House GOP chairmen call for special counsel to probe FISA abuse claims
Two powerful House GOP chairmen on Tuesday called for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to appoint another special counsel to investigate “potential criminality” related to the surveillance warrant application for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein making the request.
The Republican lawmakers called for a review of any evidence of “bias” by DOJ or FBI employee as well as whether there was any “extraneous influence” on the surveillance process, something House Republicans have homed in on recent months.
The DOJ’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, is already investigating potential abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), but the two lawmakers argue his inquiry is not sufficient to uncover potential misconduct at the highest levels of the department.
Horowitz lacks the power to compel former officials and officials who work at other agencies to appear for the probe, the Republicans argue. He also lacks prosecutorial authority, they noted.
Goodlatte and Gowdy also raised questions about whether the DOJ is capable of independently assessing the allegations against its officials “in a fashion likely to garner public confidence.”
Both lawmakers said they had not discussed the matter previously with Sessions or his deputy, Rosenstein, who appointed special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Trump campaign associates’ ties to Russia after Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe last year.
Apoplectic House GOP lawmakers for weeks have claimed that Obama-era officials inappropriately used a piece of opposition research funded in part by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign to obtain a surveillance warrant on Page as part of the Russia probe.
In a controversial memo released last month after Trump overruled objections from the FBI, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee said the FBI and DOJ had hidden from a clandestine surveillance court that some of the information used in the warrant application had been paid for in part by Democrats, including Clinton.
According to a countermemo released by Intelligence Committee Democrats, there was a mountain of evidence to justify spying on Page and the surveillance court was informed that the dossier was a political memo designed to damage then-candidate Trump, even if the application didn’t specify that Clinton and the Democratic National Committee were behind it.
Democrats argue that the allegations are a smokescreen designed to shift the focus onto a popular GOP target — Clinton — and undermine Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign.
Gowdy on Tuesday pushed back on that notion.
“I can’t control whether or not y’all think this is about Hillary Clinton. That’s what the [inspector general] right now is looking at is that email case. That’s not what we’re asking for,” he told reporters, referring to Horowitz’s investigation of bureau decisionmaking in the probe into Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of State.
He added, “I don’t know if any of the witnesses were hired by President Obama. And they certainly weren’t hired by Hillary Clinton.”
Goodlatte has previously called for a second special counsel to investigate the bureau’s handling of the Clinton probe. Rosenstein has publicly rebuffed those demands.
Gowdy on Tuesday reeled off a number of potential targets of the probe, all of whom have been in Republican sights as part of the uproar over the bureau’s use of the so-called Steele dossier.
Among those names were a trio of senior FBI officials who have since left the bureau: former Director James Comey, former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and James Rybicki, Comey’s former chief of staff.
Gowdy also listed a group of former State Department officials and allies of Clinton believed to have circulated information to the author of the dossier, former MI6 agent Christopher Steele.
Those people are Sidney Blumenthal and Cody Shearer, as well as former Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland.
The Steele dossier is comprised of a series of unconfirmed raw intelligence reports compiled by Steele on behalf a U.S.-based company, Fusion GPS, that was contracted by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign through the law firm Perkins Coie to look into Trump’s alleged ties to Russia.
It alleges a widespread pattern of connections between Trump campaign officials and Moscow, including claims that the Kremlin sought to cultivate the business mogul “for at least five years.” It alleged that Putin was backing Trump in the 2016 election in order to “sow discord and disunity” within the U.S.
Steele was sufficiently disturbed by the contents of the reports that he alerted the FBI to his findings.
The underlying FISA application for Page remains classified and it remains unknown to what extent it relied on Steele’s reports. Republicans say it made up the bulk of the application — apparently without substantiation — while Democrats say it was backed up by layers of independent confirmation.
Gowdy alleged “a couple of different lanes” where laws could have been broken.
“Bias and animus can lead to criminality,” he said Tuesday, as well as “making misrepresentations or failure to make adequate representations to a tribunal.”
“The manner by which information was secured from nongovernmental sources” could also run afoul of the law, he said.
The former prosecutor, who is retiring after 2018, demurred when asked if he was making the request in his capacity as Oversight Committee chairman.
He insisted instead that he was “here as a guy with about seven months left in his prison sentence that historically has not called for many special counsels.”