Political News

House GOP and Justice Department at loggerheads over more FBI texts

Posted July 24, 2018 3:28 p.m. EDT

— The leader of the House Freedom Caucus launched a new allegation that the Justice Department had failed to turn over two text messages involving former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, but a Justice Department official said neither were relevant to the lawmaker's document requests and one had been turned over months ago.

The back-and-forth marked the latest signs of escalating tensions between House Republicans and the Justice Department, as conservatives threaten to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a move Democrats contend is an unfounded attempt geared to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, which Rosenstein supervises.

In a letter to Rosenstein that was obtained by CNN, North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows says it's "extremely troubling" that the texts were "intentionally withheld" from lawmakers, questioning whether other materials weren't turned over as well.

"Once again, we have obtained evidence the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have intentionally withheld material information from Congress," writes Meadows. "Specifically, we have learned of the existence of two text messages, sent weeks before the 2016 election, which raise grave concerns as to what other information you have failed to produce to Congress."

A Justice Department official told CNN on Tuesday, however, that neither of the texts were related to the lawmakers' inquiry into how the FBI handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the department had "produced the first text message referenced in the letter to Congress in February of this year."

"We are not aware of a request from Representative Meadows that would have included either message referenced in this letter. We were looking forward to discussing this personally with Representative Meadows at a meeting tomorrow," the official added. A Democratic congressional aide who has reviewed the messages said the Justice Department did in fact provide one of the text messages in question to Congress in February.

A Meadows spokesman pushed back at the department's assertion that the message had been given to Congress in February and that the texts had nothing to do with the Clinton probe.

"Neither of those claims are accurate," the spokesman said.

Meadows' letter, which was sent earlier this month, marked the latest dustup in a long string of fingerpointing with the Justice Department and sets the stage for another meeting between senior Justice Department and FBI officials and House Republicans, who have threatened to hold Rosenstein in contempt, or even to impeach him, over their demand for documents related to the FBI's Clinton and Russia investigations.

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, and Meadows are meeting with the senior Justice Department and FBI officials on Wednesday on Capitol Hill, according to a Justice Department official.

Meadows, who has worked with other conservatives on an impeachment resolution against Rosenstein but has not officially proposed it, said Monday that he expected "to hear the latest on why they haven't complied" with the Judiciary Committee's subpoenas.

In congressional testimony last month, Rosenstein pushed back on the notion that the Justice Department was intentionally withholding documents from Congress.

"You're going to get everything that's relevant that we can find and produce to you. ... I'm not trying to hide anything from you," Rosenstein said to Jordan.

"If you actually had a full and fair review of what we're doing, I'm confident that you would recognize we're doing everything we can to comply," he later added.

The texts referenced in Meadows' letter, which were exchanged between Page and former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, discuss meetings with the White House, but there's no context for the purpose of the meetings.

"Just called. Apparently the DAG wants to be there, and WH wants DOJ to host," reads an October 14, 2016, text, according to Meadows' letter. "So we are setting that up now. We will very much need to get Cohen's view before we meet with her. Better, have him weigh in before the meeting. We need to speak with one voice, if that is in fact the case."

It's unclear who the "Cohen" is referenced in the text message.

"Hey can you give me a call when you get out? Meeting with WH counsel is finally set up and I want to talk about timing. Thanks," reads an October 19, 2016, text.

CNN has reached out to representatives for Page and McCabe and has not immediately received a response.

In the letter, Meadows asks the Justice Department to verify the texts and explain why they were withheld from document production. One source familiar with the matter said the Justice Department did not respond to the letter beyond acknowledging it, but a separate source said the department had told Meadows one of the texts had already been produced.

Meadows also suggested that the previously unreported texts are another example "implicating the Obama White House in the initial steps of the Trump campaign investigation."

That accusation is not the first Republican charge based on the text messages exchanged between Page and embattled FBI agent Peter Strzok that the Obama White House was involved in the Trump investigation.

But the messages between Strzok and Page have often lacked context, and previous accusations against the Obama White House have appeared to fizzle. Strzok argued earlier this month that the texts did not indicate the White House was being read in on the FBI's probe into the Trump campaign and Russia.

"Do you think that that would be ... appropriate during an ongoing campaign, that the Obama administration would be kept up to speed on a Russia collusion investigation? Do you think that would be appropriate?" Meadows asked Strzok earlier this month.

"Sir, you're mixing up a couple of things," Strzok responded. "It would be entirely appropriate for the White House to be aware and concerned about what the government of Russia was doing with regards to the elections."

Meadows continued pressing Strzok on whether "any discussions that took place with regard to Russia collusion investigation ... that took place with the Obama administration's executive branch?"

"My understanding is that there were not discussions of identities of individual US persons who may or may not (have) been the subject of investigations," Strzok responded.