House GOP quietly ends probe into FBI's 2016 decisions

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans say more investigation is needed into decisions made by the FBI and the Justice Department in 2016 as they brought an unceremonious end to their yearlong look at the department's handling of probes into Democrat Hillary Clinton's emails and Donald Trump's ties to Russia.

In a letter released Friday evening, less than a week before Republicans cede the House majority to Democrats, the chairmen of two House committees described what they said was the "seemingly disparate treatment" the two probes received during the presidential election in 2016 and called on the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate further.

House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte and Rep. Trey Gowdy, House Oversight and Government Reform chairman, both of whom are retiring next week, sent a letter to the Justice Department and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying they reviewed thousands of documents and conducted interviews that "revealed troubling facts which exacerbated our initial questions and concerns." Republicans have said since the election that they believe Justice officials were biased against President Trump when they started an investigation into his ties to Russia and cleared Clinton in a separate probe into her email use.

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Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden together through the years
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) attend a ceremony to unveil a portrait honoring retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. December 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) is joined by her husband former US President Bill Clinton (R) and US Vice President Joe Biden as she is ceremonially sworn in at the State Department in Washington, February 2, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES)
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton welcomes Vice President Joe Biden as he disembarks from Air Force Two for a joint campaign event in Scranton, Pennsylvania, August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
PORTSMOUTH, NH - MAY 11: Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) greets fellow presidential candidate Joe Biden (D-DE) in the lobby of the Sheraton Harborside Portsmouth after addressing the International Association of Fire Fighters Convention (IAFF) Conference May 11, 2007 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The IAFF is a labor union of fire fighters from the United States and Canada, formed in 1918, consisting of 280,000 members. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Vice-President Joe Biden campaign together during an event in Scranton, Pennsylvania, August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Vice-President Joe Biden wave to neighbors as they stopped to visit Biden's childhood home in Scranton, Pennsylvania, August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) attend a ceremony to unveil a portrait honoring retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. December 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Vice-President Joe Biden campaign together during an event in Scranton, Pennsylvania, August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (C) addresses a luncheon held in honor of German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L), as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden looks on at the State Department in Washington, June 7, 2011. REUTERS/Stelios Varias (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 15: Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden conduct a campaign rally at Riverfront Sports in Scranton, Pa., August 15, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Scranton, PA - AUGUST 15: Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and US Vice President Joe Biden acknowledge the crowd at Riverfront Sports athletic facility on August 15, 2016 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Hillary Clinton focused her speech on the economy and bringing jobs to the key swing state of Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review from the White House Briefing Room with Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looking on in Washington December 16, 2010. The review said "notable operational gains" had been made and Taliban momentum had been "arrested" in much of the country and reversed in some areas, but any gains were fragile and reversible. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT)
Combination images show U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) sharing a laugh during the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 29, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES)
Orangeburg, UNITED STATES: Democratic presidential hopefuls (L-R) US Senator Joe Biden, US Senator Barack Obama and US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton arrive at the Democratic Party Presidential Primary Debate, 26 April 2007, at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Washington, UNITED STATES: US Democratic Senator from Nedw York Hillary Clinton (R) greets a member of Congress next to Democratic Senator from Delaware Joe Biden (C) as they arrives for US President George W. Bush's annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington 23 January 2007. AFP PHOTO/Larry Downing/Pool (Photo credit should read LARRY DOWNING/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) and Vice President Joe Biden (L), along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Also pictured are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2nd R) and Defense Secretary Robert Gates (R). Please note: A classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured at source. Picture taken May 1, 2011. A pivotal moment in the long, tortuous quest to find Osama bin Laden came years before U.S. spy agencies discovered his hermetic compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. REUTERS/White House/Pete Souza/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS To match special report BINLADEN/KILL (SPECIAL REPORT)
Orangeburg, UNITED STATES: Democratic presidential hopefuls (L-R) US Senator Joe Biden, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton arrive at the Democratic Party Presidential Primary Debate, 26 April 2007, at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Orangeburg, UNITED STATES: Democratic presidential hopefuls (L-R) US Senator Joe Biden, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton arrive at the Democratic Party Presidential Primary Debate, 26 April 2007, at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY)(L) and U.S. Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) speak after their debate at Howard University in Washington, June 28, 2007. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES)
U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) (R) is greeted by U.S. Senator Joseph Biden (D-De) at a Democratic Presidential Candidates Forum sponsored by AFSCME in Carson City, Nevada, February 21, 2007. REUTERS/Kimberly White (UNITED STATES)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) (L) and Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) listen as U.S. President George W. Bush delivers the final State of the Union address of his presidency in Washington January 28, 2008. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES)
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) speaks while Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) listens during the AFL-CIO Presidential Forum at Soldier Field in Chicago, August 7, 2007. REUTERS/John Gress (UNITED STATES)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) presents a gift to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden watches, during a luncheon held in Merkel's honor at the State Department in Washington June 7, 2011. REUTERS/Stelios Varias (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talk during a meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington December 7, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES POLITICS)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (C) speaks at the third annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) at the Department of the Interior in Washington May 9, 2011. Flanking Biden are Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan (L) and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS)
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to Vice President Joe Biden as U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell (R) looks on during a meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington May 28, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES POLITICS)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (C), Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton toast during a luncheon at the State Department in Washington November 24, 2009. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES POLITICS)
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The wrapping up of the congressional investigation, done in a letter and without a full final report, was a quiet end to a probe that was conducted mostly behind closed doors but also in public as Republican lawmakers often criticized interview subjects afterward and suggested they were conspiring against Trump.

