Ryan backs Nunes in his latest pursuit of classified DOJ documents

Ryan backs Nunes in his latest pursuit of classified DOJ documents
© Greg Nash

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDemocratic super PAC quotes Reagan in anti-Trump ad set to air on Fox News: 'Are you better off?' Trump lashes out at Reagan Foundation after fundraising request The Memo: Trump's grip on GOP loosens as polls sink MORE (R-Wis.) is backing the latest efforts of House Intelligence Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesHouse Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections Nunes declines to answer if he received information from Ukraine lawmaker meant to damage Biden White House, Congress talk next coronavirus relief bill as COVID-19 continues to surge MORE (R-Calif.) to obtain classified documents from the Department of Justice (DOJ) as it relates to the federal investigation into Russia's election meddling.

"I think this request is wholly appropriate and is completely within the scope of the investigation that has been ongoing for awhile with respect to [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act]," Ryan said Thursday during his weekly press conference. 

"I actually think this is something that should have been answered awhile ago," he added. 

The precise nature of the information Nunes is pursuing remains unclear, but Ryan said he arrived at this conclusion after talking to the key players involved in the matter, including Nunes, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdySenate GOP set to ramp up Obama-era probes More than two dozen former prosecutors, judges, active trial lawyers support DOJ decision to dismiss Michael Flynn case Sunday shows preview: As states loosen social distancing restrictions, lawmakers address dwindling state budgets MORE (R-S.C.), and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinFBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book Sally Yates to testify as part of GOP probe into Russia investigation Graham releases newly declassified documents on Russia probe MORE.

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"I expect that we will be able to have an accommodation to honor this request because it’s our job to do oversight of the executive branch," Ryan continued, calling the request "completely appropriate."

Nunes and Gowdy are expected to visit the DOJ on Thursday afternoon to receive a briefing about the request, Fox News reported Thursday.

The classified briefing also comes after Rosenstein met with White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, according to the report. 

The DOJ initially refused to comply with Nunes's subpoena request to see this particular batch of documents. The agency warned that providing information about a "specific individual" could have serious consequences for national security, according to reports.

"Disclosure of responsive information to such requests can risk severe consequences, including potential loss of human lives, damage to relationships with valued international partners, compromise of ongoing criminal investigations, and interference with intelligence activities," Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd told CNN on Monday.

Nunes questioned the agency's argument during a Sunday appearance on "Fox & Friends," stating that his request did not refer to a certain individual, while also threatening to begin contempt proceedings against Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence FBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book Tuberville breaks DC self-quarantine policy to campaign MORE if he did not comply with his request. Sessions recused himself from overseeing the Russia probe, a move that made Rosenstein the gatekeeper of the federal investigation. It is not clear why Nunes is threatening Sessions.

Nunes and other Republican lawmakers have repeatedly clashed with the DOJ in recent months over access to classified documents related to the FBI and DOJ decision-making during the 2016 presidential election.

But for this particular request, the FBI and intelligence officials cautioned the Trump administration that providing such information to Nunes ran the risk of jeopardizing the identity of a U.S. intelligence source, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday. 

Republicans have fought back, claiming this information falls within their power to conduct oversight on such agencies. 

“We have an oversight role and we believe that the reason why they are not answering these questions is insufficient for them to not answer,” Rep. Tom RooneyThomas (Tom) Joseph RooneyHouse Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report Hill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons MORE (R-Fla.), a senior Republican on the Intelligence panel, told The Hill in an interview this week.

Rooney said that the DOJ and FBI can't tell them they aren't allowed to view such information because it is the duty of the House Intelligence Committee to review the work being done by such agencies. The Florida lawmaker added that part of the issue at hand is a breakdown of trust between the two parties.   

“I think it comes down to trust. They’ve lost all trust in us, and we’ve lost all trust in them, so now we’re adversarial,” Rooney said.

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package House Intelligence panel opens probe into DHS's involvement in response to protests Democrats exit briefing saying they fear elections under foreign threat MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told The Hill on Thursday he will also be briefed on the document request — although separately from his Republican colleagues.

When asked why the two leaders of the Intelligence committee are receiving separate briefings on the same matter, Schiff replied that this was done at the request of Republicans from the start of the counterintelligence investigation.

"We recommended when the Republicans first began their counterinvestigation on these demands on the Department of Justice that the DOJ meet with us jointly, but the majority refused. We think that is childish, but it is what it is, so we are having separate briefings," Schiff said.

The House Intelligence Committee conducted a yearlong investigation into Russian interference that was dominated by partisanship. Republicans made the unilateral decision in March to wrap up the investigation, a decision Democrats loudly opposed.