
“She was a part of the mess that we uncovered over at DOJ,” said Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican. “She has an obligation to come and testify. 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. We will do what we need to do to protect this branch of government.”
A handful of House Judiciary and House Oversight committee members gathered an hour after Page’s interview was scheduled to start to discuss next steps.
After the meeting, conservative House Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, said that the committee planned to give Page two options to comply with the subpoena: Appear for a closed-door interview later this week or testify alongside FBI agent Peter Strzok at a public hearing scheduled for Thursday.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte confirmed in an interview on Fox News that Page has been given those options to appear this week, but if she doesn’t, she could be held in contempt as soon as Friday.
“She does not have days or weeks to do this. She’s got to decide now,” Goodlatte said. “We will hold her in contempt and that’s a serious matter.”
Two congressional sources said a committee vote to hold Page in contempt could be held on Friday, which would set the stage for a full House vote next week.
But New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the threat of holding Page in contempt was a “charade,” arguing there was no reason why she couldn’t review the documents and come in for an interview next week.
Page and Strzok have been ensnared in a Republican firestorm for months over text messages they exchanged disparaging Donald Trump while working on the Hillary Clinton email probe and Russia investigations, but her attorney said Wednesday there is “no basis for claims that Lisa has anything to hide or is unwilling to testify.”
“All she is asking is to be treated as other witnesses have under the Committees’ own rules,” said her attorney, Amy Jeffress, in a statement to CNN. “She has offered to voluntarily appear before the Committees later this month. She simply needs clarification of the scope of the Committee’s interest in interviewing her and access to relevant documents so that she can provide complete and accurate testimony.”
The move by Page’s attorney was a rare moment of pushback, as Republicans and the President have continued to hold up Page and Strzok as Exhibit A of political bias infecting the nation’s premier law enforcement agency.
Goodlatte said that he doesn’t buy Page’s claim that she couldn’t sufficiently prepare, noting the committees informed Page in December they would seek to speak to her. He said holding her in contempt was now on the table, but he hadn’t made a “final decision” on next steps.
“She’s known for about seven months,” said Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia. “We’ve been talking to her attorney for over a month.”
A previously unreported letter obtained by CNN shows that negotiations have, in fact, been ongoing, but the decision by members of the House Judiciary Committee to sign on to an April 2018 referral of Page – along with several other former FBI and Justice Department officials, and Clinton – for a criminal investigation, raised the stakes.
“Given your request, I assume that Chairman Goodlatte and Chairman Gowdy agree with me that there is no legitimate basis for the allegations in that letter regarding Ms. Page, as it would be inappropriate for the Chairmen to request a voluntary interview from a subject or target of a criminal investigation relating to the same matters of that investigation,” Jeffress wrote in late June, referring to House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican. “Please let me know how the Chairmen intend to communicate their disagreement with that letter prior to any appearance by Ms. Page.”
Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida and several other conservatives who have been among the most critical of the FBI’s handling of the Clinton and Russia investigations sent the referral, although Goodlatte did not sign on.
House Republicans have been nevertheless aggressively pushing for interviews – including by serving Strzok with a subpoena for public testimony Thursday after declining to release a transcript of his closed-door testimony last month as his lawyer and Democrats demanded.
Some former FBI and Justice Department officials say the tactics observed in recent months illustrate a clear desire by House Republicans to score political points instead of genuine fact-finding.
“The idea that Lisa Page has something to hide is laughable, because Congress has already released her personal text messages for all the world to see,” said Josh Campbell, CNN analyst and former FBI supervisory special agent. “The public would be much better served by hearing from a crucial witness who has come fully prepared to publicly address the tough questions we expect her to answer, rather than the endless gamesmanship we continue to see from committee leadership.”
“Congressional oversight has become very politicized and headline driven – this is not business as usual,” added Ronald Weich, dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law and head of legislative affairs at the Justice Department under the Obama administration. “This is an example of a congressional committee trying to find a ‘gotcha moment’ instead of legitimately investigating Justice Department policies and practices.”
Jeffress said that the Justice Department granted Page’s request late Tuesday evening to review the relevant documents before she testifies, and Jeffress is now “working to arrange that process quickly so that we can move forward with her appearance before the Committees.”
Meadows said Wednesday morning that the FBI told him there was a “technical glitch” preventing her from getting access to the relevant materials Tuesday, but he later argued that the fact Page couldn’t get access to classified material wasn’t relevant because the interview would have been held in an unclassified setting.
This story has been updated to include additional developments.