Politics

War Over FBI and Justice Reaches Crescendo on Hill

Divided House passes resolution demanding surveillance documents by July 6

The House passed a resolution by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., aimed at the Justice Department on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Partisan clashes over the Justice Department and the FBI intensified Thursday as the House passed a resolution 226-183 demanding that Justice leaders turn over thousands of pages of investigative documents pertaining to the investigation of Carter Page and other former aides to President Donald Trump’s campaign. 

The House resolution insists that the Justice Department by July 6 comply with document requests and subpoenas issued by the Intelligence and Judiciary committees regarding potential violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by department personnel during the FBI’s investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential campaign.

At the same time, top congressional Democrats pushed back against attempts by the Republican majority in the House to force the hand of the Justice Department. 

 

Democrats wrote to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray asking them to resist attempts by Republicans to extract more material pertaining to the Russia investigation, even as the House debated the resolution by Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina.

“With every disclosure, DOJ and FBI are reinforcing a precedent it will have to uphold, whether the Congress is in Republican or Democratic hands, of providing materials in pending or closed cases to the legislative branch upon request,” Sens. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Mark Warner of Virginia, along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Adam B. Schiff, both of California, wrote in the letter to Rosenstein and Wray.

 

“As the attacks on the Special Counsel intensify, it is imperative that you withstand pressure on DOJ and FBI to violate established procedures and norms,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote. “Your role in preserving the integrity of the Special Counsel’s investigation and, most importantly, our justice system has become even more vital.”

The department and the FBI have said providing the documents sought by Republican lawmakers could jeopardize the investigation and expose certain sources and informants, as well as vital national security information, especially if such information leaks to the public.

In addition to the House resolution, the House Judiciary Committee also held an 11-hour long hearing late into the evening on Wednesday with FBI agent Peter Strzok, whose texts to former FBI attorney Lisa Page, is at the center of another parallel inquiry by Republicans. They allege that a group of FBI agents opposed to Trump is waging a secret, behind-the-scenes attempt to undermine his presidency. Strzok sent messages to Page in 2016 saying that Trump would be stopped from becoming president.

Strzok was removed by Mueller from his investigation team after his text messages to Page became public.

“We just finished an 11-hour interview with Peter Strzok, and as today’s transcript will make crystal clear, House Republicans are desperately trying to find something — anything — to undermine Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign,” New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary committee, said in a statement. “Unfortunately for them, they were entirely unsuccessful today, and their interview of Mr. Strzok will not help their misguided mission.”

Republican lawmakers have been alleging since early 2017 that the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian entities and individuals is tainted and should be halted. After Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey, Republican lawmakers then turned their ire on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, appointed by Rosenstein to oversee the probe.

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes in March 2017 made a secret trip to the White House to look at documents alleging that Trump campaign aide Page had been under FBI surveillance and his identity had been unmasked by former Obama administration officials. After the incident, Nunes recused himself from the committee’s probe of the Russian interference. 

Since then, Nunes has been seeking more documents from the Justice Department and the FBI. In May the Justice Department allowed Nunes and other top lawmakers who are privy to intelligence matters to visit the department and view some of the documents Nunes was seeking.

The Meadows resolution says the Justice Department provided documents pertaining to only one person, whereas Nunes has sought information on a total of nine people.

Republican lawmakers speaking on the House floor said if the Justice Department did not turn over all the documents being sought, then Rosenstein should be removed.

If Rosenstein still doesn’t comply following passage of the resolution, the next step would be to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress or start proceedings to impeach him, said Republican Rep. Paul Gosar or Arizona.

“Comply with the law, do your job, or get out,” Gosar said.

Democrats said the resolution was just one more move by House Republicans to do Trump's bidding, and had nothing to do with documents or oversight. “This is not oversight, this is collaboration with the executive masquerading as oversight,” Schiff said. 

Watch: Ryan Backs Gowdy on FBI Use of Informant in Trump Campaign Probe

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.