WASHINGTON - Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to request documents about former FBI director James B. Comey's conversations with the Obama administration and journalists, amending and replacing a Democratic resolution that was designed to obtain documents about Comey's firing by President Donald Trump.
"In my district, my constituents say, 'Hey, what's going on with investigation of the crimes of the previous administration?' " said Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., one of the amendment's sponsors. "When I hear talk that this contains right-wing conspiracies - well, I'll tell you, my constituents think what's going on in the other bill are left-wing conspiracy theories."
The amendment was a surprise to Rep. Primala Jayapal, D-Wash., the freshman who had proposed the Democratic resolution of inquiry, which had been expected to fail. In a heated markup, Jayapal and other committee Democrats expressed amazement that Republicans wanted to resurrect questions about the defeated Clinton campaign.
"There appears to be deliberate stonewalling to stop any inquiry into the questions facing us today," she said. "You want to have another beating of the dead horse of Hillary Clinton and her emails? Fine, I'll include it. But let's have another opportunity to debate."
But over several hours, the drama and farce of the 2016 campaign - and even Bill Clinton's 1998 impeachment - played out again between Judiciary members. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, an impeachment manager and a senior member of the committee, chastened Democrats who said that Clinton had been impeached over a mere sex scandal.
"Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury," said Chabot. "It had something to do with the fact that he had a history of sexual harassment of women."
"We have a lot more than a blue dress now," said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., referring to evidence in the Clinton impeachment.
Republicans argued otherwise, sometimes suggesting that Jayapal's amendment asked the committee to repeat work that special counsel Robert Mueller was already doing, and sometimes suggesting that the Mueller investigation was unfair.
"They're not focused on things like the Clinton Foundation functionally selling access to the State Department; they're not worried about selling uranium to the Russians; they're not worried about unmasking," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., another amendment sponsor, referring to Democrats.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, another sponsor, suggested a probe of Comey's interactions with sources, the Obama administration, and especially former Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. After referring to part of the amendment that asked for documents about Lynch's tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton in Phoenix, just a few days before her FBI interview, Jordan argued that Comey also needed to explain why he followed apparent advice from Lynch to call the Clinton email probe a "matter" instead of an investigation.
"Last time I checked, he wasn't director of the Federal Bureau of Matters," said Jordan. "We've got all these investigations about Putin's influence in our election. How about the Obama administration's influence on our election?
Democrats, lacking the votes to stop the amendment, expressed their amazement at the Republican push. "This is the most astonishing moment I've ever experienced in the Judiciary Committee," said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. "To take a question about the firing of James B. Comey and turn it into a question about Hillary Clinton? The chairman has left the room. Justice has left this room. Common sense has left this room. A lot of stuff has left this room, and maybe never entered it."
But the amendment passed, and the altered resolution passed on a 16-13 partisan vote, giving it a chance to be approved by the House.