WASHINGTON — Facing the threat of contempt or even impeachment proceedings from top congressional Republicans, the Justice Department on Wednesday said it is giving key lawmakers access to the highly sensitive document that helped launch its Russia investigation.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes had asked the Justice Department in February to supply a completely unredacted version of the so-called Electronic Communication that opened the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, saying it was relevant to the committee’s oversight responsibilities.
The Department had previously supplied what Nunes said was a “heavily redacted” version of the document, which the California Republican harshly criticized as unsatisfactory.
In a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray last week, Nunes set a deadline of Wednesday for receiving the full document, and warned that failure to comply “will result in the Committee pursuing all appropriate legal remedies” against the DOJ officials, including “seeking civil enforcement” of previously-issued subpoenas in federal district court.
A Justice Department spokesman said late Wednesday that it would give all members of the Intelligence Committee access to the document, but that it still contained some redactions “narrowly tailored to protect the name of a foreign country and the name of a foreign agent.”
“These words must remain redacted after determining that revealing the words could harm the national security of the American people by undermining the trust we have with this foreign nation. These words appear only a limited number of times, and do no obstruct the underlying meaning of the document,” the official said in a statement.
The DOJ says it now believes it has satisfied all the requests of subpoenas issued by Nunes last August, including the production of 1,000 pages of classified materials.
In a statement, Nunes said he and Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., met with Rosenstein Wednesday to review the document and thanked him for his cooperation. Still, he said subpoenas for that and other documents issued last August remained in effect.
Competing memos from Republicans and Democrats on the Intelligence Committee agreed on at least one key point, that the FBI launched its counterintelligence investigation in July 2016 based on information provided about discussions between a Trump foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, and a Russian-linked individual.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said before the Justice Department’s announcement that Nunes’ threats of contempt proceedings and impeachment were designed “to intimidate DOJ and FBI,” provide President Trump with a pretext to fire Wray and Rosenstein, and end the Muelelr investigation.
“The Chairman’s rhetoric is a shocking and irresponsible escalation of the GOP’s attacks on the FBI and DOJ,” he said.
Despite Wednesday’s move, other House Republicans said they planned to raise with House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday other ways in which they believe the Justice Department is stonewalling Republican oversight efforts.
“The Justice Department response has been pathetic. There’s no other way to say it,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a senior Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, told NBC Wednesday. “If they don’t clean up their act quickly — I mean really quickly, not months, not weeks, I mean days — then I think everything is on the table from contempt to impeachment to asking for resignations.”