Five weeks ago, House Speaker Paul Ryan accused the DOJ and FBI of “stonewalling” the House Intelligence Committee’s wide-ranging subpoena for all pertinent information about how the largely unsubstantiated “Trump dossier” played into the DOJ’s decision to launch the infamous Trump collusion investigation. At the time, the speaker said the agency was preparing to turn over the information requested by the committee, but despite his assurances, the promised documents never materialized.
Then yesterday, thanks to a series of coordinated media leaks, Nunes learned – at the same time as the broader public - about the reassignment of Peter Strzok, a senior Mueller aide who had played a critical role in the DOJ’s original collusion investigation. And before that, Strzok helped lead the FBI’s probe into Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information.
As it turns out, the agent had been reassigned for expressing anti-Trump sentiments in a series of text messages to FBI attorney Lisa Page while the two were having an affair. The bureau, it appears, had willfully tried to conceal this fact from Nunes and his committee.
Upon being blindsided with this information and publicly embarassed, the Intel committee chairman was understandably less than pleased. So in a statement issued Sunday, Nunes announced a serious escalation: His committee, he said, is preparing to hold Andrew McCabe and assistant AG Rod Rosenstein in contempt for the DOJ's failure to comply with Nunes's subpoena.
Strzok was reassigned in July, shortly before Nunes issued the request for the bureau to turn over all documents relating to the Trump dossier. In a transparent attempt to save face, the bureau contacted Nnes shortly after the Strzok news broke on Saturday to say they were ready to comply with the subpoena. But Nunes rightly repudiated this offer, saying it was too little, too late. He laid out his argument for preparing the order of contempt in a statement released Sunday offering details of the committee's unsuccessful push to convince the FBI to turn over the documents it had requested.
Here’s a timeline of Nunes' contact with the Department of Justice courtesy of the Washington Examiner:
- On Oct. 11, Nunes met with deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. In that meeting, Nunes specifically discussed the committee's request for information about Strzok.
- In an Oct. 31 committee staff meeting with the FBI, bureau officials refused a request for information about Strzok.
- On Nov. 20, the committee again requested an interview with Strzok. (Three days earlier, on November 17, Strzok met with the Senate Intelligence Committee.)
- On Nov. 29, Nunes again spoke to Rosenstein, and again discussed Strzok.
- On Dec. 1, the committee again requested to speak with Strzok.
Republicans, including President Trump, pointed to the news as evidence that the entire probe into Russian meddling had been politically motivated.
Tainted (no, very dishonest?) FBI “agent’s role in Clinton probe under review.” Led Clinton Email probe. @foxandfriends Clinton money going to wife of another FBI agent in charge.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2017
After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters - worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2017
Unsurprisingly, both the FBI and House Democrats have been silent on the issue, according to Bloomberg:
A Justice Department spokesman, Sarah Isgur Flores, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment by telephone or text. There was no immediate response Sunday from a spokesman for the committee’s top Democrat, Representative Adam Schiff of California.
In his statement, included in full below, Nunes accused the FBI and the Department of Justice of willfully refusing to comply with an Aug. 24 committee subpoena in part by refusing the committee's request “for an explanation of Peter Strzok’s dismissal from the Mueller probe.” Nunes is giving the FBI until end of business day tomorrow to fully comply with the committee's requests, or face a contempt order before the end of the month.
Washington, D.C. – House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes issued the following statement today amid press reports that Peter Strzok, the top FBI official assigned to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of collusion between Russia and Trump officials, had been removed from the probe after exchanging anti-Trump and pro-Hillary Clinton text messages with his mistress, who was an FBI lawyer working for Deputy Director Andrew McCabe:
“The FBI and Department of Justice have failed to sufficiently cooperate with the Committee’s August 24 subpoena, and have specifically refused repeated demands from the House Intelligence Committee for an explanation of Pete Strzok’s dismissal from the Mueller probe. 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 Director McCabe available to the Committee for an interview.
“By hiding from Congress, and from the American people, documented political bias by a key FBI head investigator for both the Russia collusion probe and the Clinton email investigation, the FBI and DOJ engaged in a willful attempt to thwart Congress’ constitutional oversight responsibility. 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.
“The DOJ has now expressed—on a Saturday, just hours after the press reports on Strzok’s dismissal appeared—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. Therefore, 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. Unless all our outstanding demands are fully met by close of business on Monday, December 4, 2017, the committee will have the opportunity to move this resolution before the end of the month."
In the statement, Nunes pointed to “a months-long pattern by the DOJ and FBI of stonewalling and obstructing this Committee’s oversight work,” including also withholding subpoenaed information about their use of an opposition research dossier that targeted Trump in the 2016 election.
In targeting McCabe and Rosenstein, Nunes explained that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was being excused from any contempt action by the committee because the AG had recused himself from the investigation into Russia meddling.
In addition to the threat of contempt, Strzok is also facing an internal review for his role in the investigation into Clinton's handling of classified information on her private email server. It has already been revealed that then-FBI Director James Comey drafted his letter excusing Clinton before she had even been interviewed. The Office of the Inspector General probe into Strzok will examine his role in a number of "politically sensitive" cases this year, according to Fox News.
At the FBI, senior managers are facing a serious dilemma: It's probable that the information pertaining to Strzok is only some of what the bureau has tried to keep from Nunes and the committee. Now, the FBI is facing a dilemma: Either rush to comply without having the time to screen all the documents that have been supplied to the committee, or continue to resist, and face a Congressional subpoeana. Either way, we're certain this isn't the last of the story.