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 TrumpTrump rips Dems' demands, impeachment talk: 'Witch Hunt continues!' Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push 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 NunesRoger Stone considers suing to discover if he was spied on by FBI Overnight Defense: Congressional leaders receive classified briefing on Iran | Trump on war: 'I hope not' | Key Republican calls threats credible | Warren plan targets corporate influence at Pentagon Schiff says DOJ hasn't complied with subpoena for Mueller report MORE (R-Calif.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyHouse Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report Democrats put harassment allegations against Trump on back burner Democrats seize on Mueller-Barr friction 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 StewartA new age for tobacco — raising the age to 21 is a smart move Barr testimony opens new partisan fight over FBI spying on Trump Hill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides 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 RosensteinDemocrats talk subpoena for Mueller Klobuchar: 'Don't think' there are reasons to investigate Mueller probe's origins Democrats are running out of stunts to pull from impeachment playbook 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 JordanGOP lawmaker rips Amash impeachment remarks: 'This is some kind of press stunt' House Freedom Caucus votes to condemn Amash's impeachment comments Amash storm hits Capitol Hill 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 CoatsHillicon Valley: Facebook co-founder calls for breaking up company | Facebook pushes back | Experts study 2020 candidates to offset 'deepfake' threat | FCC votes to block China Mobile | Groups, lawmakers accuse Amazon of violating children's privacy Experts are studying mannerisms of 2020 candidates to help offset threat of 'deepfake' videos Bolton held unexpected meeting on Iran with top intel, military advisers at CIA: report 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 MuellerHouse progressive: Pelosi 'has it right' on impeachment Democrats talk subpoena for Mueller Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna: 'I'm not there yet' on impeachment 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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests MORE (R-Ky.) declined to comment on Tuesday about the informant meeting, while Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrOvernight Defense: Congressional leaders receive classified briefing on Iran | Trump on war: 'I hope not' | Key Republican calls threats credible | Warren plan targets corporate influence at Pentagon Key Republican 'convinced' Iran threats are credible Congressional leaders receive classified Iran briefing MORE (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate passes bill to undo tax increase on Gold Star military families Dem senator introduces bill requiring campaigns to report foreign contacts Overnight Defense: Congressional leaders receive classified briefing on Iran | Trump on war: 'I hope not' | Key Republican calls threats credible | Warren plan targets corporate influence at Pentagon 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 SchumerSchumer wants investigation into Chinese-designed New York subway cars Getting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act 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 RyanAmash storm hits Capitol Hill Debate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 MORE] is allowing it to happen.”

The House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump's increasingly questionable pardons should make Congress act DOJ offers House Intel some Mueller materials if Schiff drops Barr threat Judiciary Democrat: 'Most of us have been led to the position that an impeachment inquiry is warranted' 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.”