WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., formally named the nine Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday, ending a weekslong delay that may have cost special counsel Robert Mueller valuable time to act on potential leads the panel could offer just as he appears close to wrapping his investigation.
Democrats now in the majority on the Intelligence Committee had vowed that one of their first acts would be to authorize the release of more than 50 witness interview transcripts to Mueller to aid in his probe. At the least, members have said they had reason to believe some witnesses lied to the panel, something that has already led Mueller to bring charges against Trump allies.
It is likely that Mueller and his team of investigators have had access to the committee’s transcripts, two sources familiar with the matter tell NBC News. But while the committee voted unanimously last September to authorize the release of redacted transcripts of most of their Russia-related interviews, the then-GOP majority rejected a Democratic motion to provide all transcripts, including classified materials, directly to Mueller.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the committee, told NBC Wednesday that even if Mueller’s team has seen the transcripts, they have been limited in what they could do with that information.
“They don’t have the use of them for perjury prosecutions until we authorize them for that use. And whether they could actually use the material in it as part of their report is also I think in question,” Schiff said. “So for those reasons and perhaps others, we ought to do this sooner rather than later."
The Intelligence Committee has been unable to hold the required vote to release those transcripts to Mueller until the panel formally organizes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finalized the full slate of Democratic members two weeks ago, and Democrats were increasingly questioning whether McCarthy was intentionally dragging his feet.
"He is sabotaging the work of this committee at this point, I don't think there's any way you can sugarcoat it,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said earlier Wednesday on “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
McCarthy, pressed about why he had not yet done so, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that he had begun meeting with the members he intended to appoint. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, who has served on the panel, insisted Wednesday there was nothing “malicious” about McCarthy's delay in appointing members. He said more than 70 Republicans expressed an interest in serving on the committee.
“The leader has hard choices to make. He is going to make nine people happy and 61 people really unhappy,” he said. “It is important work, and those numbers reflect just how important it is. I think he is being very deliberate in making sure he has got the right nine people on it that are supposed to be there.”
Committee rules require that any business meetings must be set with three days notice. That means the earliest the committee will hold its first organizational meeting would be Feb. 5, more than a full month after the start of the 116th Congress.
Schiff said that Republicans had done own party “a disservice” in waiting so long to name members.
“Already their own members are missing important intelligence briefings — we had one today on one of the hotspots around the world,” Schiff said.