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 GoodlatteTop Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling 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 RyanFEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday Paul Ryan joins University of Notre Dame faculty 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 MeadowsWashington in frenzy over release of Mueller report Overnight Health Care: DOJ charges doctors over illegal opioid prescriptions | Cummings accuses GOP of obstructing drug pricing probe | Sanders courts Republican voters with 'Medicare for All' | Dems probe funding of anti-abortion group Cummings accuses Oversight Republicans of obstructing drug price probe MORE (R-N.C.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanOvernight Health Care: DOJ charges doctors over illegal opioid prescriptions | Cummings accuses GOP of obstructing drug pricing probe | Sanders courts Republican voters with 'Medicare for All' | Dems probe funding of anti-abortion group Cummings accuses Oversight Republicans of obstructing drug price probe Schumer staffer-turned-wrestling coach focus of new documentary 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 RosensteinHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report Mueller won't attend Barr press conference on report Schumer slams Justice Dept over 'pre-damage control' on Mueller 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 StewartBarr testimony opens new partisan fight over FBI spying on Trump Hill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons 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 TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report 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 CohenDems attack Barr's credibility after report of White House briefings on Mueller findings Democrats, GOP poised to pounce on Mueller findings Lawmakers request information on reported pardon for acting DHS secretary 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.