Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following statement during the Committee’s hearing on “Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election.”
Chairman Goodlatte: The Church Committee was established on a bipartisan basis and chaired by Democratic Senator Frank Church in 1975 to review CIA, FBI, and NSA surveillance abuses, including the improper surveillance of an American icon, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other prominent individuals. The Committee also conducted a review of the insidious monitoring of political activities of citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. The Church Committee’s findings resulted in passage three years later of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA attempts to balance the need for secrecy in conducting surveillance against foreign agents with the protection of Americans’ time-honored civil liberties.
This history shows we have already found ourselves, once before, in a situation where the FBI and other intelligence agencies violated their oaths to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. In monitoring citizens’ political activity, the agencies exercised their responsibilities in a manner unworthy of U.S. officials. The abuses of that bygone era, and really of any era, often happen because of power – power to influence political currents, power to collect sensitive information, and power to wield surveillance tools in improper ways to achieve improper purposes. That power can and has been abused in the past, by individuals at the highest and lowest levels of our government.
Fortunately, the power of our intelligence agencies is overwhelmingly used to protect us from those wishing to do our country harm. That is the conundrum. We need our intelligence agencies to have the necessary tools and techniques to safeguard our nation, and we have to be constantly vigilant to ensure these tools are not manipulated by unscrupulous actors.
The recent Inspector General’s report revealed bias in the top echelons of the FBI during a hotly-contested presidential election. It revealed that FBI agents, lawyers, and analysts held profound biases against then-candidate Donald Trump and in favor of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. While those on the other side of the aisle continue to exclaim that these biases are only personal political predilections that had no effect on the operation of one of the biggest investigations in our nation’s history, I wonder whether these same Members would say the same if text messages had turned up to the tune of “Hillary is a disaster,” or “We’ll stop” her, or cursing her with all manner of expletives, or smugly stating that particular parts of the country “smell of Hillary supporters.”
These types of comments were originating from people who were the fact-finders in the investigation. These profoundly inappropriate comments were coming from the individuals who were making decisions on whether to provide immunity to people who had already lied to investigators, and whether subjects of an investigation could sit in on interviews with other subjects of the same investigation. These were individuals who were plainly in positions of great power with the opportunity to place greater, lesser, or even no emphasis on certain facts or interpretations of law. These actions led to complete legal exoneration of everyone involved in sending Top Secret emails over personal servers and unsecured emails- and setting up a server for the explicit purpose of doing this. These actions even led to exposing at least one classified email to a foreign party that risked serious damage to our national security. Amazingly, considering their overwhelming biases, these people were also the very same people who were assigned to investigate the man that they hated: then-candidate Donald Trump.
My reference to the Church Committee is apropos because it not only reviewed abuses by individuals, including the FBI Director himself, but focused in on surveillance abuses. Here, we now face the same allegations, yet in manner that goes to the heart of our democracy. It is right out of a novel with salacious, unverified dossiers, reports of informants that appear more like spies for the U.S. government, and application of the aforementioned surveillance powers to collect on a U.S. person once associated with President Trump’s political campaign. But it’s not a novel; it is real life and we are here today to understand a little bit more about why we now must review how our intelligence and law enforcement agencies engaged in activity that appears not only wrong, but potentially illegal.
All of which brings me to this body’s Constitutional oversight mandate and responsibilities. Our responsibility to the American people is to conduct robust oversight of agencies within this Committee’s jurisdiction, to ensure that taxpayer-funded agencies operate lawfully. Our oversight, though, is only as good as the information we are provided. This Committee’s oversight has been hampered by both the FBI and DOJ’s lack of consistent and vigorous production of the documents we need to hold the agencies accountable. While this production has significantly improved recently, it has felt like pulling teeth much of the time to obtain and review relevant documents. Moreover, we just recently learned that some documents the Inspector General received to conduct his investigation of the 2016 election have been interpreted by the Department of Justice to fall outside the first subpoena I ever issued as Chairman of this Committee. Shockingly, emails and communications of DOJ officials have not been produced at all. Therefore, we have not received any emails between prosecutors working the Clinton case.
Said differently, we are not receiving and have not received potentially enlightening communications between prosecutors themselves, between prosecutors and DOJ management including former Attorney General Lynch, or even communications between DOJ officials and those with the Obama White House. This is unacceptable, particularly when we had long before issuing the subpoena requested all documents provided to the Inspector General other than certain ones pertaining to grand jury material.
The Department of Justice and the FBI are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. The President and Congress are. Our Constitutional oversight necessitates that institutions like the FBI and DOJ yield to Congress’ constitutional mandate. This is non-negotiable because we must assure the American people that the agencies under our jurisdiction operate fairly, treating all equally under the law.
This hearing emphasizes the importance of transparency in helping to regain both the perception and reality of impartiality of our law enforcement system. Damage to the FBI and DOJ’s reputations is not something any of us desire. But now that both agencies have been on the front pages for so long, we must all work to ensure that those stories are able to focus once again on the great men and women performing admirable and often heroic jobs to protect our country.
We expect to hear today how the FBI and DOJ will hold people accountable and prevent this from happening again. Thank you and I look forward to hearing from both Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and Director Wray.