Ex-FBI Lawyer Testifies to House Panels on 2016 Anti-Trump Texts

(Bloomberg) -- Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page was praised by congressional investigators as largely cooperative on Friday, answering questions mostly about her 2016 text-message exchanges with FBI Agent Peter Strzok that were critical of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

"There is new information we’ve been able to gain today," Representative Mark Meadows said of the closed-interview, which lasted about four hours.

While refusing to provide details, Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, and other lawmakers said Page was more forthcoming than had been Strzok, who on Thursday refused during a long, rancorous public hearing to answer some questions. He repeatedly told lawmakers he was following the instructions of FBI lawyers in declining to answer. Strzok, unlike Page, remains employed by the FBI.

Congressional Republicans had taken a far sharper tone earlier this week when Page, on the advice of her lawyer, refused to appear before investigators despite a subpoena. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia threatened to initiate contempt proceedings against her. But she appeared on Friday voluntarily.

Meadows and other members of the Oversight panel have been working with the Judiciary Committee in a joint inquiry that they say is intended to determine whether the early stages of the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election were tainted by political bias.

Party Lines

The president and his supporters have cited the Page-Strzok texts as proof that the FBI and the Justice Department had an anti-Trump agenda.

Democrats led by top Judiciary Committee Democrat Jerrold Nadler of New York on Friday continued to cast the Republican-driven effort as a campaign to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian meddling and whether anyone in the Trump campaign was involved in it.

Page did not speak to reporters as she arrived for her closed-door interview, which FBI lawyers also attended.

Meadows and others said they weren’t ready to detail what new information she revealed about the text messages with Strzok -- with whom she was romantically involved -- as well as early FBI actions and decisions in the Russia inquiry. But they uniformly described her as willing to cooperate.

A congressional official in the room who was granted anonymity to discuss the proceedings, said Page refused to answer some questions. That occurred, the official said, when Gowdy pressed for more details of the use of confidential sources who had assisted the FBI in the initial stages of the investigation.

"There were times when FBI counsel instructed Lisa Page not to provide answers, but she was more forthcoming than Peter Strzok," said GOP Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida.

"Lisa Page is not an FBI employee. But the FBI was here providing counsel and giving her direction about which questions to answer or not answer. And there is a question as to the propriety of that before the House," he added. But Gaetz said no attorney-client privilege was actually cited during the interview.

Page’s questioning is to continue on Monday. No public hearing has been set for her, and none is "on the horizon," Meadows said.

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