House Republicans are threatening former FBI lawyer Lisa Page with contempt proceedings after she failed to appear for a deposition Wednesday despite a subpoena.
Page was scheduled to appear in a private interview as part of a joint investigation by the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform Committees into allegations of bias against President Donald Trump within the Justice Department. Page's attorney, Amy Jeffress, told the committee Tuesday she would not appear, saying Page needed more time to prepare and that Page was still trying to get copies of FBI documents ahead of her deposition.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte said in a statement Wednesday that "none of the excuses" Jeffress offered "hold water."
Goodlatte and House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., told Jeffress in a letter that Page had been properly served. The chairmen said that if she did not answer their questions by Friday at 10:30 a.m. EDT, they would begin contempt proceedings.
Contempt votes are rare in Congress and often largely symbolic. If the full House does vote to hold someone in contempt, the matter then moves to the courts, where it has often stalled.
"We are aware of the issues raised regarding access to documents by the FBI," Goodlatte and Gowdy wrote. "We are also aware of committee efforts to schedule your client’s appearance for over six months now."
Goodlatte and Gowdy said Page could appear at a public hearing Thursday, give a deposition Friday or do both.
Page exchanged text messages that were highly critical of Trump with FBI agent Peter Strzok, who will testify publicly before the panels Thursday. Page and Strzok both worked on the FBI investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s emails and, later, on special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
"(Trump's) not ever going to become president, right?" Page wrote in a text to agent Peter Strzok just months before the 2016 election. "No. No he's not," Strzok said. "We'll stop it."
Trump has seized on Page and Strzok’s inflammatory texts, which were detailed in a report by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog last month, to paint the FBI and Mueller’s investigation as biased.
"Congressional subpoenas for testimony are not optional," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said in response to Page's failure to appear. "She was part of the mess we’ve uncovered at DOJ. She has an obligation to come testify. If she wants to come plead the Fifth (Amendment), that’s her choice. But a subpoena to testify before Congress is not optional. It’s mandatory. She needs to comply."
When asked if Page should be held in contempt, Ryan said, "We will do what we need to do to protect this branch of government."
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Page has "a duty to testify so the American People get the truth. No one is above the law!"
House Judiciary member Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., was much more direct in his call for contempt proceedings.
"Lisa Page, along with current and former Department of Justice employees, continue to deny Congress’s constitutional oversight authority," Biggs said. "There should be consequences for this willful rebellion. I am tired of the excuses and misdirection. Congress must act to quell further insubordination."
Trump weighed in from Brussels, tweeting, "Ex-FBI LAYER Lisa Page today defied a House of Representatives issued Subpoena to testify before Congress! Wow, but is anybody really surprised! Together with her lover, FBI Agent Peter Strzok, she worked on the Rigged Witch Hunt, perhaps the most tainted and corrupt case EVER!"
Contributing: Erin Kelly, USA TODAY; The Associated Press