WASHINGTON — Democratic congressional leaders called for a bipartisan gang-of-eight-style briefing from the Justice Department on sensitive documents related to the Russia investigation sought by certain House Republicans.
The GOP demand drew resistance from law enforcement and intelligence officials who contend access at this point could compromise the investigation and put covert sources in danger. At issue is a confidential FBI source who, during the investigation into possible campaign ties to a foreign power, spoke with Trump campaign aide Carter Page, Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis and campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators in October and has been cooperating with special counsel investigators.
At a Monday White House briefing, the FBI, DOJ and Director of National Intelligence agreed to hold a briefing Thursday with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).
Democrats quickly said they wanted pertinent representatives at the meeting, as well.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that Dems weren’t “randomly invited” because “they haven’t been the ones requesting this information.” House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called the GOP-only briefing a “serious abuse of power” and said Tuesday that he expects Democrats will receive a separate briefing.
In an “urgent” letter today to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressed “alarm regarding increasingly aggressive efforts during the last 48 hours by President Trump and his congressional allies to interfere with and discredit the Special Counsel’s investigation” and the upcoming sharing of “highly classified and other information” related to the investigation with Nunes and Gowdy.
“This meeting is completely improper in its proposed form and would set a damaging precedent for your institutions and the rule of law. We can think of no legitimate oversight justification for the ex parte dissemination — at the direction of the president – -of investigative information to the president’s staunchest defenders in Congress and, ultimately, to the president’s legal defense team,” they wrote. “We understand that other Senate and House Republicans are now seeking to attend, adding to the spectacle of this ill-considered and overtly partisan event.”
“Such a meeting would be highly irregular and inappropriate during any open criminal or counterintelligence investigation, much less one involving the president. At a barest minimum, it creates the appearance of an unseemly opportunity for the president and his enablers to prematurely access investigatory information and selectively leak national security secrets, for the purpose of publicly distorting the facts in this case.”
Schumer and Pelosi asked Wray and Rosenstein to “reconsider holding this meeting,” and if they do decide to push ahead in a belief “that Justice Department participation in the meeting is the only way to prevent this situation from devolving into an outright constitutional crisis, then we believe you must insist on the only appropriate mechanism for highly sensitive briefings that might implicate intelligence sources and methods — a bipartisan Gang of Eight briefing that involves congressional leadership from both chambers.”
Rosenstein is not expected to attend the meeting with Nunes and Gowdy, which will be led by Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Ed O’Callaghan, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the National Security Division at DOJ.
Asked Tuesday if it was appropriate for members of the GOP caucus to be pressing for the identity of an FBI confidential human source, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called it “wholly appropriate for the document requests that our committees of jurisdiction have made, because it has been within the entire scope of the investigation from the get-go.”
“Frankly, I was a little surprised we didn’t get this stuff earlier,” he added.