House Judiciary chair subpoenas DOJ for FBI documents

House Judiciary chair subpoenas DOJ for FBI documents
© Camille Fine

The head of the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday to obtain documents related to how the FBI handled its probe into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future Popping the progressive bubble GOP primary in NH House race draws national spotlight MORE’s email server, potential surveillance abuses and the recent decision to fire a top FBI official.

Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFight breaks out between Jordan, Nadler over rules about showing video at Garland hearing The job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line MORE (R-Va.), who is leading a joint investigation with Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.), issued the subpoena after conservatives on his panel became increasingly frustrated with what they said was the administration's unacceptably slow move to turn over documents.

The lawmakers say they have only received about 3,000 out of the roughly 1.2 million documents they are seeking, despite repeated letters requesting them to be handed over to the committee. 

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"To date, the Department has only produced a fraction of the documents that have been requested," Goodlatte wrote in a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinWashington still needs more transparency House Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week MORE on Thursday. "Given the Department’s ongoing delays in producing these documents, I am left with no choice but to issue the enclosed subpoena to compel production of these documents."

DOJ spokesman Ian Prior said in a statement that officials are carefully combing through the documents page-by-page to protect certain sensitive information. He also pushed back on the breadth of the document request, saying the DOJ believes there are 30,000 documents relevant to the committee's inquiry and describing the 1.2 million document request as "substantial." 

"We are individually reviewing the remaining documents to ensure that they do not include grand jury information, information about ongoing law enforcement actions involving American citizens, or privileged attorney-client communications," Prior said. "In cases where redactions have been necessary, the Department has, when appropriate, provided Committee staff an opportunity for in-camera review of unredacted materials."

"Since January, more than two dozen FBI staff have been assisting the Department in producing, on a rolling basis, responsive documents to the Committee’s broad request every 10 to 14 days," he said, adding that the DOJ and FBI take the committee's inquiry seriously.

Prior confirmed that the committee has received 3,000 records so far.

Goodlatte told The Hill that the Judiciary Committee would subpoena for FBI documents relating to the conduct of former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyHow Biden should sell his infrastructure bill 'Finally, infrastructure week!': White House celebrates T bill Huma Abedin on bid for political office: 'I'm not saying no to anything' MORE and his former deputy, Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeAndrew McCabe's settlement with the Department of Justice is a signal to John Durham Trump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle MORE. Both officials oversaw the Clinton probe as well as the early stages of the probe into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.

The Judiciary chairman said statements McCabe made after being fired by Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsIf bitcoin is 'digital gold,' it should be taxed like gold The metaverse is coming — society should be wary Trump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits MORE last week have raised questions about Comey's prior testimony to Congress when he denied having authorized leaking information to the press about then-candidates Trump or Clinton while leading the FBI.

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz has separately been examining the FBI and DOJ’s actions in the Clinton probe and is expected to release a report on his findings this spring. A portion of that review involving McCabe was cited by Sessions when he fired the FBI official last Friday, just two days before McCabe's scheduled retirement. 

McCabe has denied any wrongdoing and has claimed his firing was part of an effort to undermine special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE's investigation, of which he is a possible witness. McCabe said he was within his authority to disclose information to the media and claimed he was being "singled out" because of his ties to the former FBI director fired by Trump.

Goodlatte and Gowdy earlier this month called for a second special counsel to investigate the FBI's handling of the Clinton probe, something that Sessions and DOJ officials have resisted, pointing to the current inspector general investigation.

The Judiciary chairman has also pushed for information surrounding conservative allegations of Foreign intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) abuse relating to information used in warrants to monitor a former Trump campaign adviser as part of the Russia probe.

While Goodlatte had signaled he would issue a subpoena to obtain the FBI documents, he faced criticism from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y), the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, for unilaterally issuing the subpoena on Thursday.

Nadler accused Goodlatte of working to divert attention from the "chaos" surrounding President TrumpDonald TrumpFive reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season Giving thanks for Thanksgiving itself Immigration provision in Democrats' reconciliation bill makes no sense MORE's administration.

“Instead of using our time and resources to conduct oversight on pressing matters that actually impact our country today — like the Russian government’s ongoing attack on our elections or President Trump’s crusade to undermine the independence of the Department of Justice — Judiciary Republicans have chosen to issue a unilateral subpoena to acquire information related to Hillary Clinton’s emails," Nadler said in a statement, calling their priorities "upside-down."

“The Department of Justice has largely complied with that request, transmitting new documents to the Committee every two weeks since late last year. It seems that this subpoena is intended to speed up that production to pivot the discussion back to Hillary Clinton and divert attention from the chaos surrounding the Trump Administration and allegations involving the Trump campaign," he said.

The subpoena comes shortly before House lawmakers are set to depart Capitol Hill for a two-week Easter recess. The DOJ will have two weeks to produce the documents with the deadline being set to April 5 at noon, which lands shortly before the House reconvenes.

Goodlatte faced increasing pressure from conservatives on his committee who were eager to charge forward into the investigation. Some GOP lawmakers began to direct their frustration at the chairman after lawmakers heard from just two FBI officials out of roughly 20 they wanted to interview.

Goodlatte first floated the possibility of a subpoena on Sunday, although lawmakers privately buzzed about a possible order earlier this month. 

Some members, before it was officially issued Thursday, characterized the subpoena as a last resort to compel the DOJ to cooperate.

“I would hope that we wouldn’t have to compel them to comply, but more and more evidence would suggest that compelling them to deliver documents may be our only recourse,” Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsJan. 6 organizers used burner phones to communicate with White House: report Trump allies leaning on his executive privilege claims Jan. 6 panel subpoenas Roger Stone, Alex Jones MORE (R-N.C.), the head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told The Hill on Monday.

Updated at 8:05 p.m.