The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday was supposed to be about the Mueller report, but over and over, Republican senators drilled down on something else: Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Sitting at the witness table was Attorney General William Barr, ready to take questions about the special counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller.
But during the first moments of the hearing, Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham turned the tables and rehashed some of the flashpoints from the 2016 campaign. In all, the South Carolina Republican mentioned Clinton more than 10 times in his opening statement.
He spoke about how a Clinton associate used “a software program called BleachBit to wipe this email server clean,” referring to the private email server that Clinton used while secretary of state. Graham also repeated an intriguing (but not illegal) detail that one of Clinton’s associates “took a hammer and destroyed” some of the electronic devices she used to access her emails.
The FBI, then led by James Comey, investigated Clinton during the 2016 campaign for mishandling classified information on her email server. The probe determined that Clinton had been “extremely careless,” and Comey publicly shared details about the investigation that damaged Clinton’s standing in the polls. But she ultimately wasn’t charged with any crimes.
Graham further criticized one of the top FBI agents who oversaw the Clinton investigation, and was also involved in the first year of the Russia investigation, which began in July 2016. The agent, Peter Strzok, was fired last year after a scandal about his extramarital affair with FBI lawyer Lisa Page and the controversial text messages they exchanged on government devices.
“These are the people investigating the Clinton email situation and start the counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign,” Graham said, referring to Strzok and Page.
Graham then read their texts aloud and accused them of bias, quoting one from October 2016 where Strzok told Page, “Trump is a f***ing idiot. He’s unable to provide a coherent answer.’”
“Sorry to the kids out there,” Graham added after uttering the expletive on national television.
As is tradition, Republicans and Democrats took turns with the questioning. Graham and many of his fellow Republicans asked about the Clinton email investigation, supposed “spying” on the Trump campaign by US intelligence agencies and Comey’s shaky tenure as FBI director.
When it was Democrats’ turn, they needled Barr for how he has handled the report’s rollout, which has been extremely misleading at times and sometimes laden with clear falsehoods.
Sen. Dick Durbin referred to the effort as a “lock her up” defense.
“I’ve been listening carefully to my Republican colleagues on the other side and it appears they are going to work together and coordinate the so-called ‘lock-her-up’ defense,” the Illinois Democrat said.