Conservatives leery of FBI deal on informant

Conservatives leery of FBI deal on informant
© Greg Nash

Republicans on Capitol Hill are wary of a deal struck by President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed MORE that allows for unspecified access to documents related to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) appeared to stave off a crisis on Monday by agreeing to allow lawmakers “to review highly classified and other information they have requested” about an informant who had contacts with the campaign — but the precise terms of that access have yet to be negotiated.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesDemocrats launch bilingual ad campaign off drug pricing bill Koch campaign touts bipartisan group behind ag labor immigration bill Hillicon Valley: Apple, Facebook defend encryption during Senate grilling | Tech legal shield makes it into trade deal | Impeachment controversy over phone records heats up | TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings MORE (R-Calif.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyTrey Gowdy returns to Fox News as contributor Five landmark moments of testimony to Congress Conway spars with Wallace on whether White House will cooperate with impeachment inquiry after formal vote MORE (R-S.C.) will meet Thursday with senior Justice Department, FBI and intelligence officials to hash out the details, according to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

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But some Intelligence Committee lawmakers warned Tuesday that they believe the DOJ will only offer to brief them on the materials under subpoena by Nunes, an outcome nearly certain to infuriate conservative allies of the president.


“There’s a lot of confusion about this,” said Rep. Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartGOP lawmaker offering bill protecting LGBTQ rights with religious exemptions House GOP wants Senate Republicans to do more on impeachment How House Republicans have stayed unified on impeachment MORE (R-Utah), an ally of Nunes who also sits on the Intelligence panel. “[We] don’t want to be briefed on the documents, we want to see the documents.”

The White House on Tuesday deferred questions on the terms of access to the Justice Department, which declined to comment.

At the center of the gathering storm is Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinRosenstein, Sessions discussed firing Comey in late 2016 or early 2017: FBI notes Justice Dept releases another round of summaries from Mueller probe Judge rules former WH counsel McGahn must testify under subpoena MORE, whose handling of the demands has drawn fire from all sides. 

Critics of the GOP push for information have warned that by ceding any access to the documents at all, Rosenstein is setting a dangerous precedent for political meddling in open investigations.

The House conservatives seeking access to the files, meanwhile, say Rosenstein hasn’t done nearly enough to comply with their requests.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanDemocrats approve two articles of impeachment against Trump in Judiciary vote Democrats object to Meadows passing note to Jordan from dais Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE (R-Ohio) said when asked if he was satisfied by the deal. “I’m not holding my breath — this is like the little boy who cried wolf.”

Stewart told The Hill that he “doesn’t trust” the Justice Department to merely brief lawmakers on the documents. 

“To say [Rosenstein] is going to soft-roll this is a gracious understatement,” he said.

The agreement was the product of an extraordinary meeting at the White House on Monday between Trump, Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFormer US intel official says Trump would often push back in briefings Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter MORE. Rosenstein and Wray have both pushed back on lawmakers’ demands, arguing that giving them the information they seek would cross a red line in intelligence by exposing a clandestine source.

But the president has backed Nunes, whom he praised on Monday as “courageous.”

Trump’s allies have seized on the revelation of the informant as evidence that the FBI was trying to entrap the Trump campaign, something they say shows that the investigation should be shut down.

The FBI commonly uses confidential informants in counterintelligence investigations. There is no public evidence of wrongdoing by either the informant or the bureau. 

Rosenstein — who is overseeing the federal investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election — has walked a tightrope between shielding information the DOJ says could damage national security and trying meet the president’s public demands for an investigation into the bureau’s conduct.

“If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action,” Rosenstein said Sunday, announcing that he was referring the matter to the department’s inspector general.  

Critics see Nunes’s investigation into alleged surveillance abuses within the FBI as a transparent effort to undermine special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay Trump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts MORE, perhaps by giving Trump reasons to fire him or fire Rosenstein.

Members of the Senate — including Republicans — have mostly stayed out of the fray. Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSherrod Brown backs new North American trade deal: 'This will be the first trade agreement I've ever voted for' McConnell: Bevin pardons 'completely inappropriate' House panel to hold hearing, vote on Trump's new NAFTA proposal MORE (R-Ky.) declined to comment on Tuesday about the informant meeting, while Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting Senate passes bipartisan bill to permanently fund historically black colleges MORE (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Watchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat MORE (D-Va.) reportedly turned down a briefing on the matter.

The announcement of the Thursday meeting sets up another bout in the ongoing confrontation between House conservatives and the Justice Department.

Although White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE arranged the meeting about the informant, he will not attend. Wray, Rosenstein, Coats and another senior Justice Department official, Ed O’Callaghan, will be present.

No Democrats have been invited, sparking outrage in both chambers.

“The only thing more outrageous than this meeting occurring at all is the fact that it’s now partisan,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTurf war derails bipartisan push on surprise medical bills Senate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA CEO group pushes Trump, Congress on paid family, medical leave MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “It is crystal clear that Chairman Nunes’ intent is to interfere with the investigation, and [House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay House Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea MORE] is allowing it to happen.”

The House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSupreme Court takes up fight over Trump financial records Democrats approve two articles of impeachment against Trump in Judiciary vote McConnell, White House lawyer huddle on impeachment strategy MORE (Calif.) said that he has a “standing request” with the DOJ to be briefed on the same materials as his GOP counterparts. 

The Justice Department, he said, has told him that Nunes has refused to receive briefings together. 

Speaking to reporters, Schiff appeared to expect that he would still receive a separate, identical briefing from the DOJ, as he has in the past with Nunes-driven requests. 

Schiff said the officials he has reached out to at the DOJ, FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence “haven’t been themselves debriefed by the principals” about the Monday meeting.

“I think they are also at a loss for exactly what’s going on,” Schiff said. “It’s unclear if this is a meeting about a meeting or a meeting in which they’re actually going to provide information.”