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.

ADVERTISEMENT
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 GoodlatteGOP divide in Congress over Rosenstein's future Jordan wants Rosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee House Judiciary chair threatens subpoena if DOJ doesn’t supply McCabe memos by Tuesday 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 RyanHow the Trump tax law passed: Dealing with a health care hangover Dems fight to protect Mueller amid Rosenstein rumors Jordan wants Rosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee 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 MeadowsFreedom Caucus calls on Rosenstein to testify or resign GOP divide in Congress over Rosenstein's future House Republican threatens to push for Rosenstein impeachment unless he testifies MORE (R-N.C.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanFreedom Caucus calls on Rosenstein to testify or resign GOP divide in Congress over Rosenstein's future Kavanaugh is a 'huge step backwards,' says Dem congressional candidate 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 Jay RosensteinFreedom Caucus calls on Rosenstein to testify or resign House panel preparing to subpoena for McCabe memos Trump telling advisers he's open to keeping Rosenstein: report 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 StewartHouse panel signals Russia probe document dump before midterms Man arrested for shouting into Utah Republican's mic at debate Dem says he'll investigate Trump money laundering allegations if House flips 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 Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe 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 TrumpTrump: Dems playing destructive 'con game' with Kavanaugh Several Yale Law classmates who backed Kavanaugh call for misconduct investigation Freedom Caucus calls on Rosenstein to testify or resign 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 CohenImpeachment debate moves to center of midterm fight Dem lawmaker predicts Trump Jr., Kushner will be indicted by Mueller Dem leaders fend off calls to impeach Trump 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.