House Panels Give Ex-FBI Lawyer Two Last Chances to Testify

(Bloomberg) -- Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page is being given two final options to appear by the end of the week before two House committees investigating her anti-Trump text exchanges with a bureau agent in 2016 -- or face potential contempt action from Congress.

Page is being given the choice of either appearing at an already-scheduled joint public hearing Thursday before the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform Committees, or attend a closed-door deposition on Friday, or both.

If Page doesn’t agree to either of these options, the chairmen of the two panels, Judiciary’s Bob Goodlatte and Oversight’s Trey Gowdy, told her lawyer that she would face contempt of Congress proceedings. "The Judiciary Committee intends to initiate contempt proceedings on Friday, July 13, 2018, at 10:30 a.m.," they wrote in a letter Wednesday to her lawyer, Amy Jeffress.

Page was subpoenaed to provide a deposition behind closed doors on Wednesday, but she didn’t appear under Jeffress’s advice. That deposition had been intended by Republicans to set the stage for an open hearing scheduled by the same panels on Thursday with FBI Agent Peter Strzok, with whom she had a romantic relationship. The pair exchanged texts sharply critical of Donald Trump when he was running for president in 2016.

Even several committee Republicans don’t expect that Page will seriously consider taking up the offer for her to appear at the hearing Thursday, to be questioned alongside Strzok.

Trump and his supporters contend that bias tainted the early stages of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump continued his criticism of Page and Strzok on Twitter Wednesday from Europe, where he had attended a NATO summit.

Inquiry Into an Investigation

Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the party’s ranking member on the Oversight panel, said the Republicans’ focus on Page and Strzok was intended to undermine the Russia investigation now being run by Special Council Robert Mueller.

In a letter to the committees’ chairmen, they said an inquiry originally billed as reviewing the investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server “has morphed into a partisan, abusive, and improper inquisition of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation of President Trump’s campaign and its connections to Russia.”

Page’s decision not to show up for the deposition Wednesday, under advice of her lawyer, prompted warnings from Goodlatte and other Republicans that the House would resort to whatever tools required to obtain her testimony, potentially including a contempt of Congress action.

“A subpoena to testify before Congress is not optional, it’s mandatory,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters Wednesday.

There was no immediate response to that from Jeffress. She had said in a statement Tuesday night that “bullying tactics” weren’t necessary. She added that Page first needed clarification about what the lawmakers would be asking and access to FBI documents. “We expect them to agree to another date so that Lisa can appear before the committees in the near future," Jeffress said in the statement.

Mueller, a Republican, removed Strzok from the inquiry when he learned about the text exchanges and Page has left the FBI.

Previous threats to pursue contempt of Congress proceedings against defiant witnesses in the House’s Russia investigation, which could have led to potential prosecution, haven’t been followed through with votes by the full House. Representative Darrell Issa of California complains that responses by the Justice Department in recent years to such congressional referrals haven’t been adequate anyway.

“The reality is there has been a long pattern of non-enforcement," said Issa, a member of the Oversight panel and its former chairman. He said that “has given people like Lisa Page the belief they can thumb their nose at this body.”

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