The investigation's most public day was a 10-hour open hearing in July in which former FBI special agent Peter Strzok defended anti-Trump texts he sent to a colleague as he helped lead both investigations. Strzok fought with Republican lawmakers in a riveting spectacle that featured Strzok reading aloud from his sometimes-lewd texts, and Democrats and Republicans openly yelling at each other.

Goodlatte and Gowdy laid out several concerns in the letter, many of them echoing a report issued this year by the Justice Department's internal watchdog. That report concluded that Strzok's anti-Trump text messages cast a cloud on the agency's handling of the probe and also that fired FBI Director James Comey repeatedly broke from protocol, including when he announced his recommendation against charging Clinton. But unlike the congressional investigation, the report also found there was no evidence that Comey's or the department's final conclusions were motivated by political bias toward either candidate.

Democrats have blasted the GOP-led congressional probe, saying it was merely meant as a distraction from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the judiciary committee, and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, top Democrat on the oversight panel, are expected to end the investigation when they take power in January. Nadler has called it "nonsense."

California Rep. Adam Schiff, who does not sit on either panel but is the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, tweeted Friday evening that the Republican investigation is ending "not with a bang, but with a Friday, buried-in-the-holidays whimper, and one foot out the door."

The Republicans have insisted that they were not trying to undermine the Mueller probe.

"Contrary to Democrat and media claims, there has been no effort to discredit the work of the special counsel," Goodlatte and Gowdy wrote in the letter. "Quite the opposite, whatever product is produced by the special counsel must be trusted by Americans and that requires asking tough but fair questions about investigative techniques both employed and not employed."

Republicans have repeatedly asked for a special counsel to look into the 2016 questions, but former Attorney General Jeff Sessions never granted their request. The department is now led by Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, a Trump ally who has not weighed in on the issue.

The Republicans sent the letter not only to McConnell but to several other Republican Senate committee chairmen, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who will become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Goodlatte and Gowdy wrote that "while Congress does not have the power to appoint a special counsel, Congress does have the power to continue to investigate. They said they believe "the facts uncovered thus far" warrant continued oversight.

Goodlatte and Gowdy have also asked for the Justice Department release transcripts from their investigation. The committees sent the transcripts to the department last week so they could be reviewed for any classified information, but they have not been released.

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