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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 TrumpKey takeaways from the Arizona Senate debate Major Hollywood talent firm considering rejecting Saudi investment money: report Mattis says he thought 'nothing at all' about Trump saying he may leave administration 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 NunesJuan Williams: Trump, the Great Destroyer The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — Latest on Hurricane Michael | Trump, Kanye West to have lunch at White House | GOP divided over potential 2020 high court vacancy Senate Dem: Trump's 'fake, hyperbolic rantings' an insult to real Medal of Honor recipients MORE (R-Calif.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyHouse GOP sets deposition deadline for Fusion GPS co-founder Collusion bombshell: DNC lawyers met with FBI on Russia allegations before surveillance warrant Comey rejects request for closed-door interview with House Republicans 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 StewartLawmakers fail to pass annual intel bill after key Dem objects House panel signals Russia probe document dump before midterms Man arrested for shouting into Utah Republican's mic at debate 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 Jay RosensteinFBI investigated whether McCabe leaked info about Flynn and Trump to media House Judiciary chairman threatens to subpoena Rosenstein Sessions unveils task force to combat transnational criminal groups like MS-13 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 JordanHouse Judiciary chairman threatens to subpoena Rosenstein Poll: Republicans narrowly prefer Jordan to lead House GOP House panels postpone meeting with Rosenstein 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 CoatsOvernight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Senators seek US intel on journalist's disappearance | Army discharged over 500 immigrant recruits in one year | Watchdog knocks admiral over handling of sexual harassment case Lawmakers seeking intel on alleged Saudi plot against journalist It’s not just foreign state-owned telecom posing a threat  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 Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe 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 McConnellJuan Williams: Trump’s policies on race are more important than his rhetoric It’s Mitch McConnell’s Washington – and we’re just living in it Trump makes new overtures to Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) declined to comment on Tuesday about the informant meeting, while Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel The National Trails System is celebrating 50 years today — but what about the next 50 years? Key conservation fund for parks set to expire MORE (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerIs there difference between good and bad online election targeting? Collusion judgment looms for key Senate panel Hillicon Valley: Facebook reveals 30 million users affected by hack | Grassley presses Google to explain data practices | Senators warn Canada against using Chinese telecom firm | FCC responds to net neutrality lawsuits 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 SchumerFive takeaways from the final Tennessee Senate debate Schumer rips Trump 'Medicare for all' op-ed as 'smears and sabotage' GOP senator suspects Schumer of being behind release of Ford letter 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 RyanElection Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight Paul Ryan to campaign for 25 vulnerable House Republicans GOP super PAC pushes back on report it skipped ad buys for California's Rohrabacher, Walters MORE] is allowing it to happen.”

The House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump travels to hurricane-ravaged Florida, Georgia Dems eye ambitious agenda if House flips Schiff: There is legal precedent for impeaching sitting officials over prior criminal conduct 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.”