Conservatives leery of FBI deal on informant

Conservatives leery of FBI deal on informant
© Greg Nash

Republicans on Capitol Hill are wary of a deal struck by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump threatens ex-intel official's clearance, citing comments on CNN Protesters topple Confederate monument on UNC campus Man wanted for threatening to shoot Trump spotted in Maryland MORE that allows for unspecified access to documents related to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) appeared to stave off a crisis on Monday by agreeing to allow lawmakers “to review highly classified and other information they have requested” about an informant who had contacts with the campaign — but the precise terms of that access have yet to be negotiated.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesPelosi sees defections from an unusual quarter — the left Jim Carrey targets McCarthy, Nunes ahead of midterms Police close Nunes district office as protesters rally outside MORE (R-Calif.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyFBI chief: I'm trying to bring 'normalcy' in 'turbulent times' Jim Carrey targets McCarthy, Nunes ahead of midterms House GOP prepares to grill DOJ official linked to Steele dossier MORE (R-S.C.) will meet Thursday with senior Justice Department, FBI and intelligence officials to hash out the details, according to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

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But some Intelligence Committee lawmakers warned Tuesday that they believe the DOJ will only offer to brief them on the materials under subpoena by Nunes, an outcome nearly certain to infuriate conservative allies of the president.


“There’s a lot of confusion about this,” said Rep. Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartInterior Department should not remove the ovaries of wild horses GOP advances bill demanding documents from FBI GOP lawmaker: Trump could reverse policy of separating families if he wanted to MORE (R-Utah), an ally of Nunes who also sits on the Intelligence panel. “[We] don’t want to be briefed on the documents, we want to see the documents.”

The White House on Tuesday deferred questions on the terms of access to the Justice Department, which declined to comment.

At the center of the gathering storm is Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinOnly courts can rein in 'King Rosenstein' Five things to know about Bruce Ohr, the DOJ official under fire from Trump Preet Bharara: ‘God bless the Deep State’ if it’s people who care about the law MORE, whose handling of the demands has drawn fire from all sides. 

Critics of the GOP push for information have warned that by ceding any access to the documents at all, Rosenstein is setting a dangerous precedent for political meddling in open investigations.

The House conservatives seeking access to the files, meanwhile, say Rosenstein hasn’t done nearly enough to comply with their requests.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanThree scenarios for how leadership races could play out in the House New Dem ad uses Paterno, KKK, affair allegations to tar GOP leaders Department of Education launches investigation into OSU sexual abuse allegations MORE (R-Ohio) said when asked if he was satisfied by the deal. “I’m not holding my breath — this is like the little boy who cried wolf.”

Stewart told The Hill that he “doesn’t trust” the Justice Department to merely brief lawmakers on the documents. 

“To say [Rosenstein] is going to soft-roll this is a gracious understatement,” he said.

The agreement was the product of an extraordinary meeting at the White House on Monday between Trump, Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsCNN: Trump intel chief not consulted before decision to revoke Brennan's clearance Study: 3 of every 10 House candidate websites vulnerable to hacks West Virginia set to allow smartphone voting for those serving overseas MORE. Rosenstein and Wray have both pushed back on lawmakers’ demands, arguing that giving them the information they seek would cross a red line in intelligence by exposing a clandestine source.

But the president has backed Nunes, whom he praised on Monday as “courageous.”

Trump’s allies have seized on the revelation of the informant as evidence that the FBI was trying to entrap the Trump campaign, something they say shows that the investigation should be shut down.

The FBI commonly uses confidential informants in counterintelligence investigations. There is no public evidence of wrongdoing by either the informant or the bureau. 

Rosenstein — who is overseeing the federal investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election — has walked a tightrope between shielding information the DOJ says could damage national security and trying meet the president’s public demands for an investigation into the bureau’s conduct.

“If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action,” Rosenstein said Sunday, announcing that he was referring the matter to the department’s inspector general.  

Critics see Nunes’s investigation into alleged surveillance abuses within the FBI as a transparent effort to undermine special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE, perhaps by giving Trump reasons to fire him or fire Rosenstein.

Members of the Senate — including Republicans — have mostly stayed out of the fray. Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell15 senators miss votes despite McConnell's criticism of absentees Overnight Health Care: Azar defends approach on drug rebates | Trump presses Senate to act quickly on opioid crisis | Kentucky governor's Medicaid lawsuit tossed Dem senator introduces proposal to rein in Trump on security clearances MORE (R-Ky.) declined to comment on Tuesday about the informant meeting, while Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrClapper: Brennan's rhetoric is becoming an issue Top Republican: Senate panel not ready to wrap up Russia probe White House weighs clawing back State, foreign aid funding MORE (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Defense: Pentagon says Trump canceled parade before cost briefing | Erik Prince renews push for contractors to run Afghan war | More officials join outcry over security clearances Dem senator introduces proposal to rein in Trump on security clearances Schumer blasts Trump over security clearances: This happens in dictatorships MORE (D-Va.) reportedly turned down a briefing on the matter.

The announcement of the Thursday meeting sets up another bout in the ongoing confrontation between House conservatives and the Justice Department.

Although White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE arranged the meeting about the informant, he will not attend. Wray, Rosenstein, Coats and another senior Justice Department official, Ed O’Callaghan, will be present.

No Democrats have been invited, sparking outrage in both chambers.

“The only thing more outrageous than this meeting occurring at all is the fact that it’s now partisan,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerWith lives at stake, Congress must start acting on health care To make the House of Representatives work again, make it bigger Reforms can stop members of Congress from using their public office for private gain MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “It is crystal clear that Chairman Nunes’ intent is to interfere with the investigation, and [House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanKrystal Ball: GOP tax cut is 'opiate of the massively privileged' Top GOP lawmaker: Tax cuts will lower projected deficit GOP super PAC seizes on Ellison abuse allegations in ads targeting Dems MORE] is allowing it to happen.”

The House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThere's a lack of US leadership on breastfeeding Internet security leader: Hackers are 'trying to undermine very process of democracy' Republicans and Democrats alike face troubling signals from voters MORE (Calif.) said that he has a “standing request” with the DOJ to be briefed on the same materials as his GOP counterparts. 

The Justice Department, he said, has told him that Nunes has refused to receive briefings together. 

Speaking to reporters, Schiff appeared to expect that he would still receive a separate, identical briefing from the DOJ, as he has in the past with Nunes-driven requests. 

Schiff said the officials he has reached out to at the DOJ, FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence “haven’t been themselves debriefed by the principals” about the Monday meeting.

“I think they are also at a loss for exactly what’s going on,” Schiff said. “It’s unclear if this is a meeting about a meeting or a meeting in which they’re actually going to provide information.”