WASHINGTON, D.C. (WASHINGTON POST) - US House Republicans are drafting a contempt of Congress resolution against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray, claiming stonewalling in producing material related to the Russia-Trump probes and other matters.
Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes and other committee Republicans, after considering such action for several weeks, decided to move after media, including the New York Times, reported on Saturday (Dec 2) on why a top FBI official assigned to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russia-Trump election collusion had been removed from the investigation.
Republicans, including US President Donald Trump, pointed to the reports as evidence that the entire probe into Russian meddling has been politically motivated."Now it all starts to make sense," Trump said on Twitter on Sunday.
In his statement on Saturday, Nunes pointed to the reports that the official, Peter Strzok, was removed after allegedly having exchanged anti-Trump and pro-Hillary Clinton text messages with his mistress, who was an FBI lawyer working for Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
In another tweet Trump referred to the agent as "tainted (no, very dishonest?)". Trump added that the FBI's reputation "is in Tatters - worst in History!"
A Justice Department spokesman, Sarah Isgur Flores, could not 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.
Until now, Nunes said, the FBI and Department of Justice have failed to sufficiently comply with an Aug 24 committee subpoena - including by refusing repeated demands "for an explanation of Peter 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," Nunes said.
"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 e-mail investigation, the FBI and DOJ engaged in a wilful attempt to thwart Congress' constitutional oversight responsibility," he said.
Nunes, in the statement, said the committee will move on a resolution by the end of the month unless it demands are "fully met" by the close of business on Dec 4.
He cited "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.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions would not be a target of any contempt action by the committee, Nunes has said, because he recused himself from any investigation into charges that Russia meddled in the election.
The dossier, which included salacious allegations about Trump, was paid for in part by the Democratic National Committee and Clinton through a law firm. Nunes and other committee Republicans - backed by Speaker Paul Ryan - say they want to investigate whether the Justice Department and FBI may have improperly relied on the dossier to kick-start federal surveillance that caught up Trump associates, without independently confirming the information they used to justify such spying.
"The DOJ has now expressed - on a Saturday, just hours after the press reports on Strzok's dismissal appeared - sudden willingness to comply with some of the Committee's long-standing demands," Nunes said. "This attempted 11th-hour accommodation is neither credible nor believable, and in fact is yet another example of the DOJ's dis-ingenuousness and obstruction." Those agencies "should be investigating themselves," he said.
If Nunes and Republicans do follow through with the contempt action, it would be a latest blow against bipartisanship on a committee that had until recently been one of the last bastions of comity in a polarised House. Democrats complain Republicans are increasingly shifting attention and limited resources in the Russian investigation away from a main focus of election interference and potential Trump campaign collusion.
The committee's infighting has stepped up since October, coinciding with Democratic complaints that Nunes has returned to a more active capacity for Republicans in the committee's Russia investigation.
Nunes said on April 6 he was stepping back amid criticism of his handling of classified material, reportedly obtained from White House officials, that he said showed officials of former President Barack Obama's administration "unmasked" the identities of people close to Trump who were mentioned in legal surveillance of foreign individuals.
Representative Michael Conaway of Texas officially has taken over the Republican reins from Nunes on the investigation. But Nunes' statement on Saturday is another signal he's returned to a leading role.