Republican Chairman Chuck Grassley excoriated the FBI for putting in place what he said amounted to "gag orders," demanding the bureau turn over what his committee has asked for regarding Comey, his firing and statements he made publicly during the campaign about the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's email server.
"Why now? Why was the FBI so focused on keeping Congress in the dark? Why is it so afraid of shining the light of day on the controversial decisions Mr. Comey made in the months before he was fired?" Grassley said at the beginning of a hearing on legislation that would protect special counsels.
Grassley and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein have flexed their muscle on possibly subpoenaing
witnesses and documents related to Russian interference in the election and any possible obstruction of justice.
Grassley was specifically referencing the move by the FBI to enter into a nondisclosure agreement with the Office of Special Counsel before turning over information related to a personnel investigation of him by the Office of Special Counsel (which is unrelated to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.) The FBI only turned information over to the counsel's office on the grounds it wouldn't be shared with Congress, per the agreement, according to Grassley.
The Office of Special Counsel declined to comment.
"Nondisclosure agreements are essentially gag orders -- plain and simple," Grassley said. "They thwart transparency, accountability and seek to obstruct congressional oversight."
Grassley referenced "two heavily redacted witness interviews" the committee obtained that suggested Comey had begun drafting
his Clinton statement in advance. He added this is the first time OSC recalled this happening with the FBI or any agency.
He reiterated his request for the FBI to turn over all witness interviews and documents related to Comey's decisionmaking on the statement he ultimately delivered mid-campaign clearing Clinton while still calling her behavior deeply concerning.
"The executive branch cannot avoid congressional oversight by assigning agreements," Grassley said. "If there's any whiff of partisan or political influence in these institutions under any president or any party, this committee has a responsibility to get to the bottom of it."
Feinstein said she agreed with the "general thrust" of what Grassley said -- and said she had asked the CIA to turn over classified intelligence that she believes is relevant to the committee's work.
Feinstein noted she sent a letter
to CIA Director Mike Pompeo, co-signed by Grassley, on Monday asking for the Judiciary Committee to have access to materials given to the Senate Intelligence Committee for its Russian election interference investigation that she has reviewed from her position on that committee.
"I have been privy to certain pieces of intelligence ... that when I saw it, it was relevant to this committee's oversight and yet this committee cannot receive it," Feinstein said.