GOP advances bill demanding documents from FBI

GOP advances bill demanding documents from FBI
© Anna Moneymaker

The House Judiciary Committee advanced a resolution on Tuesday demanding that the Department of Justice (DOJ) turn over all of the documents House Republicans have requested related to the FBI's handling of investigations during the 2016 presidential election during a fractious and at times bitterly combative meeting.

The measure, which passed 15-11, is seen by House Republicans as a final warning shot to the law enforcement agency before lawmakers move to hold senior officials in contempt of Congress.

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But the markup exposed subtle yet clear divisions among Republicans on how urgently they should move to hold the Justice Department to account for what they say has been stonewalling of legitimate congressional requests. 

Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview MORE (R-Va.) said in his opening remarks that he supported the measure and “completely [understood] the frustration” with the DOJ, but did not believe the resolution was “completely necessary.” 

He echoed Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea Duncan Hunter pleads guilty after changing plea Trump campaign steps up attacks on Biden MORE (R-Wis.) in saying that DOJ has been making progress in turning over thousands of documents in response to congressional requests. 

The authors of the resolution—Freedom Caucus members Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsMeadows says he's advocating for Trump to add Alan Dershowitz to impeachment defense team State Department, Nuclear Regulatory Commission ranked the worst agencies on IT issues Trump abandons plan to dissolve Office of Personnel Management: report MORE (R-N.C.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanHorowitz to appear before second Senate panel next week Top Republican requests House hearing with DOJ inspector general Trump, first lady take part in National Christmas Tree lighting MORE (R-Ohio)—have criticized the FBI for inappropriately withholding documents, even after the recent intervention of Ryan. Both have threatened contempt proceedings against 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.

It appears unlikely that the measure will reach the House floor until after next week’s recess. Members of the House Intelligence Committee—themselves demanding a swath of documents from the DOJ—also appeared inclined to give the Justice Department the rest of the week before deciding whether further steps are needed. 

“I support that absolutely, [but] it may be a little premature,” 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) said after the vote. “We want to have a little more time to look at the documents they’re providing us.”

Ryan on Tuesday morning did not take contempt off of the table, but told reporters that he expects all of the requests to be honored “very, very soon.”

“We do expect full compliance very, very soon, and if we do not get that then we will keep every single option available to us,” he said.

Republican lawmakers have sought to wrest information from the agency on court-approved counterintelligence surveillance of Trump campaign aide Carter Page and the use of a confidential informant in the early days of the Russia investigation, among other things.

Democrats have characterized their requests as a partisan effort to dig up dirt to sully special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE’s federal investigation into Russian interference in the election.

The markup of the measure got off to a bad start. The meeting started over an hour later than originally scheduled, sparking Democrats to walk out and ranking member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) to call Republican tardiness “unprofessional” and “discourteous.”

Debate over the underlying resolution quickly devolved into a fierce debate over the integrity of the Mueller probe and whether President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE “stole” the 2016 election with the help of Moscow.

Of particular contention was an amendment from Jordan attaching language from a separate resolution he introduced earlier this month, which broadened the universe of documents that the original measure demanded to “all documents requested by Congress.”

“This whole committee is out of order,” fumed Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenOvernight Defense: Dems unveil impeachment articles against Trump | Saudi military flight students grounded after shooting | Defense bill takes heat from progressives | Pentagon watchdog to probe use of personnel on border Democrats unveil articles of impeachment against Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment MORE (D-Tenn.).

Nadler initially supported the underlying resolution, noting that it “asks for information to which this committee is largely entitled”—“provided that this request does not infringe on an ongoing criminal investigation” and that the documents Congress receives “are treated as sensitive and classified.”

But he opposed the broader Jordan amendment and voted against the amended resolution. He defended what Republicans have characterized as stonewalling from the Department of Justice, arguing that it is the “clear intent” of conservatives to “sabotage” the Mueller investigation.

“The Department of Justice should not comply with requests for documents that would interfere or compromise a criminal investigation,” Nadler said. “That’s what’s at stake here.”

Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray are scheduled to appear in a joint hearing before both the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform Committees on Thursday.

Goodlatte said Tuesday that he intends to question them on the issue of compliance with the various subpoenas.