The FBI refused to send the House Oversight Committee documents associated with conversations fired FBI Director James Comey had with President Donald Trump.
The bureau referenced the Justice Department’s appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller for why it is withholding the requested material.
“In light of this development and other considerations, we are undertaking appropriate consultation to ensure all relevant interests implicated by your request are properly evaluated,” Greg Bower, the FBI’s Assistant Director at the Office of Congressional Affairs, wrote in a Thursday night letter responding to Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings.
Chaffetz responded to the FBI Thursday with a new June 8 deadline for the materials the committee originally requested from the bureau, noting the committee’s own investigation would not interfere with the special counsel’s work.
“The Committee has its own, Constitutionally-based prerogative to conduct investigations. But the Committee in no way wants to impede or interfere with the Special Counsel’s ability to conduct his investigation,” Chaffetz said in his letter.
He we went on to say, “In fact, the Committee’s investigation will complement the work of the Special Counsel. Whereas the Special Counsel is conducting a criminal or counterintelligence investigation that will occur largely behind closed doors, the Committee’s work will shed light on matters of high public interest, regardless of whether there is evidence of criminal conduct.”
Chaffetz also stressed that the Committee’s investigation has a focus that considers the independence of the FBI, which he says would include communications between Trump and Comey.
“The records being withheld are central to those questions, even more so in light of Comey’s decision not to testify before the Committee at this time,” he said.
The House Oversight Committee is one of five congressional investigations looking into Russian meddling in the election, and many expect Mueller to push Congress to limit public hearings.
Although Comey agreed to testify before Senate Intelligence Committee after the Memorial Day weekend, he declined an invitation to answer questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee, sparking off an angry tweet by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley.
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff argued Wednesday that having all their hearings away from public view would make any conclusion they come to less credible to the public.
“If we conduct all of our hearings in closed session, do our work in closed session … and then we throw open the doors when we’re finished and say, ‘Here’s our report, you should just believe it; take our word for it,’ it’s unlikely to be accepted by the country,” Schiff told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor Breakfast.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters it was critical that the various congressional probes related to Russia not interfere with Mueller’s investigation.
“I can’t think of a major witness that we would want to hear from, or the public would want to hear from, that Mueller wouldn’t also want to hear from,” said Graham, adding that members just have to make sure they don’t “get in [Mueller’s] lane.”