The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is threatening to hold the Justice Department and FBI in contempt of Congress for withholding details about why a top FBI investigator was removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the presidential campaign.
“I have instructed House Intelligence Committee staff to begin drawing up a contempt of Congress resolution for DOJ Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray,” California Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican chair of the committee, said in a statement on Saturday night.
Nunes set a Monday deadline for the DOJ and FBI to comply with the committee’s list of demands, which includes requests for interviews with Rosenstein, Wray, and deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe as well as documents related to the anti-Trump dossier written by former British spy Christopher Steele.
Committee Republicans have tried in vain for months to force the DOJ and FBI to provide details of the Russia investigation, including how much it relied on the uncorroborated dossier to form the basis of its probe.
But the final straw for Nunes appears to be the bombshell revelation that FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok was kicked off of Mueller’s team over the summer after it was discovered that he exchanged anti-Trump text messages with his mistress, an FBI lawyer named Lisa Page who also worked on Mueller’s team. (RELATED: FBI Investigator Who Oversaw Trump, Clinton Investigations Sent Anti-Trump Text Messages)
The New York Times and Washington Post reported on Saturday that the Department of Justice’s inspector general discovered the text messages as part of an investigation into how the FBI handled the Clinton email investigation.
Strzok was removed from the Mueller team in August, though Mueller’s office, the FBI, and the DOJ have left the circumstances of his ouster a mystery for nearly four months. Strzok now works in the FBI’s human resources department.
Nunes pulled no punches in his statement, accusing the FBI and DOJ of “hiding” information about Strzok’s “documented political bias.”
“In light of today’s press reports, we now know why Strzok was dismissed, why the FBI and DOJ refused to provide us this explanation, and at least one reason why they previously refused to make Deputy [FBI] Director [Andrew] McCabe available to the Committee for an interview,” said Nunes.
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Page, the lawyer who exchanged the texts with Strzok, worked under McCabe at the FBI.
Committee Republicans have issued subpoenas to Wray and Rosenstein — first on Aug. 24 — in an attempt to force the two to provide information about how the FBI and DOJ handled the Steele dossier, which was commissioned by opposition research firm Fusion GPS and funded by the Clinton campaign and DNC.
“This is part of a months-long pattern by the DOJ and FBI of stonewalling and obstructing this Committee’s oversight work, particularly oversight of their use of the Steele dossier. At this point, these agencies should be investigating themselves,” said Nunes.
Strzok has been at the center of the FBI’s two most high profile investigations.
He oversaw the Hillary Clinton email probe as well as the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government.
Strzok is the FBI agent who interviewed Clinton during her July 2, 2016 meeting with the FBI. Then-FBI Director James Comey announced three days later that he would be recommending that charges not be filed against Clinton for mishandling classified information.
Strzok was also the FBI’s top investigator on the Trump collusion probe, which was opened at the end of July 2016. That was several weeks after Steele, a former MI6 agent, first briefed the FBI on information contained in his salacious and unverified dossier.
Steele was working for Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm that was hired by the Clinton campaign and DNC to investigate Trump’s activities in Russia.
Nunes said in his statement that the DOJ reached out on Saturday — after the reports about Strzok surfaced — expressing “a sudden willingness to comply with some of the Committee’s long-standing demands.”
“This attempted 11th-hour accommodation is neither credible nor believable, and in fact is yet another example of the DOJ’s disingenuousness and obstruction,” said Nunes.