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Lawmakers express frustration over family separation policy at DOJ hearing

During over 7 hours of testimony by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, lawmakers, mostly Democrats, expressed outrage and frustration that the joint session of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committee spent Tuesday's hearing further probing the DOJ's IG report into the FBI and Justice Department's handling of the Clinton email investigation, instead of developments along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Highlights from the Senate's Monday hearing:

It was day two of testimony for Horowitz who just one day prior had answered lawmakers' questions during the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing into the IG report released last week. Much of his testimony mirrored the day before -- outlining how members of the FBI community, including officials Peter Stzork and Lisa Page had demonstrated clear political bias over the course of the email investigation, further impacting the FBI's credibility in the process, but that their bias never ultimately impacted the overall results of the probe.

Horowitz however, took a back seat when members of congress used their allotted time for questions to slam the panel for not taking up the issue of family separations which has sparked nationwide outcry as of late. Members on the panel urged the committee to take up the Trump administration's controversial "zero tolerance" policy instead of further probing the Clinton email scandal that rocked the end of the 2016 presidential election.

Ranking Member Elijah Cummings exclaimed in his heated opening remarks that the United States is "so much better than this" while Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, called the lack of focus on immigration "maddening."

Highlights from Tuesday's hearing:

Immigration

At the start of the hearing, lawmakers and protesters focused on immigration rather than the topic at hand. At the top of the hearing Rep. Jerrold Nadler interrupted Chairman Trey Gowdy to talk about separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying the "U.S. should be better than this."

A small group of women with babies in the hearing chamber also started to protest, chanting "families belong together!" 

Meanwhile, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings delivered a stern rebuke of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy, calling on Republicans to "stand up" to President Trump and "reject this mean policy."

Rep. Elijah Cummings blasts "zero tolerance" immigration policy by CBS News on YouTube

"Even if you believe immigration should be halted entirely we all should be able to agree that in the United States of America, we will not intentionally separate children from their parents, we will not do that. We are better than that. We are so much better. We should be able to agree that we will not keep kids in child internment camps indefinitely and hidden away from public view. What country is that," Cummings said in an emotionally-charged opening statement. 

After returning from a brief recess, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-New Jersey, said she was feeling "very discouraged" that the committee was spending so much time going into the report's findings from last week instead of exploring "what's right and what's wrong" with regards to the administration's policy. She referred to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as being "arrogant and dismissive" adding that she has "not a heart in her." 

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, posed to Horowitz if it was time to "move on" from the Clinton email saga, to which the IG said he would not speak to. Swalwell then took his non-answer as a moment to decry the committee's work in focusing on the IG's report instead of family separation as "maddening."

The congressman said he's had numerous constituents flooding his office with calls asking "what in the hell is the Judiciary Committee doing right now?"

"People aren't talking about the god damn emails, they're not....they are talking about kids sitting in cages," Swalwell exclaimed. He added "[what] they care about right now is the America they know is no longer compassionate." The Democrat then launched into a back and forth with Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus over legislation that the House might take up with regards to immigration. Meadows explained that he had introduced a bill on Tuesday that would cover the issue of family separation, to which Swalwell said it was something he'd "like to work on."

Political Bias/Peter Strzok texts:

Horowitz told lawmakers that as a result of the report's findings, the FBI found two additional FBI agents beyond Peter Strzok and Lisa Page as well as one attorney that exposed political bias during the investigation. While employees have a right to a political opinion, "their job is to check them at the door" Horowitz added. 

"The one thing I thought we all understood, you're entitled to be and should be part of the public, government, democracy we live in, when you get in the office you leave your views outside when you walk in the door," the IG said. 

Horowitz explained that the most troubling aspect of Strzok and Page's exchanges was the fact that they thought their messages were private when they weren't.

"They were using their FBI devices, sometimes at work, sometimes not at work, to speak about individuals that they were investigating. They weren't just speaking about a generic election," he said, adding that Page and Strzok had "tied their discussions to their investigate work and that's what's concerning."

"My view of this was that this was extremely serious, completely antithetical to the core values of the department," Horowitz said of the largely anti-Trump and politically biased messages exchanged. Horowitz reiterated, however, that through the investigation, "we didn't find or see evidence prosecutors were impacted by that bias."

Horowitz said that Strzok "exhibited" some form of bias but that decisions made by others during the Clinton investigation "were not infected by that bias." As for fired FBI Director James Comey, Horowitz said that from the IG's report "we did not find any evidence Comey acted out of political bias."

"We did have concerns, however about how we thought what was a biased state of mind impacted his October decisions regarding the [Anthony] Weiner laptop. We could not say one way or the other but we couldn't rule it out," said Horowitz. 

DOJ's next steps:

Horowitz says that the report made nine recommendations for ways to prevent similar issues of political bias found in the IG's report. 

"One of which is the department needs to consider putting in place guidance and rules and polices to memorialize what it believes prosecutors and agents should be doing in the time period before the election," he said. 

With regards to Comey discussing not bringing charges against Clinton before his final assessment, Horowitz noted as a result of the report, the IG's team found that there is currently no explicit policy about "not speaking on uncharged conduct when you don't charge any criminal activity."

He said prosecutors don't speak about uncharged conduct out of fairness to the individuals. "if a person isn't going to be charged, you don't speak about it, you speak in court," Horowitz explained. 

  • Emily Tillett

    Emily Tillett is a politics reporter and video editor for CBS News Digital