Outraged House Republicans have called two hearings with senior Obama administration officials to review the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
FBI Director James Comey will appear before the House Oversight Committee on Thursday, just two days after he declined to recommend that federal prosecutors bring charges against the former secretary of State.
The following Tuesday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch will answer questions before the House Judiciary Committee in a session likely to focus heavily on the Clinton matter.
The hearings, combined with escalating demands across Capitol Hill for more information from Comey about the Clinton investigation, amount to a full-on offensive against the FBI by congressional Republicans.
GOP lawmakers say Tuesday’s recommendation against criminal charges is the culmination of a years-long politicization of the justice process, and they plan to spend their final legislative days before this month’s presidential nominating conventions proving it.
“The fact pattern presented by Director Comey makes clear Secretary Clinton violated the law. Individuals who intentionally skirt the law must be held accountable,” Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said in a statement announcing the Thursday morning hearing.
“Congress and the American people have a right to understand the depth and breadth of the FBI’s investigation.”
Inspectors general from the State Department and the federal intelligence community have also been invited to Thursday’s hearing, though it is unclear whether they will appear on such short notice.
GOP lawmakers had previously held out hope that Comey, a lifelong Republican who served in the George W. Bush administration, might press for charges against Clinton just weeks before she is expected to become the Democratic nominee for president.
But Comey instead on Tuesday said no “reasonable prosecutor” would bring charges against Clinton despite the “extremely careless” manner in which classified information was handled.
While the FBI director delivered a scathing rebuke of Clinton, refuting several of her claims about the private email system and how it was used, Republicans expressed shock and disbelief at the recommendation against a criminal case.
The timing of the announcement was all the more galling, critics say, coming shortly after a controversial meeting between Lynch and former President Bill Clinton on the tarmac at Phoenix’s international airport. Comey also delivered his recommendation just hours before Hillary Clinton and President Obama appeared for their first joint campaign rally.
And critics have questioned why the FBI moved so quickly to rule out charges only three days after interviewing Clinton.
In separate letters to Comey, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Senate Homeland Security Committee head Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) raised multiple questions about the scope of the FBI investigation and why the evidence did not add up to a recommendation to prosecute.
The sentiment appears to be pervasive among Republicans on Capitol Hill.
“There are a lot of questions that need to be answered, so we’re going to be asking those questions,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters on Wednesday.
Comey’s announcement, Ryan added, “raises more questions than provides answers.”
The Speaker on Wednesday urged the State Department to take “administrative action” against Clinton over the emails and demanded that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper deny her access to classified information even after she becomes the Democratic nominee later this month. Presidential candidates typically receive a classified briefing from intelligence officials not long after they have been formally nominated.
“I think Clapper should deny Hillary Clinton access to classified information during this campaign given how she so recklessly handled classified information,” Ryan said.
Among other revelations, Comey on Wednesday said that 113 emails sent by or to Clinton contained information marked classified at the time, contradicting her claims that the messages had been “upgraded” later.
Among those were 22 emails classified as top secret, the highest level. Roughly 2,000 additional emails contained information classified after the fact.
And evidence uncovered by the FBI suggests that Clinton and her top aides “were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” the FBI chief said.
The fact that Comey revealed any information at all about his bureau’s probe was unusual, given investigators’ usual commitment to avoid divulging details when charges aren’t filed.
It’s unclear how much more light he may be willing to shed on the matter on Thursday.
Depending on what he’s willing to reveal, Comey’s testimony could prove damaging for Clinton. He signaled extreme displeasure with her and her aides on Tuesday, and might be willing to expand upon that criticism during the hearing.
Democrats and defenders of Clinton are already dismissing the inquiries as a politically motivated witch hunt that they say is intended to distract the public from presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump. Trump will be on Capitol Hill separately on Thursday to meet with House and Senate Republicans.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), Chaffetz’s Democratic counterpart on the Oversight panel, described Thursday’s hearing as similar to the Select Committee on Benghazi, a controversial panel on which he also serves as top Democrat.
“Republican after Republican praised Director Comey’s impeccable record of independence — right up until the moment he issued his conclusion,” Cummings said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Since Republicans disagree with his recommendation, they are doing what they always do — using taxpayer funds to continue ‘investigating’ their baseless claims in an effort to bring down Secretary Clinton’s poll numbers.”