House GOP intensifies assault on Mueller probe

House GOP intensifies assault on Mueller probe
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House Republicans are intensifying a multipronged assault to chip away at special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election.

A vocal group of conservative members has for weeks blitzed the airwaves decrying bias in Mueller’s investigation and on Thursday, two prominent members called for Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsWyden presses FBI for information on inflated encryption figures ‘Whatever’ isn’t an option for immigrant children Comey blasts Trump's FBI claims: 'How will Republicans explain this to their grandchildren?' MORE to step down from the Department of Justice (DOJ) — a resignation that could clear the way for the special counsel’s dismissal.

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On Wednesday, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesFormer intel director: The intent was not to spy on Trump’s campaign Bowing to pressure, White House to host bipartisan briefing on Russia investigation The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — GOP centrists in striking distance of immigration vote MORE (R-Calif.), secured the backing of Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDischarge petition efforts intensify as leadership seeks unity Republicans fear retribution for joining immigration revolt Immigration petition hits 204 as new Republican signs on MORE (R-Wis.) to enforce a swath of subpoenas probing the Justice Department’s use of the so-called Steele dossier in the probe.

And on Friday, two Republican senators asked the Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into the author of the dossier, Christopher Steele.

“After reviewing how Mr. Steele conducted himself in distributing information contained in the dossier and how many stop signs the DOJ ignored in its use of the dossier, I believe that a special counsel needs to review this matter,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — GOP centrists in striking distance of immigration vote Dem leaders request bipartisan meeting on Russia probe Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (R-S.C.), who issued the referral with Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — House passes 'right to try' drug bill | Trump moves to restrict abortion referrals House easily passes prison reform bill backed by Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — How long can a Trump-DOJ accord survive? MORE (R-Iowa).

Grassley’s Democratic counterpart on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFormer US attorneys urge support for Trump nominee The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Republicans see some daylight in midterm polling Senate panel clears bill to bolster probes of foreign investment deals MORE (Calif.), says she was not consulted on the referral.

The increased action by Republicans comes in a midterm election year where the party is worried about losing its House and Senate majorities, given President TrumpDonald John TrumpCEO of American investment firm believed Michael Cohen could bring in GOP donors for deals: report NAACP slams NFL for gag rule on national anthem Pelosi: Republican meeting over informant will 'nix' possibility of bipartisan briefing MORE’s anemic poll numbers. While the Senate map gives the GOP good odds to continue its majority, members of both parties see potential for Democrats to retake the House.

The dossier has become a key weapon in Republican attempts to undermine the Mueller probe, as lawmakers have questioned whether the shadowy document was used as the justification for a politically-motivated investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to swing the election.

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have also questioned whether the dossier was used as the basis for an application for a surveillance warrant on Trump.

Some conservatives on Capitol Hill have targeted Mueller directly, arguing that he has stacked his team with lawyers who supported Trump’s campaign rival, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMueller moves ahead with Papadopoulos sentencing What's wrong with the Democratic Party? Just look at California BBC: Ukraine paid Cohen 0K to set up talks with Trump MORE.

“We’ll investigate the unprecedented bias against President Trump that exists when we allow people who hate the president to participate in the investigations against him,” Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzHouse conservatives introduce resolution calling for second special counsel The Memo: Trump flirts with constitutional crisis Young GOP lawmakers push for fresh approach MORE (R-Fla.) said in December.

But those attacks — on Mueller and on the Justice Department more broadly — have made some Republicans on Capitol Hill uncomfortable. Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyBowing to pressure, White House to host bipartisan briefing on Russia investigation Flake blasts news that Dems not invited to briefing on Russia docs: 'This is not right' Dem leaders request bipartisan meeting on Russia probe MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters recently that his “heart would be broken” if Nunes followed through with plans to investigate “corruption” at the FBI, for example.

“My colleagues on [the House Intelligence Committee] would tell you some days I can’t remember if I still work for the Department of Justice,” he said. “I am a defender of the Department of Justice more than I am an attacker.”

Leadership in both the House and Senate have said that Mueller should be allowed to finish his work unimpeded.

The dossier is a compendium of opposition research, including false claims and other information that has been confirmed, into then-candidate Trump, alleging multiple points of contact with Russia. It was paid for during the primaries by The Washington Free Beacon and later by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

The New York Times reported earlier this month that the FBI’s attention was initially drawn to the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia not by the dossier, but by a representative of Australia’s government who had met with then-Trump campaign staffer George PapadopoulosGeorge Demetrios PapadopoulosFBI source in Russia probe raises alarms over political surveillance Mystery in Mueller probe: Where's the hacking indictment? Ex-Trump campaign adviser rips claims of spy in campaign: It's 'embarrassing' MORE, who has since pleaded guilty to charges of making false statements to the FBI.

Critics of the dossier, however, have largely dismissed the account in the Times.

“Belief in this narrative requires one to blatantly disregard a series of fundamental questions,” like why did the FBI wait more than six months to interview Papadopoulos, wrote Reps. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsDischarge petition efforts intensify as leadership seeks unity Republicans fear retribution for joining immigration revolt Immigration petition hits 204 as new Republican signs on MORE (R-N.C.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanHannity endorses Jim Jordan for Speaker Conservatives leery of FBI deal on informant House conservatives introduce resolution calling for second special counsel MORE (R-Ohio) in a Thursday op-ed calling for Sessions to leave.

Despite the “manufactured hysteria” over the investigation, Meadows and Jordan wrote, “a simple truth remains: There is no evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”

Sessions has been unable to control what they described as a parade of leaks from the bureau, Meadows and Jordan wrote, and must step aside.

Mueller’s name is not mentioned in the op-ed.

If Sessions stepped down, it would open the door for Trump to appoint a replacement open to dismissing the special counsel. Because Sessions has recused himself from the Russia probe, the power to fire Mueller currently rests with Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinBowing to pressure, White House to host bipartisan briefing on Russia investigation Wyden presses FBI for information on inflated encryption figures Poll: Majority of Americans don't know Mueller probe has uncovered crimes MORE.

Trump has railed against Sessions for the recusal, which he reportedly believes was an abrogation of the attorney general’s duty to “protect” him.

Nunes has been one of the fiercest attack dogs in pursuit of the dossier. He has for months been involved in a feud with Justice Department over access to information related to how the bureau used the dossier, including whether or not it paid Steele. He has threatened to hold senior officials in contempt of Congress if they did not comply — a bid that was ultimately successful with Ryan’s backing this week.

It is common practice for the FBI to pay informants, one former senior FBI official who worked on national security issues told The Hill.

The former official also noted that, in general, the application for a surveillance warrant involves several layers of authentication of information, suggesting that if any of the information from the dossier were used in an application, it would have been corroborated. Justice Department lawyers often modify orders based on feedback from the court — and they must show probable cause that the target is acting as an agent of a foreign power.

Trump has said that he expects to be treated “fairly” by Mueller, although he has repeatedly derided the probe as a sham and a “witch hunt.” The investigation has so far produced two indictments, including Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortPoll: Majority of Americans don't know Mueller probe has uncovered crimes The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — GOP centrists in striking distance of immigration vote BBC: Ukraine paid Cohen 0K to set up talks with Trump MORE, and two guilty pleas, including onetime national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“For the purposes of hopefully thinking I'm going to be treated fairly, I've stayed uninvolved with this particular matter,” Trump told the Times.