House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is not taking no for an answer.
The FBI told Chaffetz on Wednesday that it would not, for now, hand over documents that included former FBI Director James Comey’s internal memos of his meetings with President Donald Trump. Published reports based on leaked excerpts from those memos have portrayed Comey as saying he felt pressured by Trump to drop investigations into former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The FBI did not refuse ever to supply the documents, but said that it could not hand the documents over in light of the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate issues related to alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.
“Congress and the American public have a right and a duty to examine this issue independently of the special counsel’s investigation,” Chaffetz said in reply. “I trust and hope you understand this and make the right decision – to produce these documents to the committee immediately and on a voluntary basis.”
Chaffetz said Thursday that his committee has a “constitutionally-based prerogative to conduct investigations” and does not plan to interfere with Mueller’s probe. Instead, Chaffetz said, his committee work would “complement” the special counsel’s efforts.
“Congress does not conduct criminal or counterintelligence investigations; rather Congress’ power of inquiry is rooted in part in its duty to oversee the executive branch’s faithful enforcement of the laws that Congress enacted,” Chaffetz wrote in a letter to acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
“In this case, the focus of the committee’s investigation is the independence of the FBI, including conversations between the president and Comey and the process by which Comey was removed from his role as director,” he wrote.
Chaffetz said he still wants any documents related to his request that would be outside the scope of the special counsel’s investigation. He also wants a list of documents that would be part of Mueller’s investigation, and gave the FBI a June 8 deadline.
“I am seeking to better understand Comey’s communications with the White House and attorney general in such a way that does not implicate the special counsel’s work,” Chaffetz said in the letter.
The Mueller probe is also affecting other congressional investigations.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said his committee has not received information it requested, and objected that the FBI was giving some documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee instead of his panel.
He said that if necessary he will use the committee’s subpoena powers to get his hands on memos Comey wrote about his conversations with Trump.
“I haven’t made a decision yet,” Grassley said. “If we have to, I think you’ll have find Democrats willing to do it too.”
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