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 SessionsNadler sends Whitaker questions on possible contacts with Trump over Mueller probe Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Martin, Bobby and the will to change 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 NunesBlack Caucus sees power grow with new Democratic majority Nunes's 2018 Dem challenger launches voting rights group Democrats: Concentrate on defeating, not impeaching MORE (R-Calif.), secured the backing of Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAs new Congress begins, federal-state connections are as important as ever Trump once asked Paul Ryan why he couldn’t be ‘loyal': book AEI names Robert Doar as new president 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 GrahamGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Barr’s first task as AG: Look at former FBI leaders’ conduct Debate builds over making Mueller report public MORE (R-S.C.), who issued the referral with Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley to hold drug pricing hearing Overnight Health Care: HHS chief refuses to testify on family separations | Grassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices | PhRMA spends record on lobbying in 2018 Congress should stop tariff power grab, bring balance to US trade policy MORE (R-Iowa).

Grassley’s Democratic counterpart on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate Dems introduce bill to keep DACA info private U.S. banker tied to Russia sought access to Trump transition team: report Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds 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 TrumpCoast Guard chief: 'Unacceptable' that service members must rely on food pantries, donations amid shutdown Dem lawmaker apologizes after saying it's never been legal in US to force people to work for free Grassley to hold drug pricing hearing 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 ClintonPavlich: Mueller’s indictment of the media Poll shows 36 percent support Trump's reelection, 43 percent prefer generic Democrat How the Clinton machine flooded the FBI with Trump-Russia dirt … until agents bit 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 passes bill expressing support for NATO Maduro starts new term in Venezuela facing US sanctions, lack of legitimacy abroad Rick Scott threw party at Florida governor’s mansion after DeSantis and family had moved in: report 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 GowdyCongress must take the next steps on federal criminal justice reforms Lynch testimony marks final interview of GOP-led probe Comey defends FBI actions on Flynn in House interview 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 PapadopoulosHow the Clinton machine flooded the FBI with Trump-Russia dirt … until agents bit Barr: It would be a crime for president to pardon someone in exchange for their silence Press: What dirt does Putin have on Trump? 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 MeadowsHouse passes bill expressing support for NATO Cohen will not answer questions about ongoing probes involving Trump, GOP lawmakers say Overnight Health Care: Trump vows to veto bills expanding abortion rights | Abortion foes march into divided Washington | Medicaid work requirements approved in Arizona MORE (R-N.C.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanHouse passes bill expressing support for NATO Cohen will not answer questions about ongoing probes involving Trump, GOP lawmakers say McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader 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 RosensteinBarr’s first task as AG: Look at former FBI leaders’ conduct 5 myths about William Barr William Barr's only 'flaw' is that he was nominated by Trump 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 ManafortPavlich: Mueller’s indictment of the media Dem senator: 'Putin had something on' Trump which may account for 'plainly false' statements Debate builds over making Mueller report public 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.