Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page admitted under questioning from Texas Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe last summer that "the FBI was ordered by the Obama DOJ not to consider charging Hillary Clinton for gross negligence in the handling of classified information," the congressman alleged in a social media post late Tuesday, citing a newly unearthed transcript of Page's closed-door testimony.
Page and since-fired FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok, who were romantically involved, exchanged numerous anti-Trump text messages in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, and Republicans have long accused the bureau of political bias. But Page's testimony was perhaps the most salient evidence yet that the Justice Department improperly interfered with the FBI's supposedly independent conclusions on Clinton's criminal culpability, Ratcliffe alleged.
"So let me if I can, I know I’m testing your memory," Ratcliffe began as he questioned Page under oath, according to a transcript excerpt he posted on Twitter. "But when you say advice you got from the Department, you’re making it sound like it was the Department that told you: You’re not going to charge gross negligence because we’re the prosecutors and we’re telling you we’re not going to —"
Page interrupted: "That is correct," as Ratcliffe finished his sentence, " — bring a case based on that."
The document dump was part of a major release by House Judiciary Committee Republicans, who on Tuesday released hundreds of pages of transcripts from last year's closed-door interview with Page, revealing new details about the bureau's controversial internal discussions regarding an “insurance policy” against then-candidate Donald Trump. Fox News has previously reviewed portions of Page's testimony.
Responding to the transcript revelations, Trump on Wednesday tweeted: "The just revealed FBI Agent Lisa Page transcripts make the Obama Justice Department look exactly like it was, a broken and corrupt machine. Hopefully, justice will finally be served. Much more to come!"
Page also testified that the DOJ and FBI had "multiple conversations … about charging gross negligence," and the DOJ decided that the term was "constitutionally vague" and "had either never been done or had only been done once like 99 years ago," and so "they did not feel they could sustain a charge."
Former FBI Lawyer Lisa Page and fired FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok exchanged anti-Trump text messages during their time at the bureau. (AP, File)
In July 2016, then-FBI Director James Comey publicly announced at a bombshell press conference that Clinton had been "extremely careless" in handling classified information, but insisted that "no reasonable prosecutor" would bring a case against her.
Federal law states that "gross negligence" in handling the nation’s intelligence can be punished criminally with prison time or fines, and there is no requirement that defendants act intentionally or recklessly.
Originally Comey accused the former secretary of state of being “grossly negligent” in handling classified information in a draft dated May 2, 2016, but that was modified to claim that Clinton had merely been “extremely careless” in a draft dated June 10, 2016.
Comey also said that "although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case."
He added that "prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before bringing charges," including "the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent."
Comey took the unusual step of holding a press conference and announcing the FBI's purportedly independent conclusions because then-Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch was spotted meeting secretly with former President Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac as the probe into Hillary Clinton, which Lynch was overseeing, continued.
Comey's conclusion that "no reasonable prosecutor" would bring a case against Clinton has become the subject of significant debate in recent weeks. It was revealed last month that FBI's top lawyer in 2016 thought Hillary Clinton and her team should have immediately realized they were mishandling "highly classified" information based on the obviously sensitive nature of the emails' contents sent through her private server.
And he believed she should have been prosecuted until "pretty late" in the investigation, according to a transcript of his closed-door testimony before congressional committees last October.
Strzok and Page were involved in the FBI’s initial counterintelligence investigation into Russian meddling and potential collusion with Trump campaign associates during the 2016 election, and later served on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
Among the texts between the two was one concerning the so-called "insurance policy." During her interview with the Judiciary Committee in July 2018, Page was questioned at length about that text — and essentially confirmed this referred to the Russia investigation while explaining that officials were proceeding with caution, concerned about the implications of the case while not wanting to go at "total breakneck speed" and risk burning sources as they presumed Trump wouldn't be elected anyway.
GOP Senators discuss FBI anti-Trump bias during William Barr’s AG hearing; Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Josh Hawley weighs in.
Further, she confirmed investigators only had a "paucity" of evidence at the start. Comey, last December, similarly acknowledged that when the FBI initiated its counterintelligence probe into possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government in July 2016, investigators "didn't know whether we had anything" and that "in fact, when I was fired as director [in May 2017], I still didn't know whether there was anything to it."
Then-Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., kicked off that section of questioning by asking about the text sent from Strzok to Page in August 2016 which read: “I want to believe the path you threw out in Andy’s [McCabe's] office—that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take the risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”
“So, upon the opening of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, we had a number of discussions up through and including the Director regularly in which we were trying to find an answer to the question, right, which is, is there someone associated with the [Trump] campaign who is working with the Russians in order to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton,” Page said. “And given that it is August, we were very aware of the speed and sensitivity that we needed to operate under.”
Page continued that, “if the answer is this is a guy just being puffery at a meeting with other people, great, then we don’t need to worry about this, and we can all move on with our lives; if this is, in fact, the Russians have coopted an individual with, you know, maybe wittingly or unwittingly, that’s incredibly grave, and we need to know that as quickly as possible.”
Page explained that the text message reflected their “continuing check-in” as to “how quickly to operate.”
“[W]e don’t need to go at a total breakneck speed because so long as he doesn’t become President, there isn’t the same threat to national security, right,” Page explained, while saying that if Trump were not elected president, the bureau would still investigate.
“But if he becomes president, that totally changes the game because now he is the President of the United States,” Page told lawmakers. “He’s going to immediately start receiving classified briefings. He’s going to be exposed to the most sensitive secrets imaginable. And if there is somebody on his team who wittingly or unwittingly is working with the Russians, that is super serious.”
Fox News' Brooke Singman contributed to this report.