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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 TrumpBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts 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 NunesBiden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls Overnight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Ex-Nunes aide linked to Biden conspiracy theories will lead Pentagon transition MORE (R-Calif.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyThe Hunter Biden problem won't go away Sunday shows preview: Joe Biden wins the 2020 election Sunday shows preview: Election integrity dominates as Nov. 3 nears 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 StewartChris StewartAtlanta Wendy's 911 call the night of Rayshard Brooks's death released Tyler Perry offers to pay for funeral of Rayshard Brooks Current, former NHL players form diversity coalition to fight intolerance in hockey 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 RosensteinTrump turns his ire toward Cabinet members Ex-deputy attorney general says Justice Dept. 'will ignore' Trump's threats against political rivals The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump's erratic tweets upend stimulus talks; COVID-19 spreads in White House 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 JordanCheney, top GOP lawmakers ask Trump campaign for proof of election fraud New RSC chairman sees 'Trumpism' as future Sunday shows preview: Biden team gears up for transition, Trump legal battles continue and pandemic rages on 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 CoatsNew federal cybersecurity lead says 'rumor control' site will remain up through January Biden soars as leader of the free world Lobbying world 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) MuellerBarr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting 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 McConnellBiden backs 0B compromise coronavirus stimulus bill US records over 14 million coronavirus cases On The Money: COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks | Slowing job growth raises fears of double-dip recession | Biden officially announces Brian Deese as top economic adviser MORE (R-Ky.) declined to comment on Tuesday about the informant meeting, while Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrRep. Mark Walker announces Senate bid in North Carolina North Carolina — still purple but up for grabs North Carolina's Mark Walker expected to announce Senate bid MORE (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDefense policy bill would create new cyber czar position Sweeping financial crimes bill to hitch a ride on defense measure Bipartisan, bicameral group unveils 8 billion coronavirus proposal 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 SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms Trump supporters could hand Senate control to Democrats 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 RyanAmerican Greatness editor on how Trump's abandonment of populism affected 2020 election Paul Ryan calls for Trump to accept results: 'The election is over' Bottom line MORE] is allowing it to happen.”

The House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffBarr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Trump pardons Flynn | Lawmakers lash out at decision | Pentagon nixes Thanksgiving dining hall meals due to COVID-19 Democratic impeachment leaders blast Trump's pardon of Flynn 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.”