National Security

GOP chairman poised to subpoena DOJ for Comey memos

Greg Nash

The head of the House Judiciary Committee is expected to subpoena the Department of Justice (DOJ) as soon as this week to obtain copies of the so-called Comey memos, The Hill has learned.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is expected to issue the order in an effort to pressure the agency into granting access so lawmakers can review the seven memos former FBI Director James Comey wrote last year documenting his interactions with President Trump, according to two sources familiar with the matter. 

The chairman on Wednesday notified the ranking Democrat, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), that a subpoena is forthcoming. Under Judiciary Committee rules, the chairman must consult the ranking member two business days “before issuing any subpoena” — suggesting that the move is imminent.

The order comes after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein asked three powerful House lawmakers — Goodlatte, Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) — to give him extra time to consult with the “relevant parties” on whether he can make the memos available to them. 

A spokesperson from Goodlatte’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A DOJ spokesperson said they are unaware of a subpoena for the Comey memos.

Rosenstein told lawmakers on Monday that the Comey memos may relate to an “ongoing investigation,” contain confidential information and “report confidential presidential communications” so they have a “legal duty to evaluate the consequences of providing access to them,” according to copy of the letter obtained by The Hill.

Lawmakers suggested the relevant parties that must be consulted could mean both the White House and special counsel Robert Mueller‘s team.

“The position that they are taking is that it may relate to ongoing investigations, i.e. the special counsel,” Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), a House Judiciary Committee member, told reporters on Tuesday.

Nadler in a statement said he welcomes the opportunity to review some of the evidence surrounding Trump’s decision to fire Comey but described the GOP’s move as political “theater” that may interfere or undermine Mueller’s investigation by backing Rosenstein into a corner.

“The Comey memos are key to the Special Counsel’s work. Pursuant to long-standing Department policy and absent any satisfactory accommodation, the Department of Justice cannot simply hand over evidence that is part of an ongoing criminal investigation,” Nadler said.

“If House Republicans refuse any accommodation short of the Department of Justice handing over custody of these documents  — which it cannot do — I fear the Majority will have manufactured an excuse to hold the Deputy Attorney General in contempt of Congress. If they succeed in tarnishing the Deputy Attorney General, perhaps they will have given President Trump the pretext he has sought to replace Mr. Rosenstein with someone willing to do his bidding and end the Special Counsel’s investigation,” he added.

If the Comey memos relate to Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling, then lawmakers may face obstacles getting the DOJ to provide the information.

In Rosenstein’s Monday letter, he referenced a 1941 opinion of Attorney General Robert Jackson who found “all investigative reports are confidential documents of the executive department and that congressional and public access thereto would not be in the public interest,” pointing to a long line of his predecessors who agreed with such an opinion.

“Investigative reports include leads and suspicions, and sometimes even the statements of malicious or misinformed people. Even though later and more complete reports exonerate the individuals, the use of particular or selected reports might constitute the grossest injustice, and we all know that a correction never catches up with an accusation,” Jackson argued at the time.

Rosenstein additionally noted a memorandum issued by Assistant Attorney General William Barr in 1989. That memo indicated that, if the DOJ cannot accommodate a congressional subpoena because it would conflict with their responsibility to preserve “executive branch’s general interests in maintaining essential confidentiality,” then the president may have to step in and assert executive privilege. 

The GOP’s efforts to obtain the memos coincide with the release of Comey’s new book and the media blitz that has accompanied it.

Comey takes personal shots at the president in the book, commenting on Trump’s physical appearance and comparing him to a mob boss — comments that have been met with criticism by those who say he is politicizing the FBI and unfairly attacking Trump.

His re-entry into the spotlight has fueled a new wave of scrutiny from critics, including from Trump allies.

The memos may bolster Trump’s defense that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia, Ratcliffe separately told Fox News on Monday.

During his congressional testimony last year, Comey said he wrote the memos because he felt the president inappropriately asked him to pledge his loyalty to him while he was spearheading the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

He also said Trump asked him to drop his investigation into former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired after reports revealed that he had lied to investigators about his contacts with a Russian diplomat. Trump denies making such a request.

The ousted FBI chief said his exchanges with Trump made him uncomfortable, prompting him to jot down what he has described as his personal recollections of what transpired during their interactions. 

Comey has also maintained that he did not disclose classified information when he shared some of the contents of the memos with a friend, a law professor at Columbia University. The friend, Daniel Richman, then leaked the information verbally to The New York Times, in what became a successful effort to prompt the appointment of a special counsel. 

Trump has blasted Comey as an “untruthful slime ball,” a “leaker” and the “worst FBI director in history.”

Updated at 7:48 p.m.

Tags Bob Goodlatte Devin Nunes Donald Trump Donald Trump Federal Bureau of Investigation James Comey James Comey John Ratcliffe Robert Mueller Robert Mueller Rod Rosenstein Rod Rosenstein Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections Trey Gowdy United States Department of Justice
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