Political News

House Passes Resolution Demanding Justice Dept. Turn Over Documents

Posted June 28, 2018 3:29 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — The House voted along party lines Thursday to give the Justice Department seven days to produce sensitive documents about the Russia investigation, as conservative Republicans pointedly accused the leaders of that investigation of hiding information from them to protect their own interests.

The measure, though nonbinding, is intended to put Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on notice that House lawmakers are serious about their demands and could presage an effort by the full House to punish him if he does not comply. The most conservative House members have openly suggested that the resolution may set up Rosenstein for impeachment.

“Executives at the Department of Justice have done nothing but pay lip service to transparency, while instead choosing to obstruct, slow-walk and deny legitimate congressional attempts to obtain documents and conduct oversight,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a sponsor of the resolution who raised impeachment this week. “We are tired of them giving us the runaround.”

That was a message delivered repeatedly and theatrically by Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, many of whom pushed for the resolution as yet another cudgel in their monthslong fight with Rosenstein, a top Trump appointee.

Under a barrage of questioning, Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference and whether Trump associates coordinated with it, and FBI Director Christopher Wray put up a spirited defense of the inquiry and the job they had done producing volumes of sensitive material requested by the committee.

“Why are you keeping information from Congress?” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, asked in one particularly forceful exchange just before the committee voted on the resolution.

Rosenstein disputed that the resolution was an indictment of his performance. “I don’t believe that’s what they’re going to say, and if they do, they’ll be mistaken,” he said.

“Your use of this to attack me personally is deeply wrong,” Rosenstein said. He added, “I’m not trying to hide anything.”

He also batted back criticism related to another Republican point of attack: the FBI’s surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide.

“If the inspector general finds that I did something wrong, then I’ll respect that judgment, but I think it’s highly, highly unlikely,” Rosenstein said.

Wray said he intended to clean up the culture of leaking and rule-bending at the FBI outlined in a blistering report prepared by the Justice Department’s inspector general about the handling of the Hillary Clinton email case. And he said the bureau was working round the clock to produce hundreds of thousands of pages of documents to Congress. But he made clear that he was not pleased to be locked in a fight with Republicans.

“When I was minding my own business in private practice in Atlanta, I didn’t think I was going to be spending the first 10 months of my job staring down the barrel of a contempt citation for conduct that occurred long before I even thought about being FBI director,” Wray said.

Democrats, who voted as a bloc against it, said the measure was a political distraction meant to further bloody the reputation of the department as it investigates President Donald Trump and his campaign’s ties to Russia. Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Judiciary Committee Democrat, called it “clearly a pretext for a move against Mr. Rosenstein that the majority already has planned.”

In the year since he appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel, Rosenstein has slowly emerged as one of the chief targets of House Republicans hoping to extract sensitive information about the ongoing investigation. Citing their oversight authority, Republicans close to Trump have peppered the department with increasingly bold demands and subpoenas; when the Justice Department or FBI has balked, Republicans have threatened Rosenstein’s job and, in some cases, called for him to step down.

Thursday’s resolution comes as Rosenstein and other department officials have been working furiously to meet the requests of the Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. House lawmakers stepped up their pressure in a meeting with Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and a trio of House Republican committee chairmen this month. If the department did not show compliance, Ryan told the officials, he would allow lawmakers to take long-threatened punitive action on the floor of the House to force the issue.

Ryan has since said the department is showing a good-faith effort to meet their demands and at least one of the committee chairmen, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., of the Judiciary Committee, said Thursday’s measure was not really necessary. The 500-page report from the department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, found that the FBI made a series of mistakes in handling the Clinton email case that broke with long-standing policy, badly damaged its reputation and opened the door to accusations of political bias. The report criticizes at length two FBI officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who exchanged voluminous texts disparaging Trump while they were helping to lead the investigation into both Clinton and Trump’s campaign. In one exchange, seized on by Republicans, Strzok wrote that “we’ll stop” Trump from becoming president.

Lawmakers from the Judiciary Committee interviewed Strzok for nearly 11 hours on Wednesday about his messages with Page and his role in both cases. Strzok said the messages had been taken out of context and did not affect his work and Democrats on Wednesday night called for the interview transcript to be released to the public.

“As today’s transcript will make crystal clear, House Republicans are desperately trying to find something — anything — to undermine Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign. Unfortunately for them, they were entirely unsuccessful today, and their interview of Mr. Strzok will not help their misguided mission,” Nadler and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in a joint statement.

But Strzok’s testimony appears to have done little to sway Republicans.

Trump spent part of Thursday morning amplifying the scrutiny by House lawmakers, many of whom are close to the president, writing on Twitter that Strzok “was given poor marks on yesterday’s closed door testimony.”

“Peter Strzok worked as the leader of the Rigged Witch Hunt for a long period of time — he got it started and was only fired because the gig was up,” Trump wrote in another post. Referring to former FBI Director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, he added: “But remember, he took his orders from Comey and McCabe and they took their orders from you know who. Mueller/Comey best friends!”